Happy Thursday, guys!
Today, I'm also reviewing League of American Traitors.
I'm a little bummed about this, because I was really excited about this book. It sounded creative, and just what this American Revolutionary War-loving nerd needed.
Unfortunatley, the execution really didn't pan out, and I'm now here to tell you why.
Published August 8th 2017 by Sky Pony Press
Format read: Finished copy, purchased
Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. . . .
When seventeen year-old Jasper is approached at the funeral of his deadbeat father by a man claiming to be an associate of his deceased parents, he’s thrust into a world of secrets tied to America’s history—and he’s right at the heart of it.
First, Jasper finds out he is the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold, the most notorious traitor in American history. Then he learns that his father’s death was no accident. Jasper is at the center of a war that has been going on for centuries, in which the descendants of the heroes and traitors of the American Revolution still duel to the death for the sake of their honor.
His only hope to escape his dangerous fate on his eighteenth birthday? Take up the research his father was pursuing at the time of his death, to clear Arnold’s name.
Whisked off to a boarding school populated by other descendants of notorious American traitors, it’s a race to discover the truth. But if Jasper doesn’t find a way to uncover the evidence his father was hunting for, he may end up paying for the sins of his forefathers with his own life.
Like a mash-up of National Treasure and Hamilton, Matthew Landis’s debut spins the what-ifs of American history into a heart-pounding thriller steeped in conspiracy, clue hunting, and danger.
On the surface, the book sounded amazing. Revolutionary War history! A mystery involving Benedict Arnold! Danger! More history! All things I like, right? But in practice, the book really didn't work in its current form. Here's why:
I appreciate a good antihero, or a hero with conflicted opinions, but Jasper, as a character, just needed more work. Landis had issues nailing Jasper's characterizations and voice, so I felt like I was reading what an older person envisions a teenager saying/doing a lot of the time, verses what a teenager actually does.
To wit: Jasper's friendships with his fellow students. There was talk of bromances, snoring, sharing clothes and general guy behavior, which felt awkward and weird. Jasper also didn't seem to be able to relate to them on a deeper level, which made their friendships feel shallow and inconsequential, despite what is obviously a time-sensitive situation.
This carried over to other characters as well. I had trouble remembering the names of characters while reading, and I have a photographic memory - that's how forgettable they were.
Landis clearly wanted them to be a loyal group that could sympathize and empathize with Jasper's destiny, but they just came off feeling shallow, and in place to help move Jasper's story along. At no point did I ever feel any sort of sense of concern for them, nor did I actually care what they were doing/thinking/saying. That doesn't make for a compelling narrative.
This was especially true for Jasper's love interest - whose name I honestly can't remember at this point; that's how forgettable she was - who Landis honestly portrayed as someone who was erratic, and mentally unstable. She's moody and emo, which we're supposed to believe is a result of both her heritage as a John Wilkes Boothe descendant, but also because of other related issues.
But Landis never really explains why she's damaged, and instead, treats Jasper/readers to many dramatic meltdowns that border on abusive behavior. At one point, she gets mad at Jasper and actually sticks a lit cigarette on his neck, which absolutely counts as abuse in my book. Why would anyone want to root for a character like that?
Landis had some structuring problems, which appeared sporadically throughout the book. He'd write scenes that seemed to indicate that Jasper was having a flashback, but because of how it was structured, it seemed like a random paragraph interjected in another scene.
It was really jarring the first time it appeared, and it just. kept. happening.
The plot development
The idea of two groups of descendants duking it out had so much promise. But because of the aforementioned writing/characterization problems, the two families just seemed like awful people fixated on very specific events in American history.
Which would have been fine and even plausible - just take a look at the news - but because of the lack of development, it just felt shallow. And on that note, Jasper's quest seemed pointless, as well. It was a neat bit of a legal loophole, but didn't fit into the theme or development of the book.
I wanted to love this book. I actually think that if Landis's editor had encouraged him to take a few more passes, the book would have been great. I still have hope that Landis might write a second book in this world, that has stronger writing - I've seen it happen before.
But as it stands, I can't recommend League of American Traitors.