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Monday, July 14, 2014

Review of Tandem

So, Tandem by Anna Jarzab. I found this book while randomly searching through an e-book library. The reviews were mostly okay, so I decided to give it a shot.

(Note about the formatting: bold is a header, underlining is me emphasizing, italisizing is quotes from the book. The summary is directly copied and therefore outside of my formatting. All quotes from the book are retyped by me from the kindle edition (it wouldn't let me copy). I played with fonts a bit- I'm not thrilled with the one I picked, but it seemed readable. The size of the font is something I struggled with the editor over for quite a while. It won.
I'd appreciate it if you let me know how the formatting works out for you.)

I wasn't particularly inspired by the cover of Tandem, but it is rather pretty

So first, I turned to Goodreads (as I do so often). The summary of this book is:
"Everything repeats.

You. Your best friend. Every person you know.
Many worlds. Many lives--infinite possibilities.
Welcome to the multiverse.

Sixteen-year-old Sasha Lawson has only ever known one small, ordinary life. When she was young, she loved her grandfather's stories of parallel worlds inhabited by girls who looked like her but led totally different lives. Sasha never believed such worlds were real--until now, when she finds herself thrust into one against her will.

To prevent imminent war, Sasha must slip into the life of an alternate version of herself, a princess who has vanished on the eve of her arranged marriage. If Sasha succeeds in fooling everyone, she will be returned home; if she fails, she'll be trapped in another girl's life forever. As time runs out, Sasha finds herself torn between two worlds, two lives, and two young men vying for her love--one who knows her secret, and one who thinks she's someone she's not.

The first book in the Many-Worlds Trilogy, Tandem is a riveting saga of love and betrayal set in parallel universes in which nothing--and no one--is what it seems."

Parallel universes, love triangles, person impersonating a princess just before the arranged marriage... this didn't sound particularly original or promising, although the prospect of parallel universes was rather exciting. Much better than the usual "look-alike among the commoners" situation. I went into it with low expectations but cautious enthusiasm.

First, let's talk about the writing quality. Tandem had its moments, both good and bad. Sometimes it was painful to read, sometimes I found myself thinking that the author really did have talent. I have some examples of each, as you'll see later in the post.
The book is split into three (you could argue for two) perspectives.  There's our main character, Sasha. She gets first person past tense. Then there's Thomas Mayhew, who gets third person past tense and some lovely alliterative chapter titles. Last is Princess Juliana, and here's where it gets complicated, because it's not quite clear whether we're in her viewpoint (third person past tense) or Sasha's dreams in her viewpoint. It amounts to the same thing, but it does make defining viewpoints a bit tricky.
I'm going to throw setting in here as well. Basically there's our normal Earth, and then a parallel universe, Aurora. We lost the Revolutionary War on Aurora, but eventually some guy rose up and overthrew England, creating the UCC in its place. The UCC has a monarchy and Chicago's messed up, along with some other stuff. There's also some odd slang. The question of differentiating accents never comes up. As parallel universes go, it's not awful, but it's not winning any awards either.

Next, plot! The plot is basically that Juliana, the princess of the parallel universe we'll call Aurora, has run away. As Juliana puts it, running away, hiding, avoiding her duty. Juliana feels that she deserves the chance to live a normal life, away from the Castle, away from her responsibilites. Basically, she's betraying everyone, all the people that depended on the royal family for strength and leadership and salvation. So, the UCC is down a princess. Luckily for them, Sasha Lawson is an analog (parallel universe look-alike) for Juliana and they develop a handy plan to have her take Juliana's place, involving Agent Thomas Mayhew inviting her to prom. Problem solved- one kidnapped replacement princess to complete the treaty with another country through an arranged marriage.
Meanwhile, of course, Sasha falls in love with Agent Thomas Mayhew, but of course the prince she's 'engaged' too (coincidentally analog to a movie star) is attractive and sweet and completes a love triangle that, thank God, doesn't particularly exist (more on that later).
That plot is, shockingly, kind of interesting. Yes, it's rather unoriginal, but most of it wasn't all that horrible. It's not gaining any points for plot, but there's no real loss there, either. 
The parallel universe explanations were rather uninspired, but acceptable.

And characters! First up: Sasha Lawson, main character.
Sasha isn't a particularly interesting person. Contrary to other reviews, I didn't find her too whiny (although she did cry a few times more than was strictly necessary). She does have a few flaws- namely her description of Grant Davis (read: Agent Thomas Mayhew) as the finest human specimen that had ever come into existence. He apparently has eyes the color of new spring grass and thick blond hair that always looked slightly rumpled, as if he'd just rolled out of bed.
This might be a lovely color, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone with eyes like that

And seriously, what's with this attraction to messy hair? I had no idea that bedhead attracted potential dates. I'll be sure never to brush my hair again.
So, aside from her odd taste in boys, Sasha isn't a bad character. Just... uninteresting. Oh, and there's the Stockholm's, but I'm going to give that its own section. She also shares my terror of guns, going so far as to not even put her finger on the trigger during the 'threatening to shoot kidnapper' bit. Oooh, and she magically develops the ability to dance and walk in 4 inch heels. That is a talent.
Next: Agent Thomas Mayhew, son of the General, incredibly talented soldier in high position despite youth and inexperience (read: nepotism), and eater of chocolates.
No, I'm not kidding about that last one. Agent Mayhew, on appearing on Earth:
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of toggles, popping them into his mouth one by one and savoring the taste of the smooth chcolate before biting down softly upon the fruit center. It was his one vice; there was nothing on Earth to compare with toggles, so even though it was against the rules to bring something from his universe that did not exist in this one, he couldn't resist carrying a bag through the tandem. (For those of you wondering what a tandem is, it's the thingy separating the universes from one another.)
So, does Agent Mayhew, on an important mission on which the fate  of an entire universe rested upon his shoulder, proceed with professionalism, completely devoted to the cause? Nope,  because he likes to eat chocolate when he's anxious, so it seemed to be worth the risk
Does Agent Mayhew's eating of chocolate at inappropriate moments end there? No, of course not. You didn't really expect him to manage without chocolate, did you? No, again on his important mission- this time guarding and briefing Sasha, we see the following scene:
I heard a faint rustle of plastic and looked over to see Thomas pulling  a handful of candies out of his pocket. He popped them into his mouth one by one and chewed in a slow rhythmic fashion....
I present to you Agent Thomas Mayhew: protector of an entire universe, right up until it comes to the choice between the universe or a bag of chocolate.
You're probably wondering why I call him Agent Mayhew rather than Thomas, as he's referred to throughout the book. The answer is that not a single person aside from his own father consistently refers to him by title, so I thought I'd stand up for his dignity.
Anyway. I'm sure Agent Mayhew has many remarkable qualities, but sadly these were all swept away by his overpowering (if amusing) love of chocolate. The rest of his character pales in contrast.
Sasha is allergic to chocolate, so it's hard to see the attraction between them (more chocolate for Agent Mayhew?), but more on that later. It's certainly not his pickup line, which consists of: You seem smart and cool, and you're clearly pretty. I mean, you know you're pretty, right? (Smooth, Mayhew. Very smooth.) He  also does the 'insisting on walking her home and then grabbing her backpack when she refuses' thing, which I personally find very creepy. Refusing to leave you alone and stealing your posessions to force you into being with him against your will has never seemed attractive to me.
I addressed Princess Juliana pretty well before, so I won't bother to repeat all the quotes. Basically she abandons her kingdom and hands over state secrets to the enemy (although personally, I'm kind of on the enemy's side...) in a fit of teenage rebellion. Just the sort of person you want ruling your country, right?
That addresses the three main characters. There are of course, others- Gloria, the brilliant scheduler. The General "I don't need the love of the people; I have nuclear weapons" Mayhew. The evil stepmother (her crime? Disliking the princess). The king, in a very convenient coma. A rather insane bumbling old professor type who seems quite harmless right up until he starts dangling people off rooftops (all in the name of science, of course). Many other minor characters who don't appear enough to matter.
Oh, and I nearly forgot! Callum, prince of some foreign country or another. The last member of the supposed love triangle, despite being such a minor and unnotable character that I very nearly forgot to mention him in the review. He is actually rather sweet, as seen in this scene:
"Okay," he said. "Here's my secret: I actually fell in love with you back when I was ten."
"What? Are you serious?"
"I saw your picture on one of the press boards. It was of you and your father, I think, at some state dinnger. You were wearing a blue dress and your hair was all curled."
"I don't remember that," I said.
"Well, I do," Callum said. "And I turned to my mother and said 'I'm going to marry that girl someday!'..."
Isn't that sweet? Sadly he doesn't know that his precious Juli, is, in fact, a fake, due to the fact that thanks to his paranoid mother, he's never gone outside before.

And the part I've been looking forwards to: Stockholm's Syndrome and the 'love triangle'.
According to Wikipedia: "Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness"
Sounds a lot like what happens with Agent Mayhew and Sasha to me. There is honestly no other explanation for their relationship. He kidnaps her. Maybe over the course of years, after she'd learned to trust again. Maybe. But in just a few days? No. Especially after the aforementioned rooftop-dangling-off-of scene (you'll be pleased to know that Agent Mayhew did not drop her in order to free his hands for chocolate eating).
And the love triangle. She's obviously not really in love with Agent Mayhew, but she might have a crush on Callum. There's nothing to indicate anything major enough to be called a love triangle. If you hate love triangles, I wouldn't say this book isn't for you, but I am a bit concerned about where this will lead in the rest of the series.

The Rating:
I thought long and hard about this one, and I'm giving it a 2.367.

Thank you all for reading; please comment and let me know what you thought about the book.
Recommendations for the next book are also welcome, as I don't currently have one in mind.

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