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Creatures Most Vile by Chelsea Lauren #BookReview

Stalked by monsters in the woods and her past, Anora finds safety in the quiet comforts of her small town life.

It’s another ordinary day when she’s sent to a Guardian assessment designed to unleash rare supernatural abilities, until she blasts a tunnel of water across the room. Her coach calls her gift a blessing, but Anora knows it’s a death sentence. Now she must train as a Guardian and battle the very monsters that have tormented her entire life.

After being thrown into the arena with a clawed and cackling creature, Anora refuses to accept this new life. She appeals to the Commander and begs her trainers to let her go home. The more they refuse, the more Anora realizes this isn’t a training camp—it’s a prison and they will never let her leave. Now she must escape the camp before the Commander catches on, for if he does, he may turn out to be worse than the monsters lurking in the woods.

Creatures Most Vile by Chelsea Lauren

Title: Creatures Most Vile | Series: Unknown | Author: Chelsea Lauren | Publisher: Zenith Publishing | Pub Date: 12/10/2021 | Pages: Unknown | ASIN ‏ : ‎ B095XKWNT9Genre: YA/Fantasy/Horror | Language: English | Source: NetGalley | Unstarred Review

Creatures Most Vile #BookReview

I moved through Creatures Most Vile quickly. It moves at a steady pace and doesn’t have a lot of lag time in the story. This is written for people who like narratives that focus a bit more on action than heavy introspection as someone unpacks all the facets of their psyche. I like action-centric stories. 

There are some very clever ideas here, and I did find myself thinking this was a good potential start to a series. And then, once I hit a certain point, I feared the book would end on a cliffhanger because there was no way it could wrap up everything by the end. The key thing to take away from those observations is that I spent the better part of the book hoping it would launch a series. Yes, the book is flawed, but there’s a lot of potential here, too, and that should also be recognized. 

Where Creatures Most Vile trips up a little is that the writer uses a lot of tell writing. Now, you have to use tell sometimes. You can’t show everything or books would be 1200 pages long. Writers must balance what to show and what to tell, and that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

This is a book with some unorthodox dialogue tags (for example, instead of said in some places we have ‘begged’, ‘commanded’, ‘chirped’ – how does one ‘chirp’ words?) and it’s a book where things are “said smugly” or “said with a pout”.

The protagonist has resting scowl face. A scowl is a strong emotional expression; there was nothing subtle about Anora, and people smirked almost as much as they scowled. 

I settled into it thinking that, on a reading level, it might be a little more younger YA than older YA, but that didn’t bother me. Every book sets its tone and has its audience and the question is whether it works as a whole for that audience.

Now, I liked Anora, and I was interested in her journey. However, when you scrutinize her character, there are some inconsistencies. From the beginning, Anora is a person who goes along with what’s expected of her. She goes to the market with her family when she doesn’t want to. She won’t sneak off to the island with her friends because she doesn’t have approval to travel (which you need in this world). There’s no thinly contained rebel here. She’s a responsible person who respects the order of her world.

That all changes when she demonstrates powers and guardians come to evaluate her and take her for training. Anora becomes a rebel/freedom fighter overnight. And it never waivers. 

That’s what made me start to worry. Because of the tendency to use some strong tell writing throughout, there’s no room for doubt about Anora’s position about the guardians or being forced to train to become one. The story struggles with nuance. What’s best shown is Anora’s growing feelings for Bron. And even that reinforces her tendency to comply with what’s expected. I’m going to put the next paragraph behind a spoiler tag so people who don’t want to know anything about the romantic subplots don’t have to.

Potential spoiler:

What’s then difficult is her decision to get involved with Blaze. During that relationship, she has a moment where she recognizes she has feelings for Bron but does the right thing by holding back because of Blaze, again, reinforcing her compliant nature. She’s openly admitting to herself that Bron’s won his way into her heart, and there’s never been a sense of the same connection between her and Blaze, but she doesn’t follow her heart at that moment.

Anora’s animosity towards the guardians is another thing that doesn’t track. She is terrified of the creats. Full-blown panic attack terrified. She’s been having these panic attacks for at least 6 years. It isn’t a phase, it isn’t minor. When there’s a creat alert, she’s right back to the moment when a creat killed her dad. The town’s survival depends on the work the guardians do, but Anora has a negative attitude towards them from the start. There’s no reason given for her animosity. Maybe she blames them for not being there to save her dad, but when she was running away at the market, it was Guardian Yllaria who rushed in to fight the creat and kill it, saving countless lives. And she throws attitude in the guardian’s face. 

The ending of the book was problematic for me. This comes back to tone. Throughout, there was this rock-solid confidence from Anora, that she was going to resist and get home and not give in. And although there are a couple (seriously, two) omens that she knows indicate trouble on the horizon, there’s never a sense of creeping dread throughout the book. There’s a lot of laughter. It’s easy for her to make friends and talk openly with other trainees and even trainers. She assimilates easily enough in the day to day, and has time for relationships. This isn’t someone who’s scared to the point of looking over her shoulder every second. Despite her thoughts indicating how much she dislikes Commander Devlend, she defaults to assumptions about right and wrong and fair and unfair; she can believe he’s willing to let a trainee die to prove himself right but at the same time, underestimates his ability to monitor the trainees and act against them. And that’s despite knowing about the disappeared.

The disappeared are another part of the story that was tough to swallow. It was fine when it was one girl, but when Anora and Blaze find evidence that it’s dozens and dozens of former trainees, they still carry on like they can overcome Devlend and win the day. In the black-and-white world portrayed, it just wasn’t logical.

I have a few thoughts on the ending, which again I’ll put behind spoiler tags so those who don’t want spoilers can avoid them.

Comments on the ending:

Now, there was the potential of an unexpected ally coming in to help them conquer Devlend in the end, but it didn’t happen. Ultimately, the story reached a predictable conclusion, and while I have no issue with a The Empire Strikes Back type of ending, this just doesn’t fit the tone of the story as a whole. I had hoped that Anora’s former trainer, whose lover was killed during training, would see that it was Devlend’s fault and launch an assault. 

The volume of people missing is highly problematic. Although people on the mainland have travel restrictions, which limits communication, there are simply too many families who’ve never gotten answers about where their kids are. It was remarkably short-sighted of Devlend to not notify families of their deaths or something to try to keep people from looking for them. And since Gwendaliese’s brother is a Guardian and knows she’s in training, does Devlend really think he can pretend she was never there when he came and visited her at the training facility? As much as Anora underestimated Devlend, he was also inconsistent, and it amazed me nobody ever thought to put her in a situation where her family was endangered. Surely she’d use her powers if it meant their lives. The key to motivating her was right in front of them, and they’d rather lose another guardian? Devlend was a petulant control freak, and his attitude towards Gwendaliese confirms that, but it doesn’t make any sense if his goal was truly to stop the creats.

Endings should offer a sense of conclusion, even if there are threads cast out for a future sequel. There’s no real sense of Anora having a transformative arc or resolving an issue in this story. The combination of an ending that doesn’t read as tonally consistent and lack of resolution really pushed this book down from starred territory for me, sadly.

All in all, this is a story with a lot of potential. A solid developmental edit could have smoothed out the kinks and taken this story into best of the year contention for me, because I loved the pacing and the ideas and I was invested in the core characters, but the ending left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. A strong finish can cover a multitude of sins, and when I thought about the conclusion, I thought about my assessment of the character, which exposed inconsistencies, some of which I’ve addressed here. 3.5/5

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Content Warning:

Bury your gays trope

Published inBook ReviewsUnstarred Reviews

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