Friday, 16 October 2015

'Lips Touch: Three Times' by Laini Taylor

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Lips Touch: Three Times' is a collection of three short stories, with a kiss as the focal point of each of them. Written by Laini Taylor and featuring beautiful illustrations from Jim Di Bartolo, this short story collection is definitely something different. I've written a short review for each story down below, with a personal rating for each.

'Goblin Fruit' - 2/5
'Kizzy wanted it all so bad her soul leaned half out of her body hungering after it, and that was what drove the goblins wild, her soul hanging out there like an untucked shirt.'
Starting off with 'Goblin Fruit', we hear the story of Kizzy - a girl who wants. Goblins thrive off of desperation, so they follow Kizzy as she wishes for a better family, a prettier face and a loving boyfriend, and to make her feelings even stronger one of the goblins takes on the form of a human boy called Jack. When Jack starts at Kizzy's school she automatically has strong feelings for him - he's the kind of guy she's always fantasized about having. Kizzy knows about goblins, because her aunt had an encounter with one when she was younger - after getting addicted to goblin fruit, she nearly traded her soul away for another taste - and Kizzy's been told the story by her family a hundred times. Even though she knows there is something off about Jack, and is pretty certain that he's a goblin, she wants so badly that she can't stop herself when he leans in for a kiss with fruit juice all over his mouth. 
I liked the concept behind this one, but it all felt a bit rushed and I think it could have been written a lot better. It was only fifty pages, including all of the illustrations at the beginning, so I didn't felt that attached to the characters or the story. In all honesty, Kizzy was an irritating and aggravating human, so I actually felt that it was good karma when she got her comeuppance. I liked the way that the ending of the story was left open: instead of stating explicitly that Kizzy died due to her rendezvous with the goblin, the illustration hinted towards that end but it was left slightly open, which I thought was much more interesting - a completely wrapped up story that short would have been disappointing. 

'Spicy Little Curses Such As These' - 4/5
Where 'Goblin Fruit' was too short, 'Spicy Little Curses' was the perfect length. Coming in at just over seventy pages, it was the perfect length to make you care about the characters and to give a great resolution to Anamique's tale. 
When we start 'Spicy Little Curses', we are witnessing a meeting between Vasudev and Estella - a demon and the human ambassador who barters with him for human souls. It's the day of Anamique's christening, and there has been a earthquake nearby that has killed twenty two people. Estella tries to campaign to save them, but Vasudev is feeling generous - he tells Estella that she can have all twenty two souls and won't need to present other souls to replace them with, as long as she places a curse on Anamique. The curse? That whoever hears her voice will drop dead.
Estella agrees, begrudgingly - she doesn't want to inflict the curse, but one child for twenty two children seems like a fair deal. She places her own spell upon Anamique, ensuring that she will not utter a word until she understands the seriousness of the curse she's received. When we join a teenage Anamique all those years later, she still hasn't spoken a word - most of the people believe her curse is a lie, but she believes in it.
Of course, this all changes when she meets a boy. James is convinced that the curse is fake, so he tries to persuade her to speak, but he quickly changes his mind when he meets Estella and she shows him the reality of magic. Anamique had decided to speak for the first time when James proposed, but when he interrupts her answer she rebels against the curse and sings - and her song causes the death of over sixty people who were attending her eighteenth birthday party.
Because so many years have passed, Estella is nearing death. Anamique manages to strike up a deal with Yama (the equivalent of Satan) and he agrees that Anamique can become ambassador to Hell, and in exchange for her services and Estella's soul she can revive the party guests who she murdered with her song. 
I like Laini Taylor's writing style, but I think it works a lot better when it's more fleshed out. The first short story was so short that it was almost jarring! I just think Anamique's story was so easy to relate to and empathise with, so I really did feel invested in her story and wanted to how it was all going to work out. The characters were realistic - I mean, who believes in a curse with no evidence in front of them?! - and I was rooting for them to get a happy ending, despite the crazily fast insta-love (James finds Anamique's diary on a train, and automatically feels as though he's in love with her, just by reading her words on the page). I know you can be infatuated with someone almost instantly, but the love just wasn't believable because of how quickly it moved and how it happened. But then again, this is a short story collection revolving around kisses, so I should have anticipated insta-love - that was probably my bad! The only thing (other than the insta-love) that really didn't sit well with me was Anamique's reaction to killing every person she'd ever known - she went straight to James. With all of her siblings and her parents dead, she went to the body of the man she'd know for mere weeks. 
I did feel really happy that everything worked out so well in the end: after the ending of the first short story, I did worry that they were all going to end up being warning against the danger of first love. 

'Hatchling' - 4/5
The week before Esmé's fourteenth birthday, she is woken by the sound of wolves howling on the streets of London, and after looking in a mirror she discovers that one of her eyes has turned icy blue. She goes into her mother's room to ask her what is happening, but Mab starts screaming hysterically and spitting words of a mysterious language in Esmé's face. She's terrified, and her fear doesn't subside when Mab tells her to grab her belongings because they are leaving London. Fleeing to France, they're about to board a ferry to take them to the far reaches of Africa when they hear the wolves howling again. The wolves are Druj, and they're hunting for Esmé. A mysterious man is waiting for them in one of the ferry cabins, and he magically creates a portal in the floor - they find themselves back in London, but the man hardly waits a moment before he grabs Esmé and teleports her away to Tajbel, the beautiful kingdom of the Druj.
This short story dives straight in with hardly any explanation. The Druj are mystical beings similar to fae, though their name means demon - they don't eat, they don't grow older, they don't breed. They live forever, and have been around since time began, even if their memories are hazy (covered by the mist, as it's referred to), but their immortality comes at the expense of their souls. However, they can shape shift into any creature, they can float across distances in whichever form they choose to take, and their essences can slip into humans allowing them to wear people like costumes. It really is a rollercoaster ride for the first section of the short story, because so much is going on with no context, but because the pace is set so well and the adrenaline is pumping you can't help but be sucked in with the characters plight.
Over the course of the story we discover that Esmé's mother, Mab, was one the izha to the Queen of the Druj. Being an izha means being the Queen's pet: the Druj cannot have their own children, so the Queen has an izha that she treats as her own child, and when the girl hits puberty she forcibly breeds them so that she can have a brand new pet. Mab was regularly worn by the Queen, put through this ordeal regularly from her tenth birthday, and the psychological damage she has received throughout her life is devastating. Of course, when Esmé wakes up with one of her eyes blue, the same colour as Druj eyes, Mab doesn't know what to do and finds herself scared of her own daughter.
The mysterious man who has been watching Esmé, Mihai, actually helped Mab escape from the Druj when she was pregnant. With no explanation, he teleported her to civilisation and introduced her to his friend Yazad. Until Esmé's eye changed colour, Mab had thought that they were safe, but really the events were just biding their time.
You see, Mihai had discovered the secret to the Druj - if a Druj wears a pregnant woman, they can hibernate in the growing child, only surfacing when the baby hits puberty. When the time comes, the Druj and the human soul separate, leaving the Druj to return to their body. Both are equally affected, though: the Druj starts to develop human feelings and regains a semblance of a soul, while the human is bestowed with an extended life span. Because Mihai performed this with Yazad, Yazad is over five hundred years old, and shows no signs of stopping. Since Yazad, Mihai has performed this with twelve other souls, allowing him to remember much more of the past of the Druj, including the fact that they all used to be human. Only by intertwining with thirteen souls can the Druj repair the souls that they once had, that were destroyed when they chose immortality.
Mihai remembers loving the Queen, so he convinces her to slip into the pregnant Mab, where she is trapped inside Esmé until her eye changes colour. It's been fourteen years since Tajbel has had a ruler, and the kingdom has fallen in to disrepair. The description of the castle is breath-taking in its intensity: the palace is all naturally formed, with spires and bridges of rock raised above deep chasms, and the chasms are infested with rotting beasts who hunger for the people living just above them.
'Hatchling' was, by far, the best story (more of a 4.5, to 'Spicy Little Curses' 3.5 - alas, the need for half star ratings on Goodreads is strong in this one) - the thought that went into the back story, and the ingenuity of the plot kept my attention held and made me want to read more from this world. The story is uncomfortable to read at times - a young child being kept in a cage and suffering abuse at the hands of her surrogate family, the disgusting rape of the two innocent children, Esmé being kidnapped by a strange man at just thirteen years old - and I was quite shocked by some of the imagery featured, but I can't deny that sometimes the best books deal with the hardest topics, and Laini Taylor wrote them in a way that was touching and emotive.
However, I disliked the fact that the Queen was only cold hearted and vicious because of her inability to bear her own children - it detracted from her character and it made her seem weak rather than the strong ruler she'd been portrayed to be. I understand that childbearing is a focal point of many women's lives, but it just didn't feel right in this story. On the other hand, I liked the fact that the reason for the Druj's soullessness was due to their greed and desperation to be immortal - it poses a good question about humanity and where our priorities really lie, because I'm sure a lot of people would swap their soul for an infinite life without a second thought. All you really need to do is to live the life that you've been given to the fullest potential.
The ending was, similarly to 'Spicy Little Curses', a happy one - I was pleased with the fact that the story followed through for a chapter, it didn't just wrap up the central plot and finish abruptly. However, with the ending that we received I still want to know what happens next, as the story is the most interesting and the characters the most well-formed.

Overall, I did enjoyed the 'Lips Touch' collection, but I didn't think it was amazing. The average rating of the three short stories was 3.3, so I'm rounding it down to a 3 star review. I'd been expecting more, because I really enjoyed Laini Taylor's short story in the 'My True Love Gave To Me' anthology, but something about this just didn't click for me. I'm still looking forward to reading the 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' series, but I'm not as excited as I had been before - hopefully I'll enjoy them more because they're longer books and the world and the characters will be more developed.

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