Gunslinger Girl – Review

“She should have seen it coming. Six months and she’d be lawfully released from his control. But he couldn’t let that happen easy, not him.”

From the very first moment I saw photos of this gorgeous book being released at BookCon, I knew I had to have this book. A dystopian with a Western twist? For fans of Westworld?! Katniss Everdeen meets Annie Oakley??? Um, YES PLEASE!!!

I was thrilled when I opened a package and saw that my request had been approved and have been hugging this book EVER SINCE!

Serendipity Jones is a sharp shooter. She’s the best in her commune, but that doesn’t matter. She was born the wrong gender. A woman with the potential to be fertile is more valuable than a woman who can shoot. But she has plans. Plans to leave, plans to escape to the Capital. Unfortunately, her father also has plans. And they don’t involve her freedom.

When her best friend offers her the chance to escape before her father can sell her, Pity jumps at the chance. But the world outside of the gates of the communes is deadly, and Pity quickly finds herself a prisoner headed to the lawless city of Cessation, the last bastion of freedom standing against the oppressive forces of CONA, the Confederacy of North America.

“Is this a city, she thought, or an asylum?”

Now she has something resembling freedom being offered to her by the city’s leader, the beautiful and lethal Selene, but there is a price. With little options in front of her, Pity accepts and tries to navigate the treacherous path that she finds herself on.

This book is incredible! Pity is such a delightful protagonist. This is YA that sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. I love when characters are so real you feel like you could know them. Pity is strong and determined, but she is also a little unsure of the path before her. She makes mistakes, some with horrific consequences that haunt her and make her doubt herself. I enjoyed reading her journey on that path to self-discovery.

“The low burn of anger that had been coursing through her exploded suddenly, fury hot and vicious cold at the same time, and tinged with guilt.”

This guilt and sureness over who she wants to be, combined with the battle of hesitation and unsurety over whether she actually could be that person made Pity so heart-achingly good. I like a character who has to face the idea versus the reality of their inner selves, especially when outside forces raise the bar on the consequences of that struggle.

Beyond Pity, we get introduced to an array of diverse characters. Duchess, Luster, and Max are a few of my favorites, but even Selene and Halycon add to the complicated deliciousness of the world Pity finds herself in.

Clean was the first for that popped into Pity’s mind as his raptor’s gaze tracked them. Dangerous was the second.”

The vast cast of characters all give the world in Cessation a rich texture, with each character highlighting a distinct piece of that world. We get to see through the eyes of security and performers. People escaping lives in communes that are unthinkable. Each accepting their role with varying degrees of success and hiding from a past that haunts each one of them in it’s own way.

Each characters gives you the sense of what a real oasis this city can be, while simultaneously being a gilded prison. This dichotomy really drives home the idea that everything has a price. Especially freedom.

“What others did to secure themselves wasn’t for her to judge – not when their situations were dire enough to make her wonder what she might do in the same place.”

It isn’t just the world of Cessation or the colonies that we get to see, although the bigger world of CONA is something I suspect we’ll begin to see more of in future books. We know that this world is what we are left with after a Second Civil War. We know the rumors of the Capital, and then we learn the reality. At least, some of the reality. But the history of the War, and the reality of other communes are things only hinted at in this book.

I tend to like my dystopian worlds to be revealed to me slowly. The horror of the future our characters find themselves in showing itself in unexpected and surprising ways. Gunslinger Girl did not disappoint in this way. Just as we accept the world as it is, new details emerge that really stab you in the gut with the terrible reality of what the world really can be. And I love when authors give us a slow road into hell, bringing us deeper into the world with more revealed in each new book. It gives the world a rich texture that just can’t be accomplished all at once.

Gunslinger Girl is a unique new dystopian and I adored every moment of it. The characters are complex and fun. The world is intoxicating and horrifying. The writing is beautiful and brutal.

“When someone brought her a cup of ice water, she took it without a word. It slid down her throat and into her stomach like a blade.”

Lyndsay Ely has created something incredible with this book and has quickly made me a fan rabid for more. Her voice and imagination are both stunning and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next!

Thank you Little, Brown & Jimmy Patterson Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Berserker – Review

“She was a Berserker, cursed to fly into action whenever anyone she loved was in danger. A killer who would be compelled to murder elegantly, viciously, and without remorse.”

Berserker is the story of a family blessed with the Nytte. Or cursed with it. It depends on who you ask.

The story is told through the alternating narration of Hanne, Owen and Rolf. Hanne is the oldest daughter in her family. Her older brother Stieg, and her younger brother Knut all have a variation of the Nytte. The youngest, Sissel, shows no sign of the Nytte. Owen is a cowboy in America trying to find his way in the wild frontier; with plenty of his own demons to fight along the way.

After an incident forces the siblings to pack up and flee their home in Norway. They head to America, where they have family living in Montana. They hope to be able to find someone with the Berserker gift to help Hanne keep her gift under control.

“Embrace the Nytte,” Aud said, as Hanne scrambled backward in the pine needles and dried leaves. “Open your heart to it, or it will be the ruin of you. And your siblings, too.”

Rolf is an interesting character, and I won’t say much about him though to avoid spoilers. His is mission finding the Nytte in children and ensuring that the gifts do not die out. The role he plays with Hanne and her siblings brings a richer understanding of the legend of the Nytte, and it keeps some of the mythical elements entwined in the plot.

“Rolf kept his eyes trained on the faces of the crowd. Despite the hectic and daunting landscape that presented itself, what Rolf saw again and again, on all manner of faces, was hope.”

Once the family gets to America, they manage to make it through immigration and onto the train that will take them to Wolf Creek where their uncle lives. But they have been pursued from Norway and fleeing the men who chase them causes their path to collide with Owen’s. Literally.¬†Owen agrees to take them the rest of the way.

“It was a strange spell that had been cast. Disaster had been so narrowly averted, and by such sudden heroics. No one could think of quite what to do next.”

The relationships between the siblings was written well. Sissel goes from being a bratty younger sister, jealous of her older siblings, to quite loving and doting when necessary. There were a few times when her tantrums felt a little shallow, but overall, it felt natural. Tantrums and jealousy aside, it was nice to read how they all worked together as a team and really only wanted the best for each other.

Owen and Daisy, his dog, were great characters. It is through them that we get a real sense of the frontier, and how hard life could be back then. In his agreeing to be their guide, we also get to read details about what travel was like then too. He is teaching them at the same time he is teaching us. I thought that was really well done.

“Perhaps even the most friendly town might seem hostile when you were on the lookout for it.”

This book is a mix of western folklore and mythology. The blend was unique and refreshing to read. It was a very fast read, at only 288 pages, and they all flew by. Laybourne does a really good job mixing enough information to really submerse us deep into both the reality of the frontier with the legend of ancient mythology, all while driving the plot forward.

What I rally liked was how each of the characters all struggled with acceptance in some way. Owen, to accept that he was good enough, even if his family thought he wasn’t. Hanne’s struggle for acceptance is a little more complicated. Her impulse to kill when her loved ones are in danger must be controlled, so she isn’t necessarily looking to ‘accept’ that aspect of herself. Sissel and Rolf both struggle with acceptance as well, though I don’t want to give anything away. And acceptance means different things for each of the characters, some leading to tragedy and others to triumph. I really enjoyed the complexity of each of these characters and how their journeys were both internal and external.

“Feelings didn’t seem to care if they made sense.”

We read books to get lost in a story, but the best stories teach us something as well. Legends and folklore often had morals to them. Endings to help us see a bigger truth either about ourselves or the world at large. So, it felt right that a book based on legend and folklore would have a moral wrapped up in it as well.

Overall, this was a fun read with a good story. It did feel a touch on the younger side of YA to me, so some of the conversations and plot pacing felt a little simplistic to me. But, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Thank you NetGalley and MacMillan for approving my request to read and review this book!