Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: Mistwood, by Leah Cypess

Tryin' something new here, folks. :) As I've mentioned before, I'm still kind of finding my blogging groove, and kind of experimenting to figure out what works for me, and for you (speaking of which, what did you think of the Character's Class Schedule series? Would you be interested in more sequential posts like that? Let me know in the comments).

That said, there are also times when I read a book and something really stands out to me. Something I liked, or something I didn't like, or something I'm working to fix in my own writing. I already did a post or two kind of like this, but it's something I'd like to do more of: writing book review-ish posts, along with what I think we could learn from that book in relation to our own writing. Sound good? :]

So, here is the (official) first book review post, on Mistwood, by Leah Cypess.

72% of the fantasy books in my school library follow the same basic plotline. Girl has good guy friend. Girl falls for mysterious guy who turns out to be a supernatural being of some sort, and is forced to choose between the two. Optionally, girl discovers that she is also a supernatural being. While I try to keep an open mind, and occasionally pick up one of those books, most of the ones I’ve read just don’t grip me very much.
                I like to be surprised. I like to see characters behaving in ways I don’t anticipate. I love characters that focus on a plot more complex than just a love triangle with a few vampires thrown in.
                Which is why it always pleases me when I find a fantasy novel that meets my expectations, and renews my love of the genre.
                Mistwood, by Leah Cypess, is one of those books.
                The back cover:
                Isabel remembers nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have. Prince Rokan needs Isabel to be his Shifter. He needs her ability to shift to animal form, her lethal speed, and her superhuman strength. And he needs her loyalty—because without it, she may be his greatest threat. Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can’t help wanting to protect him from the dangers and intrigues of the court… until a deadly truth shatters the bond between them.
                Now Isabel faces a choice that threatens her loyalty, her heart… and everything she thought she knew.
My First Impressions:
                I consider myself a bit of a skeptic, so going in I had some worries that it would turn into one of those books that I talked about earlier.
                The back cover intrigued me, but focused enough on The Guy to keep those first misgivings alive. I mean, “Isabel knows that her prince is lying to her, but she can’t help wanting to protect him”? I’ve read enough of those books to be familiar with the handsome, manipulative-but-she-doesn’t-care-cause-she-loves-him-so-very-much Guy who sorta loves her, but treats her like crap half the time anyway…
                And I don’t like those Guys.
                That was the main thing that gave me some hesitation as I began this book, and for a while it looked like I was going to be right to doubt. The opening description (along with all the rest of the description) was beautiful, and yet the main character decided very quickly to trust someone she had no real reason to trust. She was obedient. Too obedient. And I didn’t like it.
                Furthermore, the secrets alluded to on the back cover seemed to come together rather quickly, which left me wondering, “Okay. What is the rest of this book about?”
                It was about a lot, folks. A lot.
                Middle Impressions:
                I quickly warmed up to the main character, and began to see her not as a dumb puppet-on-a-string, willing to let the prince push her around out of some sense of unflagging loyalty (which she is supposed to possess, for reasons that you’ll quickly discover if you read the book).
                Instead, I began to see her for what she was. A calculating, intelligent, powerful person, feeling confusion about what she was supposed to be feeling, and what exactly she was supposed to be. Plus, I loved her wicked tongue, and her analytical way of knowing exactly what to say to get to someone. Yet, she was also flawed, making lots of little mistakes. Those mistakes kept her human – which is ironic, because she’s not supposed to be human. Which made her even better. ;)
                I think fans of Katsa, from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, will be fond of Isabel. ^^ They struck me as similar, even though it’s been a while since I read Katsa’s story.
                The storyline in Mistwood also picked up quickly, and soon escalated to be much more complex than expected. Which in my opinion, is a very, very good thing. :)
                It took some unexpected turns… Some of them heart-breaking. The kind that makes you clutch the book and beg for the author to reverse it, even though the writer deep down inside you knew that it had to happen, and that it was actually an act of genius.
                The story snaps you up and grips you as tightly as Isabel’s duties as a Shifter grip her. And I love that.
                Ending Impressions:
                There was a skillfully surprising twist to the ending, and while hints were laced throughout the beginning of the work, I didn’t put everything together until the Grand Reveal. I was headed in a different direction, which basically describes the situation with all the many twists and turns to this book. There were lots of places where just as I settled into a rhythm of “Okay, now I see where this is going”, the author took me by the shoulders and said, “No, sorry. You’re just a few steps off, dear.”
                And I love that. Even during the heartbreaking twists...
                The characters became very complex, growing into more developed characters than I ever expected to find when they were first introduced (except for maybe Will, the prince’s brother, who barely appeared at all. But, *shrug*, he barely appeared at all. XD). The dialogue was good, with lots of snappy lines and comebacks. While this book involved a character deeply involved with the politics of court, the author never dragged those parts out to the point where they became boring. She has a beautiful style of writing, and there were only two things that caught my attention in a less than positive light. First, her characters do a lot of smiling, and grinning, and crossing their arms/leaning against walls, and the expressions of their eyes seemed to change even more than the actual Shifter’s eyes, but I don’t think it was so bad that it’s going to make me dislike the book.
                The other thing was less a concrete problem than it was something I wondered about. Sometimes the dialogue felt a bit modern for the setting. Not sure if it actually was (I need to study my medieval language some more, myself  -_-) but that’s what it felt like. And while it might be more appealing to some modern teens who aren’t exactly thrilled with deciphering old-fashioned speech, there were a few moments where I paused and thought, “Hey, is this realistic?” But again, I liked the content of the dialogue, and it wasn’t a big enough problem to really frustrate me.
                There was nice resolution between certain characters. Nice development, in relationships as well as within the characters themselves… It left me wanting to know more, but it wasn’t cut off in a place that made me scream for a more concrete ending.
                For those of you who care, the content of the book was relatively clean. A few swear words here and there, and a couple of allusions to sex, but nothing remotely graphic.
                Which was a pleasant surprise, considering the main character started out roaming feral in the woods.
                Feral people generally don’t wear clothing, folks.
                But like I said, nothing graphic. By today’s standards, it was pretty clean, I think. ^^
                I really liked this book. ^^ After a few initial misgivings, the plot really grabbed me. I enjoyed the characters, and the many twists and turns. Especially the big twist. It wasn’t quite as jumping-up-and-down awesome as the twist I described here, but I may have been grinning quite broadly more than a few seconds. ;)
                What I think us writers could learn from this book:
                Positives - There are some excellent examples of characters, dialogue, and description. I think readers will be able to notice the threads of tension running throughout the book that keep you reading after the information on the back of the book seems to have run out. It may help us learn how to cover some complex areas crucial to your character (politics, for example) in a way that won’t bore the reader or pull them out of the story. I also found this book to be a very good example of how to give the reader a satisfying ending that still leaves a few areas for the readers to fill in.
                Less-than-positives – Keep your character’s motions diverse. It kind of worked in this novel, because certain actions were things that the main character continually noticed (specifically, smiles and eyes, and the emotions behind them) but they can still be a bit distracting.
                Keep your setting in mind, and try not to slip into modern speech patterns. Again, I’m not sure if the language in this book could’ve been considered ‘modern’, but… *shrug* In certain places, it made me pause. And anything that distracts your reader can be a hindrance.
                And finally, first impressions. The doubts I had when I picked up the book started to go away when I read the first beautiful, descriptive lines, but not completely. We need to keep in mind that first impressions matter, and not just in your first pages. The summary was mostly what made me hesitate. If I’d decided that the plot sounded too much like one of those books, I might not have checked it out, and I would’ve missed a wonderful, recharging fantasy novel. Now, I’ve actually had a few thoughts about buying it (*cough with gift cards, so I’d essentially be getting it for free, but still. XD *cough*).
                Are you getting a novel ready to start querying? Do you plan to at some point? If so, then you’re eventually going to be writing summaries. Make sure yours matches up with the whole of your novel, and stresses the parts of it that you want stressed.
                Part of this depends on your audience, I suppose… Some people may have been drawn in by the whole ‘loyalty against all sane reason’ thing, but I personally might’ve been more interested if the back of  the book focused more on the doubts that pass between characters, or the outside dangers that face them. This book is about so much more than one main character, and one prince, but the back of the book didn’t address that as much as I would’ve liked, nor did it strongly address the crippling self-doubt that plagues Isabel throughout most of the novel as she tries to figure out who – or what – she’s supposed to be.
                Bottom line:
                I would recommend this book. ^^ To fantasy lovers, to twist lovers, to fellow lovers of politics and bodyguards and assassins… To anyone who’s a little tired of vampires (but won’t mind an MC who can shift into a wolf, among other things) and to anyone who’s a little tired of plots that lose themselves in favor of ‘hot’, ‘steamy’ romances that make you blush when you read them in public.
                I consider this a lovely, original fantasy novel, and I plan to read the companion novel, Nightspell, as soon as I get the chance. :)
Have you read Mistwood? Do you want to? Do you disagree with me, or have something to add? And what do you think about an occasional book review post like this? As always, I love the comments from you guys. ;)


  1. I also am tired of the girl has guy friend, meets new guy, he's paranormal, she has to choose between them, and she might be paranormal herself. Btw, I think, when you said "Guy falls for mysterious guy," that you meant "Girl falls for mysterious guy." Just a hunch. ;)

    And I really dislike the cocky/manipulative mysterious guy (a la Jace Wayland) who is forgiven for his bloated ego/emotional abuse b/c he's just so hot and she loves him. Blech. However, I will say that I LOVE manipulative characters. It's just that if a love interest is manipulating you, you aren't smart enough for them, and it isn't a good match, haha.

    Anyway. Hmm...I am a fantasy lover, I am a twist lover, so as for Mistwood, I've read some fairly negative reviews of it, but there are also some positive ones, which would include yours. I think this might be a library run for me, to test it out first. =)

    And on book reviews like this, I might make it shorter/half the length, so you're not driving away subscribers who balk at short story length posts. I'm generally one of those, heh. *^_^* Cheers! =)

  2. Yeah, lol, I didn't realize how long it was getting until... Well... Until it got there. XD

    And I'll fix that error. xD

    And yeah, I love manipulative characters too (especially writing them ;) ) but there's a difference between some manipulation that happens every day, no big deal, and manipulation that could actually do the girl they 'love' severe emotional damage. Or at least REALLY ruin her day. *sigh* It's just not my favorite plotline at this point, especially when so many books follow it without working to make the writing go the extra mile. :/

  3. I have to agree with Amanda - this is a little long. ;) It's a good read, though! But some of what you brought up about what fantasy books tend to be could have easily had a post of their own.

    If you seriously want to do book reviews, study some other people who have been doing it for a while. (If you haven't already!)

    I liked that you did the beginning, middle and end impressions, and I liked what you thought writers could learn - but one of those should probably be cut way down. (Probably the impressions bit. Your bit about what writers could learn is pretty unique.)

    Sorry, I'm in such critique mode right now! I must get away from the Share Your Work portion of the Absolute Write boards!

  4. No, that's fine. XD Like I keep saying, I'm still experimenting. I'll keep your suggestions in mind the next time I do one of these. :)