Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review: Burning Kingdoms by Lauren DeStefano

Burning Kingdoms

Author: Lauren DeStefano
Release: March 10th 2015
Genre: Utopia, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, YA
#2 in the Internment Chronicles trilogy
Series: Perfect Ruin (#1), Broken Crowns (#3)


Danger descends in the second book of The Internment Chronicles, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Chemical Garden trilogy.

After escaping Internment, Morgan and her fellow fugitives land on the ground to finally learn about the world beneath their floating island home.

The ground is a strange place where water falls from the sky as snow, and people watch moving pictures and visit speakeasies. A place where families can have as many children as they want, their dead are buried in vast gardens of bodies, and Internment is the feature of an amusement park.

It is also a land at war.

Everyone who fled Internment had their own reasons to escape their corrupt haven, but now they’re caught under the watchful eye of another king who wants to dominate his world. They may have made it to the ground, but have they dragged Internment with them?


Lauren DeStefano weaves magic with her words, is what she does. I am seriously so in awe of how eloquent she is. Her writing style is simply so smooth and beautiful, nothing else — no one else — can compare.

We collect a few stares from passersby, but they mean nothing. We are young and enchanted and clattering with beads. We are untouchable.
“We can't be kings,” I tell her. “We're girls.”
“So what, we're girls?” Pen says. “We can be anything we want, and tonight I want to be a king of this mad world.”

And so I really, really love these characters to bits and pieces. I am sure that lots of people will find some faults with the heroine, Morgan, but to be honest, I identified with her a lot. In a way, she is a bit passive, yes — especially in comparison to her fiery, adventurous friend Pen — but I loved her thoughtfulness, sensibility and rationality. She went things over, and while she did have impulsive outbursts, she strove to make her words and actions count in any way possible. Morgan is such a refreshing, unique protagonist to me that I can't help but adore her so much. 

The same is true for most of the other characters. Pen is reckless and doesn't ever hold back, Celeste is bold and unafraid, Alice is kind and sweet, Amy is clever and deep, Birdie is dainty and defiant; just the sheer amount of so many diverse female characters was astounding. The only thing missing was racial diversity, because all of them are white, but in character at least, they were all so vastly different from each other and you could discover something new about any one of them any given time. This book was so pro-feminist, and that alone already made it great. But it's also simply the fact that DeStefano works so well with all these different types of characters and breathes so much life into them, I ended up caring immensely about them. 

And let's not forget the beautiful, amazing and lovely lady friendships that the author has created in this world. Seriously, possibly the very best thing about this book, aside from the writing of course, is the huge amount of different kinds of female friendships. Pen and Morgan's is the most prominent, obviously, and most developed, but there are others as well. Morgan and Amy come to a sort of understanding, there's Morgan and Celeste, and Birdie and Pen and Morgan, and even Celeste and Pen, who don't get along and are constantly bitching at each other, but it's nothing bad. They aren't fighting over boys or talking each other down because of any shallow reasons, but there's actual substance to their dislike which makes their relationship an interesting one as well. As I said, however, Pen and Morgan really do take the cake here, I cannot tell you how much I adore their friendship, which is probably the primary thing the book is about. Romance? Plays a very minor role, if any, but friendship and loyalty are some very important themes of the novel.

As we grew up, Thomas and Basil teased Pen and me about the way we cared for each other. I've always suspected there was a bit of jealousy under all of it, that each of the boys knew they had to share the girl they loved. What Pen and I have for each other isn't a threat to our betrothals, but we have each other's hearts just the same.

And, I already mentioned, Celeste and Morgan, too. Their budding partnership and later developing into a steady, solid friendship is an extremely intriguing part of it as well, because it seems so feeble and fallible at first, but as Celeste grows more and more into a trustworthy, mature character, so does her friendship with Morgan. They support and trust each other in the end, and they have come such a long way since the day Celeste kidnapped Morgan.

I put my arms around her, and she tenses, surprised, before she embraces me. “Look at me,” she says miserably. “falling to pieces like this.”
“Anyone else would have fallen to pieces long before this,” I say. “I've lost my wits about a thousand times since we've touched the ground.”
She draws back just enough to look at me. She shakes her head. “You could have been royalty,” she says. “You have the steel of a king and the heart of a queen.”
(...) Celeste puts her forehead to mine. “We haven't seen the last of each other,” she says.

I'm not done talking about great relationships yet though, because this book is full of them. Seriously, it has it all. The relationship between the five Piper siblings, for example, is also so well crafted and raw, or the way Judas takes care of Amy, and Celeste constantly being worried about her brother Azure. Taking the cake this time, however, has to be Lex and Morgan. Their familial relationship has always been extremely difficult and I believe that it's been a hard one to put into words for DeStefano, because every single word counts, and it could make or break the chemistry between them. Things have been tense between them over the course of the whole books, but it hasn't always been obvious. And things came to a finale in this novel, with the appropriate repercussions following.

“Don't confuse my philosophies for yours, Little Sister. I'll go on hating everything, and you'll go on finding the good in things that don't deserve it. And we'll never agree, but we'll both be right.”
(...) “I have scars from that day too, Lex. You didn't take a plunge off Internment's edge alone, you know. You took us all with you. Mom, Dad, Alice, and me. We've all had to watch as it took over our lives. That day you crossed the tracks, you didn't think about what would happen to us, not at all. You didn't need Mom and Dad anymore, but I still needed them.” My voice has gotten louder, but it cracks. “I needed them.”

I swear, this has got to be the most heartbreaking scene in all of the book. I cried, I really did, and it was gut-wrenching. 

Still not done, however. One last item needs to be checked off the list, and that's romance. I've said it doesn't play a huge role, but it is still there on the sidelines, but I have to say that I'm so damn glad that it took a backseat, because it truly wasn't needed at all. The friendships and familial relationships and everything else already turned this book into enough of a sob fest and emotional rollercoaster, so it didn't need to add anything else to it. Nevertheless, I loved the fact that DeStefano included what she did, because it tells the tale of how a boy and a girl can care so much about each other that they'll always be there for each other, but don't love each other. It tells a tale of how you don't have to end up with someone who understands you completely, even if people tell you to. 

When I read the first novel, I really thought I'd be in for a love triangle along the likes of the one in Matched. Because Basil and Morgan have been betrothed when they were born, and it seems to our modern standards that you couldn't ever grow to love someone who was chosen for you, and there we have a boy who doesn't have anyone laid out for him anymore (much like Ky) and is "available." It seemed natural that Morgan would realize she doesn't have feelings for Basil and fall for Judas instead. That never came though, and she was content and happy with Basil. Still, something changes in this second book and I liked the transition. The thing with Judas came a little fast, I'll admit, but the slow drifting off from Basil? Perfect. Just perfect. And it's not really "drifting off" anyway, because they're still close. Just not anything more. I liked that.

“But I see now that we can't have what other people have. I don't want us to. I've grown up feeling my own way for you, and it's just something that's in me, and I've always known it, [...]. I love you in a way that I've felt never needed to be said. [...] I'm still here when you need me.” [...] We spend the rest of the afternoon at each other's side, [...] but something has changed between us.”

So. After all this gushing, I feel that I have to admit the one thing that has been weighing on my mind the whole time, however. Because, beneath all the great characters and fascinating dynamics, there has been a considerable lack of actual plot. The first half of the book, or at least a good chunk of it, is exclusively nothing plot-relevant. It's just building up characters, relationships and their development, nothing more. It's fun to read, yes, because it is entertaining in some way, but to be perfectly honest after a while something was simply missing. A little bit of action, or an end goal, something to keep me wondering what was going to happen next. And that's why, in the end, I didn't end up loving this one as much as its predecessor.

Still, I feel the need to point out again how much I adore the writing. To drive my point home, and because I obviously haven't quoted enough yet, let me quote some more. I'm sorry, but I have just highlighted so many beautiful, lovely passages that I feel I have to post them all, or at least my favorites. And I have many favorites, so I can't choose between those as well which ones to post. Bear with me.

I've recently begun to believe that love is synonymous with madness. It can't possibly be an act of sanity. It is restless and always in pursuit. It will fall from the sky to have what it wants.

Outside, the smell of damp earth and the singing of crickets go on uninterrupted. The basics of nature see no cause to be still for the likes of us.

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