Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review: The Circle by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg

The Circle

Authors: Sara B. Elfgren & Mats Strandberg
Release: May 2nd 2013 (in English)
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Magic, Witches
#1 in the Engelsfors trilogy
Sequel: Fire (#2), The Key (#3)

Plot:

On a night after the apparent suicide of high school student Elias Malmgren, a blood-red moon fills the night sky. Minoo wakes up outside her house, still in her pajamas, and is drawn by an invisible force to an abandoned theme park on the outskirts of town. Soon five of her classmates--Vanessa, Linnea, Anna-Karin, Rebecka and Ida--arrive, compelled the same force. A mystical being takes over Ida's body and tells them they are fated to fight an ancient evil that is hunting them. The park is a safe haven; the school, a place of danger. The six are wildly different and definitely not friends…but they are the Chosen Ones.

As the weeks pass, each girl discovers she has a unique magical ability. They begin exploring their powers, but they are not all firmly committed to their mission--to discover the truth about Elias's death. Then a horrible tragedy strikes within the circle. Newly determined to fight the evil forces, they begin to learn magic from The Book of Patterns, an ancient work with a will of its own that reveals different things to different witches.

In this gripping first installment of the Engelsfors Trilogy, a parallel world emerges in which teenage dreams, insanely annoying parents, bullying, revenge, and love collide with flirtation, dangerous forces, and ancient magic. An international sensation with rights sold in 24 countries, The Circle is razor-sharp and remarkable from start to finish.

Review:

A solid three stars.

This is one of those books that, upon finishing, sit back and think back upon "Wow, that was really good!" However, upon further inspection, you realize that actually, it's not as good as you thought it was, not at all. 

The things I really liked about this book were the whole Circle plotline and the intertwining storylines of every single character, it all kind of reminded me of W.I.T.C.H., a cartoon I really liked as a kid (I even bought the game for the Gameboy Advanced!). Still, as much as I hoped for a new fantasy dimension (re: blurb mentions a "parallel world" ...), it never came and I was stuck with a semi-contemporary featuring high school drama, high school drama and, oh yeah — high school drama. I'd even almost go so far as to say that the ordinary drama stuff takes up at least just as much, if not even more space than the actual witch stuff. And that is just not acceptable. I'm sorry, but at times I really found myself staring into the invisible camera going, "Really b really?"

What ties into exactly that is that these characters are just infuriating. I swear I have never come across a cast that has frustrated me more than this one. I am all for grey morale characters, for characters that you don't always like and with whose choices you don't always agree with, but if I am internally screaming at everything every single character, with the possible exception of Minoo, does, then that is also not really optimal. Seriously, the times I was this close to committing either suicide or libricide were numerous, simply because these girls can't get shit done for the lives of them. And I mean that literally, their lives are on the line and yet they're still bumbling around incompetently and keeping secrets from each other. God fucking damn it. 



Another point that really annoyed me was that this book could have brought into play so many truly interesting relationships, yet even that isn't an issue. I would have been lenient and blamed it on the "short length" of the novel, but come on, this is 600 freaking pages, there would have been way enough time to develop and flesh out the relationships between each and every Chosen One. We get small glimpses and flashes every now and then, but the main relationships we focus on are Minoo and Rebecka and Linnéa and Vanessa. That's it. I swear to God, what the hell? Why? You have the rare chance to build some unforgettable, unique friend- and relationships here, yet you fucking waste it. Which reminds me, at first I was really ecstatic because I thought I finally found myself a cast of some diverse female characters, but even that is a lie. It seems to me that 4/6 have parental issues and a hard home life, and are just generally really similar in character and personality, not to mention the fact we don't even know anything about Ida. Seriously, who is that girl? She's a Chosen One but it seemed like even Nicolaus played a more important role than her. Also, as far as I'm concerned, the only POC would be Minoo (although I'm not even sure of that, because if she is, then it's mentioned once and never again — I'm making the assumption based off of her name here), but I am willing to overlook that since it does take place in Scandinavia after all. Still, for fuck's sake — even W.I.T.C.H. managed to have 2/5 be POC. As for their individuality, yes, they all had to overcome their personal issues but the way it was dealt with kind of felt like I was reading the same over and over again. Anyway, back to my original point: I was really interested in maybe seeing Linnéa and Minoo, and like I said we do get a few glimpses into their relationship with each other, but it's not enough. Ida and Anna-Karin would have been interesting to explore as well, the bully and the victim forced together, but NOPE.  



Ultimately, I did enjoy the novel overall. My main complaint remains that it's simply so much wasted potential, which I'm hoping will be remedied in the sequel, as well as that it's drawn out way too long, which I already know wasn't remedied in the sequel, and in fact, that one's even longer than this one. We'll see, I guess. I do plan on purchasing the sequel.

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