Friday, August 28, 2015

The Conspiracy of Not Again

"Why do you build me up buttercup, baby,
 just to let me down and mess me around?"

The Foundations' lyrics accurately encapsulate my feelings about many YA thrillers.  The Conspiracy of Us was another in a long line of books that didn't live up to my expectations (even when I lowered said expectations considerably!).


I admit it: the cover dragged me into this one.  I want that dress.  I like the compass.  It's pitched as a teen Da Vinci Code, which could work without all the pompous woo-wah of Dan Brown's "symbologist."  Unfortunately, it falls into many of DVC's traps, as well.

Okay, first lesson to YA writers out there: violet eyes belong to Tamora Pierce's Alanna and her twin brother.  That's it.  You cannot give any of your characters violet eyes without invoking the Woman Who Rides Like A Man, and if you're not writing at Tammy Pierce's level, then, ooh.  Kiss of death.  I automatically assume that you're cribbing from one of the greatest YA fantasies ever, so things will not start off on the right foot.

It's the little things like this that really killed The Conspiracy of Us for me, and strangely, not the nonsensical plot.  I mean, if you're doing a secret-society thriller, that requires major suspension of disbelief.  You're going to have a wacky plot by default.  So the whole idea that there's these families who are descendants of Alexander the Great's generals and who rule the world isn't exactly a foreign concept in this subgenre.  That didn't bother me.  Nor did the ruthlessness, the backstabbing, or the tacky names they gave different family members.  "Keeper" my foot.

Okay, so plot rundown:

Avery West has just moved to a new school for the gajillionth time.  Her mom is a military contractor (or so she claims!!!) and every time she receives a "mandate," they have to move.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  Avery's just resigned to never having friends or a social life, especially because she was sooooo bullied by kids when they first saw her violet eyes.

First of all, let's establish that you actually cannot have truly violet eyes unless you also have albinism.  In that case, your body lacks melanin (what I like to call skin tint) and can't cover the blood vessels in the eyes.  This is not a fantasy-esque violet.  This is a medical condition.  Elizabeth Taylor's eyes were just a very deep blue.

In order to just fit in and be normal, Avery wears brown lenses.  She's also very afraid of heights and ... yeah, that's about it.  She's kind of a non-entity in the personality department.  So when the exceedingly  hot and mysterious even-newer-than-her guy at school, Jack, drops a photo of her, she's not freaked out.  She's intrigued.  She's even tempted to break her rule to go to prom with him.

Now, I honestly have no idea what actually happened in the prom scene.  It was so chaotic that I just couldn't follow it.  But in the end, this hot Russian dude named Stefan shows up and convinces Avery to leave Jack (who was also pursuing her) because he knows about her dad.  So, Avery hops on a plane to Paris with this guy she totally doesn't know.  Girl, please.

So, anyway, they end up in Paris, and Stefan both threatens her and tries to seduce her, but Avery is just Way Too Smart for that.  They pull into one of the courtyards at the Louvre, which is an entrance to a wing that a bunch of Super Rich Families ... own? Rent?  Which I'm pretty sure doesn't work, since most of the Louvre is chock-ful 'o art, but I guess they have sneaky rooms that they let the ultra-rich use.  Because these families aren't just rich, they're *dramatic music plays* secretly ruling the world!!!

Yes.  These twelve families, called The Circle, each control various parts of the world and influence world events.  WWI?  The Circle.  The Crusades?  Circle again!  Now, one of the Circle families, the Saxons, has taken an interest in Avery because they feel she may be a distant relative.  Jack (as I have said before, there are far too many "Jack" love interests in fiction in general, so please just stop now) is a Keeper of the Saxon family, which ... I don't know what that means.  He's like a messenger minion.  Stefan is one as well, but for a different family.  They are fighting this other secret group called The Order, whose main purpose is to eliminate The Circle.

tl;dr Group of powerful people threatened by other group of powerful people.  Heroine is a long-lost speshul snowflake.

It's all pretty wild, but in the realm of conspiracy thrillers, it's actually pretty tame.  What killed for me were the heroine's idiocy and the inaccuracies with language and place.

Teenagers make some bad decisions.  I work with them every day, and I was one, so I'm pretty confident on that point.  However, it is unlikely that outside of a book you will find teen girls or boys making a near-constant string of idiotic and life-threatening decisions.

For example, would a teen you know hop into a private jet with a guy who recently threatened her life to go to Paris to meet a father she's never known?  And even if they did, would said teen then believe everything these strange and very, very rich people tell her, even when people's heads get cut off (not exaggerating here)?  And then, would she fly to Istanbul to go clubbing with the same people who cut other people's heads off because why not?

Plus, we all know that she will fall for a guy--and in this case, all the guys are the wrong sort of guy--and be all torn up about it and blah blah blah.

The other thing that really gets my goat (if I had a goat) is the fact that authors (not just the author of this book, although she becomes my example) choose to set their books in other cities but don't particularly bother to learn about the geography of the city.  Ditto for language.  Yes, Paris is a very pretty place, but it's not "color-coordinated" like Avery thinks it is.  Dogs chient on the sidewalks, not everyone looks like a fashion plate, and the Seine?  Well, I wouldn't swim in it.  Another reader pointed out that later in the book, Avery ends up at the Ferris wheel in the Tuileries, but refers to it as being at the Louvre.  No.  It.  Is.  Not.

Avery's protectors, initially, are the Dauphins.  I just wonder whether a Very French Family would send a guest to buy a ballgown at Prada.  If the family were Milanese?  Sure, why not?  But why didn't they send her to Dior?  I quite liked some of the formals that Lagerfeld did for Chanel this year as well--very flapperesque.  I love a lot of Prada's gown designs, but since there's so much emphasis placed on families being loyal to their country, I had to side-eye the Prada choice.  But gawd, I would totally do that.  Not that anything would fit me, but.

Finally, there are some sad language fails that could have easily been remedied by a decent copy editor.  Luc, one of the Dauphins, calls Avery "cherie" instead of "chérie."  Although they are small, accent marks have a bearing on how words are pronounced--they're not just they're to look cute.  He also translates "[le] devoir" as meaning "anxiety" when he means "duty."  When he tells Avery about this prophecy, AKA The Mandate (a-HA!), about a girl with violet eyes and a Chosen One dude like saving the world or whatever, he says, "The mandate, it is good.  And, it is destinée."  I looked that word for a loooong time before realizing that Luc meant to use it as a noun--"la destinée" and not as a modifier to mandate, marriage, or union, all of which are masculine or neuter nouns in French and would therefore necessitate the usage of "destiné," i.e. "un mariage destiné."  Even as a non-native speaker, it's not normal for me to leave off the article in front of a noun even while switching languages.  A liberal sprinkling of woo-woo French does not a cosmopolitan or erudite novel make.  I know that this is exceedingly nitpicky, but it's the sort of thing that just drives me up the wall because it's really a very easy fix.  This makes me think that the author and the editor and the publisher don't care about other languages.

I ended up groaning in agony when they whisk Avery off to Istanbul to go clubbing in an Hervé Léger bandage dress and she doesn't know what that is.  Dudes, you are exempt, but there was a time when everyone and their mother wore Léger.  The Kardashians wear the bandage dress all.  The.  Time.  It's not exactly on the cutting edge anymore.  And yet the most powerful people in the world think this is a good alternative to Prada?  Yes, I am a dress snob.  No, I can't afford them, but I can dream!

And then she storms out of the club in the rain and stomps around in her Louboutins and lo!  What is that?  It's another hot guy on a motorcycle, come to spy on save Avery!  Yayyyyyy!

I'm done.

I think a lot of people will like this.  Just not me.


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