Poison Princess & Eternal Knight & Dead of Winter—Kresley Cole

"Let me guess—now it's the Sun's turn?"He nodded. "These events have a way of pulling Arcana together and keeping us from the notice of humans. One doesn't look up to the sky to see a flying boy if bodies are writhing all around one's feet.""The field of battle." Just as Matthew had told me. "But those other tragedies weren't apocalyptic. Why was this one?"With raised brows, he glanced at my untouched glass. Fair's fair. I chugged, gasped, winced at the refill."I believe something about this damaged world—the planet, not the card—couldn't take the sunlight. The gods might have salvaged things, but they've gone.""So we're champions of various gods, right? Like you were tapped by a death deity?" A curt nod. The idea made me shiver. "And what about me? You said I was more Aphrodite than Demeter. Were you being literal?" (Endless Knight, 221)

The most recent in this series, Dead of Winter, was the alternate for Vaginal Fantasy for the month of April. (My review of the main, Driven.) The theme for the month was post-apocalypse. VF had actually read the first two of these towards the beginning of its existence, but at that point, I was only watching the videos and not reading the books, so I read all three of them this month. Or rather, in the span of three days, because I was riveted.

Collectively known as the Arcana Chronicles, they take place after a cataclysmic event when most of the world's population is vaporized, along with most of the large bodies of water. The first book, Poison Princess, introduces us to the heroine, Evie. We meet her about a year after "the Flash," as those who survived have taken to calling it, and then goes back to relate all that has happened, starting a week before the Flash. We find out that Evie is the personification of the Empress, one of the twenty-two Major Arcana in tarot cards. She has power over plant life, and in fact can grow plants with nothing but her blood. Of course her name is Evie Greene. Come to find out, every couple of centuries or so, something life threatening and epic happens and the twenty-two cards come together to fight, basically to the death, each with powers relating to their card. (Some of the other precipitating events have been the Black Death and Pompeii.) When one card kills another, a tattoo of the defeated card's symbol appears on the victor's body. Only one of them can survive, and the ultimate winner then lives an immortal life until the games start again, not aging, and the only one to remember the previous game. Evie must deal with the repercussions of the events from her past lives, as well as make choices about how she wants to survive in this one.

Poison Princess is comprised of mostly flashbacks, but ends with Evie embracing her powers in order to defend herself from a serial killer Arcana—by way of ripping him in half with her plants. It also sets up what will eventually become a love triangle between Evie and one of the few surviving people from her old life, a Cajun boy called Jackson who helps her to stay alive in the new landscape.

Another of the Arcana, Selena, takes to calling Evie "Little Shop of Horrors," although before we even encounter Selena we learned about Evie's ability to grow plants with her blood, and as a musical theatre nerd, my absolute first thought was of Audrey II and Little Shop. I adored that.

In Endless Knight, Evie is essentially kidnapped by another of the Arcana: the Death card. We find out that Evie and Death actually have quite a history, although she remembers none of it, and she's the only person that he can touch without killing. He remembers their history because he has been the winner of the last three games. Like Evie, I came to feel quite a lot of sympathy for Death. He can't touch anyone without killing them and he's been alive for centuries, cursed with the memories of past lives and games, waiting for the next cycle to begin. That's got to be a pretty sad and lonely life. (It reminded me a bit of Alisha on the British show Misfits.) Death, or Aric as we come to learn he's called, can't seem to decide if he wants to kill Evie or kiss her. Meanwhile, all she can think about is getting back to her love muffin, Jackson. Towards the end, we are reminded that there is a card that is not activated until it kills one of the other Arcana. (It's obviously going to end up being Jackson, because Evie makes such a big deal about Jackson not understanding what she's going through because he's not Arcana. It's the only thing that made her even hesitate when, later, she decides between Jackson and Aric.) I didn't appreciate that the reason Evie finally admits to her "love" for Aric is after he reveals that they were married once but then she killed him, and she feels guilty for it. Not only was that a completely different life and a completely different girl, really, but the reason that they got married was because back then Aric kidnapped her and wouldn't let her go. So should you really feel guilty about killing your jailer just because you've schemed to marry him and lull him into a false sense of security? Nope. The answer is nope.

Not a lot happens in Dead of Winter to move the overall plot of the series along. It's mostly hemming and hawing from Evie about who will she choose, Jackson (the boy who murdered her mother and lied to her about basically everything, but then beats her up emotionally if she tries to keep one secret) or Aric (the boy who kidnapped her, who she killed in a past life, and who is mildly obsessed with her)? Tough choice. There is also a bit of the growth of the alliance that she is trying to create among like-minded Arcana, although some try to convince her that it is pointless, as fate will always intervene to create one winner. At the end of the book, she is just making a decision on the love interest front when basically a bomb goes off and the fate of everyone is left up in the air. Cliffhanger!

Kresley Cole actually writes some pretty racy adult romance books, which are considerably less plot driven. (For example, see the Immortals After Dark series, through which I am making my way. There are about fifteen currently published, and I am on the second one in the series. The sex scenes are good, but the overall content seems to be kinda...borderline rapey, which I do not appreciate. So I'm not sure how much farther I'll be able to get...) There were some writing quirks that I didn't appreciate, particularly when she went out of her way to try to sound like a teenager, and I just ended up feeling disgusted. (Which is not to say that there aren't teenagers out there who talk like that, or that I wouldn't have been equally as disgusted by them in real life.) Evie's best friend refers to some girls as "slores," which is not only abhorrent slang but also completely unnecessary slut-shaming. The same character tells Evie, "When I'm OTR, I scourge the halls like Godzilla." OTR being an acronym for "on the rag." I couldn't imagine a less attractive phrase for the monthly sloughing of the vaginal lining, including "monthly sloughing of the vaginal lining."

As much as I love the tension that is created from these types of romantic scenarios, it brings to mind a quote from another book I read about how popular culture has convinced us that in order to have chemistry with someone, the relationship must start out being antagonistic.
The messages about love that we take away from the media are as contradictory as they are counterproductive. If the typical love story goes like this--Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl hate each other, Boy and Girl exchange witty banter, Boy and Girl grudgingly realize they love each other, Boy and Girl live happily ever after (although we never see this part)--what message does that send? Should we look for the person who annoys us initially or who attracts us initially? And if love comes when we least expect it, does that mean if we actively seek love, it's not true love? (From Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.)
That's how Evie's relationships with both Jackson and Aric begin.

I really appreciate that there are actual sex scenes even though these are considered young adult. Okay, I guess one sex scene, and one oral sex scene, and some naked scenes. But still. I would've appreciated seeing more of that in books actually aimed at my age group when I was a teen. I think the way that the physical nature of the relationships are handled are realistic, even post-apocalypse. More and more I see YA distinguished from "adult" fiction for the only reason that it should be, which is that the protagonists are young adults.

My biggest frustration is that I don't love ANY of the characters. I'm not completely on board with Evie and regularly find myself annoyed with her, I find things both redeeming and detrimental with Jackson and Aric. I find Jackson emotionally abusive and deceptive, and I find Aric obsessive and overbearing. Probably the closest that I get to liking a character is with Matthew (a fellow Arcana who is a little bit off because of his constant view of the future), who is not fully fleshed out. Maybe that's why I like him? But I'm so in love with the idea of tarot cards personified and the post-apocalyptic, dystopian world that I forgive the series its trespasses. I can't wait for the next book(s) in the series, but I suppose I will have to because this one only came out earlier this year and there has not been a date released for the next one.

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