Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Cheese Stands Alone

Nothing in the book I'm about to discuss really has anything to do with cheese.  But you know the rhyme about the Farmer in the Dell, right?  He takes a wife, and everyone picks something/someone until the cheese stands alone.  Often, when I'm reading an ARC, particularly of a YA book, I feel like the cheese.  Everyone's in love and I'm there on the sidelines, standing alone with my Scrooge-esque complaints.  Bah, humbug! indeed.

This syndrome is exacerbated when the book I end up not finishing or not enjoying is one that I'd been waiting to read for months.  I mentally poke myself and mutter, "Hello?  Are you sure this is how you feel?  You're not overreacting?  Okay, yeesh, fine.  Your opinion is valid."

The latest book to fall, unfinished, from my hands was Miss Mabel's School for Girls by Katie Cross.  I thought, "Ooh, fun boarding school fantasy!" and I got a confused muddle of a story that wanted to be Harry Potter but didn't even make it to the starting line.


Bianca Monroe, our fearless harridan protagonist, is living in a fantasy world that seems to take its cues from 19th-century Britain.  Since it's pretty clear that this world is built on regulations, social cues, and other hallmarks of a highly-stratified society, I would expect the language and vocabulary to reflect that.  Instead, these young ladies at a very exclusive magical boarding school talk like any gaggle of teen girls.  "Her dad is rich so she gets away with it."  Well, I would have thought that Miss Mabel, in addition to any arcane teachings, would have at least instructed her students not to mention money.  Money is so vulgar, don't you know?  This is the part where I snap my fan open and wiggle it back and forth frantically.

It is imperative that Bianca not only pass the (supposedly) rigorous examination to get into the academy, but she must also win this series of witch ... tournament ... things so that she can be Miss Mabel's particular student.  Why?  Well, she's cursed.  Of course she is.  This, however, does not prevent her from having been a sooper-speshul snowflake and having her dad teach her ALL THE SPELLS before she even gets to school.

Then, in true snowflake fashion, when actually called upon to utilize those skills, she blanks and makes clumsy mistakes and forgets how to do what she's supposedly an expert at doing (AHEM Celaena Sardothian Syndrome!).

After the first test in the tournament, I knew this wasn't for me.  The clincher was the author's tired, overused, and offensive linking of physical appearance and mental aptitude.  Michelle, one of the cook's assistants, "lurked to my left with her stocky, broad shoulders.  Her lips and nose were too big for her face, making her eyes look small and beady.  She hunched her shoulders forward, as if she was trying to make herself small, out of place in a world so far from her usual work in the kitchen."

Really?  There is so little I actually feel like saying to that because it's so clich√© and so offensive.  "Aha!  I need a character who's not very smart, so I'll make her as physically unattractive as possible! Practically a Neanderthal!"  Because as we all know, big people are bad and thin people are good.

No!  It doesn't work like that!  Our precocious narrator, who is presumably of slim stature (all of these types of protagonists are, you know--willowy yet possessed of iron strength) is insufferably rude and scheming.  So why does she get to be pretty and talented?

All of the reviews that I've read so far are overflowing with frantic praise.  I am the cheese and I stand alone.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

2 comments:

  1. It's so frustrating when a book you're excited about just doesn't cut it. (I actually had that problem with Throne of glass and every book I've tried by that author!) But it's important sometimes to be the dissenting opinion and I'm glad to know this one had some major flaws. Thanks for pointing them out!

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    1. Yes, I really wanted to love Throne of Glass but nothing ... happened. I couldn't believe her as an assassin. Similarly, I couldn't believe Bianca was as talented as the author said she was.

      And any sort of body shaming in a book at all earns it Big Black Marks in my book. -_-

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