SPFBO4 Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas

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Typically when we post a finalist review it will be composed of four mini-reviews, and use the average of all four scores to come up with a final official score. This one will be a little different because two of our judges are bowing out and not leaving a review since they didn’t finish. So, instead of four mini-reviews, we are writing two lengthy reviews.

Esme’s Thoughts:

This is a world where the people are extremely oppressed, the Hulcondan people control all aspects of the government and the everyday lives of the people, creating a dangerous environment for dissenters to speak out. However, there is a resistance movement that’s slowly building its strength. The plot focuses on two sisters, one of which is involved with said resistance. The two siblings are very different from one another which helped a lot with the first person perspective writing. It’s essential when writing multiple first-person perspectives for the reader to be able to distinguish between the different characters. The older sister is much more outspoken, has more of a backbone, and is the ‘stronger’ of the two. The younger sister has been indoctrinated into the idea that the Hulcondans are there to keep everyone safe, and that it’s wrong to cast doubt on their authority. Considering how oppressed they are as a people, I was surprised that Ariliah goes along with the status quo so unquestionably, and even seems to find comfort in her own oppression. So, all in all, I identified more with her older sister, Rabreah.

The Hulcondans ‘purpose’ is to keep the citizens safe from the ‘monsters’ that lurk outside the gates of the city, but unfortunately, we don’t see them doing much of that. My biggest problem here is there wasn’t much an explanation about why the second class citizens are so oppressed. There are other ways for authorities to keep people safe from monsters, so without an explanation, it felt hollow. There wasn’t any background explaining how the Hulcodans came into power either, or why before now there hadn’t been an uprising. When we do meet the resistance I wasn’t all that enthused, the leader of the movement, Sorek, is a pretty horrible person. He uses sexual abuse both to try and find out whether or not people are worthy to join his group, and to toughen up the new recruits for a life in the resistance. It didn’t endear me to their cause and made it feel like both sides were in the wrong.

The world building was too light for me, I don’t know much about the world outside the city of Totta. There’s also very little explanation for the itzalins, the supposed monsters behind the gates. All we know about them is that they are grey skinned, violent, and frequently attack Totta’s farmers. The itzalins are one of the only fantasy aspects of the book, and although I can love low-fantasy books like Abercrombie, I tend to prefer high fantasy with lots of magic and fantasy creatures. What makes a low fantasy book work for me is great world building around the small bits of fantasy that are present, and that just wasn’t part of this story.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, I knew it was labeled YA and that it was a coming of age story, so I was surprised by just how dark it could get at points. There were a lot of very controversial and brutal topics that made it feel much more like an adult grimdark rather than a YA novel, in my personal opinion. All of this darkness was oddly juxtaposed with an aversion to cursing, the characters were told to “watch their language” a few times which felt out of place considering the darker tone of the rest of the book, and the adult topics that were touched on.

The book was well written and had decent editing, so my highest score is going to be in the writing and pacing section. I was able to read this in a day or two, so it made for quick reading despite the fact that I felt that this book was largely a build up of things to come. There wasn’t a lot of plot in the first book, and since this is an 8 book series I suspect that action comes into play later on in the series. However, as a stand-alone for the competition, I felt like there wasn’t enough meat to the story to keep me interested. It’s unfortunate I didn’t gel with this one, I’m not a fan of leaving less than positive reviews, but we can’t like everything. 

Ratings:

  • Plot: 8/15
  • Characters: 8/15
  • World Building: 7/15
  • Writing: 11/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 8/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 2/10

Final Score:  55/100 or 5.5/10 for SPFBO

 

Kristen’s Entire Novel About This Book:

Welp. These are always difficult. It can be challenging to review a book that you dislike, but I’m going to give it a good try.

The Sowing is told in the first person from the point of view of two sisters, Ariliah and Rabreah. They are a part of the poorest class of people in a city that’s split into two main peoples: the Hulcondans, and the… uh… the not Hulcondans? The Hulcondans being a group of soldiers who are the ruling class of the city. The people that the Hulcondans oppress have no title that I could find.

This city is at war with, (or at the very least has a wall around it to protect them from creatures known as the itzalin), who are humanoid and are at least moderately intelligent beings with grey skin who attack the people of the city,( and indiscriminately rape human women who they can breed with). We don’t see many of these creatures, the majority of them are enslaved by the humans, but we are told that many are held in a part of the city where lawbreaking citizens are sent for punishment – some people go in and never come back out. But a rebellion is brewing, and the oppressed are starting to rise up.  

The first problem I had here was the worldbuilding. Meaning there was very, very little of it. We know that this all happens in a city with a population in the thousands, called Totta, and that it is a very oppressed society. There was no indication at all how this oppression came about, or why, other than the Hulcondans ‘protect’ the people from the itzalin, who supposedly attack the city indiscriminately, despite them not doing so once during the entire story. So the ‘enemy’ and their war against them is never really given history aside from pretty much ‘once upon a time there were evil creatures who made these lesser but also evil creatures that the Hulcondans protect everyone from’. Ariliah is pretty severely physically and emotionally abused by her mother, and while there is technically a reason for it, it’s never clearly explained. I only know it from her mother’s comments in passing, and even then, there’s no explanation on if it’s true or not.

The rest of my issues with the book were largely content related. There are a few events that just didn’t sit well with me.

SPOILERS past this point! I marked the end of them if you’d like to skip them.

First off, the oppressor class here is marrying fourteen year old girls. And sure, we have a history of this shit too, but in this case it’s fairly reviled in the world itself as a practice, and yet it’s still tradition. That’s just the start of this thrillride. A newborn baby is killed for what turns out to be very little reason whatsoever, and while the murderer is punished, the girl ends up having to marry a very cruel man. There’s a festival of dancing and pie eating that includes a random fight to the death… but really one incident did me in.

In Rabreah’s side of the story, she gets invited to join the rebellion, and shortly after, she and her best friend get kidnapped. A Hulcondan man and his compatriots torture her, abuse and assault her, and kill her best friend in front of her eyes in hopes that she’ll spill some info. Surprise though (wait, not really… this seemed really obvious to me) it was just a test, and he was the leader of the rebels all along (called it). So, she freaks out at him, like one would (this part was believable at least) and swears she will never forgive him, but then pretty much forgives him anyway. This guy legit sexually assaulted, tortured, and psychologically abused this girl. But hey, in the end it was just a test, and he was just acting while he actually stabbed her, actually made her believe he had murdered her best friend, and actually shoved his tongue down her throat, so… yeah all good I guess? This guy then goes on to ‘train her’ to get over her fear of men (most important rebel skill) by distracting her while groping her. Oh also, tingly feelings about him ensue, because fucking of course they do. He is the charming and witty leader of the rebellion, after all. Also, he has smoldery eyes. I honestly wish I was joking right now.  ಠ_ಠ

I have said in the past that if a sexual assault victim forgives her assailant, it will straight up ruin a book for me, and alas, it is so. This book had a lot of stuff that I did not like, but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

[Spoilers end here]

It did have a couple of pros: it read fairly quickly, and it was an easy read. This means that I didn’t actually have too much trouble picking it up and reading it through to the end (though I admittedly had to take a few breaks). There were bumps (obviously), there are many, many highlights on my kindle with frantic capital letter notes attached, and there is definitely a husband in my house who had the plot of this book explained to him and was left possibly more baffled than I am… but it was a fairly quick, easy read all the same. I also admittedly thought that Rabreah and Ariliah were well written characters, in that they grew as the book progressed. Ariliah is especially prone to stuttering when faced with intimidating people, and so she and Rabreah were each unique from the other, which doesn’t always happen in books told from more than one first person perspective. It was formatted nicely and there weren’t any glaring errors in it either, which is nice. I don’t really score those things because… well, unless it’s a constant thing, I don’t find that they matter to my enjoyment of a book. I mostly score for my overall enjoyment of a book. This is a nice looking book, all told, and that counts for something here.

Books that make me seriously consider the furious defenestration of my kindle are not a good time for me, in general. But, and this is important, this is entirely subjective. This book made it to the SPFBO finals, which means that someone, or a few someones liked it. I’ve seen more than one favorable review, so again, all of this is entirely subjective. Unfortunately, most of it wasn’t my cup of tea, as I’m sure is obvious. I don’t mind books with violence, or rape, or even baby killing if those events have a clear purpose in the story. I can think of one that had all 3 right off the top of my head that I gave 5 stars to recently, but this book did not hit that mark. The world fell flat to me because it left so much unexplained, there was so much unnecessary abuse and assault that seemed to be there only for shock value or to prove how shitty this place is to live in despite that being obvious, and pointless bits of plot that didn’t seem to add anything important to the story whatsoever and were only there to fill space in between larger events.

So yeah. Here we are. We can’t win them all, amirite? 2/10 stars.

  • Esme’s Score: 5.5/10

  • Kristen’s Score: 2.0/10

Average Score: 3.75/10 —– SPFBO Adjusted Score: 3.5/10

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