Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prophecy by Ellen Oh

Title: Prophecy
Author: Ellen Oh
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: January 2, 2013
Pages: 320 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC via a swap with a friend.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

Prophecy (The Dragon King Chronicles, #1)The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms... is a girl with yellow eyes.

Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope...

Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.

Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.


Review:


The back of my ARC pitches Prophecy as "Graceling meets Eon" and that couldn't have been more spot-on. This is not necessarily a good thing because it ends up overly derivative of them both and lacking in the pull that made the novels such smashing successes. Porphecy is yet another great idea that ended up being disappointing. Not even a cameo from a Dragonball Z character (seriously, there is an old man with narrowed eyes and a white beard named Master Roshi) could save it.

Oh's action scenes are well-written, the body count deserves some respect (seriously, this book is not afraid to kill people and there is merit to Kira's warrior reputation), and though novels that are normally all about the action bore me most of the time, this one did something different that made me like it. There was some occasional telling, especially when it came time to establish characters, but it's bearable. Irritating, but bearable.

 You can feel the work and research that went into this novel; Oh, by her own admission, based part of her world on the Three Kingdoms of ancient Korea, which controlled the Korean peninsula for hundreds of years. There isn't much history about the time that doesn't contradict itself, but the novel is based on a time period between 300 and 360 AD in this area. I enjoyed  the worldbuilding and the fresh fantasy setting, but my confusion about what a nambawi was led me to uncover a contradiction. See, it's a hat that wasn't worn until at least the 1300s in Korea. What's it doing in a book based on a time period a thousand years before then?

The only compliment I can give without a criticism entwined with it is that the romance is completely on the backburner for once and I appreciate that because it may be the one thing that makes me remember this novel now that I've finished it. From here, it's all downhill due to how derivative, cliche, and confusing the novel is.

I will never claim to be an expert on Korea, but there is a little bit I know. There is some use of Korean honorifics/titles like the occasional -shi, but they are by and large absent from the novel. Why Shin Bo Hyun was always called by his full name confused me too. He wasn't referred to by just his given name (Bo Hyun) even once. It always had to be his full name and this didn't happen to any other character. Why only him?

On the topic of Bo Hyun, antagonist characters that are like "the heroine will be my bride/lover/girlfriend!" normally tickle my fancy because it is written well (a rarity, unfortunately) or I just find it funny (or even so-bad-it's-funny), but Bo Hyun's turn in this role was so blandly written that I never cared or crackshipped him with Kira. Crackshipping the heroines of YA novels with villains who express any interest in them is my favorite bookish hobby! Why take that away from me like this?

It has all the free killing and Asian influence of Eon and all the heroine attributes of Graceling. Like Katsa, Kira is niece to the current ruler, but he doesn't like her very much; he tolerates her because her abilities make her useful. The people are afraid of her because of what she does, the rumors about her, and the eyes that set her apart from everyone else. She despises marriage and doesn't want to be someone's wife, but there is a man who would very much like to make her his wife.

Why this is bad is because Prophecy dances on the fine border of being inspired by them and ripping them off. Prophecy also shares one of the main problems of Graceling: the lack of other well-developed female characters. Other women make only quick appearances or are barely developed, and Kira looks down on them for being feminine or doing the best they can in the roles open to women in her time period. It's not like every woman is born into nobility and prophesied to be a great warrior; it's even shown that women are considered lesser. Her privilege shows in her ignorance and it never gets called out.

Worst of all, despite its Korean setting, Prophecy ends up being a cookie-cutter fantasy novel. I'm not well-versed in fantasy and its cliches, but I recognized enough of them to guess each and every one of the novel's main twists by page forty, from Shin's loyalty to the true meaning of the prophecy.

My disappointment in this novel is so great that it looks unlikely I will stick around for the next book of the trilogy, Warrior. Fans who want to give a new fantasy setting a new try should go for it, but anyone who is already overly familiar with the fantasy genre and all its cliches may not want to pick this up so quickly or else they'll get frustrated.

2 stars!


What am I reading next?: Lipstick Apology by Jennifer Jabaley