Crushed, by Eliza Crewe

Due to Strange Chemistry closing its doors, some books that were up-and-coming unfortunately had to get dropped. Eliza Crewe’s Crushed, sequel to Cracked, is one of them. The publication date shifted from early August to who-knows-when. I contacted the author to see whether she’d prefer me to let this review go live now, or wait until a new publication date was announced. She said it was fine to do it now, as she still has hopes of getting Crushed published sometime this summer, even if she has to self-pub it (and she has all my support on that, because this series is awesome and people need to read it).

crushedelizacrewe  (No buying links at present)

Author’s website
Publication date – unknown, hopefully summer 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReadsMeda Melange has officially hung up her monstrous mantle and planted her feet firmly on the holy and righteous path of a Crusader-in-training. Or, at least, she’s willing to give it a shot. It helps that the Crusaders are the only thing standing between her and the demon hordes who want her dead.

The problem is, the only people less convinced than Meda of her new-found role as Good Girl are the very Crusaders she’s trying to join. So when a devilishly handsome half-demon boy offers escape, how’s a girl supposed to say “no?”

After all, everyone knows a good girl’s greatest weakness is a bad boy.

Thoughts: I enjoyed Cracked. A lot. It was fast-paced, the plot was tight, the characters were fantastically entertaining to read about, and as I said in my review of it, the book not only met my expectations but exceeded them.

As such, my expectations were already raised higher than normal for a YA novel. And yet, Crewe managed to exceed them again.

Meda is chafing at the restrictions put upon her by the Crusaders. They starve her of the soul energy she needs to survive. She’s made the committment to train to be a Crusader, but the odds are against her, as every victory is taken as a matter of course and every rule infraction, even just talking back, is seen as proof that she’s the very thing they’re all dedicated the killing. So given her nature, it’s no real surprise when Armand, an incubus (who is listed as an incubi in the ARC I have, but I refuse to call him that since incubi is the plural and I saw no signs that he has multiple personalities), shows up and offers her the chance at the kind of fun she’s been missing while under Crusader eyes. Anything from killing the cruel and sucking out their souls as she needs to do, to just getting outside the walls she’s been imprisoned within. And, as always, the plot gets far more complicated, in this case when the Beacon Map that Meda pretended to steal actually goes missing, and it’s even odds as to whether it was hidden by demons, or by the Crusaders themselves.

Meda is an incredible character to read about. Her mental voice is amazing, realistic and observant and delightfully snarky. She’s what makes my opinion on first-person viewpoints flip upside down; when I’m reading from Meda’s perspective, I want to read more, and it doesn’t spoil any surprises or sound like descriptions are forced and clunky. This series has thus far been one of those conflicting ones, where I want to read everything so quickly because it’s all so great, but if I do, then the book will be over. Whether it’s Meda checked out a dangerous situation, or arguing with her own hormones, she’s a great mind to be in.

And the romantic aspect! I can’t praise this enough, I really can’t, because it’s like Crewe wrote this book with my tastes specifically in mind! You expect, as the book goes on, that Meda and Armand are going to hook up before the end, that maybe she’s going to reform him and get him to turn away from his demonic roots. They certainly do bond, and it’s great to see, because it means we get to see more of Meda’s mind and learn more about what different kinds of demons are like. And Meda is certainly attracted to him; even she doesn’t deny that. But when you get right down to it, Meda also admits that she’s using him as much as he’s using her, and that’s the extent she wants to keep he relationship at, no matter what her body is telling her she wants to do. It’s startlingly rare to see this in a YA novel; 9 times out of 10, the female lead hooks up with the male lead. But much like how I half expected Meda and Chi to hook up in the first book (and was happy that they didn’t), I expected the same of Meda and Armand, because of prior YA-novel experience, and this was one of those times I loved being proven wrong.

There are moments in this novel that I very much disliked, but nothing that took away from the quality of the novel as a whole. The first one that I want to talk about may be a trigger for some people, so consider yourself warned: if you don’t want to read anything about rape, feel free to skip this paragraph; it’ll be the only one that I discuss this issue in. There is a scene in which Meda is tested, by essentially having another person’s spirit forced inside her body against her will and subjugating her. It was terrifying, uncomfortable, and reduced Meda to essentially cowering in a corner of her own mind to escape greater violation. I can’t see how this scene could have been written the way it was and have not been a deliberate analogy to sexual rape. Right down to the “it’s for your own good” lines. It was deeply uncomfortable to read, as I’m sure it was meant to be, and while the neither the author nor any of the characters come right out and say that it was essentially mind-rape, some of their reactions showed their opinions pretty plainly.

The second issue I have is less a scene and more of a thread running throughout the better part of the novel, and that is how so many people expect too much from Meda. It’s not enough that they expect her to suppress the demonic side of herself. That I could understand. It’s not that she’s demanded to do so under unfair condition; that I can understand too, because as much as it’s unfair, it’s also human. But it was Jo’s actions that really got to me. The way Jo was obviously keeping secrets from Meda, appeared to not trust her, locked her in her room at night, repeatedly told her to keep her head down and to behave, and expected Meda to understand why her friend was no longer acting like her friend. When all is said and done, Jo reveals that she was essentially playing double agent, even sabotaging herself in order to get more information that could help Meda, and that was why she did everything she did. And Meda just forgives her. Now yes, friends forgive each other for transgressions all the time. It’s part of being friends. But the way it was done grated on my nerves, because the whole time, it was though Jo was saying, “I know I made you feel isolated and unwelcome and yes, I was putting you in a jail cell every night and not telling you anything about why I was doing it, but dammit, Meda, you weren’t supposed to take it seriously and actually have reactions to it, because I was doing it for your own good and you should have known that.” People seemed to expect Meda to take their word as golden just on faith while rarely, if ever, showing the same faith in her. Human, believable, and rage-inducing to read about, because that hits a little too close to the mark with me and issues I’ve experienced in the past. Were I Meda, I wouldn’t have forgiven Jo so readily. Understood her motives, yes. But while intentions count for a lot, that was still betrayal, and the sting of that would take a long time to fade and I don’t think I’d be able to trust that friend so easily again. So I’m surprised that Meda accepted Jo’s explanation and forgave her as quickly as she did when the truth came to light.

So what do you have when you add up all the factors? You have a fast-paced and tightly-woven plot with incredibly realistic characters, all seen through the eyes of a protagonist who isn’t your average teenage girl in so many ways. You have a story about lust and betrayal and friendship and saving people from both the bad guys and the good guys. You have bad people doing good things and good people doing bad things. You have a story that’s complex and layered, paired with writing that’s tremendously entertaining. You have a story that has twice impressed me far more than I expected to be impressed, a subversion of tropes, and a story that shines so much brighter, and darker, than the vast majority of YA SFF that graces the bookshelves today. This is a series you can’t afford to miss.

Because if you do, Meda might take it personally.

(Received for review from the original publisher via NetGalley.)

Cracked, by Eliza Crewe

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – November 5, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Ever since my mom was murdered, I’ve been completely alone. I live in the shadows, because there’s no one like me. I have no choice because I have to fight the Hunger, the Hunger that drives me to hunt people and eat their souls. And I have to fight it if I want to stay out of the darkness.

Who am I?
I’m Meda Melange.
What am I?
I don’t know—but I’m not human.
And now, I finally have the chance to find out.

In this first book of the gripping Soul Eater trilogy, find out who Meda is and which side she will come down on in a thrilling tale of the war between good and evil.

Thoughts: Meda is a soul-sucker, a half-demon who feeds on the life energy of others, and someone who ends up tangled up with Templars, people who have made it their mission to hunt down and destroy people just like her. As she struggles to keep her true identity a secret, her association with the Templars yields information about her mostly-unknown heritage, why she is who she is, and why there seems to be a never-ending horde of demons out to get her.

Cracked turned out to be one of those rare YA novels that not only meets my expectations but actually surpasses them. It was a great read, fast-paced and interesting. Meda’s narrative voice was really what made this book work so very well. She’s an abrasive, snarky, witty, observant teenager, and we get full access to her sarcastic thoughts and internal commentary, with the narrative describing not just what’s happening around the characters but also what’s going on inside Meda’s head without it being limited to simple introspection and attempts to understand an event or person. Sometimes the best parts of Meda’s thoughts consisted of nothing but frustrated snarking of the people around her.

Of course, the downside to this is Meda’s lack of internal censor. Very realistic in that people often think things they were never ever say, but also a bit painful in her unfiltered commentary on Jo’s disability, often referring to her early on as “the cripple.” She does this less and less as the story develops and she gets to know Jo more, but the knee-jerk reactionary judgment is a bit uncomfortable to read at times.

The story proceeds at a very fast pace, starting off a bare moment before the action starts and not letting up for very long. During the less action-heavy points of the novel, the text is filled with interesting character development, fleshing out some interesting characters concepts and really making you feel for the people you’re reading about. This is worthy of praise on its own, since slower character-development scenes aren’t always handled well enough to keep a reader interested if they prefer more action in their books, but I’d say it was done pretty well here, and too good effect toward the end of the book as you realize that nobody is invulnerable. Your heartstrings get tugged at the same time as Meda’s, and I have to say that it’s uncommon for a YA novel to make me feel sad at character death now. This jaded heart hasn’t completely turned to stone yet.

Interestingly, there is no romantic interest for Meda in this novel. You expect that it will follow the standard YA formula and that despite opposition, Meda and Chi will hook up by the end. But no, Meda spends part of her time trying to convince both Jo and Chi that the other is actually interested in them. I was deeply impressed by this, since the vast majority of YA novels involve a romantic subplot with the protagonist. Crewe was clearly unafraid of breaking the mold, and the effect was a stranger story that emphasized Meda’s priorities and showed that a good story doesn’t need romance to keep people turning pages.

I’m very interested to see where Crewe will take this story in future installments, and you can be sure that I’ll be making a point of reading them. This was a wonderful example of the kind of intelligent story and witty narrative that suits this genre so well. Crewe’s skill shines brightly, especially in dialogue and observation, and this book will consume your soul just like Meda herself. (Only with less violence and gore. Thankfully.) Don’t pass this one over; it’s well worth it.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)