Saturday, 3 May 2014

ARC Review: The Beast of Callaire by Saruuh Kelsey

The Beast of Callaire by Saruuh Kelsey (#1 in the Legend Mirror series)
Format: Paperback ARC
Published by Saruuh Kelsey on 20th May 2014
Pages: 185
Genre: YA, Fantasy
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Yasmin is a descendant of the Manticore. A creature of Persian mythology. A Legendary.

But she doesn’t want to be. Unlike the Legendaries in The Red, Yasmin wants nothing more than an ordinary life. She tries to fool herself into believing that she doesn’t change into a beast every full moon and savagely kill innocent people.

But when Yasmin starts hearing a voice in her head and is drawn into dreams that aren’t her own, she is led to Fray—a girl who once saved Yasmin from hunters, who has shadowy memories that hint at her having Legendary magic—and Yasmin is catapulted into a life of Majick and malevolence.

Despite the danger around her and Fray, Yasmin might finally have a chance at being a normal girl with a normal girlfriend. But with Legendaries being killed, a war between the Gods brewing, and the beast inside Yasmin becoming stronger each moon, her mundane life is little more than a dream.
**Thanks to the author Saruuh Kelsey for providing me with a free review copy! This in no way affects my opinion of the book.**

I really, really wanted to like this book. My first thought upon seeing this book somewhere on the Internet was, "A PoC on the cover!" Then I read the blurb. Yay, the female MC likes girls! I thought it sounded pretty awesome, although I was a little sceptical about the word Majick. I still can't take that word seriously. The spelling just seems so ridiculous and kind of... juvenile? I thought it might've been better if the author had picked just another word entirely, maybe a Latin word to go with all the other Latin words she uses in this book, or even just stuck with the ordinary spelling of the word magic, which would have been adequate.

Anyway, my point is: the cover and the blurb together made me really excited about this book. A YA fantasy series with a lesbian PoC protagonist! And she can change into a manticore, which is a pretty original idea. It seemed like a book where a lot of cool things might happen.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't warm to this book no matter how hard I tried.

First off, let's talk about the romance, which I was really looking forward to. Admittedly, Fray is an interesting character. She's brave and inquisitive and instead of being frightened by Yasmin and all that she might mean, she does all this research into mythology to find out more about her and her kind. But god, if only the romance had been more well-written.

Yasmin and Fray's relationship develops so slowly, but it's not like there's actually any kind of slow burn feel to it. At some point, a character comments on Yasmin and Fray's sexual tension. What sexual tension? I don't experience any of it as a reader. Though the book is narrated from Yasmin's POV, we don't really see her think about how hot Fray is, at all; she never even thinks about wanting to kiss Fray until after the sexual tension has been commented upon. Surely this should have come before. The only time we really get much description of Fray, it's just vague flowery prose:

Fray is a ray of sunlight made human. Her eyes are lucent, the gold vines of her irises brought out by yellow eye shadow, and her face glitters.

It's pretty, but it's just... not very sexual tension-y. Yasmin just thinks of Fray as pretty all the time. There are plenty of people I think are pretty, but I don't want to make out with them. You know how I can feel the sexual tension between characters as a reader? When I want them to kiss – and then, once the characters have finally kissed, I should feel a sense of triumph and relief and satisfaction. That's when I know the sexual tension has been there and the relationship is well-written. When Yasmin and Fray finally kissed, I didn't feel much of anything at all.

One thing I can say though is that the kisses got better, and Yasmin and Fray's relationship was definitely a lot more enjoyable to read about once they'd actually got together. The author just isn't very good at writing the initial build-up, I think.

Yasmin and Fray's relationship isn't the only thing that moves slowly. The plot crawls. The book isn't long – fewer than 200 pages. But hardly anything happens at all. I kept reading because I hoped it would pick up. There were some intriguing moments at the beginning of the book, after all, even though the prophecies regarding Yasmin's fate that were dropped at the start were just a tad over-the-top and somewhat clichéd (their love is going to be so powerful! Yasmin is going to fall! someone is going to die!). I wanted to find out how everything would be resolved.

But very little actually happens until the last 30 pages of the book or so, where some mysterious thing happens and then there's a very rushed battle scene, and then we get a cliffhanger and it turns out most of what I was looking forward to finding out, all the promises of what might happen – apparently I'll have to wait until the next book for all of that. And I'm just not sure whether I care enough to read the next book.

Plus all these terms were used: Legendary, Crea, Dei, etc. etc. that weren't really fully explained until halfway through the book. It was confusing, and even though the meanings of these terms could kind of be guessed earlier on, I would have appreciated it if the explanations didn't come so late. By that time I was almost expecting them never to be explained.

The writing was more tell than show. So many times I was just really frustrated at how the book spent so much time telling me things when it could have spent more time showing me these things.

The Classicist in me bristled at some of the mistakes I found: Yasmin, as a descendant of Venus, is often called Yasmin ex Venere, which is fine, since Venere is the correct ablative form of Venus and the ablative case is what you need after the preposition 'ex', but Minnie, descendant of Apollo, was called Minnie ex Apolle. The ablative of Apollo isn't Apolle, it's Apolline. (I don't know whether this has been corrected since the ARC though.)

Some mythological details also struck me as wrong, such as Mavers, a descendant of Mars, collecting bows because they're apparently a symbol of Mars? No. Bows are the symbol of Apollo!

But hey, I'm being nitpicky, I guess, and these things probably would go unnoticed by other people. It's just that when the story is so entrenched in mythology, and when the author has decided that she wants to use Latin phrases and words, I would appreciate it if more care was paid to the accuracy of these little things. Otherwise these mistakes really throw me off, as a Classicist.

I did like a few of the side characters. There's Guy, Yasmin's brother. Their relationship is a pretty prickly one which gradually improves over the course of the book, and Guy's dialogue was refreshing and funny.

Then there's Yasmin's friend, Minnie. I wish we could have got more of her backstory and more of a sense of the history of her friendship with Yasmin. (I feel like I'm always talking about the history of friendships in my reviews, but trust me: the books where I get the most profound sense of the history of the characters' friendships are usually my favourite books, and vice versa – that can really make or break a book for me.) Minnie was also pretty funny and competent, a good friend to Yasmin.

Finally, I was intrigued by Ran, a character who appears fairly late in the book. He's very flirtatious and rebellious and just super duper interesting, and we definitely did not see enough of him. His interactions with Minnie were great. I almost wish the book was about them instead, because I feel like their relationship would probably be a lot more fiery than Yasmin and Fray's.

(And dammit, because now I've kind of talked myself into wanting to read the next book just to find out more about what happens with Ran and Minnie.)

I just. I'm so disappointed, because I really did think that this book could have been awesome. But the pace was entirely too slow. I'm convinced that half of this book could have been cut out and whatever takes place in the next book could definitely be put into this book. That might have made for a much thrilling ride than what this book ended up being.

(But hey, if you like the sound of the blurb, you should give the book a go anyway! It might work out much better for you.)


  1. A shame. Like you, I get excited when I see diverse characters on my book covers!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  2. I know! I tried so hard to like this book. The premise sounded so great and the cover was awesome! Sadly it just wasn't for me.

  3. Gosh, what a review, Cynthia! (Don't you just love detailed reviews? I do, I do! :) ) I don't think I'll be checking this out. The synopsis didn't do that much for me, and then after hearing about how slow it was... meh. Kind of reminds me of how I felt about Malinda Lo's Adaptation. I know you're a fan of her's, but I felt the whole book just led to the characters finding out what I felt was already blindingly obvious from about a quarter of the way through. I really hate it when you read a book expecting more, feeling like there's so much more to come, and it just doesn't deliver for you. Sucks. Thanks for the great review!

  4. I had to look up "tl;dr", haha!

    That makes sense. I think long reviews for negative reviews are a good thing; the more detail you give, the easier the reader will be able to make their own choice, I feel. (I have an example of this in my latest review, but perhaps it's TOO long.)

    I can understand the LGBTQ aspect catching your eye. My ears prick up at the mere mention of LGBTQ elements to a story, especially the ones that deal with the gender side of things. I find those stories so fascinating. (Not that LGB stories aren't, but even if I haven't experienced the same struggles/issues that surround being LGB, I understand attraction - I know that, felt it, etc. So I can relate to that. But trans/intersex/genderqueer/genderfluid novels? I have no experience that relates, and I just want to learn more.)

    Ok, some things happened in Adaptation, but those things just led to the main characters finding out what I found obvious from about a quarter or so of the way in. It just really frustrates me; what's the point of continuing to read if you're not going to find out anything new?! But you don't know you're not going to find out anything new if you don't continuw to read. It's so annoying! I wasn't a fan. But when nothing happens at all... I guess that's going to be pretty awful. Can't imagine it was that fun :/ It's a shame when books just don't do it for you.


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