Tuesday, November 17, 2015

CBR7 Review 2: Hidden by Megg Jensen

First review back, and it's not going to overwhelm you folks, since this book left me feeling so incredibly meh that I can't even work up vitriol about it.

Hidden is Book 1 of the Dragonlands series, which hardly matters since I cannot come up with a single compelling reason to continue the franchise. Since it's the first book, like first installments before it, this book is required to do a lot of the heavy lifting of world building and character creation.  Unfortunately, it does neither in a way that matters, though you can tell Jensen is trying. The book opens with a historical chapter, setting up the world in which our protagonists live. The children awaken to the town of Hutton's Bridge with no adults, surrounded by a fog that claims lives.  Our main story begins decades later, when the girl from our prologue, Sofia, is an old woman and great grandmother to our female protagonist, Tressa. The town has remained isolated all this time, and as such its residents have adapted life to being completely shut off from the rest of the world. Youths are paired off by ribbon drawing, designed to prevent inbreeding. If the union produces a pregnancy in 3 months, they are mated - if not, they draw again. Tressa appears to be infertile, making her a social outcast (more on this later), and also unable to be partnered with man she loves, Bastian, who happens to love her back. Every year, 3 people are selected supposedly at random to go into the fog and try to find a way out for their people - no one has ever returned.  On the eve of Tressa's departure into the fog, Sofia dies, leaving the community without their eldest resident, and the only person who was alive when the fog first descended. The following day, plague hits the village, a dead dragon drops from the sky, and Tressa, Bastian, and their friend Connor (who is barely developed at all before events change him) head into the fog.  It's not a spoiler to say that there is a wider world, and the youths discover it.  It's a much more terrifying and evil place than they had anticipated, however, and Bastian and Tressa reunite only to be split apart for their stories to continue.  And really, that's the only reason their stories split - narrative necessity.

That's all I can say without getting into spoiler territory, though spoiling this story really doesn't amount to much. The thing that rankled with me as opposed to merely causing excessive apathy was the treatment of Tressa in the village. I get that in a society where numbers are limited to your own tiny population, the ability to create more humans is an important thing.  That said, bodies aren't the only thing that makes a society work - you also need skilled tradesmen.  Tressa has skills of weaving that she uses to help the village, and she's also one of the only people capable of reading and writing. She's great granddaughter to the only person living (well, temporarily) that was there when the fog fell. She proves time again that she's resourceful, brave, and capable. And yet she's a complete pariah because she's barren?  Fuck that noise. Hell, we're talking about a society where women die in childbirth all the time, and 3 people get murdered by fog every year - let barren women like Tressa help take care of the orphans, which Tressa herself was (mom died in childbirth, dad lost to fog). It just seems like such a stupid waste, and a manipulatively anti-feminist way to create some three dimensionality to a character who doesn't get a lot to work with.

And that, friends, is the apathy motivator for this book - there just isn't a lot of there there. The prose is weak, the character development is competely informed rather than organic, the danger not all that compelling, the world building missing a lot of pieces.  Bastian and Tressa's relationship matters because we're told it does - we're not given enough time with them to see it develop or mean anything. It's also a cheap shot to make Vinya, Bastian's wife, into such a shrew. Setting up romantic roadblocks is fine, and can be interesting fiction, but don't take the lazy way out. She can be flawed and wrong for Bastian without being the personification of every horrible wife stereotype we've ever seen.  Hell, you could even leave the terrible wife things and at least make her a capable and loving mother - there's no reason at all to make her irredeemable.

The only character I really grew attached to is Leo, who we will not be seeing later in this series (not that it would inspire me to pick up another volume) because at least he was charming. Because he's supposed to be mysterious, we also don't have a lot of forced character development for him either, which worked far more effectively than what is done with the rest of the cast of characters.

End result? Skip it. It's not terrible, I'm not mad at it, I didn't throw it at a wall after finishing it because the ending made me mad (I'm looking at you Gone Girl and Her) - I just have no idea why I even finished reading it in the first place.

Check out more great reviews at Cannonball Read!

No comments:

Post a Comment