HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY TO ARCHENEMIES!!
When I got word I received an ARC of this book, I was launched on a rollercoaster of emotions that did Not let up. Mainly because I had not read Renegades yet. Which meant I would have to read a thousand pages of Marissa Meyer writin’ superheroes whether I liked the first book or not.
Very threatening stuff.
However, these books were at least very readable!! And while I did not love Renegades, I was very confused by it, and therefore down to launch right into the sequel!! Which I thought had potential!
So I’m sure you all can guess how that worked out.
Without further ado: My Renegades and Archenemies reviews! (I’m sure I could have made that rhyme if I tried harder, but alas.)
Guys, I don’t know myself anymore.
I’m currently sitting here eating baby carrots, and I’m not happy about it, which is characteristic, but the sheer fact that I’m ingesting a vegetable in the first place is astounding. I’m currently addicted to watching feature-length episodes of a British quiz show on YouTube, when up until two days ago I was convinced I was racist against British people. But most importantly (and actually, you know, semi-relevantly) I don’t know how I feel about Marissa Meyer.
She used to be my Favorite Author!!! (Capitals and excessive exclamation points for both emphasis and flair.) Or I used to say she was. Because I also used to say that the Lunar Chronicles were my favorite series, before I realized that was patently false.
But now there’s a whole lot going on.
I do remember loving all of the Lunar Chronicles books except Cinder, which was meh. Well, and Fairest was pretty bad. Okay and Wires and Nerve was also bad. But anyway, I read most of them in 2015 and 2015 me, as has been stated many a time on this account, canNOT be trusted. Example of an opinion I held in 2015, for proof: “I should wear full makeup, including eyeliner, to school every day. Even though school starts at 7:35 a.m. Even though I could sleep for at least 14 more minutes if I, you know, didn’t do that.”
See the level of illogical we’re working with when we reflect on 2015?
Anyway. But it gets worse, because I hated the book Heartless with everything in me. Which caught me off guard, because that was in very early 2017 and I hadn’t realized past me’s lack of reliability yet.
The point of all of this is that I approached this book with trepidation. And now I am approaching this review with trepidation, because I DON’T KNOW HOW I FEEL!!
Yes, I am claiming to be “approaching” this review even as I am clearly an excessive number of words into it. What of it?
Let’s divide this into two very broad categories. Bad news first.
I am currently taking a class called “The Art of Fiction,” and it has threatened to single-handedly absolutely full-on ruin reading one hundred percent of YA fantasy for me. Just in time for me to be in the hugest fantasy mood of my life!! Ideal. Life is filled with these perfect symmetries, etc.
Anyway. In that course, we read a couple of stories by Anton Chekhov, and Chekhov’s got this quote, maybe, which may or may not go something like this: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” This is a very great quote to ponder as a writer, but as a reader it sucks SO BAD.
No twist is a twist anymore. I see everything coming. I am now prescient and it is a goddamn curse.
Basically what I’m saying is that I saw a twist in this book coming and I blame Chekhov.
My more major, less literary complaint: the pacing of this is extremely strange. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that this book is FIVE HUNDRED PAGES LONG!! Can you imagine being bold enough to make the first book in your trilogy five hundred pages long?? Who besides Marissa Meyer has the clout to pull that type of sh*t off.
But anyway. As the old saying goes, just because Marissa Meyer can doesn’t mean Marissa Meyer should. There is just no reason this book had to be 500 pages long. One, because that’s too long for almost any book, but two, because this book was doing absolutely nothing good with all of those pages.
First off, I finished this book and was like, “Ah! A whole lot of nothing.” It truly feels like there is absolutely zero plotline to this book. There are a few separate events with very little tying them together, and definitely no tension or suspense of any kind. The last hundred pages especially were like Dry City, USA. (Dry meaning boring. Not as in “not wet.” Hopefully all pages are Dry City, USA in that sense.)
The second pacing thing: this felt like 1.5 books. I can pick an exact moment around 350 pages in that felt like a perfect stopping point, but this bad boy just…trucks on. And not only does that 350 page mark feel like a perfect ending, the actual ending (150 pages or so later) feels like the exact middle point of a book.
The ending was so, so, so weird and so, so, so rushed. I’m going to say what happened that was very strange in vague terms, so hopefully I won’t spoil anything, but if you haven’t read the book just skip this paragraph maybe. Okay so basically, one character has a near-death experience and we are expected to believe this character died. However, this character did NOT die. Character tricked us and other characters! That is just so classic this character. Anyway, character pops up, alive and well, and no explanation is ever given for how this character didn’t die. We just move on!
Sloppy, sloppy. I’m honestly very glad I have the ARC of Archenemies. not because this is so good that I’m like, let me get my hands on that sequel, but more because this feels aggressively unfinished.
In terms of characters: I feel pretty meh about all of them. There were some that have potential (more on that later), but a few were so devastatingly devoid of personality that a side-by-side comparison between them and a sleeve of saltines would make the crackers seem like a day trip to Flavortown. (Guy Fieri reference: Check.)
Finally, this book often just felt like…nothing special. Superheroes have been done. Slow burn romances and banter and fight scenes every hundred pages and halfhearted twists have been done. At a lot of moments this just felt like every entry into the superhero genre tossed in a blender with every YA fantasy of the last five years.
And that’s really lame.
Luckily, we left the good stuff to cheer ourselves up!!
Even though this was unoriginal, it still managed to be…kind of fun? And a way quicker read than any poorly-structured book over five hundred pages has any right to be. At the beginning of the month, I was STRESSING about the idea of reading 1000 pages of Marissa Meyer superhero content on top of, like, midterms and basic human responsibilities.
But it seems to be going peachily. (Massive shoutout to Google Drive for not marking the adverb version of “peachy” I just made up a spelling error. I feel like a linguistic prophet.)
Also, I think Marissa Meyer puts forth a good effort in terms of diversity in this book. And she kind of always has. Cinder came out in 2013, back when SJM was just writing undiverse books instead of undiverse books feigning diversity, and presumably when JK Rowling’s Twitter was something other than a nonstop fountain flowing with cringe. Cinder is pretty diverse, considering.
Marissa Meyer has always seemed to me like one of the only YA authors who may actually care about diversity for diversity’s sake, rather than point-scoring. Which is rad.
There’s also a really interesting exploration of good versus evil and moral ambiguity in this book. Essentially what Wildcard stumbled over itself trying to do, except this was actually remotely good. And also this wasn’t constantly interrupting itself to have its female protagonist moon over a very annoying and morally corrupt man.
Other good things: I don’t know if this is fully one hundred percent unambiguously good, but I think there is POTENTIAL for me liking these characters. I am the closest to liking Nova. If a seven on the ten-point love scale is “truly like,” I am probably at 5.5 with her. Close second, Oscar, then Ruby, then Honey, then Adrian. If Archenemies really puts in work, I may end up liking one or two of them.
There is absolutely no question of me possibly liking any other character in this series.
But here is the single most surprising thing I liked about this series, and I’m almost embarrassed to say it…
Okay, FINE. It was the romance! I liked the romance.
It’s nice. It’s slow burn. The characters are awkward and both like nO STOP I DON’T LIKE ANYONE. I AM THE VOID. I FEEL NOTHING. Which is very fun. I think they’re a good match and oh my god I am going to go lay in a pond now since when do I say things like “a good match.”
Closing out this review like we started it: With me having a minor existential crisis over my own identity.
Bottom line: This was not good, exactly, but it was fun and fine!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Life is teeming with disappointments.
The fact that that is closer than anything else to becoming my catchphrase is, in a word, concerning. I was hoping that when I inevitably developed a catchphrase, it’d be something cool, like “cleanup on aisle 7” (for when I commit murders) or “all in a day’s work” (for when I do something very cool that should not be a casual or daily occurrence).
But this works too.
Renegades was a meh read for me, but when I finished, I was like, “Potential!!” There were plotlines and relationships that were set up that I thought, if they played out a certain way, could be really fun. I had hopes for Archenemies.
What I did not remember – which is crazy because I do pride myself on my pessimism – is that if things can go one way and go well, they can also go another way and go very badly.
That is what happened here.
Let’s go one by one.
In my Renegades review, I basically listed off a bunch of characters and declared that I didn’t like any of them per se, but also didn’t dislike any of them, and if a very specific set of events occurred in Archenemies I could, perhaps, come away with an appreciation for one or two.
Guess what didn’t happen.
(The opposite happened.)
The characters in this book were B A D. That’s right! No abstractions. They were straight up unpleasant, and/or non-present. Here was my ranking of ability-to-potentially-like-any-given-character, from “one cool fight scene and some banter” away to “this character would have to spend 500 pages being unadulteratedly amusing for me to even give half a sh*t, but theoretically anything’s possible.”
This is some high potential for me!! I almost never like characters. I’m picky. I have high standards. But I was willing to believe.
For you to fully understand the sheer extent to which my ability to hope was made a mockery, I need to tell you three simultaneous things that happened in this book.
1. All characters except Nova (who I was closest to liking) and Adrian (least close) were basically dropped. We rarely heard from anyone except those two.
2. Nova became insufferable.
3. Adrian grew worse than I ever could have imagined.
GUYS. IT WAS AWFUL. Honey and Ruby and Oscar, the only characters who were ever really even anywhere close to approaching funny? GONEZO. Sayonara!
So now we are in the suffocating embrace of literally only Nova and Adrian (which is terrible for an additional reason that we will get to). Which would maybe be okay, if they were better than in Renegades, or even if they were exactly the same. I’m not asking for much.
BUT APPARENTLY NOT MUCH IS TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR.
Nova spends this entire book being overwhelmingly, unrelentingly selfish. She put the lives of children and innocents on the line, she manipulated perfectly nice people, she lied and stole and deceived, all to achieve her ends. And she was really annoying about it, too, which was the worst bit of all.
Adrian was just Boring McBoringson. All he cared about was his dumb alter ego and his boring parents and guess what? I do not care about either of those things.
It’s such a long character development arc, from all-evil/all-good to complex, and the second book really gets the short end of the stick for that. Basically both Adrian and Nova spent the whole time in one (1) repetitive thought process, which wasn’t even interesting in the first place.
Except for one other thought process.
Picture me dramatically collapsing to my knees, shaking my fists beseechingly at the sky, screaming “NOOOOO!”
For, my friends, I have been made a fool of.
I never like romances. I especially never like them in YA fantasy. They always feel extraneous and dull and unremarkable. But for Renegades…I put it all on the line.
The romance between Nova and Adrian in Renegade was veryyy slow, and awkward, and cute. It was a side-plot and it didn’t overtake any of the more interesting stuff. I thought it was exactly what a romance in YA fantasy should look like, if there has to be one at all.
But, as mentioned, Marissa Meyer took my risking of it all and PUT IT THROUGH A PAPER SHREDDER. AND THEN PICKED UP THE PIECES AND LAUGHED AND THEN EVERYONE ELSE LAUGHED. (That’s where the being made a fool of comes in.)
The romance in this book was suffocating and overwhelming and insta-love-y and sentimental and cheesy and everywhere and INESCAPABLE.
I hated it so much. And the fact that I had already come to hate both the characters involved just made me hate it even more.
Forming a hatred so powerful it probably qualifies as one of the C-minus level superpowers in this book.
The last book set up a very cool and complex moral exploration – essentially, as mentioned, what Wildcard wishes and prays it could do – but it got old fast in this book. It was way too hit-you-over-the-head. If it remained a background theme, that would have been great, but instead every conversation and internal monologue had to brush up against it.
And by brush up against it, I mean “hit it with the force of one of those really jump scare-y don’t-drive-distracted commercials where a bunch of friends are in a car texting and then the car gets hit by like the biggest 18-wheeler you have seen in your life.”
Very subtle. Blink and you’ll miss it type of stuff.
Overall, the plotline of this was better than the last one (which had the weirdest full book + one half of another book structure of all time), but it still mostly came into play in the ending.
The ending, however, was fantastic. And I think it also sets up what could be a really interesting plotline for the next book. It has potential.
But we’ve all learned how that goes.
Bottom line: I think I’ll stick with this series, but that also might just be because of how dearly I love to suffer.
Thanks to Fierce Reads for the ARC!