Jane Unlimited is a standalone YA novel.
This book is weird.
It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book, which is a really interesting idea and not something I had seen before. I didn’t know what to expect, since I thought Graceling by this author was overhyped and not that well-written, but I like weird, so this sounded interesting.
I was really, really wrong.
So. Welcome to Rant, Unlimited, featuring the worst book I’ve read this year.
I don’t like third person present to begin with, but that wasn’t my main problem with the writing. No, what I hated the most were things like this:
She’s as relieved as she is ashamed of herself. I hardly know her. It’s none of my business what she does or whom she does it with and I shouldn’t be sneaking around spying on her. What is wrong with me?
Look, I don’t usually care about the show, don’t tell rule, but one thing you should never do is redundant writing. Show or tell. Don’t do both? I also don’t like direct transcription of thoughts in first person when the rest of the book is in third – I think it’s lazy, but that may be a personal preference.
After the introduction, Jane, Unlimited splits up into five parts:
The Missing Masterpiece (mystery)
This one felt like a weakly-plotted hymn to American bad taste and entitlement.
Tou Reviens is a mansion made up of pieces of other houses and artwork from around the world (sometimes legally obtained, sometimes stolen).
Let’s take stuff from other cultures/countries and mix it randomly, like gelato on pizza! Too much, all together, isn’t that perfection?
Very American, for sure.
(Jane always mentions the Venetian courtyard of the house. Many Americans are obsessed with the ultimate tourist trap called Venice, they love Italian art. They just hate Italians. More on that later.)
And then, artwork that wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place starts to disappear. Well, I didn’t care.
The plot of this one was weak: the ending is contrivance + contrivance + pretentious conversation about umbrellas. Jane congratulates herself because she was able to “put together the broken pieces of the mystery”.
She literally saw the thief while they were stealing.
Lies Without Borders (spy story)
This one started out cheesy and then also managed to make me angry. Congratulations!
An Italian family is suspected of having ties with the Sicilian Mafia (because of course, Americans) when it’s pretty obvious that’s not what is happening.
If you take someone with an Italian name, have them break the law, then make them disappear, then add the words Sicilian Mafia, everyone loves to talk about it, but no one digs very deep into where they went or why. It’s not fair to Italians, but it’s effective.
Thank you for the xenophobia, book. That’s… that’s not how you subvert a stereotype. It’s easy to make Italians seem part of the mafia, it’s easy to make mentally-ill people seem dangerous, it’s easy to make gay people look like predators. That doesn’t mean you should use it as a plot device in your book and then handwave it with “it’s unfair but life is that way”.
And then, that character also tells us that she has friends in the Sicilian Mafia.
Am I supposed to be on her side? Because I’m not.
Also: if the book you’re reviewing is written by an American author and has an Italian Mafia plotline, consider warning your readers? Maybe it won’t be as xenophobic as this one, but I don’t want to read that shit anyway. No review mentioned that there was one in this.
In Which Someone Loses A Soul and Catherine Finds One (paranormal)
The house may be absorbing people. It didn’t absorb enough of them.
I mostly skimmed this one, and only one thing stood out to me.
I’m an underwater photographer. I’ve been one for years, it’s a really time-consuming hobby. Aunt Magnolia is an amazing underwater photographer, but it’s only a cover! She also does other time-consuming spoilery stuff. I want to know her secrets, or have stronger suspension of disbelief.
Jane tells us that Aunt Magnolia is really brave: she’s not scared of poisonous squids (Same! They don’t exist¹) and she’s not scared of giant clams (which cannot move, they can only open and close. Of all the scary sea creatures, why giant clams? It’s like saying “my aunt isn’t scared of rocks”, which… good for her, but it’s not remarkable.)
Jane, Unlimited (portal sci-fantasy?)
Probably wanted to be sci-fi, felt like a fever dream. I skimmed almost all of it. I think this was the one with the f/f couple, and I didn’t see it, but at this point I didn’t care.
Also, the physics in this story was ridiculous (don’t explain things with science if your explanation is made up of “oooh physics” words put together randomly? Your readers will notice).
The Strayhound, The Girl, and the Painting (portal fantasy)
I kind of liked this one, but it was far too late. I just wanted the book to be over.
¹ she probably meant the blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena sp.), which is the only cephalopod dangerous to humans, or maybe the flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi), which is toxic if eaten. Neither of them is a squid.
I thought no 2017 release could be worse than The Upside of Unrequited, but who doesn’t love surprises.
My rating: ★