Thursday, February 17, 2022

Review: UNTETHERED by KayLynn Flanders

 Rating: 3/5 stars

I really enjoyed Shielded and jumped right into Untethered as soon as I finished it. This is a fast-paced political high fantasy series with high stakes and lots of political intrigue, scheming, and machinations, plus a touch of romance.

Warning: Reading the synopsis of Untethered and even knowing who the POV characters are in this book will spoil you for the ending of Shielded. I will be talking about both POV characters, so if you don’t want to be spoiled for Shielded then don’t continue reading this review. There are no spoilers ahead for Untethered though.

While Jenna was our protagonist in the first book, Untethered follows two new POV characters: Chiara, Princess of Turia; and Ren, king of Halendi. Jenna isn’t a POV character anymore but we do still get to see cameos of her in this story. I liked the switch of character viewpoints because I feel like I got to know the cast of characters in a whole different way in this book. I also liked having another love story with romantic tension, and we wouldn’t have gotten that if Jenna was this book’s POV character again. One small problem, however, was that at times Chiara and Ren had the same character voice, so it was hard to tell them apart. This was especially the case in the latter half of the book when the two are together and doing, thinking, and worrying about the same things. Sometimes I had to flip back to the chapter’s start to remember whose mind I was in. 

We also got to see a lot more of Mari in this book, who I loved in the first book. The problem, though, is that Mari is eight years old but she’s written as if she were only four or five. Eight-year-olds are not dumb, but everyone acts like Mari’s so ignorant about all the danger going on around them, and she herself talks as if she’s just on some fun adventure and isn’t in actual mortal peril. That seemed quite unrealistic to me. I know many eight-year-olds who are wise for their age and can understand what danger is and know when they’re in an unsafe situation. I wish either Mari was written as being younger or was written as being more aware of her situation. 

Both Shielded and Untethered are journey books, where the characters spend a good portion of the novel going on a physical journey across the land to reach a specific destination for a purpose that progresses the overall plot. Untethered actually has two separate journeys in it. The stories don’t necessarily fall into the hero’s journey archetype, but people who enjoy those kinds of stories will probably enjoy this duology. Aside from the journey, both books also have a good amount of court politics taking place, so these books feel like a mix of a couple different types of fantasy stories, which I thought was nice. Usually, we get one or the other but not both so prominently in one story. Journey books typically end with the characters reaching the destination and that’s the resolution, but in these books, the journey ends mid-book while the plot is still in high gear. It was a technique I feel like I haven’t seen a lot of, so it was refreshing to me.

I really wish this series had a map. I feel like it’s a detriment to these books that there’s no map to accompany them, especially since so much of the plot relies on traversing the land and knowing about specific locations and which routes to take to get there and which lands border each other. A series that talks about geography as much as this one does should definitely have a map, but it doesn’t, and that makes me sad. 

My opinions on this second installment seem fairly split. There were a lot of facets of the story that I enjoyed: getting to both see old characters and get to know new characters; there being lots of adventure; lots of political intrigue, including disguises and betrayals and twists; discussions about trust, both in trusting someone to not be two-faced but also trusting someone to take care of your heart; a very slow-burn but satisfying romance; and the character arc of Chiara, a protagonist who is often viewed as weak and dismissed by the people around her but who wanted to find her strength and purpose and set out to do so without letting anyone’s expectations or opinions get in her way. 

However, there were also a lot of aspects about this book that didn’t work for me: the two POV characters having similar voices; characterization traits that didn’t match the characters; the lack of a map; the fact that while this story started out fast-paced, the last 100 pages were very slow-moving and were hard for me to get through, making the pacing of the whole book feel uneven; and the book being longer than it needed to be. 

Overall, I would still recommend this duology, especially the first book, Shielded, which I thought was the stronger of the two. I enjoyed the overall story and the characters, and I appreciated seeing a clean book in YA fantasy. I think KayLynn Flanders is a good writer, and I look forward to seeing what she comes out with next. 

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