10 Fictional Relatives to Spend Thanksgiving With

10 Fictional Relatives to Spend Thanksgiving WithHappy Thanksgiving, everybody! For those of us living in the U.S., today’s the day we take time to reflect on the things we’re grateful for. This usually involves gathering together with our family members and gorging ourselves on turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole until we came barely move.

In my experience, the pleasantness of Thanksgiving has a lot to do with how you get along with your family. Given the amount of time you’ll likely be spending with them around the dinner table, the holiday can either be a lot of fun, or a lot of trouble. I’m blessed with great relatives, including awesome in-laws, but I’ve heard stories of holidays where drama, awkwardness, and family feuds reign. If you’re one of those folks whose family feasts leave something to be desired, don’t despair! I’ve put together a list of superior new relatives you can spend Thanksgiving with, at least in the pages of a book.

The Parents

Book cover for What You Left Behind by Jessica VerdiMom: As far as parents go, Ryden’s mother in What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi is pretty fantastic. Ryden’s a teen dad who’s grieving for his late girlfriend and trying to raise a baby on his own, and his mom is the pillar of strength that keeps him together. She’s a strong woman who’s super loving and supportive, and even though she helps Ryden she also sets clear boundaries for what she will and won’t do so he learns to take responsibility for his own life. .

Book cover for Unspoken by Sarah Rees BrennanDad: Jon Glass, Kami’s dad in The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan, is my favorite fictional father. Jon is just your regular guy, but he bravely steps up to protect his family and defend his town when needed. Not only is Jon courageous, he’s absolutely hilarious as well. He’s got a ton of humorously snappy one-liners, and his banter with Kami and her friends is funny enough to make me giggle-snort.

The Siblings

Book cover for How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten MillerBrother: I always thought it’d be neat to have a cool older brother to alternately tease and look after me. If I had to choose the ultimate big bro, it would be Flick from Kristen Miller’s novel How to Lead a Life of Crime. At heart he’s a good guy, one who’s willing to stick his neck out to help people, but he’s also a big, tough hard-ass who has no problem beating the crap out of people if they deserve it. I’m pretty sure he’d be a lot of fun as a sibling, with the added benefit of being able to scare the hell out of bullies or douchey exes if need be.

Book cover for Bloody Jack by L. A. MeyerSister: As my all-time favorite literary heroine, Jacky Faber, from L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, is my obvious pick for fictional sister. No one knows how to have a good time like Jacky – she’s adventurous and daring, always making friends and getting into trouble. I can imagine her deflecting potential familial tension by performing one of her song-and-dance routines (probably on top of the table) or telling tales of her exploits at sea .

The Grandparents

Book cover for The One Thing by Marci Lyn CurtisGrandpa: Gramps from The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis is a marvelously grouchy, cantankerous, but ultimately loving grandfather, and I think he’d make a great addition to any Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, he’d probably grumble about “kids today” and make comments under his breath about the new cranberry sauce recipe your mother experimented with this year, but you’d know that underneath all the grouchiness, he still loves his family very much.

Book cover for A Long Way From Chicago by Richard PeckGrandma: Grandma Dowdel, from A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck, is tough, gruff, and not afraid to play tricks on people in order to get her way or teach someone a lesson. She stretches the truth, wields a shotgun…and is ultimately a big softie, though she’d never admit it. She’s always doing her best to help people, even if it means employing stealth and bending the law to do so. She’s definitely someone I’d want by my side on Thanksgiving.

The Extended Family

Book cover for The Trolls by Polly HorvathAunt: As a kid I loved reading The Trolls by Polly Horvath, mostly due to the character of Aunt Sally. Eccentric, magnanimous, and sporting a magnificent beehive hairdo, there’s never a dull moment when Aunt Sally’s around. She has a way of making of making the ordinary extraordinary, and best of all, she tells the most exceptional stories.

Book cover for The Princess Bride by William GoldmanUncle: We’ve all got that one uncle who has a little too much to drink at family gatherings and starts reminiscing about his glory days. What better than for that uncle to be Inigo Montoya from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride? I feel like he’d be a blast, recounting stories from the good old days to his nieces and nephews for the millionth time (“And then I said to the six-fingered man, ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!’”) and knocking over lamps in the family room while re-enacting one of his epic sword fights.

Book cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. RowlingCousins: What family dinner wouldn’t be improved with two pranksters like Fred and George Weasley, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as your cousins? Think of all the hilarity they could cause, slipping Fainting Fancies into the turkey, setting off Wildfire Whiz-Bangs during dessert, or releasing magical creatures into the dining room. Sure, the rest of the family might get a little peeved by their antics, but at least you’d know your holidays would never be dull.

There you have it – my hand-picked list of relatives to share Thanksgiving with! Which literary relatives do you wish you could invite over for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Lonesome Young by Lucy Connors

The Lonesome Young Book Cover The Lonesome Young
Lucy Connors

Get swept away in the first book of the sensational romantic drama that is Romeo & Juliet meets Justified.

WHAT HAPPENS when the teenage heirs of two bitterly FEUDING FAMILIES can’t stay away from each other?

The Rhodales and the Whitfields have been sworn enemies for close on a hundred years, with a whole slew of adulterous affairs, financial backstabbing, and blackmailing that’s escalated the rivalry to its current state of tense ceasefire.

IT’S TIME TO LIGHT THE FUSE . . .

And now a meth lab explosion in rural Whitfield County is set to reignite the feud more viciously than ever before. Especially when the toxic fire that results throws together two unlikely spectators—proper good girl Victoria Whitfield, exiled from boarding school after her father’s real estate business melts down in disgrace, and town motorcycle rebel Mickey Rhodale, too late as always to thwart his older brothers’ dangerous drug deals.

Victoria and Mickey are about to find out the most passionate romances are the forbidden ones.

. . . ON A POWDER KEG FULL OF PENT-UP DESIRE, risk-taking daredevilry, and the desperate actions that erupt when a generation of teens inherits nothing but hate.

Review:

I find myself growing increasingly frustrated with instalove and other clichés in YA romance. It never used to be more than a mild annoyance to me, but lately I seem to be reaching the edge of my tolerance. There are only so many times I can read about someone feeling an immediate, unexplainable connection with some impossibly sexy stranger before I lose my cool.

Unfortunately for The Lonesome Young, it was the book that finally sent me over the edge. It’s got a lot of redeeming qualities, but I’ve been so inundated with YA tropes that I’ve reached my saturation point and couldn’t get past The Lonesome Young’s flaws.

Basic summary of this book? There are two families, the Rhodales and Whitfields, who’ve been at war for ages. They’ve got all kinds of beef with one another – romantically, financially, and otherwise. The feud, which has been at a tentative stand-off for a few years, is suddenly reignited when a new generation of Whitfields moves to town and shakes things up.

In this story there is Victoria Whitfield, the poor little rich girl who nobody understands. Then there’s Mickey Rhodale, the swaggering boy with a bad rep and secret heart of gold. Naturally, Mickey is dark and ripped and gorgeous. Naturally, Victoria is blond and curvy and gorgeous. Naturally, they immediately fall head over heels in love. Naturally, I wanted to hurl the book out the window.

“The powerful feeling of instant connection between us ran too deep to be pleasant, or even casual.”

Come on, guys. I understand instant attraction, but hitting it off with someone doesn’t mean you have to go straight to being fated lovers.

Another trope I’m beginning to loathe is the whole “sweet but spunky girl saves the damaged, undeserving guy with her angelic goodness.” Why are there so many tortured-soul boys in YA? And why can their demons only be exorcised by the power of a perky blond girl’s love?

“But where I was mad at the world, she was compassionate as she confronted the demons of a guy she’d been told to avoid and even fear.”

I’ve seen all of this before. It’s like Connors took a bunch of YA clichés and made an effort to check each one off the list. Guy calling the girl “princess”? Check. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear? Check. Connors even went so far as to do the cheesy “admire the stars and say how beautiful they are while actually talking about the girl” bit. I’m not kidding. Here it is:

“‘Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful,’ I whispered.
‘Yeah. Beautiful.’ Mickey’s voice was husky and I turned my head and saw that he wasn’t looking at the scenery at all.
He was looking at me.”

The Lonesome Young is super melodramatic, too. In a way, some drama is justified – the mess the Rhodales and Whitfields get mired in over the course of the book is serious, life-or-death trouble. The stakes are high, and there’s no easy way out. This would actually be a strength of the book if Connors didn’t overdo it with hysterics. The events of the book speak for themselves; the characters don’t need to hammer the points home by wailing things like “This might explode into an inferno that could burn down the entire county.”

“Mickey Rhodale, for all of his dangerous, bad-boy exterior, had a hint of damaged vulnerability about him that I was pretty sure he didn’t let anybody else see, and he’s shown it to me.

Something inside me, in a very small voice, was saying, ‘Yes, of course. Finally. Here you are.’

And it scared me to death. But I had to face it head-on.”

It’s possible I’m being overly critical. Despite my raging, The Lonesome Young isn’t completely terrible. As I mentioned previously, there are several aspects I liked about this book. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in instalove recently, I probably wouldn’t have been nearly so harsh in this review.

One noteworthy plus of The Lonesome Young is the complexity Connors weaves into the Whitfield and Rhodale families’ dynamics. Mickey and his half-brother Ethan share a complicated relationship, one that I was actually invested in. Mickey’s negative, dangerous experiences with Ethan in the present are countered by their more pleasant childhood memories. Like Mickey, you’re forced to wonder how the boy who used to play Three Musketeers and protect Mickey from harm came to be the person Ethan is during the events of the book.

Victoria’s family is believably flawed as well. There are moments when they’re vulnerable and human, and there are moments when they’re unreasonable and completely self-centered. They’re your classic terrible relatives without being caricatures.

Another thing I liked in The Lonesome Young is that Mickey’s not truly a bad boy. He does have some violence issues to work out, but for the most part his bad-boy reputation is an unfair one, caused by his association with his drug-dealing brothers. Mickey works hard, is honest with his parents, and stands his ground against his brothers’ negative influence. He tries to toe the line, and when he does get sucked into trouble it’s usually because his family gives him no choice in the matter. It was a relief not to have him be the typical tough guy with an attitude.

Because of these positives, I grugdingly awarded The Lonesome Young two whole stars. This is pretty generous, considering I was practically foaming at the mouth in rage for much of the book.

Review: Wolf by Alma Alexander

Wolf Book Cover Wolf
Alma Alexander

My name is Mal Marsh.

I was the oldest unTurned Were of my generation, waiting Turn after Turn for my own time... which never came. Until the day, driven by desperation and by the guilt I still carried concerning my sister Celia's tragic death, I decided it was time to stop waiting... and made a dangerous choice in the name of pride and fury.

Instead of remaining the Random Were that I was born... I enlisted the help of a friend, a creature beyond the strictly drawn boundaries of Were-kind, and chose to become a Lycan, a true wolf. I thought it would give me a chance to take my revenge on those I believed to be responsible for what had happened to my sister. Right until the moment I realized that things were much more complicated that I had ever believed possible... and that my choice might have far more repercussions than I had thought.

One thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about my family was wrong.

Review:

*Review may contain spoilers for Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles.*

Ten months. Ten. That’s how long I suffered in agony after finishing Random and its doozy of a cliffhanger ending. Ten slow, painful months to try to get over the shock, to daydream about the characters I was missing, and to speculate about what I could expect from the series’ next installment, Wolf.

Now that those ten (TEN!) months are finally over and the sequel has arrived, I can cheerfully report that Wolf is well worth the wait. It’s got everything I loved about Random – beautiful writing, fascinating characters, more information about the intriguing world of Were-kind – as well as an added bonus: it’s narrated by Mal, my favorite character from Random.

When I heard that Jazz Marsh’s moody, enigmatic older brother would be the point-of-view character in Wolf, I was giddy. In Random, Mal started out as a seemingly minor character, your stereotypical sullen, standoffish teenage boy. By the end, however, he surprised everyone – myself included – by Turning into a Werewolf and emerging as a major player in the Marsh family’s story as well as the story of Were-kind in general. My curiosity wasn’t just piqued, it was set aflame, and I couldn’t wait to see what lay in store for Mal in Wolf.

Wolf picks up the thread of Mal’s story and follows him to his new home among his fellow Werewolves, known as the Lycans. Whereas Random showed Were-kind interacting with non-shape-shifting humans in the world at large, Wolf is a microcosm, focusing solely on the inner workings of the Lycan community. The Lycan compound, with its strict hierarchies and jealously guarded secrets, is its own – exclusive – little world. The Werewolves have their own unique culture, prejudices, and standards, and woe to any who don’t abide by their rules.

In order for Mal to infiltrate their ranks and uncover the truth about Stay and its effects on Were like his sister, he must eschew his family, his upbringing, and everything he once knew. Becoming a member of the pack means forfeiting his choices and accepting all of the decisions the Alphas make for him. The pack chooses his college courses, his job, and even his mate. Yep, that’s right– even though he’s just 17, Mal is expected to marry a woman of the pack’s choosing and get to work producing little Lycan babies. Gotta start spreading that new, valuable DNA around, ya know?

I loved watching Mal come into his own over the course of this book, rolling with everything the Lycans throw at him, even the stuff wholly outside of his comfort zone. He grumbles, and struggles, and balks…and then he grits his teeth, puts his head down, and soldiers on, because it’s the only way for him to move forward. It was so rewarding to see this grouchy, self-pitying boy grow and mature and become someone I was so proud of.

Despite my fondness of Mal, or perhaps because of it, I was not a fan of Asia, the girl the Lycans choose to be Mal’s mate. Maybe it’s jealousy on my part, but Asia just seems too perfect: she’s gorgeous, wild, brilliantly intelligent, and always in control. I did initially enjoy the dynamic between her and Mal – their first interactions are fraught with understandable tension, what with both being strangers and being called to give up their dreams at the pack’s command. This tension soon gives way to affection, though, as the two quickly come to accept and even love one another. This transition from strangers to intimates happened too fast for me, and I would have liked the awkwardness and uncertainty to linger for a while longer, for the discovery of love to be gradual and even grudging.

My only other “complaint,” if you can call it that, is similar to one I had when reading Random. The diction and sentence structure, while lovely, don’t always match with the voices you’d expect the characters to have. Dialogue occasionally comes out sounding like philosophers engaging in a grand intellectual debate instead of two people carrying on a regular conversation, and even Mal’s internal monologues tend to read like dissertations at times. As I mentioned in my review of Random, though, Alma Alexander’s writing is so interesting and beautiful that it doesn’t really matter how lofty the tone is. For example, here’s a passage I found particularly insightful:

“My life was layered with these moments; if it could be dug into, like an archaeological site, there would be layers of ashes and waste left over from catastrophic volcanic disasters in between the fertile parts where something good or useful was happening.”

As Mal establishes himself within his new pack, he slowly begins to unravel the Lycans’ closely guarded secrets. The facts he discovers about Turning Houses and the Half-Souled make his skin crawl, and the more he uncovers – the closer he gets to finding out the truth about his sister – the greater the risk to himself and to his fledgling relationship with Asia. I enjoyed watching as the stakes were raised, plot twists popped up, and old friends and family from Random reappeared to lend Mal a helping hand.

If you enjoyed Random, I have no doubt you’ll be exceedingly pleased with Wolf. It’s a worthy progression of the series, and Mal is a protagonist you can root for, sympathize with, and even fall for. I’m so excited to see what’s next for Mal, his friends, and his family in The Were Chronicles’ final chapter and only hope the months fly by until book three is released!

A free ARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wolf: Guest Post by Alma Alexander

If you’ve read Random, Alma Alexander’s novel about a family of shape-shifters and their numerous secrets, odds are you’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the story’s sequel, Wolf. After the cliffhanger ending Alma tortured us with in Random, I couldn’t wait to get my greedy little paws on Wolf. Not only does it pick up following the shocking revelation of the first book, but it’s narrated by the character who intrigued me most in Random: Jazz Marsh’s mysterious older brother Mal.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she fell “a little bit in love” with Mal after meeting his character in the first book of The Were Chronicles, and I can’t say that I blame her. Mal is brooding and inscrutable, a curious amalgam of anger and guilt and wounded pride. He’s also one of the author’s all-time favorite characters, and she’s here today to share why.

About Wolf

WolfMy name is Mal Marsh.

Instead of remaining the Random Were that I was born…I enlisted the help of a friend, a creature beyond the strictly drawn boundaries of Were-kind, and chose to become a Lycan, a true wolf. I thought it would give me a chance to take my revenge on those I believed to be responsible for what had happened to my sister. Right until the moment I realized that things were much more complicated that I had ever believed possible… and that my choice might have far more repercussions than I had thought.

One thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about my family was wrong.

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Falling in Love

By Alma Alexander

When I first nutted out the storyline of The Were Chronicles in my head, I had, as usual, the most broad-strokes outline possible.

I don’t, as a rule, go in for detailed planning or outlining of my books, and I tend to find out what happens next in the same breathless fashion as my eventual readers do – they by reading and me by literally writing the next bit of the narrative. This can mean a very rollercoaster ride for the writer because there are often unexpected things that I never see coming until they flatten me. And boy howdy, did this happen with a vengeance when it came to this series.

These books evolved as a loose triad – not so much a trilogy as a triptych, a story arc seen and observed and most importantly reinterpreted by three different (VERY different!) POV characters.

Random, the first book in the series, showed up in the firm grip of young Jazz, who carried it with grace and humor and a sense of slow enlightenment. But for all that she was familiar territory, when it came to characters. I’m always writing books with strong female protagonists and the 15-year-old Jazz was (almost) a breeze. She was a known commodity, someone whose character I could simply sit down and pour out. She was funny and tragic and strong and beautiful and she was the rock on which I built my story.

But in “her” book, in Random, I also introduced her brother, Mal, the character who would become the POV character in book 2, Wolf. A 17-year-old boy who was tortured by things of a magnitude that would shatter a lesser being. He had to be so much, did Mal – he had to carry so much. And honestly, he was wholly strange in the sense that I had rarely – make that almost never before – written a full book from a male protagonist’s view of the world. He would be a challenge to portray accurately, sympathetically, and believably.

So I started writing his book, in his voice, and waited to see what would happen.

And what happened…was little short of miraculous.

I watched this little boy I had created from my own mind and heart and spirit. I watched him struggle to deal with the weight of the worlds I had laid on his narrow young shoulders, trying to come to terms with difficult things. I watched him *fail* to do that. I watched him turn into this utterly believable sulky, whiny, self-pitying teenage…BOY. A REAL boy. Someone whom I had no problem imagining stepping out of the pages of my book and existing in the real world. Many real people like him, I am almost certain of that, already do – or at least many like this difficult to like early character whom one reviewer has described as a “hostile witness.” That’s exactly what he is – he’s been shaped by forces which are titanic, by love and loss and a sense of inadequacy and self loathing for reasons he can do absolutely nothing about and by a shattering tragic guilt which overshadows his life to the point of threatening to permanently destroy him…until he finds a way to turn that guilt and that sense of personal failure into an ill-thought-out plan of personal revenge, in his own name and in the name of the beloved sister he has always believed himself responsible for the loss of.

And this is where his story really begins. Because at this point, I saw him struggle to deal with his demons, I saw him come face to staring face with one of them… and instead of falling or whining or sulking or doing anything at all that hearkened back to his earlier difficult teenage self, he stood up straight, looked everything in the eye, and TOOK IT ON. Against all odds, against any and all words of wisdom, against everything he knew – putting into jeopardy all of his plans – because he found something else, something bigger, something greater, something that demanded all of him…and he gave it. All.

Does that sound like I kind of fell in love with him at this point? You’d be right. I did. He was so strong, and yet so vulnerable, that everything in me rose to both applaud and protect him.

Perhaps it was that second impulse that breathed life into another character in this story.

I was the author. I was God. I was above and beyond this universe, and it seemed that all I could do for poor Mal was to keep piling grief on him. But inside the story lurked another difficult character, another rebel – Asia. Asia the half-Lycan, with her own dramas and burdens. A touch bitter, bowing down to pack loyalty and doing everything that the pack demanded of her…including being mated within the pack with the newcomer, the boy younger than she by a handful of years, the entity she half-disparagingly refers to as Wonderboy, and trying to make the best out of the situation…until everything crumbles around BOTH of them and she is forced to make an almost impossible choice: her pack, or her mate.

I could not help Mal, I could not save him, so I created this strong, savvy, fiercely intelligent, proud young she-wolf to run at his side. And no, she was not a Mary Sue. She was not, in any way, me. She was the character whom Mal needed to survive this story, and when he needed her she was there.

This is very much that thing which is known in the trade as a “coming of age” book – and both of these young people come of age within it. They are faced with difficult challenges that make them take adult decisions way before they are ready to do that – and they rise to the occasion. They are both adrift, lonely, alone, lost, trying to find a place to belong – but that’s the beginning of the book. By the end, they haven’t adapted themselves to the world – they forced the world into a new conformation which held a new and unexpected and wholly unique new place for them. They were also no longer alone. They weren’t standing back to back, forever looking in opposite directions. No, they were standing there, together, steady, hand in hand, staring the world and all of its demands down until it backs off.

It is not an easy place, and it’s likely to get harder. But it is theirs, and they are there together, and I think, with Asia at his side, that Mal can take anything on at this point. He’s still young but he’s a tempered sword, and he’s a deadly force to be reckoned with.

He is in so many ways a gift of a character – and yes, I fully realize that he can be difficult to like. That, I think, may be the point. He is flesh and blood – he is not a pretty picture painted to be admired by readers, he is there as a full equal to those readers, as real as they, someone they could wrench their eyes away from the book and easily recognize in someone standing right beside them in the “real” world in which they live. He is quite possibly the first male protagonist of mine who has carried the plotline of an entire novel on his own shoulders, and despite having had little practice at writing such characters…this one stepped out fully formed, and perfect. I am so ridiculously PROUD of him.

Mal is an unbelievably powerful character for all his being “difficult” – and by the end of the book, loving him, feeling this insane urge to run out and protect him against all the drama and mayhem that I myself unleashed upon him, it was the best I could do to give him someone like Asia, someone who lived in his world and who could love him and trust him and believe in him and work beside him as partner and as someone to love.

Mal will stay with me for a long time. For someone who never really existed outside the words on the page, he is instantly recognizable to me – I can close my eyes and he is with me, with those brooding eyes, that sardonic grin, that stubborn strength of character which brought him through everything, if not completely unscarred, then at least in one piece. I threw enough at him to break him and he would not break, he shouldered it all and stood tall under the burden and looked me in the eye and said, Damn you, I will survive this. Yes, I will, and all those whom I love, also. Do your worst. I will live. I will endure. I will not ever bend or break or stop being ME.

All I can do from here is smile, and nod, and whisper to Asia, Take good care of him. You won’t find his like again.

About the Author

Alma Alexander author photo

Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched 2000-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website, her Facebook page, or her blog.

Don’t forget to check back on Wednesday to read my review of Wolf!

Review: Courvalian: The Resistance by Benjamin Reed

Courvalian: The Resistance Book Cover Courvalian: The Resistance
Benjamin Reed

The teenaged Korza brothers, Matthew, Charles, and Travis, are all avid outdoorsmen, who thrive on mastering punishing wilderness conditions. They don’t know it but these skills will prove invaluable when they are mystically thrust into a medieval, forested world where a violent revolution against a venal monarch is underway. With no real memory of their former lives or even of their own relationships to each other, aside from a sense of unbreakable brotherly bond, the Korzas will have to somehow make their way amidst the turmoil of this new world. Encounters with the despotic king’s army of soulless killers inspire them to join the Resistance against him. As the war heats up to a boil, and new friendships, both human and animal, are forged in blood, the brothers discover reserves of courage and ingenuity that will serve their new comrades well. Epic battles rage through darkest woods, a massive fort hidden in the forest canopy, and finally to a spectacular, winged siege against a forbidding castle keep where unexpected dangers await.

Review:

I get what Benjamin Reed was going for with Courvalian: The Resistance – an epic tale of heroism in a battle against a corrupt, greedy king – but it didn’t really work for me.

The story starts when three brothers – Charles, Travis, and Matthew – set off on a multi-day hiking trip in the mountains. One night the cave the brothers are sheltering in collapses, somehow transporting them to a different place and time. They wake up in a medieval tavern in Ozark with no memory of how they got there, who they are, or where they came from. You might expect this amnesia to be disorienting, troubling, but you’d be wrong. The brothers acclimate to their new surroundings almost immediately, and within an hour of arriving in Ozark they’ve been recruited for the Resistance, a group of citizens fighting against their tyrannical ruler.

If this sounds improbable, that’s because it is. Herein lies my problem with this book.

The key plot points are way too simplistic, to the point of being ludicrous. Charles, Travis, and Matthew have zero memories, but they don’t seem to find this strange or care all that much. Rather than making even the slightest effort to regain their memories, the brothers throw themselves wholeheartedly into working for a Resistance they know next to nothing about, even though it means risking their lives. Surprisingly, no one in the Resistance seems to have any qualms about inviting complete strangers into their midst. Also surprisingly, the brothers are ridiculously easy to recruit.

There’s a passage towards the beginning of the book where Helius, a member of the Resistance, attempts to convince Travis to join the cause, which would mean Travis leaving his brothers (at this point they’ve established that they share a fraternal bond) in the middle of a dangerous, unfamiliar world:

“I don’t want to fight,” Travis said laconically.

“Your bar brawl didn’t exactly indicate to me that you don’t want to fight. Which is why I think I’ve found the guy I’ve been looking for,” Helius exclaimed happily. “There’s no time to waste, we must leave tonight.”

“What about Matthew and Charles?” Travis asked.

“They have their own destinies,” Helius answered.

“As long as squirt doesn’t get hurt,” Travis smiled weakly while motioning towards Matthew.

You sure put up a fight there, Travis. Helius really had to twist your arm.

It’s not just the plot that’s too simplistic; it’s the characterization, too. With the exception of Matthew, who’s the protagonist in the story, you don’t get a chance to develop your own opinions about characters. Instead, you’re simply told how you should think of them: “So-and-so is respected.” “So-and-so is brave.” “So-and-so is wise.” “So-and-so is a hero.” You simply get a brief statement of characters’ personalities instead of getting to see them in action.

I also wish Reed would have focused and expanded on relationships and emotional growth. Instead of simply announcing an emotion, I wanted to see that emotion demonstrated. Rather than saying, “Matthew was anxious,” or “The man’s temper was flaring,” I wanted Reed to show evidence of the anxiety and anger.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. It’s a scene where Matthew meets the Resistance’s leader, Kurtax:

“From the very onset, Matthew could see why Kurtax was so highly regarded. The man seemed to spew probity from his every feature. Matthew innately knew that if they were destined to win the war, it would be because Kurtax was their sedulous commander on the battlefield and the sagacious leader of it.”

Matthew met Kurtax all of five minutes ago, yet he inherently knows that Kurtax is a great leader? Um, okay. Just glancing at Kurtax may be enough for Matthew to discern his character, but not for me. I’m not going to believe Kurtax is respected or courageous or a great tactician until I witness him in action. Let me see him making a tough decision, or leading his men into battle, or rallying his troops with a rousing speech or act of bravery. Otherwise, there’s no reason for me to believe he’s all that and a bag of chips.

Here’s another example:

“Wilred’s height gave him credibility, but it was his mannerisms, which were similar to Kurtax’s or Irvin’s that seemed to instantly command respect.”

Again, what does Wilfred being tall have to do with him being credible? And what mannerisms make him command respect? Show me!

Reed may not provide much depth for his characters and plot, but he has no problem supplying plenty of details and examples for other stuff in this book. The unimportant things get the focus: there are long, specific descriptions of the terrain and precise explanations of exactly how the boys pack their bags, shoot arrows, crawl into berry bushes, walk through the woods, etc. The battle scenes are described at length (interestingly enough, small numbers of heroic Resistors can defeat vast armies of smelly, snarling bad guys), and so are the various plants and trees.

The thing that really pushed me over the edge with this book was the cliffhanger ending. When I read the last line of this book, I was FURIOUS. Not in the “Oh my gosh, how am I going to survive until I get the next book?” kind of way; it was more like, “Wow, I feel so cheated.” I usually don’t mind cliffhangers, but this one felt like a cop-out. You can’t just make a random statement at the end of a book – a statement that makes absolutely no sense and has nothing to do with the rest of the novel – and expect it to mean something to the reader when they have no idea what you’re talking about. I was NOT a happy camper when I finished this book.

If Courvalian: The Resistance has a saving grace, it’s Matthew, the youngest of the three brothers. He’s such an endearing character, always willing to help others even when it means putting his own comfort and safety at risk. When undertaking missions for the Resistance, Matthew is resourceful, smart, and uses his time wisely, practicing his dagger throwing and combat skills while trekking through the woods. He saves innocent bear cubs, fights bravely, and is an all-around good guy.

Still, Matthew alone can’t make up for my frustrations with this book. There are definitely readers who will heartily enjoy Courvalian: The Resistance, but it just wasn’t for me.