Review: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King


Never has a book connected with me as immediately and intensely as A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers. I read the book in two sittings, which could have been one if I hadn’t stopped around page 30 for lunch. The book’s prosaic sensibilities are almost perfectly in line with mine; most books I read, there will be many sentences that I would have preferred a different way. In Passengers, there was only one moment like that, and that alone endears this book to my heart. But of course there are more reasons than that.

Ask the Passengers is told from the perspective of Astrid Jones, a 17-year-old in a complicated point in her life. She’s unsure about her sexuality, which is complicated by her secret romance with a girl; her best (and seemingly only) friend, Kristina, is the homecoming queen, dating the football star Justin, and Astrid is the only one at school who knows the relationship is fake; her relationship with her mother and sister is strained, and she feels far away from her dad since he fell heavy into marijuana. Astrid feels held back by all the problems in her life, and so she lies on the picnic table in her backyard and looks up at the planes flying overhead, sending her love to the passengers within and asking them questions. Throughout the book the reader is shown short passages from the passengers receiving Astrid’s projections, each one touching and meaningful. It’s too brilliant to call a gimmick, and the final one, in conjunction with the ending, left me in tears.

It would be a spoiler to delve any more into the plot, as it largely exists to further Astrid’s journey of self-understanding. It’s a beautiful story, masterfully told, with a protagonist whom I could not only readily empathize with, but sometimes even relate to, which is rare for me. The book is in first person (and present tense, if that’s a deal breaker for you; me, I didn’t consciously notice until page 17), and A.S. King succeeds in what I think most first person writers fail at: the book wholeheartedly reads like it was written by its protagonist. Astrid’s quiet, restrained, and yet impulsive personality is effectively communicated by the prose which still manages to read like it was written by a professional. The dialogue, too, effectively reflects each speaker; it is abundantly clear that A.S. King is an experienced writer.

It’s harder to gush than to criticize, and so this review comes out fairly light, but I did have two issues with Ask the Passengers. First was Astrid’s self-deprecatingly calling herself an “asexual sea sponge” at one point in the book, which struck me as ignorantly harmful to the real asexual identification, both by erasing it (by equating asexuality in humans with inhumanity) and by stigmatizing it (for the same reasons). The book in general seems to ignore the possibility of identification outside of gay or straight, which I think is a failing. The second issue I had was with Donna and Chad, the secret partners of Kristina and Justin, respectively. They hardly existed as characters (I’m not sure Chad even had a line), and as Kristina and Justin’s world is an important aspect of Astrid’s life, failing to flesh out an important part of it was disappointing to me. Even a single scene that establishes clear personalities for Donna and Chad would have done a lot to bring them up to the same vibrancy as the rest of the book’s characters, and would reveal an amount about Kristina and Justin at the same time. Still, these are minor complaints in a largely perfect book.


Ask the Passengers, in my opinion, is a minor masterpiece. It might not say something groundbreaking about the world, it may not have left me feeling like a particularly changed person, but it tells its story so incredibly beautifully and has such wonderful messages of love that I would be remiss not to recommend it to everybody. I’ve never sat down and made a list of my top five or ten books, but Passengers would undoubtedly be on it.

Review: Ash by Malinda Lo


Ash takes place in a kingdom steeped in fairy tales and is itself a retold Cinderella, to the point where the book reads like a fairy tale in novel form: characterization is light, the prose is more evocative than immersive, and in the end there’s not a lot of tension to be had. But that doesn’t stop Ash from being emotionally compelling, and for that reason it succeeds.

Aisling, or Ash as she goes by for the majority of the book, is twelve when her mother dies of sickness, and within a year her father remarries and dies himself of a fever. This standard backstory lasts the first quarter to third of the book, and is a drag in comparison to the rest of the book; Ash spends the time at a younger age, leaving her less interesting as a character, and with the exception of Malinda Lo’s reimagining of the fairy involvement (where the fairy godmother is turned into a mysterious, dangerous fairy man named Sidhean) there’s not much new going on. The section is carried by Lo’s exquisite prose, but I can’t help but think that it would have worked better if it were cut down and put in flashback, even if that would disrupt the fairy tale feel of the novel.

The roughly-medieval kingdom’s culture is a wholly believable land that once may have coexisted with fairies, as its culture and superstition is inseparable from fairies. Throughout the book, fairy tales created for the book are told, and resonate thematically and creatively. These invented fairy tales are a great authorial choice that enrich both the world and the story, and Ash’s book of fairy tales given to her by her father is one of the more important links between the early section of the book and the rest of it.

By the end of the first part of the book (which is split evenly by its two parts, The Fairy and The Huntress), the plot picks up into new, interesting territory, and Ash begins to shine. The book is easily at its best when it diverges from the source story: Sidhean isn’t a character called dangerous by the narrative but who has no teeth, but genuinely is worrisome every time he appears, and his contribution to the iconic ball is a bargain, not an act of kindness; and, even more interestingly, Malinda Lo makes the addition of the huntresses. These women lead hunts all over the land, and Ash comes to meet the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, who replaces the prince as the love interest of the story. The relationship between her and Ash is, like most of the character work in the book, light, but a pivotal moment still left me grinning, so it works well enough considering their relationship is primary, but not exclusive, to the themes of self-discovery and -confidence for Ash.

After all, there’s a reason the book is named after her. It’s almost impossible not to root for Ash with her requisite upbringing as a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters, the younger of which isn’t incorrigible but nevertheless not a great deal of support. Ash carries on at first because of nightly walks with Sidhean, who she wishes to escape with to perhaps, somehow, find her mother in the fairy realm, or at least live there rather than in her cruel existence. Then she meets Kaisa and finds happiness and independence in the real world, and her arc, while subtle in my first read, is what makes the book work on a deeper level.


Ash drags in its beginning, and its fairy tale trappings sometimes prevent it from being as deep as it could be, but its reinvention of the Cinderella story is as enchanting as it is masterful, significantly shifting the plot while maintaining the majority of its traditional trappings. It’s with very few caveats that I heartily recommend the book.

Review: Proxy by Alex London


Hey. Long time no see, huh? Well, I’ve got a few more book reviews that I plan to get out this December, I might write some more general posts in January, and in February I think I’ll continue sporking Maximum Ride. I was so close to finishing it and the time away has let me recharge my sporking batteries. Anyway, here’s this review.

Proxy presents an exaggerated, future, debt-based dystopia (say that five times fast), in which almost all of North America’s population has funneled into a single Mountain City. In the city, wealth is cleanly split between Patrons and Proxies; these names arise from the symbiotic relationship that makes the Mountain City turn. Proxies acquire debt from high costs for basic goods, and in return Patrons relieve the Proxies’ debts in exchange for Proxies taking on the Patrons’ legal punishments. So if patron commits a crime, they are functionally only fined, and their Proxy works in a labor camp or takes physical punishment, etc. It’s not a particularly believable or logical system, but then, Proxy never tries to take its world too seriously. Trying to do that–take the world seriously–left me a bit cold at the beginning of the novel, but once one embraces the conceits that Proxy makes, it’s an engrossing, fun read.

There are two primary viewpoint characters in Proxy: Knox, a teenage Patron who’s constantly in trouble, and Syd, Knox’s Patron (and also a teenager; Proxies are assigned at the same age as their Patron) who is only looking to skate by unnoticed and escape his debt as soon as possible. When Knox is involved in a fatal car crash, however, Syd is faced with sixteen years of hard labor and hatches a plan to escape the city. Naturally, the two boys end up working together; Alex London wisely doesn’t spend too much time on animosity between the two, allowing them to fall in together with relative ease. Knox is more concerned with displeasing his father than showing disdain for Syd, and Syd is welcome for the assistance.

There is an odd prosaic choice in their involvement, however, as when the two characters are in the same scene (which is most of the second two thirds of the book), the narrative uses both their viewpoints, switching between them on a whim, often paragraph to paragraph. This is sometimes confusing with the tight third person narration, which will make remarks about the world and other characters without it immediately being evident who made said remarks. It’s increasingly problematic further into the book, when a third character is introduced and the narration sometimes, but rarely, peeks into her head. It ends up feeling awkward and a bit lazy; London probably could have made a stronger book if he had strictly alternated between viewpoints by chapter or scene and made his characters’ interiority more relevant. It’s not a major complaint, though.

Both Knox and Syd are well drawn as characters: Knox spends most of the book in a largely unlikable state, as a willing participant in a corrupt system, but giving him a viewpoint allows him to be sympathetic and his arc (which I won’t spoil) works well. Syd is the obviously more likable character, but fits into the narrative somewhat trickily; for plot reasons, he is arguably the protagonist, but within the plot he’s a largely passive character, intent more on survival than conveying an agenda, but not to the point where he forsakes an agenda. So in the meta plot, past his escape from the Mountain City, he functions more as a body than an active player. Knox is similarly unconcerned with agendas (which I leave unspecific for the sake of spoilers), and so after the escape from the Mountain City the plot drags not just because the excitement has peaked, but because the characters are developing in ways mostly unrelated to the plot. The last quarter of the books is thus somewhat awkward, with the plot mostly there to serve character work that doesn’t stand on its own well enough to warrant being propped up by the plot.

Proxy is never boring, however. Alex London’s clean, evocative prose keeps things moving at the right pace, deftly juggling prosaic action with character thought and keeping action scenes exciting. His dialogue, too, is good, clearly reflecting each character in their word choice and sentence structure.

On the subject of diversity, Proxy is a mixed bag. Syd is a person of color (“brown” by his own description; the book’s world seems to have moved past region-based descriptors of race) and gay, and an important character is ethnically Jewish (if not religiously, as our current religions have been mostly lost), but out of six major characters, only one is a woman. It’s a pretty stark disparity that left me disappointed.


When reading Proxy, I had many little annoyances that left me feeling it was only okay once I had finished it. Now, however, a few days later, I can’t even remember the annoyances; all I remember is that the book engrossed me enough that I read it in a single day. That seems like high praise enough: Proxy is engaging and fun, and that’s the part I think is most important. If you’re willing to look past the lack of female characters, I’d definitely recommend it.

EmotedLlama wrote something?


I’m really not sure what’s gonna go on this blog with no sporks. I might start doing reviews again and I’m gonna try to get NekoShogun to post the haiku he’s been writing. In the meantime, I wrote a 1,000 word short story that I will share now.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Adam’s breath was ragged, even as he slept. It seemed he was asleep most of the time, anymore.

Malcolm sat in the hospital room chair. Past the bed Adam laid on, the room’s small table stood laden with wilted flowers, cards, books—but Malcolm’s gaze rested on Adam.

He lifted himself off the chair and stood over Adam, eased his head up off of the pillow and slipped it out, set his head back down. Malcolm picked up the pillow and gripped it, hard, till his fingers were numb. He took a long breath and brought the pillow down on his son’s face.


Malcolm stepped out of the hotel lobby. The street outside was deserted, save for a figure lounging on the bench outside the hotel.

“Can you leave me alone?” he said. “Just this one time.”

She turned to face him. Long, bronze horns glinted in the moonlight. “This was your choice, Malcolm.”


Malcolm weaved through the crowd, eyes darting to take in his surroundings. There was no reason for someone to recognize him, but he felt conspicuous in the bright red jacket—just the first thing he’d grabbed at the store. He kept the hood up and figured no one would get a good look at his face, anyway, and why would they suspect him? Nobody trying to stay hidden would wear something so noticeable.

There were two cops to his right. He ached to quicken his pace, to glance at them as he passed.

“Hey!” one of them called. Malcolm delved deeper into the crowd, just in case.

His gaze was fixed on the alley he would take, narrow and empty, then his eyes flicked to the alley to the right. The horns towered over the crowd. No go.


Malcolm blinked. The policewoman stood in front of him, face steely, hand on her gun. Why, Malcolm didn’t know; he wasn’t dangerous. He wasn’t a murderer.

She spoke again, but her words fell on deaf ears. He took a step forward. His foot found steady ground in the sky and the city was just a distant mass far below.


Malcolm was drenched by the rain. Nobody else was even out, umbrella or no—not in this downpour, and all he had was the jacket. He shivered, his teeth chattered. His arms were clenched, hugging himself not to gain warmth but to avoid the cold. He felt like death.


“What does it matter?” Malcolm said, interrupting the previous speaker. “He’s dying either way.”

All eyes went to him. The already serious atmosphere turned morbidly somber. The whole thing was morbid.

“Let’s change the subject,” Pete said. Uneasy smiles. Ignoring Malcolm.

Brush away the expectation of pain: it’s the only way to cope. Malcolm could never bring himself to do it.


White rooms. Adam’s bedroom. It wasn’t long before the former were more common. It felt a shame, to Malcolm, for his son to waste away in a place that wasn’t even his own. Slowly, the former was filled with the contents of the latter.


Beep. Beep. Beep.

Malcolm hadn’t seen the end that time. It was the best part and he’d been punished on top of his punishment to not see it.

His hands were clenched on the pillow. He cursed her, inwardly, and brought it down.


Malcolm was in the crowd. Every time he blinked he saw the horns, tormenting him. Blocking his escape.

He passed the policemen, stopped. Pulled his hood down and turned to face them, but neither were looking his way, springing in action to chase a purse snatcher. Malcolm watched them for a moment before walking away.


Malcolm stepped out of the hotel lobby. It was drizzling. His jacket hung from the balcony above his head, meant to dry in the sun. It wasn’t as waterproof as expected.

“You chose this. You should have anticipated the consequences.”

Her sharp fingernails dug into his neck. She stared into his heart for what felt like an eternity as he spluttered and clawed at her hand, should have passed out from lack of oxygen but just stood there, conscious every moment of the pain. And not just that in his neck.

“You’re weak,” she said, tossing him aside. He fell into the sky.


He stared at the stars above him. His neck ached. He looked away.

He went back in the house, stood in the doorway of Adam’s empty room. Pete was with Adam tonight. He said that Malcolm had been spending too much time at the hospital. Malcolm knew he was right, but it was another thing to admit it.

Pete understood, and he didn’t pry. Let Malcolm bottle it all up and, gradually, wilt. His empathy was letting his husband die with his son.


Malcolm stood on the balcony and looked down, over the railing, just in time to see a police officer enter the lobby. He pulled off the jacket and draped it on the railing and turned around.


Beep. Beep. Beep.

Malcolm sobbed. Adam’s breath rasped, in, out, in, out, dead in every languid pause.


Blackness surrounded him. Then the horns emerged, the vacant eyes, the teeth protruding straight from lips.

“I…” he said. “I won’t repent. But, I…”

She nodded.


Malcolm stared at the policewoman. She flinched at his gaze, tightened her hand on her gun. Tears fell from his cheeks and pattered on the ground, the pathetic things they were.

“Sir,” she said, and he stepped forward and she pulled her gun and he shoved her to the ground and ran.

And fell. He watched the stars as the hotel room balcony, distinct by the red jacket laid on its railing, found itself farther and farther away. His back cracked against the ground and his head hit and pain exploded.


Beep. Beep. Beep.

Malcom’s tears fell on the pillow. His breath was nearly as painful as his son’s and his knuckles were white but he didn’t loosen his grip.

Then, slowly, he did just that. His hands shook and he nearly dropped the pillow and he squeezed it to regain his grip. He carefully, slowly, laid it on the bed, put his hand under Adam’s head and slid the pillow underneath.


Malcolm let out a deep breath and took a step backward, placed his hands on the chair’s arms, sat down.


And he would go on sitting there.





The hiatus has stretched out a bit longer than I intended. This is because I’ve simply lost all motivation to spork. The interest is just… gone. And at the moment, I’m not willing to put in the time required to finish this book, let alone the series, when I won’t be enjoying it at all. The hiatus is thus extended indefinitely; I may come back to things, but it’s perfectly likely I won’t.

I feel bad for leaving my readers here, but if I were to continue, it wouldn’t be fun for me, and thus it wouldn’t be fun for you. I’m sorry, but this is the way the cards have fallen.

Haiku #34


So I’ve been posting haiku one at a time as I write them over on tumblr, and now that I’ve got a few I figure it’s time to collect them here.



Sometimes words fail me.

They jumble, crumble, turn to

Dust as they spill out.



Always, I miss you.

And yet, when we’re together,

I feel so alone.



And maybe we were

Fast and fleeting as a sigh,

But at least we breathed.



I look in your eyes

And know what drowning feels like,

Breathless and alive.

(originally part of a larger piece)

~Michael Vest