The Starving Bibliophile

Books before food (and any sort of comfortable life).

The Artful: YA Book Review

The ArtfulName: The Artful
Author: Wilbert Stanton
Series: Shadows of the City #1
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Published: May 26th, 2014
Pages: 215
Genre: Dystopian, Romance, Adventure
Format: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, and eBook
Rating: 3/5

Summary: New York City, 2025: Everything is changed. The city that never sleeps is now a land of death and decay. A rampant virus has taken over and the survivors have become carriers, quarantined from the rest of the world. Twist and Dodger grew up in the streets, the sewers and underground tunnels – their playground. They aren’t heroes. They just like attention; and stealing meds from the rich and giving them to the poor is their golden ticket. On their latest raid, they unknowingly steal a cure that puts them square between the ailing Emperor of Manhattan and the war hungry Governor of Brooklyn and forces them on a quest into the darkest shadows of their putrefying world.

I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions are my own. You can also find this review on Goodreads here.
I’m not a huge fan of dystopians. In fact, I usually tend to shy away from them because of their lack of realism and the fact that if you’ve read one dystopian you’ve practically read them all. I found that while this book did suffer from quite a few clichés, they were done in a way that was a lot better than most.

Positives:
1. Characters – I really had a soft spot for the characters in this book. They were all so fun and full of life with big personalities that I could see myself being friends with them if they were real. Twist, the narrator, is very methodical and cunning.

I sped up ahead; running mazes was my thing. I had a knack for getting out of sticky situations, the shifty one who always chose flight over fight. I was admittedly a coward, but what can I say? The art of flight was my forte. I had memorized the schematics of the Empire State Building long ago, the images burned into my memory.

He knows how to get anywhere from the underground tunnels (formerly the subway system), and he knows a lot of clever skills such as lock picking. He’s also a truly loyal friend to Dodger, and even though he lives in this dystopian world, he’s very kind to everyone. The world hasn’t broken him yet.

Dodger had no problem trusting my keen sense of direction; having this one talent over him empowered me. He was never one for studying charts, strategizing, and tactics.

Dodger is the one who never has a plan and just goes with the flow. He’s very full of himself – he acts as if he’s God’s gift to women. He also comes of as the tough guy who doesn’t care about anyone but himself, but it’s all a facade.

“These two morons nearly died doing a favor for you. In order to find out something from you that you should have frankly told them anyway! From everything I’ve come to know of Twist, he would have helped you anyway, and yeah Dodgy here”-she slammed her hand down on Dodger’s bruised shoulders, bringing out a string of curses-“might be the shadiest person alive, but he would have, too. […]”

I found him quite hilarious when he wasn’t being a misogynistic prick. Most of that dickishness went towards Gia, though, and she was not one to put up with his shit. She’s only seventeen, and sometimes it shows in her dialogue, but even so she’s pretty bad ass. There is only two times in the book where she didn’t save herself, and one of those times she physically couldn’t have if she wanted to. She’s not some damsel in distress. I’m pretty sure her dad had no idea what he was doing when he taught her how to shoot a gun.

“I’m surprised she hasn’t shot me already.” Another Angel came tumbling out of the bushes with a knife in his hand that he barely had time to raise before his head blew up like a crushed watermelon. “Jesus Christ, she’s efficient. You sure you want to get in bed with Sarah Connor over there? […]”

I’m pretty sure there’s some missing sub-plot where she’s an assassin. As far as the side characters, the bad guys were a little too cliché, being portrayed as silly, cackling villains.

“Oh, stop being a baby. Look at you three, just big old babies. It’s not the end of the world!” Just Stan took Dodger’s chin in his hand and pulled him close, whispering, “I bet you were one of those kids who cried and cried when he had to get a shot at the doctor, huh?”

There were only a few parts where it was egregiously overdone, but otherwise it didn’t bother me too much.

2. Character growth – The only character that truly achieved any sort of personal growth was Twist, but I feel that the growth he did achieve was significant. In the beginning, he was very reserved and okay with Dodger being the leader. Twist just hung back and let Dodger take control of the missions they went on and how they did things. He did feel envy, though, never being the one that people flocked towards.

I was never jealous of Dodge, not really. I envied him and readily acknowledged I would never be as wildly interesting. I did, however, hate the fact that I felt myself forever in his shadow. You see, Dodger and I were Gutter Punks, the best crew of thieves the world has ever seen…but I think the world believed I was his sidekick.

As the book progressed, however, Twist realized that he could be just as good as Dodger – he was a leader, too. He started fighting his own battles and doing things on his own, proving that he really was a hero.

It was nearly impossible to breathe; my throat kept filling with blood, and my nose seemed all but destroyed. I looked up as Samsung approached; he enjoyed every bit of it, slowly coming in for the kill, taking in all my pain and agony.
“I’m going…” I couldn’t stop myself. Something inside kept the fight going. “To kill the hell out of you…”

Not only did Twist get stronger, but I felt that he was also able to let himself become less guarded in a world where everyone hides everything. He was always the more sensitive out of the two, but coming to the realization that he didn’t really need Dodger seemed to be emotionally painful yet very enlightening for him. Twist had always needed Dodger, but Dodger never really needed Twist. They had just grown up with each other and formed a bond that brothers would, so Twist never realized he could do anything on his own. I think this was great self-realization and character growth on his part.

3. Plot – Some reviews that I’ve read complain that the story drags a little, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Right from the beginning there’s something going on and it never really stops. The characters are always doing something whether it’s for fun or gain. At the very beginning, Twist and Dodger rob the Empire State building for medicine that the “Tower Babies” hoard. During their heist they encounter Smith, a boy who used to run with their team, the Gutter Punks. Smith is stealing medicine, too, but his stash is far more precious than theirs. When Twist and Dodger return home, after saving Gia from Time Square, the Empire State’s guards, the Suits, are waiting for them.

“You little bastards stole something today. Ring a bell? I want it back, I want it now. Or else the girl dies, your shadow dies, anyone who might possibly know your name dies, and then you get gutted.”

They’re ordered to find what Smith stole, and to make them comply, the head guy, Just Stan, injects Dodger with a deadly disease that only he has the cure to. Thus begins their adventure to find Smith to get Dodger’s cure.

“Let’s get going. We should try the Runts and shake the eyes in the skies,” I said, indicating to the hovering airship. “Peter might have something for you to take, might know something about what they injected you with.”

I really liked all this plot had to offer. They didn’t find Smith after fifty pages or just find the cure on their own. They worked for it, going across Manhattan and even into Brooklyn to save Dodger. Even with all the deus ex machina the ending was pretty good – the author set up the next book well, but he also left it where this book could be a stand-alone if you didn’t want a series.

Negatives:
1. Grammar/Editing – After reading this book I read the acknowledgements, and I was kind of horrified to discover that this book had had THREE editors. Three. 3. Can you please explain to me then why there were so many:

a. Typos.
b. Errors in sentence structure.
c. Bad grammar.

It’s not even like these things were hidden. They were obviously there if you’re a Grammar Nazi like me. I just can’t comprehend three editors, an author, plus multiple beta readers not catching any of these errors. It distracted from the reading and made the book look unprofessional.

2. Deus ex Machina – This book was so jam packed with deus ex machina. None of the characters ever tried to out-fight or out-smart the bad guys when they were in a truly doomed situation. They just gave up.

“We got to get out of here,” I whispered to Dodger, desperately searching for a quick exit.
“No point,” he said, sitting on the ground, seemingly not interested in the approaching Angels. “We aren’t getting out of this one; I don’t think I should either.”

And then – of course – someone would come out of nowhere and save them. It’s like they didn’t have to try anymore because they knew the author of their book would write them in a savior.

“I’m going to wear your skin as a -” Her proclamation of doom was cut off by familiar sounds.
“Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” We all looked around for the source; the chant seemed to be coming from all around us. A barrage of rocks, spears, and arrows soared through the air. They came from to the surrounding buildings. Little faces peeked out behind open windows. The dirty little faces of Runts!

Admittedly, this did not happen throughout the whole book. Just like… 90% of it. At the end, the author was kind enough to not save one of his characters in a situation where there was no reason it couldn’t have been avoided.

Because, you know, there’s nothing like dying for no reason.

3. Writing Style – I’m not entirely sure what I’d call Stanton’s writing style. Sometimes it’s juvenile, sometimes it’s mature, and sometimes I just don’t know. I do know that I’m not personally fond of it. Most of the time The Artful read as Twist’s journal with long paragraphs describing his feelings about everything instead of showing the reader what he was feeling. Even in the middle of terrible situations, Twist had time to recall his exact feelings about everything.

He straddled me, holding the blade before me. I was trapped. No escape. I wondered when my life would flash before my eyes. Would Dodger slowly die from an unknown virus? Would Red just sit there and watch him decay, knowing full well all she had to do was tell him where Smith was?

And then, in other instances, there’d be entire chapters devoted to Dodger telling stories that didn’t really matter in explicit detail. And THEN there’d be random sentences that were borderline (if not completely) misogynistic.

“So, when’s the last time you had a good go?” [Dodger] humped the air in a juvenile manner.
“You’re such a pig! Mind your own business!”
“I’m making it my business.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“If it’s been a while, I should probably go slow. If not, it won’t hurt, not too much at least, when I get real rough. I guess it doesn’t matter, either way, it’s going to be my business.”

It was all very unorganized when it came to the whole story. The writing wasn’t bad – it just needed be sanded, stained, and then polished.

Overall Impression: The Artful was a fun, fast read. It provided an interesting dystopian world and characters that were vibrant and fun. The writing was lacking a little, and the tendency of the author to put his characters in dire situations and then save them was a bit annoying for me. I feel, though, that Stanton put out a good first novel, and I’ll definitely be reading the next one in the series.

 

 

 

 

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