009 – Tyger, Tyger by Kersten Hamilton

Tyger, Tyger cover “Your life is totally in danger!”

Teagan Wylltson thinks her best friend, Abby, is joking. But Abby swears she’s psychic. And she’s dreamed that horrifying creatures – goblins, shape-shifters, and beings of unearthly beauty but terrible cruelty – are hunting her friend.

Abby is always coming up with crazy stuff, though, so Teagan isn’t worried. Her life isn’t in danger. In fact, it’s perfect. She’s on track for a college scholarship. She has a great job. She’s focused on school, work, and her future. No boys, no heartaches, no problems.

Until Finn Mac Cumhaill arrives.

Finn’s a bit on the unearthly beautiful side himself. He has a killer accent and a knee-weakening smile. And either he’s crazy or he’s been haunting Abby’s dreams, because he’s talking about goblins, too…and about being The Mac Cumhaill, born to fight all goblin-kind.

Finn has survived alone on the streets since he was twelve, so he knows a thing or two about fighting. Which is a very good thing, because this time, Abby’s right.

The goblins are coming.
Maybe there’s some weird spell that’s been cast by my computer, but I’ve been oddly drawn to both books I’ve been forced to read on the PC, and it’s actually kind of nice. What a freakish turnabout it is, to read some good YA literature for a change.

As you might have guessed, Tyger, Tyger is another book we got a digital review copy of, and yes, it was good. Engaging, actually. I read it in two sittings, and in between the two, while I worked, I daydreamed about coming home to finish it. It’s that kind of book.

Tyger, Tyger is an adventure book through and through. It sucks you in from page one and proceeds with a break-neck pace and very little ceremony to introduce you to its world and the characters that inhabit it. I probably shouldn’t be so amazed by this, but I realize now that Hamilton is a master of ‘show, not tell’. The book begins in the middle of an argument between Teagan, our heroine, and an ape, Cindy, at the zoo in which Teagan works, and in this one scene, we get a great feel for Tea’s character, values, motivation, and personality, all without being told a bit of it. This is very nice and, I now realize, EXTREMELY RARE.

I shouldn’t be falling all over myself to praise such a basic aspect of storytelling, especially when the book isn’t exceptionally subtle about what it shows us, but it honestly blows my mind a little. After reading books like the House of Night series where they do nothing but tell you over and over again what people’s personalities are, and what relationships characters are supposed to have, this kind of natural development is like a ray of light in a storm of terrible writing.

I mentioned that the pacing is break-neck, but that’s not especially true for the first few chapters. Things flow at a good speed, and we’re given a nice look at the immensely likable Wylltson family before the storm. We meet Teagan’s adorable younger brother, her charming father, her fiery Irish mother, her outgoing best friend, and of course, her love interest. Despite only experiencing a day or two over the course of a few chapters, you get a strong sense of the warm family dynamics, as well as the different relationships between family members. You come to like these characters very quickly, and I especially loved the back and forth between Teagan’s parents. There’s a very obvious affection and a cute rapport between the two, and this isn’t really something you see that often in YA lit. Maybe it’s just me being an old fogey, but I’ll take a mature, well-worn, comfortable love over the spark and fizzle of teen soul mates any day.

At any rate, these few chapters we have with Teagan’s family, friends, and neighborhood do an excellent job of attaching us to the characters and the love that they feel for one another, so that we actually care about the tragedy that strikes them. THIS is good storytelling. I care about Teagan’s mother and father, I care when they’re in danger or emotional turmoil, just as much as I care when Teagan or Aiden or Finn are in trouble. This is so freakishly rare for me that I appreciated Tyger Tyger and Kersten Hamilton all the more for it.

Anyway, I mentioned that we’re introduced to our requisite love interest, Finn Mac Cumhaill right? I gotta say, he’s actually pretty decent as far as teenage love interests go. He’s introduced as Teagan’s cousin, but you know that can’t be true, and thankfully they dispense with that obstacle almost as soon as it is presented – Teagan’s mother was taken in by Finn’s grandmother, so they’re not blood-related. (Oddly, this little issue of blood-relation doesn’t stop Abby from making a big deal of Teagan having OMG A BOY in the house, even before she finds out that they are not actually cousins. Ew.)

Of course, Finn is gorgeous and, despite Teagan initially describing him as ‘feral’, is actually a pretty good, stand-up guy. He’s got a roguish charm and wit that works for him (and yes, a sexy Irish accent if your imagination is good enough), and has all the benefits of a throwback gentleman without the sexist tendencies. He respects Teagan; he doesn’t coddle or patronize her, and though he wants to protect her, he never forces his will on her. The best part is, though he flirts and charms and they undeniably have chemistry from day one, Finn never pushes himself on Teagan. He even asks her permission to kiss her, which totally scores points with me. And Teagan scores bonus points for telling him no.

I actually liked the progression of their relationship, at least in the start. Because it’s a YA book involving magic, they feel sparks from the moment they meet (ugh, soulmates), but Teagan makes it very clear, even towards the end of the book as she starts to admit her feelings, that it was not love at first sight. And in the beginning, Finn is actually open about his attraction to Teagan. Though she turns him down (she likes him, but she’s got a plan that boys don’t fit in to omg ilu Teagan), he takes it in stride and doesn’t give up. I actually thought for a moment, ‘Oh my god, are they actually going to have a normal courtship, with none of that I-don’t-think/didn’t-know-he-likes-me bullshit?’ Well, no.

Tragedy strikes and Finn leaves, returning months later as the quintessential lone warrior. As the story proper begins, he is intent on keeping his distance from Teagan because he’s The Slayer Mac Cumhaill – the one girl in all the world- a slayer of goblins who will most likely end up having a short, violent life. Naturally, he’s all noble about it, and decides he doesn’t want to fall in love with a girl only to leave her broken-hearted when he dies.

While you can understand where he’s coming from, and it generally fits in with his character (especially after you meet Mamieo), this whole obstacle between Finn and Teagan feels invented. And of course, later on in the book there are the inevitable revelations about Teagan’s family bloodline that throw another false wrench into the Teagan/Finn relationship. To the author’s credit, this one isn’t drawn out by stupid characters refusing to have the ONE CONVERSATION that will clear it up. Teagan and Finn fairly quickly have that particular talk. The problem is that by the end of the book both obstacles neatly disappear (the former for no good reason, as Finn isn’t any less the Mac Cumhaill when it’s over than he was in the beginning), and end up feeling quite pointless. You are keenly aware that they were only present for the will they/won’t they tension.

Tyger Tyger is an odd book, in that each thing it does right has a corresponding flaw. For example, while it creates a vivid fantasy world stemming from a rich, relatively unique mythology, a lot of the backstory that we get on this world and how it came to be comes in the form of clunky exposition. On Finn’s first night with the Wylltsons, Teagan’s bookish father just decides to tell his family the story of Finn’s ancestor, an Irish folk hero, for laughs because it’s TOTALLY NOT REAL LOL. It conveniently happens to include enough world mythology to introduce us to some core concepts, but not spoil any further revelations. Like clockwork, backstory is spewed out through conversations between characters when it is plot-appropriate, usually by one recounting a relevant Irish legend to another. I realize that this information is necessary for our comprehension of the story, but isn’t there another way we could have been given it?

It’s also painfully easy to see what little tidbits are going to be significant later on in the story, and predict what is going to happen accordingly. Teagan’s mom was just found by Mamieo? That’ll come back to bite Teagan in the ass. Teagan’s brother has perfect recall when it comes to music? That’s sure gonna come in handy down the line. Teagan’s father is a descendant of Merlin? GEE I WONDER IF THAT WILL BE SIGNIFICANT AT SOME POINT? Again, I realize we have to have this information so later events won’t be out of the blue or seem overly convenient, but could you telegraph the plot twists any clearer? Hamilton basically spends the first quarter of her story spoiling the rest of it.

Additionally, while her characters are each distinctive and unique and full of personality, they are all distinctive and unique and full of personality. It’s actually kind of distracting to take as much notice of a neighbor who shows up for ONE SCENE as you do of another who’s a legitimate supporting character. It’s a bit of a nit-pick, I guess, but Hamilton put so much emphasis on every character that it was actually hard to pick out who was supposed to be important and who wasn’t.

This brings me to my biggest issue, which is the increasingly break-neck pace of the story, and the odd way that it continually introduces new ideas, plot threads, and obstacles, only to immediately resolve or disregard them. I mean, what came of that whole subplot involving Abby’s safety from the Highborn Sidhe, Kyle? Nothing. Her apartment was vandalized, but she was never attacked and it had absolutely no impact on the overall plot. And what was with the whole Skinner subplot? Sure, she threatened the family once or twice, but apparently that was all resolved in the end with a nice conversation between her and Mamieo. Why was it even included? The feast in Yggdrasil was entirely pointless, and there was an odd lack of emphasis on some major revelations and plot points. I mean, Roisin’s meeting with Teagan and Aiden was way under-emphasized for the impact it had on the plot. HELLO, shouldn’t some bonding have occurred there? What was with her father’s random spouting of that William Blake poem? Was that just title justification? And the fight between Finn, Teagan, and Fear Doirich was VERY anti-climactic, although I’ll admit that I found Teagan’s solution hilarious. But really, WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE THEM LIKE THAT? WHAT? ARE YOU STUPID? IS THERE REALLY NO OTHER WAY WE COULD THINK OF TO HAVE A SEQUEL? OMG YOU ARE THE MOST INCOMPETENT HEROES EVER.

Then, in the last few chapters as they escaped Mag Mell, it was just one bizarre hit after the other – Thomas, hellhounds, rescuing Roisin, the car chase and the caomhnoir aingeal (though I did like how that tied earlier events together, and I actually adored that particular character). It all felt very rushed and randomly chucked in. And I’m sorry, but things were resolved way too easily in the end, for all the hell shit went to following Teagan’s father’s disappearance.

I think that there’s a chance that Tyger Tyger was originally more than one book at one time, or at least much longer. Perhaps some plotlines had to be condensed or pruned or something? I can’t really think of another explanation for some of the odd threads that just show up and then resolve themselves.

All that being said, I did really enjoy Tyger Tyger. Despite the pacing issues, I was actually drawn in to the story and found almost every character easily likable (my heart breaks for Teagan’s father the most, I think his fate ended up being the worst :/), and there’s a great world here that I’m excited to see expanded. I’m definitely eagerly awaiting the next installment of this series.

four stars


 

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