Tuesday, January 7, 2014

One Day You'll Be Known As The Poison Princess

Poison Princess
~Poison Princess~
The Arcana Chronicles
Book 1
By Kresley Cole
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

She could save the world—or destroy it.

Sixteen year old Evangeline “Evie” Greene leads a charmed life—until she begins experiencing horrifying hallucinations. When an apocalyptic event decimates her Louisiana hometown, killing everyone she loves, Evie realizes her hallucinations were actually visions of the future—and they’re still happening. Fighting for her life and desperate for answers, she must turn to her wrong-side-of-the-bayou classmate: Jack Deveaux.

But she can’t do either alone.

With his mile-long rap sheet, wicked grin, and bad attitude, Jack is like no boy Evie has ever known. Even though he once scorned her and everything she represented, he agrees to protect Evie on her quest. She knows she can’t totally trust Jack. If he ever cast that wicked grin her way, could she possibly resist him?

Who can Evie trust?

As Jack and Evie race to find the source of her visions, they meet others who have gotten the same call. An ancient prophesy is being played out, and Evie is not the only one with special powers. A group of teens has been chosen to reenact the ultimate battle between good and evil. But it’s not always clear who is on which side…

A post-apocalyptic paranormal YA romance that includes zombies, magic, and Tarot lore? I must have skipped this book's description entirely, because I had absolutely, positively no clue what I was reading for a while there. Not that it was confusing, mind you, I just had no idea where it was going. And I have to say, I kind of liked it that way!

The book starts out in the mind of this guy who seems just a step down from Hannibal. He's just invited this girl into his home and invited her to tell him her story. Really he's just waiting for the drugs he's slipped her to take effect so he can add her to his other test subjects he keeps in his basement. But he may as well listen to her story while he waits...

We then get Evie's story from her perspective, from before the apocalypse started all the way up until she meets this creep. But though we get this end-point at the very beginning of the book, and even flash back to it once in the middle, Evie's story was so engrossing that I completely forgot. Let's face it, I could hardly predict where she was going to be a couple pages ahead, let alone all the way into 'the present'. This book was completely stuffed, but in a good way, not in an "I have no idea what's going on" way.

Evie is a hard character to pin down, mainly because she undergoes such a change through the course of the story. She starts out before the apocalypse as a smart, sassy, friendly cheerleader. Seemingly, she's got everything going for her. But secretly she keeps getting horrific visions, hearing voices, and experiencing vivid and gruesome dreams. She also just got back from a summer in a mental institution after she told her mom she was having these. Needless to say, she's a bit distrustful, paranoid, and more than a little afraid that she's actually going insane.

After the apocalypse (turns out her visions were prophetic) she's not completely useless, but her high GPA and cheerleading skills won't do her much good anymore. She's still got voices in her head, chanting random meaningless phrases over and over, and a few other new abilities reveal themselves. She needs answers, and she needs help getting them. Thankfully she's level-headed and determined enough to accept it where she can, even if it's not in the most welcome of packages.

Jack, in the Evie's words, was "dangerous, compelling, impossible to ignore and—confusing." Now, I'm not normally a supporter of girls hanging around (or falling for) the dark and dangerous boys, but if there's one good reason to allow it, running around the post-apocalyptic landscape has to be it. And Jack was a pretty handy guy to have around, even if he was extremely difficult to work with most of the time. He's prone to thinking he knows best about anything and everything, and being close-mouthed about information he's decided Evie is too soft to handle, but he does earn points for having a mostly good head on his shoulders and deciding to protect Evie at all costs.

The romance between these two would be best described as 'Off and On'. They've each got personal baggage and prejudices against each other, yet are still trying to make the best of it. Their relationship does suffer from the 'inexplicably drawn to each other' trope, as well as some unbelievably chauvinistic ideology from Jack concerning sex and "owing him", but I'm happy to say that Evie holds her ground against him. Jack and Evie both suffer from jealousy at various points, and their communication skills leave a lot to be desired, plus I think most of the attraction between the two is based solely on mystery/curiosity and isolation. In short, I don't see it working out between them, but we'll see where it goes.

Along their journey they meet up with some other kids their age (15-18). Matthew is the kind of character you'll either love or hate. He's got a strange way of talking (possibly autistic) and sharing information, but he seems to have the best of intentions when it comes to Evie, even if it is detrimental to himself. Finn shows up a bit late, but I found him fun enough in his short while. He's your typical cocky, womanizing roguish character, but he's in the background enough not to make a nuisance of himself.

Selena, on the other hand, was downright bitchy. Because she's so secretive and hateful toward our narrator, it makes it seem like she's that way for seemingly no good reason other than to serve the plot. Gee, Evie can't have another girl friend, and girls always fight over guys, so Selena will be super-ultra-mega-alpha-bitch and flirt nonstop with Jack just to make Evie's life harder. Who knows, she might actually have a good reason for being the way she is, and we'll get the whole story later, but for now, she seems to be there solely to piss me (and Evie) off.

But what about that whole Tarot thing I mentioned? Well, I admit I have zero knowledge about the Tarot and the mythos surrounding it, so I took the story at face value. With that in mind, I found it original and intriguing. I don't want to spoil too much here, since the discovery of different aspects is integral to the plot, but I was especially interested in the abilities of each of the Tarot cards. I'm actually a bit torn now as to whether I want to do my own researching into Tarot, or if I want to wait until the series is over so as to not potentially spoil things for myself. So I can't really report (yet) on how accurate the lore is or isn't, but it was at least interesting enough to get an uneducated soul like me completely hooked.

One thing I wasn't completely sold on the lore had to do with fate. I've never really been one to enjoy when fate or destiny work into a narrative, unless the characters ultimately break free of it. And even then, it seems like more of an excuse for the characters to be dicks to each other than anything else. Here it didn't seem much different. Sure, destiny may have brought on this post-apocalypse, and the appearance of these strange powers, but then what? Are their powers based on their original personalities, or must they change their personality/ideals in order to reach their full potential?

I mentioned earlier that Evie undergoes a major change through the course of this story. Part of me understands that changes have to be made in order to survive. Adapt or die, essentially. And apparently the rest of humanity (in southern USA at least) turn into zombies or complete psychos after the apocalypse, so Evie has to become something even stronger if she's to survive. On the one hand, I'm glad that she asserts herself and does become a complete badass chick. On the other hand, is it wrong of me to wish she didn't have to give up her ideals in order to achieve that? Why did she have to stoop to their level, as it were, and abandon her initial worldview instead of using her abilities to prove it existed?

Guess I'll have to see how it progresses in the rest of the series. I'm still not 100% sold on this destiny/fate thing and how it factored into the big reveal at the end of the book, but I'm too hooked on all the other lore and interesting characters to give up so easily. Plus, rumor has it that the next book (Endless Knight) focuses on a new super-mysterious character, one who might offer better romantic fare.

Overall, I found Poison Princess to be a surprisingly intriguing introduction to a new series. The romance was a bit hit or miss with me, but I'd easily recommend it for those who like YA paranormal romance with a post-apocalyptic flare, or anyone who's looking for something new and unpredictable in YA. Quite a bit of violence and some uncomfortable conversations about sex makes this a high-school-and-up recommendation from me. So if you've any interest in Tarot or just want some variety in your sassy, super-powered heroines, Poison Princess is a must for your list.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Emma Galvin & Keith Nobbs
Length: 12.5 Hours
Listened at 2.3x Speed

After experiencing so many humdrum audios lately, I was thrilled to finally have something out of the ordinary. Because the book switches from two very different perspectives, the production team decided to cast two separate readers—Keith Nobbs for Arthur's three chapters, and Emma Galvin for Evie's majority. Not only did this simple casting provide variety and uniqueness, but I actually found both readers seemed more passionate about their performances than most I've heard recently. There seemed to be a real interest in conveying emotions, extreme or otherwise, such that all the sass, the sorrow, and the joy really came through in their readings.

I also appreciated the audio for the huge amount of French/Creole speech and accents. Jack especially was difficult to read at times, and not only when he lapsed into full-on French. Evie also had a bit of a southern drawl about her, which only fleshed out her character and accentuated her sass even more. Don't know if that was native to Ms. Galvin or if added, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

Overall, this was a solid audio that I can happily recommend to others. Whether you're a seasoned listener or not, I think, so long as the story piques your interest, you'll enjoy this production. And because of the energetic reading, I think this would be a great audio to put in for long car rides. Don't have to worry about nodding off to the drone with this production (unless you prefer nodding off, then something else might be in order). A welcomed change of pace after a string of duds, I was happily surprised in more ways than one with Poison Princess.

Disclaimer: I read an e-copy of this book for free via Simon & Schuster Inc./SimonTeen's 31 Days of Reading promotion on their website, PulseIt.com. In addition, I checked out a copy of the audiobook at my local library. I received nothing in exchange for this review.