062 – The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Immortal Rules cover In a future world, Vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn’t easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.
If I were to divide this book up and rate its individual Parts – capital P, very important – they would get very different ratings. Parts one and two? One star. They were a very poor introduction to both Kagawa as an author and this story, and quite honestly, if I were the type of person to just quit reading books in the middle, this probably would have been one of them.

But it does get better.

I don’t quite know why, though. There was no improvement in the writing quality or characterization that I noticed, and yet parts three and four of this book would each ratchet the star-rating up a notch. Perhaps it’s a shift in content – after all, Immortal Rules is essentially four different stories from four different (sub)genres smushed into book, so chances are you’ll find something that interests you at some point.

I was so very turned off by the start of this book though. I’ve heard complaining about a lack of action, but it really wasn’t that, for me. I thought the pacing was appropriate for what each section was trying to accomplish, and propelled the story along nicely from event to event without and excessive padding. No, what bugged me was the writing. Oh god, the writing.

Writing isn’t usually something I complain about, because as awful as I’m sure it is, I’m not a prose-nazi. There has to be something really, really bad about the writing for me to even notice it, much less complain. And to be fair, Immortal Rules wasn’t as much of a chore as any of the afore-linked books. But somewhere along the line, I’d gotten the impression that Kagawa’s prose was something to write home about, and in that respect, Immortal Rules was a big disappointment.

The prose here is bland and flat. Easy enough to read without tripping over any awkward sentences, but there’s no…spark. The setting descriptions were mechanical and lifeless, and the narration trite. I remember thinking as I waded through Part One that there wasn’t a single sentiment here that wasn’t some sort of cliche, that I hadn’t read being expressed before in the exact same way.

But I mean, you can say that for any book, right? “Nothing’s original”, “everything’s been done before”, and you’d probably be right. But the difference is the spin, the unique perspective, the unique voice, the unique way the words are put together, that makes a book feel original and fresh. Exciting. Immortal Rules didn’t have that for me. It felt absent of life and originality, like a transcript of events instead of a true story.

This issue goes beyond the text itself, though, and permeates through the overall story. Like I said earlier, Immortal Rules felt like a mash-up, not just of genres, but of tropes as well. It read as though four different genres had been distilled into a list of their most popular cliches, which were then cut and pasted together to form each individual “Part”. Allison is the one constant, going through the story like a video game character navigating a myriad of themed levels.

Outside of Allison, each part has very little crossover, despite all taking place within the same world. Part One is all up in that Oppressive Dystopia, and primarily serves to tell us about Allison’s day-to-day life as a starving street rat, scrounging to survive and provide for her needy “family”. We’re shown a world post-Vampire-Zombie Apocalypse, in which the majority of humanity has become Registered property of their vampire overlords. The ones who refuse, like Allison, are the Unregistered. This isn’t technically illegal, but Unregistereds aren’t provided with food and shelter, like everyone else, which is a pretty big problem in a world without money or supermarkets, where getting caught stealing will get you put to death.

Allison makes ends meet by stealing and scavenging outside her District’s walls, which is also technically illegal, seeing as how it could potentially expose the city to attack by the “Vampire-Zombie” part of the Apocalypse equation, the Rabids.

I’M GON EAT U

The world we learn about here could potentially prove to be interesting with further exploration – which is what I’m hoping for in future installments – but as of Immortal Rules, it suffers from an extreme lack of under-development. We spend little time seeing much of the Vampire Overlords and their culture, which contributes greatly to the flat, generic feel of Part One. What little information we do get comes in the form of expository dumps, everyone’s favorite world-building technique.

But it’s okay, I guess, because Allison doesn’t linger here very long. She quickly retrieves the level-flag by dying nobly in the presence of a vampire, and passes on to Stage 2.

Mario Reference

Part Two is your typical Interview With the Vampire whatnot, with just a hint of I Am Legend. After Allie is effectively murdered by the Rabids, a passing vampire who “sees something” in her offers to turn her. She accepts, and the training montage begins. They live in a hospital and the vampire teaches her how to fight with a katana – because she’s Japanese, you see – all the while doing mysterious things in the hospital where the plague began, totally NOT being that stupid guy he talked about who inadvertently created the Rabids to begin with, NOPE NOPE.

This is where the misery really set in, because Part Two is where Immortal Rules is at its most cliche and predictable. A more interesting protagonist might have saved it, but as heroines go, Allison fell flat for me. It’s partially her generic character type – she plays at being callous and survival-oriented, but the book can’t bear to actually follow through on that, so she’s noble and inherently good, too. The grumpy rogue with a heart of gold.

She’s also principled, marginally educated, dreams of starting La Revolucion, and has the potential to become an elite “Master” vampire thanks to her maker, all of which serves to make her Distopian Speshul and Better Than Everyone Else.

But that’s only part of it. The other part is the exposition. Yeah, tell-not-show strikes again, compelling Allison to let no emotion go unexplained. Much of her narration is devoted to exploring and analyzing how she feels and why, along with expositing her motivation.

Motivation which, by the way, is also generic. I know, I keep using that word, but it fits. It’s this book in seven letters. Allison brings nothing new to the table as a character; she does, says, and feels nothing that we haven’t read about before, and no where is this more evident than in Part Two. You could be reading any book, Hell, every book, about an angsty teenager wrestling with predatory vampire instincts under the tutelage of a cynical Master. There is nothing to distinguish Allison’s voice from anyone else’s, and combined with the relentless exposition, it makes for a very uncompelling character.

Kanin struck me as much the same. Even with his dutiful scientist subplot, he came off more as an archetype than a character, and the lack of development of him and his subplot didn’t do anyone any favors. It’s pretty clear that they’re saving the whole “vampire” thing for the sequel, but, well, half a frickin’ book is a lot to wade through for something that ends up being irrelevant to this particular installment.

Part Three is the Post-Apocalyptic Road Trip, and while this is where I felt like the story picked up, I have to admit, I was disappointed by its direction. It was really exciting to see Allison break off from her mentor at the end of Part Two. She had the entire world laid out in front of her, a world she knew nothing about, but could explore largely without fear, without worrying much about exposure, exhaustion, or hunger. She could do anything, the story could go anywhere!

Sooo we end up going on a Road Trip a’la The Walking Dead, on a search for, all together now, the only human stronghold left untouched by the flood robots aliens zombies vampires. Allison meets up with a band of humans – who travel exclusively at night, luckily – and against all reason, all logic, and all common sense, decides to travel with them. This is paranormal ROMANCE, okay, so we have to find SOME WAY to shoehorn in the romance.

Speaking of which – can we talk about Ruth for a second? And by talk, I mean rant? Awesome, thanks. Ruth is a teenager, a little younger than Allison, and one of the first members of the traveling group that Allison meets. She is also a terrible character.

That’s not in the “Oooh, what a terrible person, I love to hate her!” kind of way, either. I mean Ruth is a terrible, misogynistic creation. Period. Can anyone explain to my why, exactly, in the road-trip portion of a post-apocalyptic dystopian book about rabid vampires, we needed a mean girl? A mean girl who hates the heroine on sight? Anyone?

I’ve thought about it, and I couldn’t come up with one. “Because she needed to create tension within the group”, the one and only thing Ruth actually does throughout the entire novel, doesn’t fly. Anyone could have done that, for any number of reasons. Hell, the people of the group have every reason to be legitimately suspicious of Allison. She could be a thief. She could be a raider. She could be a spy. She could be a fucking vampire. Any other character could have easily used these concerns to play paranoid parrot, but no. Ruth causes trouble for Allison, and what’s her motivation? She’s afraid that Allison will steal away the affections of the boy she has a crush on. She’s fucking jealous.

I’d hope that this might be subverted at some point in the novel, that Ruth’s attitude might be in service of some sort of character arc, but it’s not. She’s little more than an annoyance to Allison, and even after Allison has saved her and her entire family from death multiple times, Ruth is the kind of irrational caricature who wants to dig up her body while she sleeps and put a stake in her heart. Then, when her role as a trouble maker is no longer necessary, she’s unceremoniously knocked off, never having learned a thing.

I hate this. I gently set threw down my e-reader in disgust when Ruth was introduced. I mean seriously? SERIOUSLY? Of all the ways that meeting could have gone down, of all the reactions Ruth could have had to Allison, the first girl her age that she’s seen in a very long time, if ever, it’s INSTANT HATRED because OH NOES, COMPETITIVE BOOBIES!

Keep in mind, Ruth is the first female character that we meet, aside from Allison, and the only one within her age range. Allison gets exactly one female peer, and she is – according to the text – a “shrill”, spiteful, manipulative “shrew” that Allison would like to “punch in her smug mouth”.

rage gif

This kind of shitty internalized misogyny that YA novels are not only perpetuating, but popularizing, makes me want to punch kittens. This is NOT OKAY. Not in the least, and no amount of conciliatory sword-fighting or ass-kicking on Allison’s part is going to make up for it. Ass-kicking is easy, apparently. Solidarity between women? Really fuckin’ hard.

It’s a shame, too, because despite her bland stock, Allison had a few advantages over the usual YA heroine. There’s the ass-kicking, yes, but personally, I thought it was kind of cheesy that Allison ended up being a katana-wielding schoolgirl, in a duster, no less, but there were a few neatly visual Rule of Cool moments, and I liked that she was made the protector. I liked that she filled a traditionally male role, and that her actions were ultimately motivated more by a desire to prove her humanity than to satisfy her love interest.

I also, believe it or not, actually liked the love interest, Zeke. No, he wasn’t especially deep or compelling, but he was very likable, and uh, well, ah…that NEVER HAPPENS OKAY? LET ME HAVE THIS.

At any rate, despite initial…frustrations *twitch*, Parts Three and Four did become more readable, perhaps because we’re allowed to follow this particular plot line through to it’s conclusion. The story benefits from staying with the same cast of characters, even after we move up to Part Four, and once we hit the Farm, it seemed as though Immortal Rules finally began telling a story I didn’t feel like I’d seen before.

That was one Hell of a prologue.

The Mad Max/Doomsday vibe we get in Part Four is a little off-putting, but it provides the most in-depth world-building and memorable setting. The big bads of the story are the raiders and their vampire king, and it’s interesting to read about the remnants of Chicago, and the spider’s web of train tracks and buildings that make up their “city”. It’s by far the most original thing we see in the book.

I felt the vampire king himself was a miss. The plot relies a lot on lucky meetings and coincidental connections to go the way it does, and Jackal’s involvement is no different. He’s Kanin’s previous fledgling, Allison’s vampire-brother, and as such, he and Allison develop a psychic bond, which ensures that We’re Not So Different and We Can Rule Together will be the entirety of his villain monologue and the extent of his character development.

A few predictable and generic elements aside, the book ended up in a climax and a wrap-up that, at very least, didn’t read like a transcript of any one specific movie. The ending was especially effective, and, rather shockingly for the first of a series, completed the story it was telling while leaving room for another.

Even though this book ended on a relative high note for me, I’m pretty meh about the book as a whole. The flat prose, generic world-building, and uninteresting – or RAEG inducing – characters were a huge disappointment for me, coming from such a popular author. Still, the ending was readable enough, and I’m interested to see where the series goes. Given that…

three stars


 

6 Responses

  1. Barbara W.

    April 25, 2012 1:14 am, Reply

    Allison is the one constant, going through the story like a video game character navigating a myriad of themed levels.

    Yes, yes, yes! I freaking hated that about this book (well, among other things, hehe). While I will grudgingly admit that certain bits of the last part weren’t as horrifically boring and predictable as what came before, the stuff on the Farm felt like a bad X-Files episode with Allie as Mulder and Zeke as a derpy, whiny Scully.

    Kagawa can do better – the Iron Fey series had its moments of awesomeness. She’s got to do better than Zeke though. Seriously.

    • Kayla + Cyna

      April 26, 2012 1:54 am, Reply

      Hahahaha, “derpy, whiny Scully” is now Zeke’s official nickname. The farm actually reminded me a bit of the farm in Walking Dead. Just a bit, mostly because I’ve only seen a few episodes of that arc. But still.

      Hm, I’ll have to check out Iron Fey eventually. Eventually.

  2. Vicki

    April 26, 2012 10:52 am, Reply

    OMG YES YES AND MORE YES!

    I just finished this and (because my bedtime isn’t for another 5 hours) decided to start my review right away instead of sleeping on it, like I normally do. But all I can write is bordering on RAGE.

    I had no characters to glomp onto. The writing was bland and flat. 187 pages (36% of book) was PROLOGUE! Why are we the only ones who saw it?

    I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I’d compare this to a movie novelization. I’m not too surprised it’s been optioned already – the screenplay is practically there already.

    Ugh. Just had to say, I agree with you on all points.

    • Kayla + Cyna

      April 27, 2012 3:10 am, Reply

      I noticed you were reading it! Now I really want to read your review, RAGE reviews are always the best.

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one let down by the writing! I can’t even describe the level of boredom reading Parts One and Two induced, it was so…dry. I really don’t get the fuss over this one either, but I guess because it’s Kagawa and Iron Fey…who knows?

      I’m not too surprised it’s been optioned already – the screenplay is practically there already.
      Right? I mean Christ, this book has already been made into a movie several times. All they have to do is edit Allison in.

      *brofist* Thanks, looking forward to your review!

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