081 – Awoken by Serra Elinsen

Awoken cover In his house at R’lyeh, great Cthulhu lies dreaming… of her.

What would you do if you discovered you were the only one in the world with the hidden power to keep it from utter annihilation?

What if you had no idea what that power might even be?

Andromeda Slate, the self-proclaimed most ordinary girl in America, can’t figure out why the gorgeous but mysterious new boy at high school seems to hate her so much. It couldn’t have anything to do with the strange dream she had the night before he first showed up in class, could it? The dream where the very same boy rescued her from a giant, green, tentacled sea monster?

And it couldn’t have anything to do with that time she read aloud from that ancient tome of eldritch magic, the Necronomicon… could it?

Andi Slate never imagined she’d find herself in a situation where somehow she was the key to saving the world.

Her life is about to get a whole lot less ordinary.
This book is full of awful, awful characters, horrifying ethnic stereotypes, godawful writing, skeevy-as-fuck victim-blaming, rape-culture bullshit, internalized misogyny, and probably the second-worst fucking relationship in YA, after Patch and Nora.

And it was

amaaaaazing

…that sounds worse than I thought it would. WAIT LET ME EXPLAIN.

So if you aren’t already aware, Awoken is a stealth parody, taking depressingly common YA tropes to their (more) disturbing extremes. I wasn’t sure whether or not to bring this up, but as amusing (and potentially calm-threatening) as it would be to think this horrifying shit was sincere, I feel like you can’t fully appreciate Awoken without the comforting blanket of “parody” tucked firmly around your brain. It’s difficult to appreciate the tropes being poked fun at unless you know that they’re really for reals poking fun at them, and that could potentially be hard to discern. Not because the author(s) haven’t gone above and beyond in making this shit ott and utterly ridiculous, but because, well, waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many authors have played the same shit totally fucking straight.

Our heroine is Andi and oh-my-fucking-god this chick. This chick. I don’t wanna say she’s the “real monster here”, because Cthulu, man, fuck that guy, but Andi is pretty awful. She starts out normally enough I guess, with just your standard Sad Upper-Middle-Class White Girl complex, angsting about how bad her life is because she had to move, even though her best friend moved with her, and she has happy loving parents, and a decent school life, BUT WOE IS HER, the town is so boring, her existence is meaningless, yadda yadda.

I stared up at the ancient white wooden beams above me— my parents had been so excited to renovate this old ship maker’s house when we moved in two years ago. They left the ceiling beams exposed because they said it gave the house character.

Personality. Depth.

“This house has more meaning than my life,” I groaned aloud.
Then Riley shows up and of course she ~knows him from a dream~, and he’s a dick to her, and they don’t even talk civilly once, so naturally, it’s a straight shot for both to Obsession City.

After he’d been so weird and smug and then downright threatening, why couldn’t I just be relieved that he wasn’t at school anymore to give me that smoldering look of disdain he had reserved special for me?
The relationship between Riley and Andi is about as depressing as you’d expect, the power balances having been slid allllll the way to the end of their respective scales. Riley is overtly menacing, controlling, and possessive. Those are literally the only traits he displays. He’s incapable of not being condescending, even when he’s trying to be romantic, and he almost never addresses Andi as anything other than “[insert synonym for “small” or “unimportant” here] one”. I’m gonna say that like 95% of his lines were straight-up non-sugarcoated orders directed at Andi, and the other 5% were orders directed at other people, or exposition. All 100% was(were?) in flawless Ye Olde Formal Speake.

“When we met in the realm of dreams, our destinies became entwined irrevocably. Thus do I hereby anoint you as my sacred charge and accept you as my burden, my albatross. I shall protect you always, for you are small and weak. And I am greater than you.”
He totally talks like that for the entire book.
He’s also an unabashed murderer who solves most of his problems by driving people insane and then eating them. Cuz Cthulu.

For her part in the relationship, Andi took the Bella/Kate “cripplingly co-dependent” option, with tasty swirls of “relentless dismissal of self-worth” and “blind obedience”. Most of her interactions with Riley (positive or not) left her berating herself for her unworthiness, or concocting increasingly elaborate scenarios for his continued presence in her life, because he couldn’t possibly be interested in a boring, plain, mundane girl like her.

No! No. I would not cry. Not anymore. I was not worthy to cry over him. The mere fact that I dared to even entertain the notion that he might have even considered staying was an insult to him!
And it’s at this point that I realize that this all probably sounds far more disturbing than funny, but hopefully the quotes have demonstrated what kind of tone we get for all this.

“We stand now beneath the stones, little one. I once walked among the stars, a giant. I once slumbered here, in a space between spaces. I… am the Priest All-High of the Great Old Ones.”

The words hit me with the force of a blow. I gaped in the dark. I was shattered, the awful weight of implication crushing me to a fine powder. Riley… a priest? “Does that mean… that you can’t… you know, be with someone…?”
So yeah, tone! But what I really appreciated about this book was that it wasn’t about making fun of Twilight in the kind of dude-bro generalities you see in shit like, say, Vampires Suck. It’s not “ew, sparkling” or “ew, shirtless dudes“, or “ew, pandering to teenage girls“. It’s like “ew, shitty fucking writing“. I’ve been itching for a good, incisive YA parody that really understands what is wrong with this genre, and Awoken scratched that itch like whoa. It very deftly recognizes problematic tropes, and illustrates why this shit is fucked-up and damaging in an entertainingly awful way.

Actually, one of the things I liked about the book was that it had brief moments of clarity where characters were able to drop serious reality bombs on our lovesick heroine, which almost never happens, ever. It’s easier to let awful things slide when the narrative is romanticizing them, and that’s how a lot of YA books get away with some creepy shit they come up with. While Awoken takes that creepy shit to the extreme –

He finished tying the last knot with a sharp and precise motion, binding me fast. “I restrict your freedom for your own protection,” he said.

That seemed reasonable. I was in an unfamiliar place, after all, a place where Riley was apparently at ease. I relaxed. The chair was not terribly uncomfortable, and I felt in my heart of hearts that Riley knew best in this matter.
– it also actually has characters address the creepy shit from an outside perspective.

“Andi, please,” Bree said after a minute. “You just met Riley, what, two weeks ago? And all of a sudden you’re running off with him, leaving the state, for a whole weekend without telling anyone? This isn’t like you. That guy’s just… he’s just bad news.”
Her parents get in on this shit, too.
The reality outside the bubble of the hero and heroine’s ~epic love~ is dangerously absent more often than not in these stories, and I appreciated the inclusion here, when there was no obligation to do so. It’s kind of fascinating to see Andi’s character so exposed. She flips her shit and rages at her family and friends for being concerned about her absence and Riley’s influence on her, and you see just how selfish and self-centered this kind of heroine can be. It’s a brief interlude, of course, because the characters end up kowtowing back in to her good graces, and the world goes right back to revolving around that epic love, but it’s still great to see.

The obligatory break-up between Riley and Andi is similarly kind of a perfect portrayal of how absurdly dramatic and fucking unhealthy some of these romances are, but it does so by staying firmly planted in Andi’s head as she sobs and flails and literally clings to Riley’s shoelaces as he tries to break up with her. It’s tempting to quote the whole goddamn thing here, because it’s horrible and so fucking funny, but that would probably lessen the effect, so instead I’ll just leave this here and say that this scene alone is worth the price of admission xD

“Even if he had cared for me once, I no longer made his song take flight. It was over now. Our beautiful music of the night had ended forever.”
I didn’t mention that Phantom of the Opera was like their Thing, did I? WELL IT IS.

Surprisingly likable characters included Bree, the obligatory fat best friend, who is literally always eating something, but is also the horrified stand-in for the audience at points, and Uncle Neil, the obligatory Why-Isn’t-This-Book-About-Them? character.

I also enjoyed the use of Vik to illustrate how shitty the Friendzoned Love Interests generally turn out to be, and then promptly facepalmed at Andi’s growing attraction to him.

Looking at him then, from my position of utter helplessness, it was impossible not to realize how strong Vik’s taut and muscular body must be. For the first time in my life , he appeared to me as something other than just my childhood best friend, my confidante, my surefire source for complete-yet-concise notes from skipped classes. Somehow along the way… Vik had become a man.
Finally, Scarlett Epistola (dat name tho) was kind of perfect? She’s the SCORNED EVIL SEXUAL villainess, who has no backstory or motivation beyond being SCORNED, because ANGRY, IRRATIONAL, SCORNED BITCHES, what more do you really need to know?

“Oh, at last! The humiliation I’ve endured. The trials I’ve overcome. The scorn which I have carried like a white-hot coal in the pit of my being for all these iniquitous years! All shall be revenged!”
This is the part where I link to the fucking Goddess Test series again. Plays it straight.

BASICALLY YOU ALL NEED TO READ THIS RIGHT NOW K? If you’re familiar with, and perhaps even a tad frustrated by, paranormal romance cliches AT ALL, or just enjoy things that are funny and good, this is the book for you. Also they’re discussing sequels. YESSSSSSSSSSS.

another gif

five stars


 

14 Responses

  1. Khitty Hawk

    September 17, 2013 2:21 am, Reply

    Wait, is this the parody the Nostalgia Chick was writing?

    *googles*

    Fuck yes it is! Didn’t know it was out yet.

  2. djiril

    September 19, 2013 10:18 pm, Reply

    I just finished reading this. My favorite part was where Ms. Epistola was describing the plot of “The Call of Cthulhu” to the marine biology class and the heroine was dismissing it as a boring lecture. I did feel that it dragged in places, there were parts that seemed more like an actual bad YA novel than a parody of one. It made me wish that they had taken that one real publisher up on their offer to publish it as a more straight-forward parody. I think it would have been better with more actual jokes.

    • Cyna Cyna

      September 20, 2013 3:02 am, Reply

      Oh my god I loved that Epistola gave zero shits about the class and was lecturing about Cthulu anyway. It’s like all the PNR books where the heroines are doing well-timed research projects on vampires or werewolves or whatever their love-interests were going to turn out to be, just because. I guess I missed those days of English class.

      I can see what you mean, since there were lonnnnng stretches between overtly hilarious scenes like the breakup, but I still enjoyed even the day-to-day stuff. There were enough little jabs on most pages to keep me giggling xD I’m actually glad that they didn’t do a straight-up parody, I feel like the point wouldn’t have been made as well if they’d been going for belly laughs every page.

      But hey, we’ll see what happens with the sequel, huh?

  3. Kirsty

    September 20, 2013 1:16 pm, Reply

    I think the part that got to the team behind this was the fact that it was better then the stuff their parodied.
    If they had better characters with a lot more behind them and no silly romance plot this would have been amazing.

    The main character really did make me want to tear my eyes out in frustration at her “woe-is-me-I-am-so-lonely-but-the-world-must-revolve-around-me” routine. Which in fact is the basic character back bone of what all the paranormal romance girls are like.

    Which I believe was their intention.

    If I hasn’t known this was the parody it was I would have loved it for it’s ideas and some what plot involving Lovecraft but hated it for the characters.

    I really hope that they do a book which involves the paranormal but in a serious way- avoiding romance as the main plot device. I think they would be amazing!

  4. Cowgirl Bookworm

    December 6, 2013 3:16 am, Reply

    Oh dear Cthulu. I loved this book. What made it for me was the ’67 Chevy Impala bit. That had me flailing like a squid for a bit.

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