Review – Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston


Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (Penguin)
Publish Date: Out Now
How I got this book: Hardcopy from publisher

From New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston comes this remarkable first book in a spellbinding new series about the dawn of a new kind of magic.

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she’s heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.

*blurb from Goodreads

I really should have DNF’d this YA post-apocalyptic/fantasy, but it had a train-wreck quality and for some reason I just couldn’t look away. And in truth, I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, but couldn’t bring myself to revisit it until now.

Having said that, it wasn’t all bad. The worldbuilding had some interesting (if contradictory) elements and the story premise itself is quite good. The characters go in search of a mystical land known only as the Blue while dealing with the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a broken society and traverse through very dangerous terrain.

Sadly, it went downhill from there. I found the writing style passive, stiff and lacking in emotional depth. The dialogue felt awkward. The narrative relied heavily on the verbs “had” and “was/were.” Sometimes whole pages went by where they were the only two verbs to show up. I have a thing about had/was’s. When overused in the narrative, my brain begins to pick out the pattern. It doesn’t take long before my brain starts to read:

“he had, he was, she had, there were, it had, she was, they were, they had, this was, these were, that was…”

…and turns it into this:

“he HAD, he WAS, she HAD, there WERE, it HAD, she WAS, they WERE, they HAD, this WAS, these WERE, that WAS…”

And hello, contractions, I see you there. He’D, she’D, they’RE, he’S, she’S…

I can’t stop seeing the passive voice structure and the verb pattern. It makes my brain cry just a little and distracts from the story.

I know that sentence structure and grammar can be, at times, a stylistic choice. I’m not quite sure what was happening in this narrative. It contained a combination of run-on sentences with a choppy sentence structure using incomplete phrases, sometimes as independent clauses, other times as part of long sequences of phrases within the same sentence. These run-on sentences abounded with an overabundance of commas, multiple semicolons and sometimes even four to five em dash’s. All in one sentence. If a sentence needs that much punctuation, perhaps that’s a sign it would read better with a couple of periods. The passive writing style combined with the awkward grammatical sentence structure made for a painful read.

I mentioned that the narrative lacked emotional depth, which I think relates directly to the passive writing style. The story itself also lacked depth. The narrative provided the “what,” but it never dug deeper to connect to the “who” or, perhaps more importantly, the “why.” I felt as though the story skimmed along the surface, never revealing the deeper, underlying motivations and emotional connection. This lack of depth lead to some of the worst action scenes I have ever read. Even scenes that should be fraught with adrenaline or tension or abject horror remained sadly bereft of any actual emotional response by the characters. The narrative focused so much on Telling that it failed to plug me in to the character’s responses or motivations in a way that could help me feel what they were feeling. In the absence of that, there was this odd use of ALL CAPS in the narrative in, I can only presume, an attempt to show emotion. Putting something in all caps without properly setting the scene does not, in and of itself, provide tension or communicate depth of emotion. If the only means by which the author can get across a sense of urgency is TO USE ALL CAPS then something is seriously wrong with the narrative.

This ties into issues surrounding the plot. I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps a bullet list.

  • Plot inconsistencies with holes big enough to drive a mack truck through
  • Too many oh-so convenient solutions which felt more like pulling random rabbits out of a hat. Edible jacket insulation. ‘Nuff said.
  • The invisible Big Bad in the form of the “government” and the “military.” Who or what was in power and why?! Why did “they” put mood stabilizers in the nutrient drinks? What were “they” trying to control? Why were “they” trying to keep the public fearful and submissive? Why were the people not allowed to leave, referring to them as fence-hoppers and getting bounty’s placed on their heads?
  • I didn’t understand the social structure. Clearly, it consisted of the haves and the have-nots, but I didn’t understand what made it that way considering both the environmental and social collapse. New Vegas offered many excesses as a result of importing products from indoor farming and cattle raising (from “somewhere”), but who could afford those luxuries and how?
  • This one may be a bit obvious…but, uh, if water is such a precious commodity and is so expensive that you can only afford to treat yourself to one cup of the precious stuff per week…what about all the ice and snow you’re surrounded by? I mean…ya know…isn’t that, well, a form of water? Sure, maybe it needs to be melted and filtered, but that’s not a difficult thing to do.
  • And relating to the whole rarity of water issue…the narrative goes to the trouble of stating that the hydroelectricity produced by the Hoover Dam keeps New Vegas in lights…but, again, doesn’t that require running water and lots of it? And isn’t everything supposed to be frozen? I mean, I’m just asking…
  • And if the power-hungry “government” controlled all the resources such as cars, fuel, weaponry, etc., why didn’t they just take over the Hoover Dam anyway?
  • Worst Car Race Ever. And I’m a racing fan. The only reason to mention this particular scene out of all the other equally lacking-in-tension action scenes has to do with something that happens later. At some point, Nat begins to think that she and Wes met somewhere before, but can’t remember where. Finally, at the end of the book, Nat remembers she first saw Wes when she escaped from MacArther. She apparently stumbled upon the race course during a race in which she almost caused Wes to crash and subsequently saved him. Both Nat and Wes remember the incident. But wait a damn minute, that scene didn’t even happen in the book. What?! That felt like a cheat to me, as if the narrative forced a connection it hadn’t established to begin with. Sadly, that’s not the only example of weak plot points/connections.
  • How in the world does Wes get his hands on enough fuel to motor his 50’ ex-Coast Guard steel “ship” across the Pacific? First of all, any vessel less than 65’ is considered a boat, not a ship and the Coast Guard doesn’t even have a 50’ boat. They do, however, have a 47’ motor life boat (MLB). I guess that’s close enough, right? And, I’m sorry, but you can’t just pull a main mast out of the hold and turn a boat like that into a sailboat. WTF? Even if you could, do you realize how tall that mast would need to be for a boat of that size and weight? (Hint: taller than that boat is long) And just how do you propose stabilizing said mast? Again, this is just one example of many where the narrative makes stuff up to fit the circumstances of the story.
  • As the story progressed, I started to get this nagging sensation that the narrative didn’t much like teenagers. In this world, teenagers are illiterate and only capable of reading Textlish (“XLNT <3 LULZ”). Apparently You-tube videos had rendered the English word redundant -- why read an instruction manual if you can watch a video about it? And I suppose I could accept that state given the circumstances except the narrative presented this information with a derisive tone. Everytime the narrative described the state of teenagers in this world, I couldn’t help but hear someone clucking their tongue, shaking their heads and saying “what a shame.” Teenagers also were largely portrayed as amoral, opportunistic and violent….wait. (kidding;-)

And there is so much more, but that’s enough. Basically, nothing worked for me in this story.

I give Frozen an F.

2 thoughts on “Review – Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston”

  1. Wow. Melissa de la Cruz is not an unfamiliar name, although I have not read her books. And reading this review, yes, this should be a DNF. I do hate illogical things and too convenient things in books.

  2. @xaurianx: I’m unfamiliar with the author’s previous work. Really, the concept had so much potential. The execution just missed the mark for me. Oh well, on to the next book!

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