As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better about not forcing myself to read books I’m not enjoying. Why waste time and energy on a book that sucks?
However, I’ve also gotten a lot better at choosing books that fit my interests. That has lessened my need to DNF books. In fact, I only had to DNF nine books in 2019.
My reasons for DNF-ing a book vary. Sometimes I think a book is bad enough that it’s not working pushing through to the end. Other times, I just lose interest. The books included on this list are a mixed bag of both.
Enough prattle. It’s time to talk about the nine books I DNF-ed in 2018:
- Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian
I’m pretty sure this book single-handedly killed my interest in a trope I used to love. This book follows Theodosia, who has spent ten years enduring abuse from the kingdom that conquered hers— especially from the kaiser. She has learned to play the meek victim, a symbol of the weakness of her people.
But one day the kaiser goes a step too far and now Theo has blood on her hands. It is now no longer enough to survive— Theo must do whatever it takes to avenge her people and take back her kingdom. With her cunning her only weapon, Theo is ready for battle.
It’s every fantasy book you’ve read about a princess taking back her throne, but worse. The villain is cartoonish, the romance forced and predictable, and the characterization inconsistent.
Women are portrayed so poorly in this book. If you’re a woman of high society, you’re automatically vapid and vain— even if you’ve just killed a man. It makes all the interactions between women unbelievable and misogynistic.
The concept of the ash crown is laughable. The kaiser makes Theo wear a crown made of ash as a form of mockery. It just feels way too on-the-nose.
In fact, the fact Theodosia has been kept alive at all makes no sense. The kaiser keeps her alive to keep her people in line, but her people are constantly rebelling because she’s alive. It’s contradictory.
It’s getting harder and harder to tell which books with the “princess takes back her kingdom” trope are worth reading and which aren’t. At this point, I roll my eyes at any summary using it and read something else. Unfortunately, all this book has accomplished is turning a once promising trope to ash.
- School for Psychics by K.C. Archer
It really says something that I DNF-ed this book after the first chapter. The story follows Teddy Cannon, a twenty-something with a penchant for gambling. Teddy has always had a knack for reading other card players, and one day at a casino she is scouted by a school that trains psychics for a secret government sect. At the school, Teddy meets other psychics like her. As she grows her powers, Teddy is sent on a dangerous mission that causes her to question everything she knows.
Teddy Cannon is such an unlikeable protagonist. Usually I like unlikeable protagonists, but Teddy is just mean. For no reason. In one chapter, Teddy manages to belittle her supposed best friend, fatshame, and judge every single person around her.
When Teddy describes to her friend Morgan how she’s so good at gambling and reading people, she uses the simplest metaphors. She compares it to the feeling you get when you’re walking down an alley and feel like you’re being followed. But, somehow, she doesn’t believe Morgan understands her. She also refers to Morgan asking this as “[whining] like a six-year-old.” Really? That’s what you think of your friends?
We meet Teddy going to a casino in disguise. You see, she’s been banned from every single casino on the Strip on suspicion of cheating. But she has only been banned by the head of security at MGM. Does he have the power to ban her from every casino? Probably not, but we’re to believe he does.
Teddy’s disguise makes her look like a slightly older, fat lady. This would’ve been fine, except a for one thing. When a handsome guy hits on her, her inner monologue says, “A line? When I’m dressed like this? Do you think I’m an idiot?”
She assumes he’s hitting on her to throw her off her game because why else would a man hit on a fat woman, right? It would’ve been so easy to say, “I know his flirting is just to throw me off my game,” but instead she makes it about fat women.
Also, I mean, you shouldn’t be surprised someone thinks you’re an easy mark. You’ve been putting on a show acting like you are. You don’t get to be offended when it works.
Another thing that makes absolutely no sense is that Teddy builds herself up to be clever and three steps ahead of everyone else. But when the aforementioned man asks for her name, she automatically starts to give her real name before switching to a fake name. For someone supposedly so quick on her feet, this was a pretty stupid mistake.
But it’s not just Teddy that talks down to the reader. The author does too. When Teddy gets to a card table, she makes a show of acting drunk and asking for another drink. Then the writer adds, “Another, as though she’d been drinking all night.”
You don’t need to explain this. Not only is it implied, but we’ve already followed Teddy into the casino and never see her take a drink. Clarifying such an obvious point makes it seem like the author expects their audience to be dumb.
By the end of the chapter, I didn’t care at all that she’s lost all the money she’d won. She is so awful, it feels like karma. It also makes no sense that Teddy is in debt in the first place. If her latent psychic powers make her such an unbeatable opponent, how did she lose even a single cent, let alone thousands of dollars?
I’m really sad I had to DNF this book because the premise sounds really cool. But I guess there will never been an adult Harry Potter. This book is so bad, I’m not surprised the writer didn’t want to put their real name on it. I only wish I had psychic powers of my own, so I’d have known not to read it.
- The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer
I know! I didn’t finish a 250 page book. But I just couldn’t do it. This book is essentially a retelling of the Hades & Persephone myth, but with a twist— Hades is a woman.
I had pretty high hopes for this book, seeing as it’s a lesbian retelling of a Greek myth. What could go wrong? Well, it starts and ends with the characters. I don’t know who these characters are.
Oh sure, they share names and some basic traits with their mythological counterparts, but beyond that I couldn’t tell you a single thing about them. How am I supposed to become invested in a romance between two people I don’t know?
It’s not just our main duo that have issues with their characterization. While I appreciate this book acknowledging that Zeus is a bad dude, he’s cartoonishly evil here. There’s no middle ground— he’s all terrible, all the time.
And then there’s Hermes. I’m sure his motives become clearer as the story progresses, but he’s so difficult to get a read on. Not in a mysterious way— no, that would require thought be put into his character. Instead, all that matters is his use toward the plot.
And let’s talk about that plot. While it’s decent enough, the pacing is terrible. It moves way too fast. There’s no room for the story to breathe or for the characters—or the readers— to process anything. The short length only comes as a disservice to the story.
My final issue has more to do with semantics than anything else. Zeus calls Hades “lord of the dead” because she prefers women. It’s a derogatory name. Which, whatever. It’s flimsy but a fine enough work around for a genderbend.
The problem is, not only are same-sex relationships normalized in this world, but Athena has many relationships with women too. In fact, the reader meets Athena hooking up with a woman and one of the side characters is her former lover. So why is it a non-issue for her, but a subject of mockery when it comes to Hades? It makes no sense.
I was really disappointed with this. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I was expecting more than what I got. This was a real letdown. I regret the day this book darkened my doorstep.
- Artemis by Andy Weir
Everyone said this book wasn’t good, but I was sure I’d feel differently. The story follows Jazz Bashara, a smuggler on the Moon colony of Artemis. When Jazz gets offered the opportunity of a lifetime, she just can’t refuse. She puts together a team for the biggest heist Artemis has ever seen. But as Jazz embarks on the con of her life, she finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a conspiracy that could change everything.
A morally gray female lead? A heist on the moon? What could possibly go wrong? The answer is everything. Jazz is annoying to the point of unbearability. She’s a caricature of the brassy female character. There’s nothing to root for here because there’s nothing real about her.
I couldn’t even get to the part where the plot kicked in. The writing is just so bad. I found myself cringing through awkward dialogue and painful info-dumps. It just wasn’t worth slogging through to get to the exciting part.
I’m not sure if the problem here is that Weir had to create a new world in a way he didn’t with The Martian or if he’s not good at writing female characters. All I know is the Goddess of the Hunt would be insulted if she knew her name was being used for a book like this.
- Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
You know those books you feel like you should like, but just don’t? This story follows Sallot Leon, a genderfluid thief who has been longing for years for a chance to exact revenge on the nobles who destroyed their home. Sal’s opportunity comes when a member of the The Left Hand, the Queen’s team of assassins, dies and auditions are being held to replace them. The audition is a fight to the death, but Sal is ready for the challenge.
I feel guilty for not enjoying this book. It’s so important to support diverse books. From what I could tell, Miller does a good job of representing genderfluid people. I just could not get into the story.
It’s basically a less well-written (if more diverse) Throne of Glass. I never felt motivated to continue. I put it on pause to read another book I was excited for and then kept putting off picking this one back up. Eventually, I lost all interest and decided to just give up.
This is one of the few books on this list that I won’t tell you not to read. I could see others really liking this story. I just found it to be chalk-full of familiar tropes and lacking in character development. Unfortunately, this book’s mask of diversity is hiding the lack of originality within.
- Court of Fives by Kate Elliot
Here we go again. Yet another book that models its plot after Throne of Glass. The story follows Jessamy, an upper-class girl who longs for the freedom of the lower class. For years, Jes has been sneaking out to train for the illustrious athletic competition known as the Fives. She finally gets her chance and meets Kalliarkos, with whom she starts a tenuous friendship.
But when Kal’s uncle tears her family apart, Jes will have to trust in Kal’s loyalty and risk vengeance from one of the most powerful Patron families in order to save her mother and sisters.
The main reason I DNF-ed this book is because I’d put it on pause to read another book I was more intrigued by and lost all interest for this one. Of course, that’s not the only reason.
I only read a few chapters, but they’re so poorly written. The prose is awkward and stilted, the dialogue clumsy and forced. It was honestly painful to read.
Jes is also a difficult protagonist to root for. Her parents are from different castes, making her mixed— not mixed-race, but mixed social status. But she still lives like the nobles of the Patron class. It’s just that the other Patron families make snide comments about hers. That sucks, but it’s not a real struggle.
Jes’ entire arc is about how she longs for the freedom the lower classes have. I get wanting freedom— everyone should get the chance to choose their own future. But she completely ignores the privilege she has that the lower classes don’t.
Maybe the lower classes don’t have to act a certain way or marry for advantage, but they also don’t have money or resources. It’s weird that she romanticizes this and that we’re supposed to want that for her. It has a very distinct “poor little rich girl” vibe with which I’ve never clicked.
I also care very little for her family. Her sisters are basically all the same, defined only by one interest each. Nothing about this story makes me want to read on. The reviews I’ve read have only vindicated that decision.
This novel is blurbed as “Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games,” which basically… yeah, that’s Throne of Glass (at least, the first book). If the original Throne of Glass isn’t that good, why would I waste time reading an even worse knock-offs?
All of that said, I couldn’t find anything inherently wrong with this book. My complaints are largely born from my own tastes and experiences as a non-wealthy person. But perhaps someone else could find value in the story.
Like Mask of Shadows, I won’t tell you not to read this book. If your taste in books is similar to mine, I’d skip it. Otherwise, you do you. And now I declare this court adjourned.
- Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Of all the books on this list, this is the only one I could conceivably be convinced to give another chance. In a world where the Nazis won the war, a motorcycle tour is held every year to celebrate their victory. The winner receives an audience with the reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.
Enter Yael, a former death camp prisoner. She has lost everything and plans to use this year’s Tour as her chance at revenge. Using her mysterious shapeshifting powers, Yael disguises herself as Adele Wolfe, last year’s winner and the only female racer.
But this mission won’t be easy, especially when Adele’s brother Felix and Yael’s ex-boyfriend Luka also enter the race. As Yael grows closer to the other competitors, she begins to doubt her ability to be as ruthless as she needs in order to win the race and kill the man who’s stolen everything from her.
I had no desire whatsoever to read this book. Speculative fiction is cool, but I really hate the idea of a world where the Axis Powers were victorious. It gives me a really ishy feeling. But friends kept recommending this book and Laini Taylor wrote a blurb for it, so I finally gave in. I wish I never did.
The world is incredibly believable, but I just don’t like the writing style. It feels disconnected from the subject matter. It has a strangely modern tone, despite taking place in 1956.
I also don’t like the paranormal aspect of Yael’s shapeshifting abilities. The reader finds out early on that she develops these powers after being experimented on in the death camp. I just don’t think the science makes sense. It’s never fully explained. I suppose it could be later in the story, but somehow I doubt the explanation will be satisfactory.
Moreover, the summary on the back of the book makes it sound like there’s a sense of camaraderie among the racers. As you read the story, you realize it’s more of a romance situation. I suspect a love triangle will come out of this.
I’m never going to read speculative fiction for romance. In a story like this, it feels like it’s pulling focus. This is supposed to be the story of a survivor exacting revenge on the man who killed her people. She’s supposed to be helping the resistance and saving the world. Instead, she’s getting distracted by dick. It feels almost insensitive, as though the story isn’t powerful enough without a love story.
If I’m wrong or you think the book is still worth reading, go ahead and try to convince me to pick this book back up. I can’t promise it’ll work, but I’m open to it. But for the time being, this book will not be joining my wolf pack.
- Media Darling by Fiona Riley
This book has so many things I go nuts over. Hollywood life? Check. Lesbian romance? Check. I was ecstatic when Netgalley approved my request for an ARC.
Told in dual perspective, the story follows celebrity gossip journalist Hayley Carpenter and Hollywood bad girl Emerson Sterling. Emerson hopes her new role will help her finally clean up her image. But then rumors swirl that she and her co-star, America’s Sweetheart Rachel Blanche, had an affair on set that caused Rachel to quit the film, and Emerson is the villain once again.
When Hayley is sent to cover the Red Carpet at an award show, she overhears a conversation between Emerson and Rachel that could be the scoop of her career. But, as she gets to know Emerson and forms an irresistible attraction to her, she’s not sure she can bring herself to follow the story. Can the girls bury the past and find love?
This book is so bad. Just… so bad. The writing is poor and the characters don’t feel like real people. I found myself laughing at lines and scenes that are not meant to be funny. Not a good sign, kids.
I didn’t even make it to the gay part. And you all know I’ll do almost anything for F/F content. I just… I couldn’t, guys. I thought about trying to finish the book so I could include it on my Worst Books of 2018 list, but that just seemed cruel. Not to Fiona Riley— to me.
Emerson has a friend who happens to be a gay man. I think he’s her stylist or publicist or something. The problem with him is his characterization. Imagine a stereotypical gay man. That’s him. For a writer who supposedly cares so much about representing queer people, you’d think she’d know better. Her focus has always been on sapphic women, but that shouldn’t make a difference. You can’t call yourself progressive and then pull this shit.
It always feels like a knife through the heart when a novel featuring a F/F romance sucks. We get so little. We deserve well-written romances. Out of all the media that disappointed me this year, this one is the most personal.
- The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
It is perfectly legitimate to base your fictional world on existing mythology, but, damn, there’s a limit. This story follows Frey, the leader of a troupe of women known as the Boneless Mercies. The Mercies are mercenaries, hired to kill quickly and quietly.
But Frey and her Mercies are growing tired of death, so they decide to take on an impossible task: slay the beast that has been terrorizing a northern jarldom and retire for good. To do so, they must team up with the reclusive Sea Witches and face the ruthless Cut-Queen of the Red Willow Marsh. As long as they have each other, these women can take on the world.
The world is based on Norse mythology, which feels like a breath of fresh air. So much YA fantasy bleeds together, it’s notable whenever one stands out. The Mercies are based on the Valkyrie, beings that choose who lives and dies on the battlefield. Frey is influenced by Freyja, the goddess of love, war, and death.
But that isn’t where the Norse inspiration stops. Their country is called Vorseland. The goddess the Mercies pray to is named Valkree. The realm of the dead is called Holholla. But the most annoying jacked term? The one that made me shut the book for good? The ruling god is named Obin. Obin.
It is perfectly fine to adapt a few terms from the mythology you’re using as inspiration. But to do it so much and so lazily? That pisses me off. As a writer, I am insulted. I know how difficult it is to come up with unique terms for your world. I totally empathize. But that’s part of the job. Seeing someone get away with being so aggressively lazy infuriates me.
Tucholke is also guilty of info-dumping. I read seven or eight chapters of this book and at least 80% of it is paragraphs upon paragraphs of info-dumps. That’s how we get to know the Mercies, how we learn about the world. It’s exhausting. There’s nothing organic to how any of this is imparted to the reader. It’s just bad writing, point blank.
The information doesn’t even make sense some of the time. Frey tells the reader only women can be Boneless Mercies, but they have a man in their company. Even worse, the summary emphasizes that this book is about a band of women. It even goes as far as to name every member of Frey’s troupe— except Trigve. Are the publishers intentionally trying to mislead potential readers? That’s pretty fucked up.
I wouldn’t even care about this if everything from the summary to the world-building didn’t explicitly say Boneless Mercies are an “ancient female sect.” This exclusion is clearly intentional. Just don’t lie to your readers. It’s that simple.
This book was one of my most anticipated this year. The fact that it’s utter garbage is devastating. I’m all for warrior women who fight together, but not at the cost of decent writing. And I don’t appreciate being lied to one bit.
I just realized Laini Taylor blurbed this book too. I guess being an amazing writer doesn’t mean you have amazing taste. I don’t think I’ll be taking her recommendations anymore.
If you ever meet Tucholke in real life, steer clear of her. She has no mercy for her readers.
All right, we finally made it. Those are the nine books I DNF-ed in 2018. What books did you DNF? Tell me about them in the comments!
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