Third Time, Er, Lucky With The Trilogy

Dark and Hollow PlacesWere I the superstitious type, I’d say I wasn’t meant to read The Dark and Hollow Places, the third book in first-time and break-out author Carrie Ryan’s trilogy. I’d read the first two books, which were classed as ‘zombie romances’ and, having already invested significant time and energy and interest, I figured I should finish the reading journey.

I’ve blogged previously about these zombie-themed young adult books penned by someone afraid of zombies. I’ve confessed that I have an overactive imagination, am absolutely terrified of zombies, and have to run and jump into bed in the middle of the night lest I be bitten by the ones I for some reason think might be lurking about in my apartment. I reasoned, though, that it’s not like I can be any more scared of zombies than I am now, ergo reading book three would be easy.

But knowing the third book was coming out and getting my reading hands on it were two very different things. I emailed Ryan twice to request an interview. Tumbleweeds. I emailed the Australian distributors three times to request a review copy and perhaps an interview with Ryan. More tumbleweeds. I pre-ordered the book with my own moolah so it would be shipped to me as soon as it was released and tried to give Ryan and her publishers the benefit of the doubt—maybe my five emails got lost in the internet ether.

Forest of HandsThen I checked my mailbox daily (sometimes twice daily) once Boomerang Books had started the book on its merry way. No book. No book for 10 days. I followed up and confirmed that it had been delivered. Within two days of being shipped. I checked with the post office just in case they’d withheld the package as it may not have fitted in my mailbox (they know me well; I buy a lot of books; they hold a lot of my packages), but this time came up empty-handed.

I have a theory about what happened to The Dark and Hollow Places, but can’t prove it. Let’s just say I find it a little suspicious that my highly anticipated package went missing the same day as one of my other neighbours’. And that both packages’ non-arrivals coincided with the departure of our sketchy, sketchy neighbours who’d inflicted the whole apartment block to six months of unhappiness and who were finally, after much legal wrangling and served notices, being turfed out.

But regardless of my alleged, impossible-to-prove theory, I remained book-less. So I re-ordered The Dark and Hollow Places and waited for Boomerang Books to re-ship. They were quick as always, so I didn’t have to wait long, and the new package arrived without issue. I guess you could say it was a case of third time, er, lucky with the trilogy.

I offer this background simply because it kind of upped the expectation ante. Waiting so long for the book to be released and having to work so hard to get it into my hands once it was meant that I was always going to want it to rock my reading world. That and the fact that I’ve recently read some absolute page turners that cover similar themes. I’m talking, of course, about Vampire Academy and The Passage, both of which I’ve blogged about here before.

EragonI hadn’t encountered these books when I found the first Ryan book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and while I inhaled The Dark and Hollow Places—all 370-odd pages in a five-hour reading frenzy—when I stack it up next to these other books it doesn’t seem so amazing. It’s good and it’s compelling, but I can’t help but think it lacks a bit of the sophistication and downright cleverness of the others.

I also can’t shake the gnawing (no pun intended) feeling that there are only so many scenarios you can prop up with zombies—faceless, personality-less antagonists that are a dime a dozen and that stick to a formulaic script of moaning and shuffling and biting. It gets a bit tired (or maybe I have) by the third book and I found (without revealing any major plot devices and ruining the story for you) that Ryan was coming up with increasingly unbelievable scenarios to try to propel the story forward or get herself out of a dead end.

Specifically, I was confused by how everyone seemed to suddenly be scrambling over rooftops and then scurrying through pitch-black subways without any kind of light. I rolled my eyes at how one island could still be standing when the massive, unstoppable horde took what is, I think, meant to be New York City. And Ryan pretty much lost me when she had the characters building life-saving but insanely complex contraptions. None were particularly feasible and the characters seemed to be avoiding almost certain death by zombies like, er, the plague.

The PassageTo be fair, though, I did devour the book in one burning-the-midnight-oil sitting and I am pleased to have finally read the book after a very, very long wait (there’s a lot to be said for discovering a series only after they’ve all been written and released so you’re not waiting on tenterhooks for years in between).

It’s also worth noting that I foolishly didn’t refresh my knowledge of the trilogy with a quick re-read of the first two books and perhaps some of the nuances and interwoven plots were kind of lost on me. I know. All this time spent waiting and I could have been prepping with two re-reads. Shame on me.

So, the verdict is that The Dark and Hollow Places is worth a read, including after much difficulty in obtaining a copy. I think it’s the end of the trilogy—I was a little worried Ryan was going to pull a Christopher Paolini, who talked up his tale as a trilogy and then extended it beyond the doorstopper of a third instalment; the fourth and maybe/who knows final book has just been announced for release in November. At least, I hope it is the end. Ryan’s left it pretty open-ended, but while it’s been fun, I think even she is starting to realise there are only so many ways you can tackle zombies.

Angels in YA Literature (Part 2) – Closer to Godliness

An article in The Guardian, published April 2010, discusses Philip Pullman as a possible trendsetter for the current onslaught of angels in YA fiction. One of the voices of the article claims that “on the ladder that goes up from the mushroom to God, angels are one rung above us”– angels are seen as superior to vampires because they are superior to humans and thus, are “more fertile ground” for the inspired author and the greedy YA reader.

In the second book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman introduces a pair of supernatural lovers in the form of homosexual angels, who meet with the tween protagonists in one of the parallel worlds featuring prominently in the trilogy. Whilst the angels are not major characters in the series, their presence is significant not only for the connotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost (Pullman cites the story as one of his major inspirations), but also because their description is a massive departure from previous religion connotations of winged beings. The ‘nouveau angels’ from Pullman’s books in their own unusual manner and description express a need for companionship, and feelings of desire and love – previously human-only traits.

Angels in YA literature, as touched on in Part 1 have become like teen humans, hormones-a-racing and usually with something to prove. It should come as no surprise then, that teen protagonists in these supernatural novels are now being written by their contemporaries – teens themselves.

On the homefront, Alexandra Adornetto, at the tender age of 17 has three books to her name from when she signed a publishing deal with publishing giants HarperCollins, and is now embarking on an entirely different journey with Halo, due for release later this year. The twist lies in the way the angels in this book are portrayed – they’re not the tortured, dark supernaturals we’ve come to expect, but rather have their own more ‘heavenly’ reasons for investing themselves in earth’s affairs.

But Alexandra’s not the only teen Aussie on the brink of international angel fiction fame. When I first picked up Charlotte McConaghy’s Arrival (Book 1, Strangers of Paragor) mid-2009, I’ll admit it was total cover lust, and not much else. It was only when I’d finished reading, and completely fallen in love with the characters and the world-building of Paragor, that I discovered the author finished writing the book when she was 16! The heavily-anticipated second book in the series by Miss McConaghy, aptly titled Descent, has been released this month. While angels play a fairly small part in Arrival, there’s the promise of more angel action in the later books, portraying angels as the hero messengers – not so far from its original religious context as one would expect from a teen growing up in the age of Twilight, Hush,Hush and Fallen.

The overwhelming feeling one garners from these books is that new Australian YA angels in fiction don’t fit the Edward Cullen mould. They seem, strangely, to be moving away from the tortured and tragic Byronic teen love interest. With Aussie teens themselves weighing in on the heavenly side of the angel craze, the character of the angel in literature lends itself to a new interpretation – is the craving for angel fiction in YA circles not in fact a generation looking for the new vampire, but rather the evolving natural rebellion of a generation in need of a character closer to God?