Bit of a contrast here, because despite having entered Super Official Adulthood (you know, even more official than turning 18 or leaving behind teenage years or any of those other milestones), I still like reading YA and children’s books and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And so we take a step away from dystopia back into the surprisingly dark world of Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series, because book three comes out tomorrow and I timed this review well.
I loved the first book in this series (my review’s here) and liked the second, so when I was approved for the eARC of Take The Key And Lock Her Up, it quickly zipped to the top of my TBR (despite all the other review copies awaiting my attention).
It’s a strange series for me — I think my brain feels a certain dissonance about the fact that it’s sort of contemporary but isn’t realistic. There’s no magic, but the country whose politics and conspiracies dominate the book doesn’t actually exist, and it’s focused on lost princesses and secret societies of a sort you don’t usually come across in the real world, so you can’t really class it in the same category as books focused on the everyday struggles of growing up. Maybe because of this, it took me a little while to get fully invested in this one, although that might also be because I couldn’t remember how the previous book had ended, which is a fairly significant factor in how this one opens.
One thing I particularly like about this series is the way that the main character, Grace, has been affected by the events of her past. In book one, this manifested as debilitating mental illness and false memories that stopped her coming to terms with the truth. While she’s in a much better place, mentally speaking, by the time this book starts, she still deals with some serious emotional issues, and her grief and trauma haven’t disappeared just because time has passed. I liked how even as she grew and moved on, she was still working through her previous issues.
This also made for some pretty emotional moments, including some lines of narrative that were almost painful to read because of all the emotions. That said, I felt in places the writing was a little bit too choppy and repetitive — while some of the time Grace’s circling thoughts were effective, it did mean the reader was being bludgeoned by the same emotions and convictions over and over again.
The plot of this one’s as complicated as the other two, although I have to admit that I found some of the reveals a little more predictable: book one blindsided me a bit more. Once or twice, there were scenes that seemed hard to follow due to sudden transitions, but this wasn’t helped by the fact that the chapter breaks were missing from the eARC and therefore you sometimes had to use common sense to figure out where there should have been a dramatic break, which now and again made me read paragraphs a few times through to figure out exactly what had happened.
This third installment also has a little bit more romance than the other two, I guess, although it’s not too intrusive and while there are some dramatic breakups and deceptions and so on, it doesn’t reach quite the levels of melodrama you might expect. Especially because the rest of the book, including Grace’s narrative style, definitely borders on the melodramatic, with talk of charred souls and despair and so on.
(I think it’s fairly clear that Grace still needs some counselling, as she’s clearly depressed as well as struggling with very understandable grief and trauma. More than once she expresses the sentiment that she doesn’t deserve to be alive or that there’s no reason for anybody to care about her, and I wanted to give her a hug.)
One thing I didn’t like, or which bothered me even though I could see its value as providing drama and giving the characters the chance for vengeance without murder, was right at the end of the book, but unfortunately I can’t go into details without spoilers. I wrote about it in my Goodreads review, hidden by spoiler tags, so if you’ve read the book and want to know my thoughts, you may want to head over there and have a look. Since I try to keep this blog spoiler free, though, I won’t be talking about it here.
I don’t know if this is the end of the series or whether there are more books to come. This volume isn’t my favourite so far, although I still think it was good. Book one was the one that caught my attention and changed my totally uninformed mind about Ally Carter, as I’d assumed her books weren’t interesting to me; the mental illness / false memories aspect of the book played more particularly to my personal interests. While not suiting me quite so specifically, I still felt this was a good book, far more morally complex than I initially expected from the series and providing plenty of drama without resorting to shock tragedies. (Much.)
Plus, apart from the issue I mentioned above, it managed to have a relatively happy ending, and I appreciated that.