Friday, April 6, 2012

What Is It Like To Be Crushed?

The Witch-Game
Book 1
By K.C. Blake
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The Noah sisters rule Titan High with their beauty, brains, and magical powers.

Each year they play a secret game: Crushed. The girls pick their targets carefully and blow enchanted dust into the boy’s faces, charming them, but this year Kristen makes a grave mistake. She chooses the wrong boy and almost dies that same day. Coincidence? Maybe.

But something isn’t quite right about Zach Bevian. He doesn’t behave like a boy who’s been Crushed. He goes from hot to cold, from looking at her with contempt to asking her out on a date. She doesn’t know what to think. Does he hate her or is he truly falling for her? Is he trying to kill her, or is he trying to save her?

I had a hard time with Crushed. You know those made-for-TV movies that start out with a nasty girl as the main character, but after she's dared into spending time with this one guy she stops being nasty and becomes a better person? Well, Crushed was kinda like that.

Kristen and her sisters started out as real witches. Yeah, the magic kind, but the other kind as well. Cyndi was by far the nicest, Brittany had the most attitude, and Kristen, our narrator, was supposed to be the median between the two. She had enough sass to support the strong female role, but was sensitive/logical enough not to be a "bad-girl".

My problem was I never sympathized with her. She and her sisters have played this "Game" every year of high school (possibly even before) where they cast a love spell on some boy then force them to do small (and eventually big) tasks for them. Carry books, drive them home, buy their lunches, etc. Then, at the end of the year, they recall their spells and compare how strong they became. Kristen has been the winner the past 3 years.

So right off the bat, we're given a character who has willingly enslaved at least three boys. Not because she really needed him to do anything, but because she and her sisters wanted to see which one of them could do it best. And I'm supposed to feel badly for her because...? Well, she's a Straight-A Student, and she's never had a date, and...she's not near as bad as Brittany. I'm sorry, but the whole enslaving her peers for fun thing hasn't been balanced out yet. Not even close.

And it wasn't like in the movies where the Mean Girl turned out to have some redeeming quality that made her more likable (to us and the guy). No, the big reveal that made the boy sorta start liking her was...she's so confused about what she wants to do with her life. Yeah, you and every other teenager on the planet.

But moving on to someone I did like, our second narrator was pretty awesome. Sure, he's that bad boy with a heart of gold stereotype, but getting to see into his head for once was an enjoyable experience. Especially having him be just as disgusted at Kristen's behavior as I was. I did think he changed his opinion of her too quickly, but nevertheless the romance was fun to follow from both sides.

Yes, this is definitely the classic mutual-hate turns to mutual-love scenario, which is one of my favorites. If you have to have a romance, I like the characters to have to put some effort into it. There was a lot of opposition on both sides of the equation here, but unfortunately, for all they went through, I thought the payout was pretty mild. All the romance came at slow, intimate moments, completely ignoring the passionate kiss that could follow life-and-death scenes. In short, the romance was cute.

The villain, on the other hand, was pretty intense. Not only did she wield a lot of power, but she was smart enough to play the long con. I was never absolutely sure who the villain was until the big reveal. And even then, I still held out for a surprise twist. The underlying mystery was fascinating to follow, and was honestly the main thing that kept me reading to the end.

Which was lucky, because I also wasn't thrilled with the writing. I know it's a self-published piece, so I shouldn't be overly critical of things like typos and word-choice, but it just wore me down after a while. Don't get me wrong, it was readable, I didn't get lost or confused at what was being said. But it didn't enchant me like so many other books I've read.

Moreover, there were a couple continuity errors I just couldn't get over. At one point one sister points out that another sister's aura is black. The chapter ends. Next chapter starts and the three sisters are talking. Not about the fact that having a black aura is super scary/weird/unusual. Not even about the fact that one of them almost died. No, they're talking about Zach and the Crushed spell. Really?

At another point, the characters burst into a room to find the villain holding a hostage. Every single character is mentioned in the scene. The villain vanishes with the hostage and the other characters retreat to make their plans. Two pages later, the narrator is thankful that "at least [villain] still thought [person] was trapped in the family room". That person was the one who burst into the room first, actually. This 'element of surprise' is mentioned a couple times after that as well.

And one last peeve of mine, which I really hate to end on but will, was the lesbian issue. Fairly early on, Kristen's arch-rival calls her out in front of a crowd of people to try and start a fight. After a few catcalls are exchanged, the rival starts this lovely speech:
     "Isn't it funny how Kristen never has a boyfriend? Guys talk, you know? Lots of boys ask her out, but she turns them down every time. She wants you to think it's because she's picky, but we all know the truth deep down. Don't we?"
     Kristen stood frozen to the ground, unable to breathe. Her mind raced in violent circles, trying desperately to find a way out of this mess. Gina was about to start a nasty rumor. Rumors could kill an otherwise perfect image and plunge that person into a sea of unpopularity. She had to think fast, had to act fast before...
     "Kristen doesn't like boys." Gina folded her arms over her chest, looking more pleased than a cat with a bowl of fresh cream. "She prefers girls." [Chapter 3]
It's brought up again a couple times later when the possibility of a girl Crushing another girl is discussed. First Kristen doubts the possibility with Cyndi, then the sisters share a giggle when it's revealed that the villain did indeed Crush one of them.

I get it, being labeled gay is uncomfortable when you're not, and sure, it can be seen as a detriment to popularity. But why enforce the stereotype? Why use "gay" as a weapon at all? I never saw Kristen's popularity as key to her character. She's labeled as being popular, but never hangs out with anyone except her sisters (and eventual boyfriend). She's described herself as not caring about any guys there, and is focused on college and her future. If that's the case, why the hell would she care about being called a lesbian?

But no, she has to prove right then and there that, 'No, wait, I'm totally straight! See, here's my secret boyfriend!' Cue her ordering her latest enslaved boy to act like he's her boyfriend. Ugh! Can you see why I had a hard time forgiving her? But back to my point, I thought the knocks at lesbians were rude and could have been left out of the story completely.

Overall, I was disappointed with Crushed. I thought the story concept was interesting, the mystery surrounding the villain was engaging, but the main characters and writing left me wanting to get it over with. Sex, language, and violence are negligible, so I'd say it's appropriate for the middle-school crowd as well as high-schoolers. While Crushed and I had our differences, I think it could make an enjoyable read for those who like YA Paranormal-Romance, but are tired of the vampires and werewolves ruling the scene.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 hours


Though not my favorite book, Crushed was an engaging introduction into a world of powerful witches, a world I'd like to visit again. The second installment, Witch Hunt, features a brand new cast coming into their own trials and triumphs. And from the sample I've downloaded from Amazon, I'm already looking forward to reading more.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.