Starving Review: The Hatter is Mad (The Lillim Callina Chronicles Book 2) by J. A. Cipriano

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The Hatter is Mad (The Lilim Callina Chronicles Book 2) by J. A. Cipriano (Amazon, Goodreads)

I have to wonder, fellow literary foodies, if you’ve ever had a page-induced sugar rush?  It’s when you jam your face so full of sugary popcorn reading that you continue to maniacally wolf down more and more of the same book, regardless of any sense of literary health.  The pages could be good or they could be horrible but they’re so candy-like that you just can’t stop yourself.  The trick is, at the end of the book, was it good, bad, or just bland in the center?  Welcome to my struggle with The Hatter is Mad!

Before we cut to the core of this dilemma, let’s recall the Starving Author creed:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

Now, long-time readers may recall this isn’t the first book of this series I’ve consumed.  You can go back for a quick refresher here.  In fact, much is the same in its follow-up than with the first volume of the tale.  For the benefit of those of you who don’t want to do your culinary research (shame on you!), Hatter is a tale of extreme high fantasy mixed with near-contemporary Earth.  I say ‘near-contemporary’ because there are many points that show it to be altered but those points are mostly ignored.  This is classic fusion genre work on its surface, a particular combination that makes for a solid framework for any tale.

The truth is, something I’ve realized since reading the first book, there is little connection to what most readers would consider traditional Western fantasy.  No, Hatter gets far more of its recipe from the most over-the-top forms of modern Japanese fantasy found in anime and manga.  The action is continual and frenetic, often with action scenes segueing into …. more action scenes.  There’s little time to stop and few transitional periods.  Just when you think you’ve managed to swallow the last swordfight with energy exploding everywhere, another one is about to be served up on your plate.

Is this bad?  Maybe.  Let’s be factual: Mr. Cipriano writes great action sequences.  Even if they are too much for you as a reader, they are very well-written.  Also, compared to his first book, this volume does slow down a hair more and provides some very critical exposition that starts to add some sense to the overall world and the characters involved in it.

Plot-wise, it all holds together a bit better (thanks to the critical exposition) than the first book (which wasn’t bad per se).  There is a stronger sense of purpose and identity and that adds some thickening agents to gel the story together.  This exposition does, however, present an issue.

A good thirty percent of the book is, essentially, back story.  It’s not exactly an info dump but then again it kind of is.  In as non-spoilery of a way to talk about as possible, the main character is granted a series of visions about the past and these fill in much of the vital bits of contextual flavor that muddied the first book for me.  What we have, then, is no lack of action or activity, but we do have a large swath of the book where the main character (in a first person perspective book) essentially watches what’s going on.

I’m torn about this approach.  It’s far more creative than a standard info dump and the information is vital.  In fact, I’d argue that if someone wanted to read this series, it would almost be better to read the second one first for that very reason.  However, it also leaves a clog in my throat when I tried to swallow it.  It’s as sugar-coated crazy-action as the rest of the book but there’s a strange blandness at the center from the lack of character agency.  The protagonist doesn’t even have any obvious choice as to have these visions or not.

Characterization is quite well done.  Despite the insane power every single character seems to wield, they do have personality, personality that is really allowed to shine now that we see more of their histories and motivations.  Strangely, the character that suffers a strange derailment early on is the protagonist.  Her state at the beginning simply didn’t mesh with the epiphany she had reached at the end of the first book and I feel in many ways her character arc in this book was a retread of the first one, just going further along that path.  It’s not enough of a problem to sour my tastebuds but it did seem a bit off.

Now, one final deliberation point before we make our final assessment: Does Hatter go too far over the rainbow?  The last book, I summarized its core flavor as ‘Mary Sue Jumping The Shark With Micheal Bay Explosions’.  If it can be believed, the sequel gives the shark cybernetics and frikkin’ laser beams while the world gets leveled with an orbital bombardment.  I think this matter must be decided by the reader him/herself.  You’ll see this in my final assessment but the fact either are a fan of this continual one-upmanship of power or you won’t.  It’s not inherently good or bad.

So, this leaves us with an oddity.  This is truly one of my first split decisions.  The Hatter is Mad is solidly written, filled with insane plots, over-the-top anime power levels, and non-stop action.  If you love that kind of continual insanity and want to see it crafted by a quality author, this is the book series for you.  If you need a bit more grounding to your fictional universes or don’t want multi-chapter fight scenes, you might want to give this a second thought.  Now, as my final ratings are from the perspective of fans of the genre ….

FINAL VERDICT: **** (A second course that lays out an exposition cake with insane action cherries on top!)

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