Thursday, 14 January 2016

'Ensnared' (Splintered #3) by A. G. Howard

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'When Jeb's at my side, the world is a canvas - unblemished and welcoming; when I'm with Morpheus, it's a wanton playground - wicked and addictive.' 
This review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the 'Splintered' trilogy! If you'd like to read my review of the first book, you can find that here, or if you're interested in my thoughts on the second book in the trilogy, 'Unhinged', that's over here.

I said I was going to finish more series in 2016, so the logical place for me to start was with this final installment of the 'Splintered' trilogy. I didn't love the first book, but I fell head over heels with the second, so I was a teensy bit apprehensive going in.
'Ensnared' begins in London, with Alyssa and her father having flown on monarch butterflies from America to reclaim her father's lost memories. At the end of 'Unhinged', the portal into Wonderland had been destroyed, and Alyssa's mother was stuck on the other side, and her two love interests - Jeb and Morpheus - had been taken with Queen Red to AnyElsewhere, a twisted land that occupies the space between the mortal realm and Wonderland. By reclaiming her dad's memories, he's able to help her figure out another way into Wonderland: it turns out that he used to be a portal guard, so by tracking down his long lost family they're able to start their rescue mission.
The second they teleport into AnyElsewhere, they find Morpheus. This automatically put me on guard, because if you're going to a creepy, huge ass area, it's unlikely that you'll find the person you're looking for within a few hours, let alone a few minutes... It was just a bit too much of a convenient inclusion.
Morpheus takes them to Jeb, who has gone a little bit crazy because he's been infused with magic from both Queen Red (who is off inhabiting the body of Queen Hart, another insane relative of Alyssa's from years past) and Morpheus. It means he glows a bit purple, because Red's magic plus Morpheus's blue magic makes purple! (You'd think, being an artist and all, that Alyssa would cotton on to this combination earlier, but it takes her quite a while to realise...) Jeb's all angsty - because that's a super attractive feature in a love interest, don't you know - and with his magical powers he's been creating living paintings who can contribute to the world around them, as long as they don't get wet. If they get wet, the painting creatures melt.
Events happen. Alyssa's dad gets stung by a scorpion butterfly and nearly dies (gasp!) but Morpheus manages to retrieve the antidote (yay!). Morpheus then gets taken hostage (gasp!) but Alyssa decides to risk everyone to save him (yay!). When we reach the Queens castle, we discover Morpheus lied about being in peril (gasp!) but him and Alyssa are getting married (yay?).
It's all rather melodramatic. There's no real focus on the overarching plot of finding her mother and saving Wonderland, because there are too many subplots that need all of the attention, and with a different subplot being thrown in every twenty pages it's very up and down. The only thing that is regularly focused upon is... The love triangle.
When the lives of your closest relatives are in danger, you might think that's important to focus on. Instead of getting distracted planning a wedding, saving the life of your fiancé (who is not the one that you're marrying, by the way...) and just generally being indecisive, you might decide to put more of your brain power into remembering your dad is hidden on a hill in an invisible suit and your mother is who knows where, doing who knows what.
In fact, because of all of the 'Morpheus is in danger!' 'No, Jeb is in danger!' I forgot about the main plot myself, and when it was all resolved with fifty pages left I thought 'Well, what's still got to happen?'. The story that had been set up throughout the entirety of the second installment was just a bit neglected. The love triangle was also so focused upon that there wasn't even a big battle between Alyssa and Queen Red - her fear and love for Jeb allowed her to overthrow Red's control and defeat her, but it happened so quickly that it was quite anti-climactic.
There was something set up in the first book that was finally explained. If you'll remember, back in the first book Queen Red inhabited Alyssa's body, and since that point Alyssa has been having chest pains regularly. It turns out that this is because Red infected her with magic that strengthens her netherling heart, but because her mortal heart is also strong the organ is nearly ripping itself apart. Red admits that she doesn't think there's any magic that can fix it, and the only way for Alyssa to survive is to take the crown and restore herself to her full power netherling form.
Oh, but here comes the other bit of convenience: because Morpheus and Jeb both loved Alyssa as children, they could heal her with their child love magic. Instead of doing something risky and brave, like making Alyssa give up her mortal life just to survive, or having her die while trying to remain herself, there's another resolution that spontaneously occurs.
That, combined with the fact that Alyssa goes through with her plan from book two (in which she decided to live her mortal life with Jeb, then spend eternity with Morpheus) means that I felt quite cheated by this book. I'd been expecting her to choose between her sides, and to therefore choose between her love interests, not to get her way in every facet.
The only reason I'm rating this book as highly as I am is because of A. G. Howard's writing style. While the plot unravelled rather spectacularly, and the focus seemed to veer off completely, A. G.'s writing still filled me with joy and meant that I was completely sucked into the novel. I put it down for a few weeks but still managed to get reabsorbed in the story and the world, with all of its well-rounded and intriguing creatures scattered throughout. The Wonderland that she's created is fabulous, with a vibrancy and uniqueness all of her own: while she's taken inspiration from Lewis Carroll's creation, she's definitely run with it and made it her own.
I wish this final novel had impressed me more, but overall I am very glad that I read this series, because it was a lot of fun. I'm still planning on reading 'Untamed', a selection of three novellas revolving around the series, because one of them focuses on the events after the end of 'Ensnared' but before its (unnecessary) epilogue, and I think that might help me come to terms with the ending and appreciate this finale more.
If you enjoyed 'Splintered' and 'Unhinged', I would seriously recommend finishing off the series... Just don't have your expectations as high as I did.

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