Book/Author and Year Published: Bound by Duty by Stormy Smith (2014)
Age/Genre: YA Fantasy
Preferred Reading Environment: A cabin in the woods
Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite grey beanie and lumberjack-flannel
Content Notes: Kidnapping, violence, arranged marriage
It’s October and in honor of the spookiest month of the year, I’ve decided to read a bunch of fantasy novels. Because my last review was an Adult Urban Fantasy, I decided to switch things up and read a Young Adult Fantasy next. Bound by Duty is the first book in a short series (yes, I read all three) about the main character, Amelia.
Amelia is an Immortal – a member of a race of people who have magical powers, living among humans but separate from them. Humans have no idea that they even exist. Her mother died the day Amelia was born and her father went kind of crazy, so she was raised by her older-by-ten-years brother and her nanny. She was told by the adults in her life never to use her power, to never lose control, even though her brother was allowed to use his magic any time. So when Amelia turned 18, she moved away and went to college somewhere that she could explore her powers without being punished for it.
Immortals are divided into four factions: Mages, AniMages, Hunters, and Elders. All Immortals have varying levels of basic abilities, like being able to communicate with each other, move objects, etc. Each faction has its own set of specialties, as well. Mages can manipulate emotion, AniMages can shift into animal forms, Hunters have enhanced strength and tracking abilities, and Elders have the most powerful magic. Additionally, every individual has their own unique ability – some can heal, some can read minds, some are immune to others’ magic, etc. Around 30 years before the beginning of this book, a civil war began that caused the Immortals to scatter from their home in Syria.
Amelia is also an Elder – the last Elder. Before the war began, the Queen reported to a council of Elders who made all governing decisions. Each Elder in the council was married into one of the other factions, to ensure that the Elders did not bias decisions based on what one faction wanted over another. When the Queen lost her mind (details about this are fuzzy until later in the series), she began a genocide of Elders and AniMages. She killed the Elders because she did not want to answer to anyone. She killed the AniMages citing a need to maintain the purity of Mage bloodlines – animals were dirty and were weakening Immortals with interbreeding. The Elders, caught in a political tug-of-war, were wiped out – with the exception of Amelia’s mother. The AniMages went into hiding, spread across the continents.
Halfway across the country from her controlling father, Amelia is enjoying the life of a normal human, with the added benefit of the occasional power boost from her magic. Her best friend, a spunky southern girl, makes sure she gets out of the house and tries new things. She even discovers what it’s like to have a crush on a human. But not everyone is what they seem, and as the power inside her begins to grow and some of her questions are answered, Amelia must decide between love and duty.
I read this book immediately after finishing a really fun Adult Urban Fantasy novel, and the differences between Young Adult Fantasy and Adult Fantasy are really clear to me now. Here are some of the things that stood out to me:
- Love Triangles: A couple of times on this blog, we have discussed the fact that the love triangle trope in YA fiction is irritating at best and potentially harmful to impressionable teenagers at worst. We have also, occasionally, mentioned that love triangle tropes with poor execution can really put you off of a book. This book has one of the most poorly executed love triangles I’ve ever seen – probably because the reader knows right off the bat which love interest Amelia will end up with. The tension that a love triangle creates is completely absent in this series because only Amelia doesn’t know who she’ll end up with – even the two “love interests” know what she’ll choose in the end.
- Lack of Confidence in the Protagonist: When I say that Amelia doesn’t know, I am not kidding. She is continuously pushed and pulled in whichever direction the adults in her life want her to go. All she does is act confused, cry, think about going against the adults’ wishes, cry some more, and then do exactly what the adults want. People call her “impulsive” but the girl seems to spend a lot of time on introspection. Yet, she is never confident in the conclusions she draws for herself and she typically ends up saying she’ll do one thing and then doing the opposite.
- Overwhelmed Teenager: Runaway in the Making: There is an irritating tendency for YA fiction to use overwhelm as an excuse for a character to runaway. Somebody told them to make a choice they don’t like? Oops! They’re gone! They have too many responsibilities and haven’t figured out how to delegate yet? Whelp, if they’re gone everything gets delegated for them. *shrugs* Did they just find out that everything they ever knew was a lie or a half-truth? Say, “Bye-bye!” You won’t be seeing them for a couple days.
- Secrets Are Stupid: And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about why Amelia was overwhelmed in the first place. The adults in her life continuously kept secrets from her when things really would have been better had they been open and honest. If Amelia’s family had been honest, she might not have been pushed to the overwhelm that led to running away. I know I say this a lot, but I wish book characters would stop being so secretive!
- Regional Stereotypes: Pretty much every character in this book who is introduced in the woods is described as a hipster lumberjack. “Grey beanie,” “Red flannel,” “Jeans and boots,” “They looked like a/an (insert adjective here) lumberjack.” Yes, this book takes place in the Northwest. No, not everyone in the Northwest looks like a lumberjack…
- TEEN. ANGST: ‘Nuff said.
There are many reasons why I need to be in a certain mindset before reading YA Fantasy, but this book made it very clear to me that I cannot read YA novels directly after reading Adult Urban Fantasy…Ever. Again.
What are two genres you can’t read back-to-back?