Friday, February 21, 2014

The Endless Knight, An Immortal Killer

This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous book, Poison Princess or don't mind knowing some spoilers for it. Endless Knight, however, will remain spoiler-free.

Endless Knight
~Endless Knight~
The Arcana Chronicles
Book 2
By Kresley Cole
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Shocking secrets.

Evie has fully come into her powers as the Tarot Empress, and Jack was there to see it all. She now knows that the teens who've been reincarnated as the Tarot are in the throes of an epic battle. It's kill of be killed, and the future of mankind hangs in the balance.
Unexpected allies.

With threats lurking around every corner, Evie is forced to trust her newfound alliance. Together they must fight not only other Arcana, but also Bagmen zombies, post-apocalypic storms, and cannibals.

Gut-wrenching treachery.

When Evie meets Death, things get even more complicated. Though falling for Jack, she's drawn to the dangerous Endless Knight as well. Somehow the Empress and Death share a history—one that Evie can't remember, but Death can't forget. ...

This book/series sure knows how to press my buttons. In all my years of reading (even before these last three of reviewing) I have come across quite a few things I despise reading. Besides poetry (which I'm forced to analyze) and long-winded sagas of nothingness, I've also run into a few tropes that I abhor, particularly if they are depicted in a favorable light, among which are included fate and possessive romances.

Guess which tropes are heavily featured in The Arcana Chronicles?

Picking up exactly where Poison Princess left off, we find Evie still coming down off of the buzz of unleashing her powers. And right away I'm torn on which direction I want Evie to go. On the one hand, the Empress powers make her completely bad-ass and a force to be reckoned with, but they also come with quite the bloodlust to contend with, pushing her more towards the Fated game the Arcana play. On the other hand, Evie pushes herself to fight the Empress bloodlust in order to appeal more to Jack, her extremely possessive and aggressive on-again/off-again boyfriend.

This struggle starts on page one and continues throughout the entire book, even working in a love triangle with Death. So for the entire book I'm torn between rooting for Evie to choose Fate or one of two horrible relationships. And let me reiterate: I hate Fate. The only time I can tolerate the presence of Fate is when its set up to ultimately fall to the forces of Free Will. But I also hate uber-possessive guys, especially when they're played up as being super romantic.

Let me recap Poison Princess a bit: Jack has been making moves on Evie from the first day she met him. After the apocalyptic Flash scorched the earth, he finds Evie and is persuaded by her mom to take Evie with him and help her survive. Sure, I can see the practicality of it, but I'm still not too thrilled with mom's "helpfulness" (aka matchmaking) here. Be that as it may, Jack teaches Evie the ropes, escorts her across the wasteland, protects her, and at the first sign of a safe haven immediately tries to have sex with her. When she refuses on the grounds of wanting to get to know him and move slower, Jack tells her it should be his right after everything he's done for her. Their relationship is rocky for the rest of the book.

or read less-spoilery next paragraph.

In this book, Jack starts out distant, giving mixed signals from day to day. Eventually Jack corners Evie naked in a tub to talk about their relationship. They come to an agreement and officially become a couple. Jack goes about calling her "Mine", not 'my love' or any other nicknames, but variations on "Mine". There's another significant experience shared between the two before they are forced to part ways.

So forgive me if I don't find Jack a great choice as a romantic interest. Sure, he can protect Evie in the post-apocalypse, but does he have to be such a dick about it? He thinks he's entitled to her, at one point tries to guilt her into sex, and has no issues forcing himself upon her even non-sexually (but always with sexual undertones). I don't find it endearing, I don't find it sexy, I find it disturbing. And I dearly wished for any guy to come in and sweep Evie off her feet instead.

Of course, leave it to the author to present a guy even more possessive than Jack.

Enter Death, the supposed big bad of the Arcana, and the one who has been threatening Evie since even before the Flash. He captures Evie, nullifies her powers, and whisks her away to his mountainside manor. There Evie is shown all the comforts of her old life, but is ultimately a prisoner awaiting the day Death will kill her. The situation actually reminds me a lot of Beauty and the Beast, with Evie trying to crack through Death's imposing exterior, learn his weaknesses, and escape, but eventually getting worn down and coming to love him instead.

And really, if it had stuck to that formula I wouldn't have had such a problem with it. But once certain truths come to light, Death is just as controlling and possessive of Evie as Jack was. Perhaps even moreso. And then the last two chapters happen and I wanted to throw the book through the wall. I get it, promises were made and broken, then reincarnation happens and things get a little blurry, but that doesn't change the fact that forcing love is NOT okay.

So you know what? Go for it, Empress. Give in to your bloodlust and kill all the shitty men in your life. Then go out and find a guy who's not shitty. There must be at least one in this world, right?

But what really kills me about this book/series is that I love everything else about it. I love the Tarot lore, the zombies, the super-powers, the supporting characters, the villains, the world. Hell, I don't even mind there being a love triangle. All I really mind is having to choose between romancing shitty men or following a pre-scripted Fate that calls for killing friends and allies. I like Evie, I really do, and I feel badly about the lot she's been given.

As much trouble as I had with this book, I'm still super psyched for the next book in the series. Evie ends off on another huge cliffhanger here, arguably even bigger than the last, so that definitely has something to do with it. But really the lore and characters are far too interesting for a little rage to get in the way of finding out how everything turns out for them. I don't know if Dead Of Winter will be the final book in the series, or if the chronicles will stretch past a trilogy. Part of me is hoping for a quick end to my romance rage, but the other hopes for some better choices for Evie to appear and stretch the series even further.

Overall, Endless Knight frustrated me yet still gave me enough glimpses of greatness that I came out with a favorable experience. I absolutely hated the romance, but for anyone who enjoyed the previous book it's probably still going to please. Cannibalism, violence, and a sex scene put this squarely in the range of *mature* high-school-and-up. So if you've got a thing for possessive relationships, or can imagine it as a saucy YA retelling of Beauty and the Beast, then Endless Knight offers an intriguing continuation of the Tarot-themed story.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Emma Galvin
Length: 11 Hours
Listened at 2.3x Speed

I actually had to do a double-check on who narrated this, making sure it was the same person who had done Poison Princess. For some reason, I didn't recognize any of the stellar voice-work that I'd previously praised in the last book. Not that it was bad, per say, but it didn't seem nearly as defined and unique as I remembered. Most of the guys sounded the same as other guys, and girls as other girls, with little except their words distinguishing them from one another. There were a couple exceptions, as with Joules and Ogen, but even Evie's southern drawl, which you would have thought essential to the series' continuity, seemed strangely muted or absent altogether.

However, forgiving me my possibly flawed memory, the recording was still well-executed and enjoyable to listen to. Perhaps not as vibrant and energetic in tone as its predecessor, it still provides a welcome experience for anyone choosing the audio format for the series. I do hope the third audio captures some of the passion from the first production, but for all intents and purposes Endless Knight did its job well.