Monday, May 14, 2012

You're A Traitor, Just Like Your Father

Traitor's Son
~Traitor's Son~
The Raven Duet
Book 2
By Hilari Bell
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

"If you're willing to kill me,
I'd really be an idiot to tell you where I am."

When Jason catches the small bag the girl throws to him at the Canadian/Alaskan border during a gunfight, all he can think is that the bag must contain drugs. But if the small brown powder is some sort of illegal substance, it's certainly nothing he's ever seen before.

Jason is half right. He's never seen this stuff before, but it's not drugs. The bag contains magical dust, a substance so powerful it can heal the earth.

So powerful, certain creatures think nothing of killing him to get it.

Firstly, I think I need to present a little background on my experience. I typically like to re-read series before tackling the latest release—it serves as a refresher and helps me zone-in before I start reading the new one. So before picking up Traitor's Son, I revisited and reconnected with Kelsa and Raven in Trickster's Girl. Unfortunately, I think that was a mistake.

In Traitor's Son, Kelsa is no longer the focus; now it's all Jase. And I didn't really connect well with Jase. Maybe it's because he's a guy, maybe it was the car obsession, maybe it was the ambivalence towards nature, or maybe it's simply that he wasn't Kelsa in any way, shape, or form. In fact the Author's Note sums it up perfectly:
Finally, I owe the state of Alaska an apology for...shortchanging it. In Trickster's Girl, my protagonist traveled from Utah to the Alaska/Canada border—and Kelsa is a nature girl who could appreciate and marvel at the gorgeous places she passed through. Jase, the protagonist in Traitor's Son, is not a nature boy. In fact, he's the kind of kid who can drive the Glenallen Highway, otherwise known as Glacier Alley, and not even see the ethereal ice floes that look like they're floating on the other side of the valley, because he's thinking about his car. (It's an amazingly cool car, but still!)

In a novel, you see the world through the eyes of your protagonist. Jase is who he is, and that means I can't describe the [long list of grandiose landscapes and amazing experiences in nature I've experienced in Alaska]. [...] Alaska is fantastic. And through Jase's eyes, there's simply no way for me to do it justice.
It took reading the entire book and the Author's Note to finally stop thinking of Jase as a poor replacement for Kelsa and finally think of him in terms of himself. In that light, I did come to appreciate and respect him as a character. But I also think I might have saved myself a lot of trouble had I not read these books back to back.

Which is strange when you realize these two stories are grouped together in a series. On the one hand, the stories share a majority of the same characters, the same world, and essentially the same quest. But everything else, from pacing to protagonists, are completely alien to one another. I've read multi-character series before, but I've never read a story that changed so abruptly from one character to the next.

But perhaps I should back up and give you Jase's story.

Traitor's Son picks up exactly where Trickster's Girl left off, with a medicine bag being thrown over the border to a boy. But this time, we're in Jase's (the boy's) perspective. Jase is an Alaskan Native—3/16ths, anyway—whose life pretty much revolves around his car. And his car is nice. Those maglev (magnetic levitation) cars might be the way of the future, but who wants to hover when you can burn rubber in a vintage Tesla Roadster?

But as much as he hates to admit it, Jase's life isn't just cars, work and school. He's also the son of the lawyer who helped disband the Native corporations, and the grandson of the man who fought to keep them in place, thereby helping preserve their culture. In other words, he's caught in the middle of a generational and cultural rift that has all but torn his family apart. He's got enough trouble with trying to stay out of this fight, so you can imagine the last thing he wants is to get involved with another one.

Of course, that's just what this medicine bag and a beautiful girl named Raven force him to do. Apparently the girl who tossed the bag at him was on a quest to heal the magical energy stream that runs through the planet, and now that duty has fallen to him. He just has to activate three more nexus points and the healing will be complete. But the shape-shifting enemies who can hunt him even in his dreams may be the least of his problems if he doesn't start believing in himself.

That's right, this is a coming-of-age story, so a lot of it focuses on Jase coming to terms with who he is and what he can do. In terms of pacing, it works pretty well. There's some action here and there, but most of it focused on Jase's decisions—whether he thought he should run away and hide or whether it was time to stand up and fight. I'll admit that the whole disbelieving Raven part dragged on a little long for me, but I think that came from just finishing the previous book and already knowing everything. In terms of Jase's character arc, it worked.

What I had the hardest time understanding were the politics. There's an exposition-dump conversation between Jase and Raven, basically explaining why the title of the book is what it is, and how Jase factors in to everything. I never fully understood it. I think I got the gist of it in my explanation above, but even reading it four times through I don't know if I completely understand the situation. Heck, Raven's politics are more straight-forward than the tribes' were. Thankfully, the political backstory is only to clarify the fact that the majority of the Natives hate Jase. If you can understand that, you can understand the story.

Another thing that threw me was the romance. Firstly, I found it strange to think of Raven as a girl when I'd just finished a book in which she was a boy. I get it, Raven is a shapeshifter who doesn't even live in our world and who probably doesn't care about genders anyway. But in the last book, it was made perfectly clear that that's what Raven was - an alien and definitely not someone to get romantically interested in. Here...even though Jase is told the whole story, and is at one point even convinced that Raven's an alien, is still kinda romantically interested in her. Maybe it's just that he keeps seeing her nude and that's how this guy's brain works?

And going off on a slight tangent for a moment - why was it when Raven turned girl she was also suddenly delegated to damsel-in-distress? While I was sorta weirded out with the flirting and whatnot, I was also excited to see what Raven-lady would do. He was pretty kickass in the last book, and now we'd see a kickass chick to fill in for the lack of Kelsa, right? Well, if kickass suddenly means being out of the picture for the majority of the book and then ending up inexplicably in a cage, then... Wha—NO! Why?!

Though I will admit the baddies were pretty bad-ass. Otter-Woman is back and badder than ever. Her henchmen were big and bad, but they seemed the typical grunts. Otter-Woman was the brains behind the operation, and when that operation includes manipulation, lying, attempted murder, kidnapping, and the eventual destruction of the human race, you've definitely got a great villain. I only wished I could have gotten a little more backstory on her, like her own telling of how humans might have lost her trust other than through ignorance. But really, it's a small quibble, and she's scary enough that I don't really mind.

So that's Traitor's Son in a nutshell, but how did it hold up in terms of a series continuation/conclusion? Well, as I said at the beginning, I connected so much with the characters and themes of the last book that I was disappointed not to see them again. Trickster's Girl was much more a story of environmental healing and a quest-type storyline. Traitor's Son is more of a story about discovery and struggling with oneself with a war-type storyline. Does it work? Well, it's definitely unique. And so long as you can accept that the protagonist's story is contained within their respective book, it makes it so you can read the 'series' in either order.

Overall, Traitor's Son was an engaging, imaginative, and inspirational read. I'd recommend this to those interested in Native American culture, coming-of-age tales, or anyone who read Raven's first story. Strong language is non-existent (unless you find offense with "carp") but there is a lot of talk of sex/lust and quite a bit of violence toward the end, so I'd advise this for high-school and up. Even set in a world where futuristic tech blends with ancient magic, Hilari Bell still manages to make the story seem real through her characters, whether it be Kelsa or Jase. So as long as you don't mind becoming attached to a guy who happens to drive a Tesla Roadster, you might want to give Traitor's Son a try.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours

PS. I had to go through and fix the majority of times I wrote "Jase" because I had accidentally written "Jace" from The Mortal Instruments series.