The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

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Author’s website
Publication date – January 29, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is now to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion…and more. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world, and in Cat’s heart.

Thoughts: Written by Cassandra Rose Clarke, I expected an interesting YA novel when I first started reading this book. What I was presented with, however, was a life-spanning romance set in the near-future, a book with one of the most realistic and thus most inspiring characters I have ever read, and as much as I normally don’t care much for romance novels (because that’s exactly what this is, although it’s presented in a way that definitely separates it from other contenders), I ate this up. And wanted more. When I find an author that can write something I normally wouldn’t enjoy and yet I want more, I know I’ve found an author I need to follow.

The story follows Cat from the tender age of 6 and her first meeting with Finn, whom Cat believes to be a ghost but who is actually a very human-like android. Skipping ahead a few years to Cat as a teenager, we see her experience growing pressure from her mother to be more ‘normal’, and Cat’s simultaneous attempts to rebel (by refusing to give up her growing crush on Finn) and attempts to comply by dating a boy she doesn’t much care about, going to parties, and trying to live a typical teenage life.

It’s this that makes Cat so wonderfully believable for me, and makes me want to heap the author with praise. In adulthood, Cat ends up working a dead-end job to pay the bills while she pursues her art career. She marries a man she doesn’t much love because she’s attempting to do the normal and ‘right’ thing. Unlike many novels, especially ones that are marketed as YA (which this one is in spite of Cat spending the bulk of the novel being in her 20s and 30s), she doesn’t meet the love of her life and stick with him against impossible odds. She makes mistakes. Her life isn’t great. She’s not startlingly normal. Things don’t end with a happily-ever-after when she’s 18, but instead mostly start to come together when she’s in her early 30s, and even then she suffers from very normal and relatable grief and problems. The near-future world she grows up in is not post-apocalyptic, is not dystopian, is not full of the colonization of distant planets. It’s relatable, it’s believable, and I could empathize with Cat more than I think I’ve been able to empathize with a character in a very long time.

This book essentially being a romance novel, you know there’s going to be a happy ending. Or rather, you know that in the end, Finn and Cat will be together. That much stays in your mind, no matter what trials the two go through and no matter what separates them, because that’s just what romance novels do. But that knowledge feels very much like the hope that Cat herself clings to throughout the book, a wish and a dream that somehow it’ll work out all right even when she doesn’t know how, even when she’s struggling with death and illness and loneliness. Cat is the kind of romance heroine that most of us could be. Not perfect. Not happy. Not living the dream. Knowing that following your dream usually means sacrifices. Making the best of a bad situation. And getting through life.

If this book has any flaw, it’s in the way that the writing feels largely distanced from what events it’s telling about. There’s a disconnect in there. On one hand, it’s somewhat forgivable, because the story is long and spans decades and Cat herself has a tendency to shut down, emotionally, when things get hard. On the other hand, that doesn’t diminish the fact that you read the novel feeling like you’re just watching it all happen from a safe distance, not that you’re trust into the centre of the events themselves. Intentional, I’m sure, but there are times I wish there had been more of a connection between the writing and the story, so to speak.

Aside from providing me with an interesting story and a couple I could seriously cheer for, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter made me want to get back into the fibre arts I’ve long neglected since starting to do book reviews. It isn’t often that I come across a book that so greatly inspires me like this. Though at first blush it looks like the kind of book I wouldn’t bother with, I can safely say that I’ve had my expectations blow out of the water, and I’m very glad that I took the time to enjoy this book. Highly recommended for fans of realistic romances and coming-of-age stories.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Cover Art: The Pirate’s Wish, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The cover art for Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse was one that really caught my eye, with the flowing design and cool colour tones that really looked enticing.

Now the design is out for the sequel, The Pirate’s Wish. We’ve got a sneak peak at the wraparound image for the cover art here.

I like it, though not as much as I liked the cover for the first book. I definitely like the black patterned border, which fits very well with the setting of the novel. But the central image of what looks like a manticore (or similar creature), in its stark black and standing out from the background where the pirate ship of the first cover blended in smoothly because of the choice of colour scheme, I’m not so fond of. It fits the theme, but it doesn’t flow quite as well as the first one did, I think.

And oddly, I kind of hope that what looks like a water stain on the back portion of the cover is intentional and not an error. It lends it the feel of an old piece of work, an artifact from the world contained within the book itself, and I like that effect.

Still, some wonderful art that fits very well either the world and the art from the previous novel. Overall, I like it!

(Now let’s hope that nobody decides this all needs a makeover and does some photoshoot of a Middle Eastern girl and a black-clad assassin gazing at each other across the cover.)

The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

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Author’s website
Publication date – October 2, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReadsAnanna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her. 

And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.

Thoughts: This book has a great deal going for it, and I’m very glad that I decided to read it. From the beginning, I was drawn into the world, the writing  style, the story, and i tore through this book like there was no tomorrow. As YA fiction goes, this has to be one of the best I’ve read in quite a long time.

The setting has a heavy Arabian Nights feel to it, not just in the location but also in the story itself, the characters, the way everything works. It would be one thing to say that this book’s setting is based on Middle Eastern folklore. But that only scratches the surface, and doesn’t take into account the real depth of the fantastical elements, the great feeling of adventure and action and mystery. And the story doesn’t stay solely in lands covered by sand. We get to see Ananna’s pirate upbringing come into play as they travel by ship to the great frozen north to try to break Naji’s curse, so we’re not limited to one small area when it comes to the setting.

Like many YA novels these days, the story is told in first-person perspective from the view of the female protagonist, Ananna, who starts off being betrothed to a pirate but deciding to run away when she realizes that this is going to mean captivity rather than freedom. But unlike most YA novels written in the first-person, Ananna narrates exactly like she talks. Her speech is peppered with “ain’t” and double negatives, and her thoughts are exactly the same way. It’s amazing how few authors actually take the time and effort to do this, but it really makes the difference. You get more of the sensation that you’re actually inside Ananna’s head rather than just sitting on her shoulder, or reading her memoirs. It’s a wonderful touch, and made the story that much more appealing.

The romance between Ananna and Naji was deftly handled. As another reviewer said, their relationship was based on trust and not lust. They certainly felt drawn to one another, but were more wrapped up in Naji’s curse and the people being sent to kill them than they were with gazing into each others’ eyes. As I’ve often said before, I prefer my romance as a side-dish rather than the main course, and this is exactly what was served in The Assassin’s Curse. It added flavour without being overwhelming, and attraction did play a part in things without being the focal point of the story. Mostly, they were too busy actually getting on with the plot to get so lost in each other, and I really liked that.

If there’s one thing that bothers me about this novel, though, it’s that Ananna is rarely wrong. Her first impressions of a person always turn out to be correct (“never trust a beautiful person” being the big one, because just about everybody she thinks that about is either out to get them or just stringing them along), and never ends up having her ideas proven to be misconceptions, her fears and prejudices unfounded. I know she’s supposed to be savvy and observant, but it would have been nice to see her proven wrong every now and again, and to struggle with that knowledge. The closest that the book really came to this was in her initial mistrust of Naji, and considering what the plot is about, I don’t entirely think that counts.

With an interesting setting, engaging writing style, and incredibly interesting storyline, The Assassin’s Curse is sure to be a YA hit, one that teenagers and adults alike will enjoy. This has definitely turned me on to Clarke’s work, and I look forward to seeing more of what she’ll do in the future. Especially in the continuation of this series!

(Book provided for review from Strange Chemistry via NetGalley.)

Cover art reveal! The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

  There’s never been anyone – or anything – quite like Finn.

He looks, and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task is to tutor Cat.

When the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.

Due to be published by Angry Robot books in February of 2013, this book is one that came to the publisher through their Open Door month, and apparently had editor Lee Harris unable to leave the train station until he had finished reading it.  Even if it hadn’t been for that endorsement, the synopsis alone would have had me interested. Stories about robots are nothing new, but stories about robots coming to grips with their own sense of being? Now that’s something I can sink my teeth into!

The cover art has a really interesting feel to it, too. The mostly greyscale and muted colours make for a really stark and lonely image, even without the symbolism of a figure walking down an empty road.

Keep your eyes out for this one early next year. I know I will be!