Read or Die

Review of Megan Shepherd’s THE GAUNTLET

The Gauntlet by Megan Shepherd

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Can I congratulate myself for persevering and completing a book (trilogy) I wanted to set aside and give up on? This volume, in particular, tried my patience as a reader. I pride myself on not quitting books once I’ve started them as a courtesy to the author (to say nothing of the money I invested when purchasing the book in the first place). But I lost count of the number of times I wanted to throw this one across the room and call it quits.

Problem #1: Three books in, and the characters remained cardboard and static. No growth or dimension despite the challenges and adversity facing them. By now, I expected to see genuine change in at least Cora. Instead, the same weaknesses and pathetic fixations persisted. I didn’t care what happened to her (I won’t get into my disappointment at her eventual fate), and I groaned at every chapter with her name. Contrast that against inconsistency in secondary characters – with no reasonable explanation for their motives – and the book came unhinged.

Problem #2: Plot elements existed strictly for this book. Allow me to explain: There was no justification for ANY of the actions in this book. Everything happened simply to propel the chapters in this volume. And because of the detachment from the prime story arc, every revelation became increasingly unhinged. I gave myself muscle strain rolling my eyes and lost my voice scoffing in disbelief. The genre went from science fiction to fantasy – and not good fantasy, either. I don’t know if Ms. Shepherd ran out of ideas and gave up or decided to let someone else dictate the flow of the narrative (this was written before the invasion of AI, so I can’t blame an idiot computer for the travesty), but summarizing the nonsense makes me cringe.

Problem #3: The ending is unsatisfactory on every level. I won’t call it a cliffhanger (there IS a resolution to the immediate story), but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. The final chapter may as well not exist for all the information it provides. It limps along as weak filler – a desperate attempt to meet a required word or page count. Granted, I had no emotional investment in any of the characters at that point, but, as a reader, I wanted a sense of completion that never came.

I struggle to see the author in these books that I adored in the Grim Lovelies duology. Every aspect of the writing – the gorgeous phrasing, the characters, the setting, the plot – differs so much. Unfortunately, this proves writers aren’t always consistent.

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