September 12, 2013

Reading in Tandem: CONJURED by Sarah Beth Durst

Normally, we have a fixed format for our book reviews. We ask ourselves questions about our gut reactions, the character sketches, and how we liked the cover. That covers books pretty well, most of the time, but one of the joys of book talking is actually sharing more - bits of ephemera, a favorite song that popped into your head like a mini-book soundtrack, who you think would be best as the lead if they ever turned it into a movie, your fervent hope that they never, ever, turn it into a movie -- things like that. This is the kind of stuff we talked about at school, the kind of oh-em-gee-you've-gotta-read-this, hot-off-the-press, immediate bookish nerdery that we pass back and forth when we just talk books. This isn't a review, as much as a read between friends.

We won't always agree, or have the same take on things. Sometimes, our views will be more reader-response than writer-wise. While we'll do our best to avoid it, sometimes, we may have spoilers. Sometimes you'll wonder why on earth we wasted our time on a particular book - and sometimes, probably, so will we. Regardless, every once in awhile, we'll get down to it:

Two writers. Two readers.

One book.

Reading in Tandem.

Eve is in danger, in hiding, and in witness protection--but she can't remember why that is, or who is hunting her. All she has are bare wisps of frightening memories: a carnival tent, a sinister magician. And she has strange powers that nobody else has. Little by little, she remembers more about her life before, and clues to the killer who is still hunting her, but will it be too late to save her or the fragile new life she's built?

You can find Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

TS Davis: First off, as a writer, can I just say that Sarah Beth Durst's voice has changed SO MUCH.

Sarah Stevenson: She has really become versatile.
I thought VESSEL was great.
And I love the uniqueness of her fantasy scenarios.

TS Davis: It kind of gives me a good feeling about the potential for any writer whose work has become familiar to you, and you think you know them - and then... presto, chango, they're doing something new. And yes - I think the change started to be most visible with VESSEL. I loved the retelling of EAST OF THE SUN/WEST OF THE MOON, but as she goes further afield from traditional stories, she's just doing this exciting ...thing!

Sarah Stevenson: Oh! Yes, I liked that one too. ICE.
I thought the whole premise of CONJURED was perfect to draw in the reader, too. Who is Eve? Why is she in witness protection?

TS Davis: YES! I was so confused!! It's not every book that is totally confusing, yet keeps you in the loop.
I was... confused, but not lost, if that makes sense.
I was so upset for her, each and every time I didn't know what was going on. Not to add spoilers, but every dream and every moment when her dreams confused her, I felt for her.

Sarah Stevenson: Right! I was impressed that she was able to draw us into Eve's viewpoint but not leave us annoyed by how little Eve knows. It's...part of the story. Part of what we have to wait, on the edge of our seat, to find out.
And yes, I felt for her, too.
I think it would be so easy to feel...manipulated, maybe, when you're toying with viewpoint and reliability and the narrator's level of knowledge. But I didn't feel manipulated here.

TS Davis: I didn't either - which again, I am just not sure how she managed that!
And, I also wasn't at all in the know - about ANYTHING. For once, I didn't guess the ending, or even the middle right. I definitely did NOT figure out anything from the fractured memories, bits of dreams, and present tense of the character. I knew a few things - I thought: carnival people, neutral and/or bad, present day people, good, teens in her friend group, bad. But, the reality threw me for a loop, in a good way.

Sarah Stevenson: Ditto.

TS Davis: When everything went down, I thought, "Okay. Obviously, there's a conclusion here, but is it a happily ever after?"

Sarah Stevenson: The twists and turns of each character were unexpected and kept me guessing. Are they good? Are they bad? It would change from moment to moment.
It made me edgy on her behalf!
Only Library Boy seemed stable and trustworthy.

TS Davis: I was SO unsure of myself, that I wasn't convinced of anyone's anything, until the last page. What a trick of suspense! Library Boy was utterly trustworthy because he was clearly someone she'd met, on her own, who didn't figure in the past or the future, only the present - AND he never lied. He was clearly someone with no brakes in the garrulous department, and that actually made me trust him.
He was so adorkably geeky!

Sarah Stevenson: He WAS adorable! He kept cracking me up.
And then, to know that SOMETIME, in the future, there is going to be this infodump in which she Remembers All and we find out who everyone really is and what they did...just KNOWING that kept me in suspense.

TS Davis: Library Boy was the perfect foil for someone so serious. I mean, if someone walked up to most girls and said that they really were thinking of kissing them instead of chit-chatting and doing all the get-to-know-you stuff, most girls would have come slightly unglued. Imagine who you'd have to be for that level of honesty to be a relief...

I was actually worried, on some levels, about Knowing All. I was concerned that I'd find out everything before I wanted to -- which was before I'd been given a chance to figure it out for myself, but, once again, I was to the end of my rope with I NEED TO KNOW!!! - and the timing, for me, was really good.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes. I thought the pacing really worked well in that respect.

TS Davis: I can imagine teens loving this book who enjoyed stuff like, say THE LOVELY BONES, or something darker and edgier. The level of pain/terror in this novel is not gratitous, but definitely not for the faint of heart, I don't think.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes. Or those who like, maybe, Holly Black.
Fantasy that intersects with the real world, but is fairly dark.

TS Davis: YES. Good old Black Holly. I can see that. And some Carrie Jones, I think - Laini Taylor's newest stuff as well.

Sarah Stevenson: But, at the same time, there is love and whimsy and people who truly care, in this story....

TS Davis: I was relieved to see that. It was hard, sometimes, to identify these people from one time to the next, but really, it gives the reader a sort of start-up sketch of what to look for. Even if your brain totally shuts down on you, THESE THINGS make a good person, and you can trust them.

Sarah Stevenson: ...and then there are the people who don't quite fit the standard black-and-white, good and evil definition.

TS Davis: Yes - I liked that, too. The choices she's faced with, near the end of the book, are on the lines of personal ethics, and not a broadly painted black-and-white view of good/evil. Are you going to be used? Is it okay to take something, if you give something back? Those are really good philosophical points to ponder.

Sarah Stevenson: Even what I'd consider the side characters made me ask those types of questions. Malcolm and Aunt Nicki, for instance.
Each provided a slightly different possible answer to the question.

TS Davis: YES.

Sarah Stevenson: Questions like, what makes you human? What makes you real and true and steadfast? What does friendship mean, and love?

TS Davis: Aunt Nicki: dealing with a mother who never took care of her properly, leaving Nicki the ultimate caretaker. She treats Eve in ways that we, as readers, don't like, and yet -
And yet...

Sarah Stevenson: It's never as though Aunt Nicki dislikes Eve, exactly, either. And Aunt Nicki grows and changes over the course of the story, in response to everything that happens.

TS Davis: Yes.
Even Library Boy, though we tend to trust him from the first, grows and changes - maybe the word I'm looking for is more REVEALS himself, and the reader comes to some conclusions about who makes a good friend, what makes a good person, and what is acceptable in family... what do we put up with, and from what do we walk away. This is really a novel about family of choice, in so many ways.

Sarah Stevenson: Absolutely.

TS Davis: Eve's choices keep tumbling, like clothes in a dryer, and she has to keep choosing.

Sarah Stevenson: There's also something in here about being unable to grow and change making you stagnant, making you...less than you could be.

TS Davis: Eek. Yes. You get dusty if you just sit on a shelf and observe the world. Your joints get creaky, and your humanity shrinks. You have to believe in where the magic lives. THAT was just -- huge for me.

Sarah Stevenson: It was not only huge, it was downright scary.

TS Davis: YES. That was a terrifying scene. I wasn't sure she'd be able to do anything. I wasn't sure if that really was all it took.

I loved that even before Eve knew who she was, she was able to choose who she wanted to be with. It's hard to consciously choose the people who make us fly, when there are other considerations such as acceptability to the group, etc. etc. -- but in the end, it's a simple choice. Just, with all the rest of the noise in Eve's life, for a moment, it looked complicated.
Thus, the choice in the end was simpler than it looked as well, even if it did involve so many people...

Sarah Stevenson: Another thought-provoking and utterly unique read from Sarah. I love that each of her books is different. It gives me hope that I can write something different each time and not have to stick with the expected.

TS Davis: Me, too!

I thought the cover was scarily appropriate!! It reminded me both of one of the Storyteller's horrific tales, but also of a pincushion... and how many people were inadvertently - or purposefully - claiming a piece of Eve's heart by staking their claim - literally staking it/her. That was ugly. And yet... it was still a heart...

Sarah Stevenson: True! It was an eye-catching cover.
That red/gold color scheme was very effective.
Also evocative.

TS Davis: There are a lot of themes I'd like to discuss further in this book. I'm hopeful Sarah Beth can come by and either do a guest post, or we can kind of chit-chat about the nightmares she says started this, what she's trying to say in the larger sense about who we are, and who we can be, and that sort of thing.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes! It's something I'd be very interested in hearing more about--the creative process behind this one.

TS Davis: Well, I think this covers it, don't you?
Twenty minutes of us kind of gushing - but this is a really nuanced, subtle book with a lot of details, and a lot of layers. I'm glad I got a chance to read it and discuss it - and I feel like we've been kind of vague - but I don't want to be too specific, because I'd like to see more people reading this, and talking about it. It's the kind of book you can come back to, and get something new out of it on a re-read.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes--I didn't want to be too spoiler-y, because I'd really like to know what people think of the format of this post, too, the tandem review.
Hopefully we were tantalizing rather than vague. :)

Thanks so much for joining us for the first in our new monthly series of tandem reviews! We hope you had fun reading it--we're excited to be sharing our bookchat with you. Please feel free to join the discussion, too, if you've read Conjured or plan to read it.

1 comment:

LinWash said...

I really enjoyed the tandem review and your avoidance of spoilers. I'm reading Conjured right now and am enjoying it. I agree that Sarah's voice has changed. This is a different book from even Enchanted Ivy. She doesn't shy away from hard issues.