Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Book Review: Steadfast, by Claudia Gray


Steadfast
(Spellcaster, Book 2)
Claudia Gray
Hardcover, 346 pages
HarperTeen
March 4, 2014
Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Source: Barnes & Noble Bookstore

Synopsis:  Nadia, Mateo, and Verlaine have saved Captive's Sound from the dark Sorceress Elizabeth . . . or so they thought. Despite their best efforts, a crack opened and a new, greater evil seeped through. With Mateo as her Steadfast, Nadia's magic is magnified and she is more powerful than ever. But there is still so much she doesn't know about the craft, leaving her open and vulnerable to a darker magic . . . which has begun to call Nadia's name. 


https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18053143-steadfast





Note
This review must necessarily contain some spoilers, because I need to state why I found this book so disturbing. Read at your own discretion.


I love to read YA paranormal romance and urban fantasy, but it seems to me that authors writing in these genres sometimes just go too far with some concepts. That was the case here.

I left this novel unfinished at about the halfway mark, totally disgusted with the direction it was headed in. I came to the decision to stop reading after I had actually peeked at the ending. Yes, I know....this is a HUGE no-no for a reader, but sometimes it's definitely necessary. I just don't have the time to waste on a book I'm not enjoying, especially when I sense that it's taking a very dark turn.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment of this series -- Spellcaster. In fact, I gave it five stars! Aside from memorable characters that I felt very close to right away, there were innovative elements in it that I found fascinating. For instance, it presented a very original concept -- that of spells based on memories, instead of the sometimes rather "way out there" ingredients traditionally used by fictional witches. 

As for the three main characters -- Nadia, Mateo, and Verlaine -- Gray skillfully built them up to the point that I felt I actually knew them, that I was in on all of their adventures. I could relate to them. I could feel their joys and triumphs, as well as their dejection and sense of failure at certain points in the narrative.

Although the same great characters were present in this second installment, things quickly went south for me. For one thing, the villain, Elizabeth, who had supposedly been destroyed in the first book, returned..... I realize that writers engage in such plot twists in order to surprise readers and shake up their expectations, so, although this was an unpleasant surprise, I was totally prepared to handle it.

What I wasn't prepared to handle was the 'return' of someone Elizabeth had actually murdered in Spellcaster -- Jeremy Prasad, one of the students at the high school attended by our three heroes. It wasn't actually Jeremy, though. Instead, Elizabeth had invoked a demon into Jeremy's body. This demon's name was Asa, and his mission was to obey Elizabeth's orders. Ultimately, however, he was bound in service to The One Beneath, whom Elizabeth also served. Interesting way of referring to the Devil.....

Again, I could have handled this. After all, Elizabeth is an evil witch, so any chaos and mayhem she inflicts on anyone in the town of Captive's Sound will hardly be surprising. Why shouldn't she have brought in a demon as her assistant? This is actually very fitting.

What I definitely could NOT handle was the following: it turns out that Verlaine has had a crush on Jeremy for the longest time. And she still does, even though she now knows that Jeremy's body is currently inhabited by a demon. So fearing the worst, I skipped ahead, and discovered that she actually kisses this demon toward the very end of the book...... SHE. KISSES. A. DEMON. O.M.G. No. Just.....NO.

I even went as far as to look up the last book in this trilogy -- Sorceress -- on Goodreads. There I found out, through the synopsis as well as a few reviews, that this third and last book in the trilogy details the romantic relationship between Verlaine and this demon...... 

Well.

I realize that there are readers who wouldn't mind such a relationship at all, and who might even accuse me of overreacting. But here's the thing: no matter which way you slice it, a demon is a demon is a demon, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. Throughout history, as well as mythology, demons have been known to be the most totally EVIL creatures in any dimension. 

Ancient religions, such as the Celtic, had rituals to ward off evil spirits. Christianity has exorcisms. One such real-life exorcism was, as is very well-known, the basis for that most evil of novels, The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. Heck, even Oriental religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism have their own rituals for dealing with evil spirits.

So I find it puzzling in the extreme that a teenage girl in a YA novel would enjoy having a 'relationship' with a creature known to be totally evil, and in service to an entity known to be just as totally evil -- The One Beneath.

This brings me to the my next objection to this book. As I read, I could see how Gray was trying to make it seem that Asa was "not all that bad". Heck, he even hated Elizabeth, and wanted to bring her down. But wait a minute! He was still a loyal servant to The One Beneath, aka the Devil. (Throughout the novel, Gray makes it very clear that this is the true identity of this entity.) 

Bottom line, no matter how "nice" Asa might seem to be, he's still a demon. And remember, demons are totally evil. Period. No amount of, or type of, "therapy", or even love, can possibly reform a demon. The word says it all!  Gray's portrayal of this so-called "relationship" is grossly inaccurate. Just ask the Celts, who invented Halloween for the express purpose of warding off evil spirits!

There are other things about this novel that totally turned me off. One of them was the way Elizabeth "prepared" Jeremy's dead body for Asa's possession -- she gouged out Jeremy's eyes..... Now, I really didn't need to know that. I didn't need to have this image forced into my mind. In fact, I tried very hard to avoid visualizing this. (Well, actually, this was also mentioned in the first novel, but there were so many other things I liked about that book, I somehow overlooked this. Hmmm..... Maybe it's time to reread and re-evaluate that first novel.....) 

There were still more things that totally turned me off, such as Elizabeth casting a spell that made a tar-like, thick, black liquid come out of people's mouths..... And the fact that she actually destroyed, by fire, the bodies of Verlaine's parents, buried in the local cemetery, while Verlaine was visiting their graves.....

To put the (evil) icing on the cake.....throughout this novel, Elizabeth has been pressuring Nadia to become her (Elizabeth's) student. This is because Nadia's training in witchcraft is incomplete; her mother had been training her, but she ultimately abandoned the family. So Elizabeth wants to complete this training. Nadia resists, throughout most of the novel. But then, toward the very end, she decides to accept becoming Elizabeth's student. Say WHAT?! Is Nadia aware that she will thus become yet another servant to The One Beneath?! Oh, but she thinks she can learn enough from Elizabeth to ultimately defeat and destroy her, and then The One Beneath. Yeah, right.

I have news for Claudia Gray. Mere humans are not capable of resisting the Devil. They need some sort of divine help. What will happen instead is that the person who allies him/herself with the Devil -- for whatever "noble purpose" will inevitably become evil him/herself. Becoming an "ally" of the Devil in order to ultimately defeat him just doesn't work. Gray obviously wants her readers to think that this is really possible. But this just will never happen. The Devil will always win, unless the puny human who has thought to defeat him in this manner turns to a Higher Source. Throughout history, it has been shown that one must, in the end, seek divine aid in defeating The Evil One and his minions. One can't do it on one's own. 

I don't know why Gray has chosen to take such a dark path with this novel, and, obviously, with the sequel, Sorceress. But she has effectively and totally killed any further interest I might have had in this trilogy. I'm really sorry and upset about this, because she is indeed a fine writer, and I love these characters! They are all vividly depicted, and her world-building magnificent. Unfortunately, I just find it impossible to read such horrible things, nod my head, and just go along with them. 

Evil is evil, and cannot, nor should it be, whitewashed and justified. Demons -- including fictional ones -- can never be "nice", nor can they fall in love with humans. Being in love with someone entails wanting the very best for them. So this is a total contradiction, as demons can never, have never, and will never, desire "the very best" for humans. Ever.

I have read two other books by Gray, and thoroughly enjoyed them. But I simply cannot rave about Steadfast, because it doesn't deserve any raves, no matter how well it's been written. 

This novel should really be classified as a horror novel. It certainly seems to fit that specific genre better than that of YA urban fantasy. 

Claudia Gray is definitely capable of writing totally fascinating, engaging stories. She has the necessary skills to plunge her readers into her very imaginative worlds, to immerse them in her plots, keeping them turning pages.

I was therefore very disappointed to see that this novel's excellent plotline was marred by the elements discussed above. Of course, if this book were to be classified as a horror novel, these elements would probably not be considered detrimental to the plot at all, at least not by readers interested in reading horror. Happily, I am not one of them!
  
MY RATING:
                   








Claudia Gray is not my real name. I didn't choose a pseudonym because my real name is unpleasant (it isn't), because I'd always dreamed of calling myself this (I haven't) or even because I'm hiding from the remnants of that international diamond-smuggling cartel I smashed in 2003 (Interpol has taken care of them). In short, I took a pseudonym for no real reason whatsoever. Sometimes this is actually the best reason to do things.

I live in New Orleans. So far, in life, I've been a disc jockey, a lawyer, a journalist and an extremely bad waitress, just to name a few. I especially like to spend time traveling, hiking, reading and listening to music. More than anything else, I enjoy writing.
 






2 comments:

  1. Your posts are always so interesting and well thought out Maria.

    I think that it is fine to stop reading book halfway through. As you say, tome, particularly reading time, is too precious. Why waste time with a books that we are not likely to get much out of?

    Though it can work in some circumstances, I think that the plot device of bringing back characters from the dead is way overused. This is true in both books and in film. I think that it diminishes impact of death in fiction and generally makes a story less serious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thank you so much for the compliment!! :) :) :)

      Oh, absolutely! Most of us readers agree that it's a total waste of precious time to continue reading a book we're not enjoying. I regret not stopping sooner with "Beautiful Creatures". And this one? When I suspected that there was going to be a "romance" between Verlaine and this demon, I decided to make sure by taking a look near the end of the book. Sure enough, the "romance" was in the works! So I knew I couldn't continue reading.

      I do agree with you that the plot technique of bringing characters back from the dead is overdone. However, it wasn't so much that specific plot element that bothered me in this book, as the fact that the character "brought back" was really a demon in a dead human's body.

      I know you don't believe in demons, Brian, but I certainly do. Monsters such as Hitler were surely influenced by demons. And there have been exorcisms performed in the Catholic Church for years.

      It's not my intent to convince you of the reality of demons. Suffice it to say that, since I do believe they exist, it really, really bothers me to read about a "romance" between a demon and a human, even if this is fictional.

      It also bothers me that Gray is trying to make it look as if Asa the demon is "really not that bad". Well, if he can fall in love with a human, of course he can't be that evil. However, this flies in the face of all the folklore and hard evidence regarding demons throughout history.

      People reading all this might say that I'm contradicting myself, since I love The Twilight Saga. In those books, Stephenie Meyer made good guys out of vampires. But vampires are entirely fictional, whereas demons aren't. (Again I'm not trying to convince you, but am only explaining where I'm coming from.) Besides, fictional vampires were once humans who were turned into vampires. There's some possibility of redemption there. But demons, whether fictional or not, have NEVER been human. Thus, they are totally beyond redemption.

      A few years ago, I read two books by Amy Plum -- "Die For Me, and "Until I Die". These books are about revenants, people who come back from the dead, again and again, BUT for the noble purpose of saving human lives. So I had no problem with this at all. I heartily detest zombies, though, as they eat humans. UGH.

      Well, I'll stop before this turns into the chapter of a book.....lol.

      Thanks for your thought-provoking comment!! Hope you're having a nice day!! <3 :)

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