Book Review: Dauntless
"Be Dauntless, for the hopes of The People rest in you."
—Dauntless by Elisa Bonin
Hey, hey Write Voicers!
It's good to be alive, right? Right!
As ya'll know, I've had a lot going on these past few months, but I've almost got my life together. I've straightened out my relationship stuff, spent some time with my family, and I FINALLY FINALLY moved into my new place--which I'm pretty much settled into minus a few key items (my bed for one). On the bright side, my computer desk is coming in later today, so I won't have to work from my kitchen counter for much longer (blessed organization is sooooo close!).
Speaking of moving into new places, we're here today to talk about the book Dauntless by one Elisa Bonin, and our main character Seri has also just moved to a new place. Which, let's be honest, the physical act of moving sucks whether it's fictional or happening in the real world. But I digress. Let's talk about Dauntless and how Seri's move worked out for her.
What's the novel about?
Dauntless follows Seri, an eighteen-year-old girl with excellent sight, who is an aide to the valiant Commander Eshai Unbroken. All goes well with this assignment until Seri travels to the city Vethaya and meets Tsana, a beautiful girl who wears strange clothes. Seri becomes intrigued by Tsana, maybe even to the point where she's falling in love. But when she finds out that Tsana and her People can control the beasts that terrorize her community, she begins to question everything she knows from how beasts operate to who she is and where she comes from. As their worlds collide, and their Peoples get ready to go to war, Seri and Tsana must decide what they're willing to do to broker peace--if peace is even possible.
What themes are present in the book?
There are a few themes in the book, but I want to focus on what I believe to be the main one:
You should challenge the beliefs that you are indoctrinated into.
Out of all the themes that are in this book, I think this is the most important because the entire novel stems on the fact that Seri believed one thing her whole entire life: that beasts were the enemies. And, even within the narrative that beasts are the enemies of their people, there were assumptions and beliefs made about the beasts themselves, the main one being that they were incapable of reason and couldn't climb trees. But all these things are challenged immediately.
The notion that the beasts were incapable of reason and couldn't climb trees was initially challenged when the attack on the new settlement occurs and Seri and Eshai realize that the beasts performed a coordinated attack on the undefended part of the settlement. It was challenged again when they go to Vethaya and find out that another settlement was attacked at the same time as theirs. And, it is continuously challenged throughout the book up to the point where the characters (and by extension, we the audience) find out why, which is that someone is controlling the beasts. And, the person controlling the beasts, Srayan, is able to help them climb up the spreading trees which further undermines everything that Seri's government ever told her and The People.
And, in terms of the beasts being the enemies, when Seri learns what Tsana is, what she technically is, she begins to question everything that she and her People have been told about the beasts.
For instance, is it right to kill the beasts for armor when they are just continuing a war that was started by her People (or, at least, according to Tsana it was started by her People). Or, whether the Council knew that there were more than just one group of People in the world. And the reason that Seri has these questions or is struggling with new ideas is that she was indoctrinated into a culture to believe one specific thing, much like in our own society.
At the end of the day, it is the questioning of these beliefs that allow Seri to discover who she is and what she wants to do with that information outside of the influence of those who may have bad intentions. All this to say, I could probably write an entire thesis on the subject matter, but I want you to form your own ideas and connections to the story. So, let's jump into what you really want to know: What did I like about the book.
What did you like?
There was a lot to like from the characters and their development to the utilization of language, but the two things that I want to focus on for this review is the pacing and the description of the world, because those are the two things that stood out the most.
I had an eArc for this review, which meant that I had to read it on my computer or phone. Anyone who knows me knows that my preference is to have a physical copy of books, or to have an audiobook version (they're great when I have other things to do like driving or taking a shower). So, it did take me a bit of time to read the story.
That said, when it comes to the pacing in books, some authors hit it right on the mark, and some don't. For me, Dauntless fits into the first category because the pacing is ON POINT. Even with me having to read it in my least preferred method, I couldn't put it down. Every scene of the book fed into the next one perfectly. Whether the characters were in a fast-paced scene where they were running away from beasts in a temple and crushing them with spikes, or just having sweet moments while on watch duty, there was never a dull moment or a spot where I just had to take a break from reading it. When I was in the story, I was IN THE STORY. And that's the most important part of reading, right? To be immersed in the story set before you. So, brava Elisa, brava, you did an amazing job with that.
Description of the World
The other thing that stood out to me in this book was the description of the world. I love the idea that the characters in the book live on what is known as "spreading trees" (which, in my head, are like REALLY HUGE oak trees that are almost as tall as skyscrapers and spread across to slightly smaller trees, connecting everything together).
One description of such a tree can be found in chapter one: "Seri's mind was spinning, trying to make sense of rooms and structure and not the chaotic tangle of trees, roots, and vines that made up the world below." This sentence informs me, the reader, that the world that Seri and the other characters live in is nature-based and that, much like nature, the story is going to be chaotic with unexpected twists and turns. The descriptions of the beasts are pretty great too, specifically the description of the "abensit" in Chapter 3. "The beasts were all the same breed—shambling dark-furred creatures. Their faces resembled hornless goats, but they walked like predators, mouths full of sharp teeth, and they had long, slender tails." Just thinking about a creature like this breathing down my neck gives me serious Jurassic Park vibes (think about the terror you felt when you were 5 and watched the original Jurassic Park movie, you know, before CGI was a thing) and, yes, I know I'm showing my age.
The last thing I'll say about this topic is that, while not technically descriptions of the world itself, I did enjoy picturing how the valiant armor changes colors and attributes based on who was wearing it, the ritual that Seri's people had for burying the dead, the fruit juices, mango slices, and rice and plant leaves that the characters consumed, and other small mundane things that weren't important in terms of the plot, but that made Seri's world feel realistic. These things added a nice touch of realness to the book.
What, if anything, did you dislike or wish the author would've done differently?
There were only three things that I would say I disliked.
First, is the killing off of Tarim. We meet him pretty early in the story, and the way he was presented I really thought he was going to be one of those characters that we bonded with as the book went on. And, I was kind of right. I did bond with him as a character, which is why I was surprised his death was so abrupt. I feel like there was a lot of potential in him as a side character, so I was disappointed when he was killed off. I guess Bonin had to do it to add to the tension, but I don't know for sure.
My second gripe about this book is the head-hopping. I wasn't a fan of it. Because, while I liked that we got to see Seri's, Eshai's, and Tsana's points of view (POV), it was done in a way where sometimes I couldn't remember whose POV I was in. I think that if there had been clear headers to let me know that this is Seri's POV, or this is Tsana's POV, then the book would have been a smoother read.
Also, as with any book, there were some awkward sentences and some typos. They're only noticeable IF you're an avid reader though. I found myself making notes on where you can find them, but I'm not the type to post them in a review. Besides, they weren't a big enough issue to keep me from finishing the book, just somewhat distracting from the overall experience. But, outside of those two things, I don't have any complaints about plot, description, theme, or story elements.
How many stars would you give this book and why?
I loved the themes, the pacing, and the description of the world so much. But head-hopping is such as huge turn-off for me as a reader. Unlike Eshai, I love organization, and sometimes I felt like it didn't have any. For these reasons, I give this book four out of five stars.
Elisa Bonin is the author of Dauntless and Stolen City which come out on August 2nd and September 20th of this year respectively.
For information on her upcoming books and to sign up for her newsletter, you can visit her website.
If you enjoyed this review and want to know more about her, check out this interview.
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