Legacy of Tril: Soulbound by Heather Brewer

soulbound

Legacy of Tril #1, Dial Books, 2012, 394 pgs.

In the world of Tril there’s a divide between the Skilled and the Unskilled. Barrons, preternaturally gifted fighters, and the Healers that can bring them back from the brink of death at a touch keep themselves secreted away so the Unskilled don’t even know they exist. There’s a divide between Barrons and Healers, too. Each person with these supernatural abilities is born as one half of a pair, and each are expected to stick to what skill they were born for. It’s anathema to get between the bond a Healer and Barron share, just as it’s anathema for two Barrons to fall in love. But that’s exactly what Kaya’s parents did, leaving Skilled society and hiding in a peaceful Unskilled village. Until one day a monstrous threat forces them to reveal themselves to both the village and the council that governs the Skilled. This Zettai Council takes Kaya hostage, forcing her into one of their schools as payment for her parents’ safety. Now she’s forced to work inside the Skilled rules she hates and deal with snotty Barrons who view Healers as inferior and spoiled. She’s not even allowed to learn to defend herself at a school for fighting! The monsters mysteriously breaking through the walls of the campus make her really wish she was, though.

I’m fairly critical to a lot of the things I read; on some level I’m probably a little too critical. I have strange tastes, small things can easily break a narrative for me, and I’m sure that sometimes it seems like only perfectly written characters and deathless prose will satisfy me.

Which is not true at all, because fun stupid is absolutely a thing that exists. I’m the sort of person who loves bad movie marathons and will shriek happily when I spot a novel titled Vampirates: Empire of Night. I have specific pet peeves, but beyond that I’m pretty easygoing about quality. This book is the perfect embodiment of fun stupid for me, tailor made to drag me back to my fifteen-year-old self and give me acute secondhand embarrassment for an earlier age.

And when I say earlier age, I really do mean that. So much of this novel seems like it fell out of early 2000’s era fandom that, even though it’s newer, I felt like I spent half the novel looking at it with nostalgia goggles. This book is so like the nerddom of my adolescence, in so many little ways that I’m having a hard time describing what creates that feel.

I’ll try, though.

For one, it’s obvious that the author really, really liked anime at one point. It sort of takes one to know one, and I’m probably completely outing myself here. But the katanas. The secret martial arts high school. The copious use of rose petals. The random Japanese words that she keeps tossing in.

The three main continents in this world are Haruko, Kaito, and Kokoro. I find myself having the strangest intuition that Kokoro is the central one.

The freaking white-haired pretty boys.

That’s not only anime, it’s throwback anime. This character design still crops up today, but they were freaking everywhere when I was in high school. Much like anime itself, come to think of it. I was going to put pictures here, but god, there were So Many.

If it were only the anime thing, though, I would be saying she’s pulling from a source of inspiration, not instantly calling throwback.

Like, okay.

Tragic misunderstandings between our star-crossed lovers are still a staple in YA and fantasy books in general; an author sometimes has to pull conflict from somewhere other than the main plot. But how often do they involve the male lead being a jerk with a heart of gold and a tragic past who actively pushes the heroine away anymore? In recent years tastes have shifted, and I think most people now view that as a light form of romanticizing abuse. Instead the trend has moved toward more positive, supportive couples.

The guy who’s mean to you because he loves you and has a broken heart is not really something I’ve seen in recent days. The closest character I can find is Edward from Twilight, and even then he’s not exactly the same archetype I’m thinking of.

From the mid-90’s to the mid-00’s, though?

*cough*

*cough cough*

Likewise, how often do we get a flat-out stereotypical mean girl clique now? The girl bully character is definitely still present, but thankfully there have been efforts to vary and/or humanize her lately. It’s more rare to get someone like Queen Bee Melanie, who is just evil and spends all her time trying to ruin our lead’s life. I almost expected Kaya to call her a prep at some points, or maybe “put her middle finger up” at her.

Even the detailed descriptions of clothes.

Even the names. Kaya isn’t so bad, but I did snort at Darius and Trayton.

I don’t know how well I’m explaining this, but seriously, if you want a decently accurate representation of what nerd culture looked like in the aughts, just pick up this book. It’s like all the most ridiculous bits of my teenage years rolled into one campy, wonderful ride.

Yes, wonderful, because in spite of the secondhand embarrassment I don’t only like this on a mocking level. It may just be the nostalgia goggles, but I honestly found this thing so charming. It doesn’t have the depth or dimension that Holly Black’s work does. The characters are flatter, the plot’s goofier, the prose is clunkier. At some points it seems like the author doesn’t really know what she’s trying to do with this story. It does have that same sort of unselfconscious revelry in its own silly elements, though. And all of those things, which would be problems in a different book, are fine as far as stupid fun is concerned.

What can I say? I’m a nerd who appreciates ridiculous nerd things.

Beyond that, though, there’s also the fact that I would have called Black’s early books nothing but goofy fun, too. She’s one of my favorite authors now, and she did that by moving away from making nerdy references into taking that sensibility, and fully and uniquely incorporating it into her stories. She didn’t change what she was writing, she just developed it.

This novel gets far less silly towards its end, when the plot hits and the author stops trying to write high school shenanigans. Even before that there are some flashes of diamond under the dirt. The scene where Kaya is bound to her fighting partner still sticks out to me as honestly creepy.

I feel like if given a shot, Heather Brewer has a real chance to make that same transition that Holly Black did. Apparently this series was cut after its second book, so any development Brewer might be making won’t be here. I find myself hoping someone lets her do it somewhere else, though.

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