Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: VENGEANCE BOUND By Justina Ireland

Cory Graff is not alone in her head. Bound to a deal of desperation made when she was a child, Cory’s mind houses the Furies—the hawk and the serpent—lingering always, waiting for her to satisfy their bloodlust. After escaping the asylum where she was trapped for years, Cory knows how to keep the Furies quiet. By day, she lives a normal life, but by night, she tracks down targets the Furies send her way. And she brings down Justice upon them.

Cory’s perfected her system of survival, but when she meets a mysterious boy named Niko at her new school, she can’t figure out how she feels about him. For the first time, the Furies are quiet in her head around a guy. But does this mean that Cory’s finally found someone who she can trust, or are there greater factors at work? As Cory’s mind becomes a battlefield, with the Furies fighting for control, Cory will have to put everything on the line to hold on to what she’s worked so hard to build.
If I were to give my reviews fun, unique titles, this one would probably be titled "In Which Shelver Rips Apart A Perfectly Fine Book." Because Vengeance Bound really was perfectly fine. It was better than I expected, and I enjoyed myself. However, making me enjoy myself comes with a great cost. If I have low expectations that are barely met, then I continue to expect very little from the book in question. I don't demand much, and I analyze very little. If, on the other hand, a book takes me for a good ride, the parts that irritate me stand out in high relief.

Vengeance Bound has been described as Greek mythology meets a teenage Dexter. I've never watched or read the Dexter series (about a man who murders serial killers), but I think the description is pretty apt.

The book opens at St. Dymphna's, the mental institution where "Cory" has been locked away. (Her real name is Amelie, and Irritation #1 is that the synopsis addresses her by her alias, one that she doesn't adopt until several chapters into the book. Irritation #2 is that her "golden hair," which is a key detail, is absent from the cover.) Drugged into a near vegetative state by her evil shrink, Cory and another patient are planning a daring escape. But first, Cory wants to kill her evil shrink.

It's an incredibly exciting chapter. Given the setting and the outrageous premise of a girl being controlled by mythological creatures, I had been very skeptical that said creatures were real. A book about a girl with mental issues who kills serial killers would be okay, too. However, not only are the Furies very real, but they physically manifest beside Cory in the moment before she kills her target. The target SEES the Furies! I was very excited.

Really, the book does a lot of things correctly. The scenes where Cory is hunting her prey are squicktastic, the death scenes appropriately bloody, and even the puzzler about why a Fury-controlled killing machine would bother to go to high school is handled logically. I was fully engrossed in Cory's hunts, as well as her battles with the Furies as they try to take over her mind. Mythological creatures aren't known to play nice, especially when one is a half-crazed hawk-lady and the other is a sinisterly cool serpent-woman.

But again, the more my expectations are surpassed, the easier it is for me to notice things that really, really bother me. Take, for instance, the fact that the Furies only ever target men. They read the thoughts of all males with whom Cory comes in contact and reads off their sins to Cory, the trivial and the revolting alike. But never is a woman revealed, not even the mean girl who targets Cory (more on that later). This unbalanced quirk is never explained satisfactorily, which irked me greatly.

Also, the Furies only seem to target men who have committed sexual sins. The men in question kidnap women, rape them, think dirty thoughts, or even look at them the wrong way. But the Furies never target, say, a serial killer who only kills other men, or a white-collar crook who bankrupted millions, or drug dealers, or anyone like that. I suspect some of this may have to do with Cory's own past, but the connection is never fully explained or rationalized.

While the crimes of men against women are a hot button topic and one worth exploring (especially given recent events), I found myself grumbling, "Is this really the ONLY evil They believe men capable of?" If we're supposed to believe, even for just a short while, that the Furies are truly concerned with justice, then why don't they ever take care of justice as a whole? I, for one, would have much rather followed a Dexter-like story that was a little more balanced in the criminals chosen, rather than only lowlifes in bars.

I look forward to reading reviews by those more scholarly and analytical than I am. I half-suspect that Vengeance Bound is trying to make a point regarding feminists or women in general or how women view men, though I can't tell if that point is for or against. With the exception of Niko and one other male, all named males in this story are viewed as pigs. Even if they haven't committed actual crimes, the Furies make sure Cory knows all their bad, bad thoughts. Even a police officer who comes to interview her after an incident is caught looking at her (clothed yet underage) chest! Yeesh. The Furies are only too happy to point out the sins of each and every man, and even go so far as to hunt a man who has done no wrong. His only crime is being a man accused of something evil, who cannot be innocent, because, as one of them states gleefully, "No man can be innocent." (pg 207 of the ARC)

Also, the Furies can be calmed by two things: exercise and chocolate. After all of my doubts above, perhaps I'm just being too thin-skinned, but what the heck? Bit stereotypical, don't you think, that the raving, vengeful (hormonal?) woman can be calmed by chocolate? Wish Cory had thought of that when dealing with Amber, the Mean Girl who takes a violent hatred to Cory for no reason whatsoever and continues to hate her and bully her throughout the book with no explanation given. You hear that, Cory? Just give that uptight woman some chocolate!

I wish I could say that the romance saved the book for me, but it didn't. I had a sinking feeling the moment that Niko appeared that I wouldn't like him, for he was the perfect Special Snowflake Boy from the Edward Cullen School of Unrealistic Romantic Attachments. You know the type. Their eyes meet. There is instant attraction, though they both fight it. But she is so pretty and intriguing. He is so handsome and mysterious, as well as being the only person in the whole world capable of silencing her demons with a mere touch.

Blah blah blah. Niko is a nice guy and all, but I never connected with him. He was just there, a placeholder of sorts. I'm sure other readers will adore him, as he does some amazingly romantic things for Cory, and he genuinely seems like a nice guy. However, there was no real relationship between him in Cory. They had had maybe one or two actual conversations before they started sucking face. As far as I could tell, the only basis to their relationship was physical attraction, which doesn't explain Niko's devotion AT ALL. And my gosh, if either of them talked about love one more time, I was going to hurl.

Of course, part of the point of having a love interest was that it kept Cory in touch with her humanity and taught her how to love again, etc. etc. etc. But I think that instead of going the well-worn path of unrealistic romantic entanglements, Niko would have been much better served as Cory's best platonic guy friend. The power of love is a big part of Vengeance Bound, but nowhere is it stated that the love in question is romantic love. I'd move mountains for my best friends, and I don't love either of them romantically. I think using Cory's platonic yet no less fierce love for Niko as the agent of change in her life would have been such a refreshing twist. Instead, we're stuck with an unfulfilling, unrealistic, half-baked romantic love that pulled me right out of the story.

At least the book ended on a semi-satisfying note. It wasn't completely satisfying (I would bet money Ms. Ireland is leaving the door open for a companion novel), but it was satisfying enough to soothe a few of my ruffled feathers. I will say that the romance and Niko-must-save-the-girl aspects were given a refreshing enough twist that I was surprised.

Goodness. I guess I was more frustrated with this book than I realized. In any case, I do suggest you all read it, if only so you can form your own opinions.

Points Added For: A fun premise, great action, a decent ending.

Points Subtracted For: The odd male-female dynamics, Special Snowflake Boy, a completely uncompelling romance.

Good For Fans Of: Greek mythology, Furies stories, insta-love, bloodshed.

Notes For Parents: Language, violence (duh), making out, underage drinking, abduction

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