Saturday, 17 March 2012

Switched by Amanda Hocking

For those of you that don’t keep up with book/publishing news (or that have been living under a bookless rock), Amanda Hocking is one of Amazon’s self-publishing success stories. She sold a pile of self-published Kindle ebooks on Amazon — enough to quit her day job — and then last year snagged a publishing contract with a traditional publisher (Pan Macmillan). They are re-releasing some of her self-published books and, as I understand it, also publishing new books of her later in the year.

Switched is the first book in the Trylle Trilogy, the re-released trilogy (my copy, if you’re wondering, is a Tor ebook from Book Depository). From what I’ve read on Amanda Hocking’s blog, the traditionally published editions aren’t significantly different from the originals, especially story-wise, but are better edited with some extended/reworked scenes and each book contains a short story set in the same world. The funny thing is, I knew most of the above without having any idea, beyond YA fantasy, what Hocking’s books were about.

Trolls. Instead of vampires or werewolves or [insert over-used supernatural creature here], the Trylle Trilogy is about a seventeen year old girl who learns that she isn’t human but a changeling troll (or Trylle in polite society). Well, at least that explains why her human mother tried to kill her when she was six.

I was quite taken by Switched from the start. Wendy, the narrator, has a compelling voice and, although it’s not a comedy, the book was unexpectedly funny. Wendy has fairly definite ideas about who she is, even after she accepts that she’s a Trylle with some magic powers. Those ideas tend to conflict with what other people want and expect from her, which is a source of a lot of the tension in the book.

I was quite pleased when the opening was a bit of anti-Twilight; Wendy is appropriately creeped out by the strange boy at school staring at her and when he watches her at night, labels him a stalker. It’s a healthy response that I felt I could get behind. (Of course, it turns out there’s a reason the strange boy is being strange, but it was still nice to see Wendy react appropriately. Unlike Bella.)

Wendy didn’t exactly have an easy childhood, particularly with her mother being institutionalised after trying to kill her. She never fit in at any of the schools she was ultimately kicked out of and had never quite managed to make friends. That part might be standard fare for secretly magic children, but, far from locking her in a cupboard under the stairs, her brother and aunt have always been good to her. They are a large reason why she doesn’t want to leave her old life, even when faced with the promise of magic powers and confusingly alluring boys.

I liked that from Wendy’s very first step into the new world of the Trylle, not everything is sunshine and roses. It’s a nice change from the everything-looks-peachy-on-the-surface-but-something-is-dodgy-underneath-it-all trope.

Ultimately, Switched is a fun, well-paced and funny read. I’ve picked up the second book, Torn, to read straight away (though unfortunately the third book, Ascend, isn’t out for a few weeks). On the other hand, if you’re after a deep exploration of the nuances of the human condition, perhaps pick up some Vonnegut instead.

4.5 / 5 stars

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