Book Review: The Quest by Dani Hoots
Goodreads Description: Eleven years ago, my life was ripped away from me. My father, my brother, my humanity. Everything. I was thrown into the Kamps, created to be a mindless machine. But I fought against it, not letting them take away my memories of the past.
And I succeeded.
It has been seven years since I was taken out of the Kamps and made into the Emperor's Shadow. Now I only take orders from him, and him alone, without questions. That is, until my brother, who I thought was dead, shows up and kidnaps me in order to help him find some long lost planet that our father used to tell stories about.
According to the legend, and who finds the planet Sanshll can rewrite the past, and my brother wants to use it to destroy the Empire. My loyalty will always be to the Emperor. But what if this planet is real? The longer I stay with my brother, the more I begin to find that the Emperor has been keeping secrets from me. But I can't turn my back on him...
Or can I?
My Review: I was given a copy of The Quest by the author, Dani Hoots, in exchange for an honest review.
Eleven-years-ago, Arcadia lost everything when the empire killed her father and dragged her off to the Kamps to be tortured and used for experiments. While in a fight to the death, Arcadia managed to impress the visiting Emperor himself and won herself a place as his shadow- the Emperor’s secret assassin. But when her brother reappears after so many years, she no longer knows where her loyalty lies: to the brother who abandoned her to the Kamps, or the ruthless Emperor who saved her from them.
The Quest starts us off with Arcadia and her brother, Rik, high above a planet with their father, watching as it is overtaken by Empire soldiers. To ease their fears, their father tells them a bedtime story, which launches them into a tale of a mysterious planet and a lost daughter to two powerful illusionists who is the galaxy’s hope for peace. As cute as it is to get a glimpse of our characters’ lives before the calamity sets in, the opening prologue here gives far, far too much away. The use of a “chosen one” prophecy is really overdone, and something needs to be twisted for the troupe to have any sort of effect. As that wasn’t the case, the prologue only stood as an outline of what to expect by the end of the book. As the book had no other hints to a “chosen one” narrative, leaving out the prologue would have added to the surprise and revelation at the end, when we find out who Arcadia really is. Instead, it was a giant red arrow pointing to the main character exclaiming, “Look out, we’ve got a super special snowflake over here.”
It was delightful to see a full story captured within a single book. The book ends on a cliffhanger and there is definitely more to the story, but the characters achieved in one book the goal they set out for themselves (finding the planet Sanshll), as opposed to outlining a goal that (in many fantasy/sci-fi books) takes a whole series to complete (E.g., Characters are out to get rid of the empire, but in Book 1 only find one component of a spell to destroy it). So it was a real breath of fresh air to find a book that finishes what it says it will.
Now, the element that ultimately brought my rating down for this book was the main character. I had problems with nearly every characterization, (from motivations that made no sense, to cartoonish reactions to situations, to alliances that made no sense with that’s been established in the characters’ pasts), but ultimately it was Arcadia herself that made this book incredibly difficult to get through. Though she’s presented as a “strong, female character,” her personality can be reduced to two elements: the fact that she’s a murderous, cold-blooded, feel nothing monster who seems to take pleasure in carrying out this role, and the sexy bootylicious babe that everyone wants to bang. Throughout the book, Arcadia boasts about the people she’s killed and doesn’t have a lick of remorse. Even when her actions are brought to her attention, and characters try to lead her to feel remorse, Arcadia shrugs it all off and takes it as “who she is,” which is extremely off-putting. Throughout the entire book, Arcadia did maybe a handful of things that could be considered sympathetic, and even then the only reason she did these things was to “fool the crew” into believing she was trustworthy. Her motivation relied entirely on the fact that she got “orders” from her Emperor, which made her come off as a mindless puppet without a single likeable or sympathetic aspect to her character. It was an attempt to come off as a “hard, badass female” but what we’re left with is the cartoonish equivalent to a 16-year-old waving around a Swiss army knife. The author spent so much time trying to prove their MC was a badass that the character lacked any sort of humanity.
And we come to the second big ticket element of our MC’s personality-- her attractiveness. Oh, don’t worry, Arcadia doesn’t waste time talking about how beautiful and sexy she is (she’s got to spend that time explaining how badass she is), but that’s why every other character with a dick has to make a move on her. Within the first chapter, she is objectified by 1) the Emperor, 2) the head general 3) some guy she has a sort of relationship with (who has to show up and see her canoodling with the other two for little to no reason). Every male (thankfully except her brother) makes a point to hit on her or make a move on her. (Meanwhile everyone else hates her guts. These very polarizing responses which got dull fast.) There’s nothing wrong with having a character who is sexual and is wanted by others, but this was another case of overkill. When you spend every chapter asserting your sexuality and dominance in your character, it loses its affect. Often saying something once is more powerful than repeating something ad nausea until the reader learns to tune it out.
Further, the motivations (Arcadia as well as everyone else’s) made no sense. All the decisions that are made in the beginning of the book to push things into action (the Emperor telling her to go with her brother, Rik waiting so long to find his sister, and why he bothered since her use doesn’t become apparent until later), felt so forced. Nothing flowed organically. Even Arcadia becoming the Emperor’s shadow made no sense. The empire kills her father, drags her from home and puts her in a place of torture, and then when the Emperor makes an appearance, she attempts to assassinate him. The Emperor (I guess?) is turned on by chicks throwing knives and hires her, even though she still attempts to kill him. And then, for some reason, Arcadia’s whole motivation flips and she becomes exceedingly loyal to the person who completely destroyed her whole life. There’s no explanation given for this besides “he saved her from the Kamps,” which, being that he was the reason she was there in the first place, didn’t make for a believable transformation.
As far as the writing goes, I was fairly disappointed. The author spends far more time telling than showing, which makes description thin. Instead of showing us the world and letting the story reveal itself, the author holds the reader by the hand and tells them everything. A little telling is fine, but as the writer spent the whole time telling us the backstory, telling us how characters felt, telling us what other characters thought at times, it really took away from the experience. I wanted to know what the ship looked like. I wanted to wonder what other characters really thought of Arcadia. Instead of letting the reader draw their own conclusions, the book drags you to the conclusions it wants you to draw.
In the last quarter of the book, Arcadia’s motivation completely changes, and with it, so does her character. She claims near the end (when it’s clear she’s not following orders anymore, nor is she incredibly sympathetic to the PAE and their struggles), she decides her reason for finding the lost planet was to rid herself of nightly dreams. It was at this point that Arcadia finally resembled something human. She wasn’t a mindless drone! She actually had her own thoughts! And though it didn’t make her sympathetic or likeable by any means, it at least gave me something as a reader to hold onto and use to relate to her. As well, during this final quarter we actually see some inner conflict, some turmoil. When Arcadia is injured, she has a moment of humanity and admits she doesn’t know who to side with. I felt like if we had more of that -- the inner conflict, the uncertainty, the utter humanity-- and less time talking about her kills or getting her into bed, this book would have had a much greater impact.
TL;DR: All in all 1/5 stars. An unlikable character dressed as a strong female lead in a story that delivers what it promises.