Monday, March 3, 2014

{the house blend.} Hagen, Bethany: Landry Park (Landry Park #1)

February 4, 2014
Dial Books
YA Dystopian, 384 pages

In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline Landry dreams of going to the university. 

Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won't allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. 

But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. 

As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. 

Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty - her family and the estate she loves dearly - and desire.

By now, you should probably get the idea that I’m not really the go-to girl for dystopians.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like some of them. I even wrote one, back in the day (read: back when the idea of querying a dystopian didn’t mean facing a saturated market of some pretty awesome titles). 

In any case, though, I can be swayed for some rare exceptions. I happened to place a hold on Landry Park – without looking at the genre – and when it came, I read it anyway and put my usual expectations about the genre on hold.

First off, I must give kudos where it is definitely due. One of the reasons why I steered clear of dystopians in recent years is because many seem to come from the same mode – complicated world-building, and a lot of talk and little going. 

Bethany Hagen does an awesome balance act between high society and government rebellion. The writing is very crisp, concise and descriptive. She switches between a debutante scene and a tense crowd with ease.
This is a woman who knows how to wield her pen. Bravo, Ms. Hagen! 

(I just wanted to get that out there, because if you know me, you know that words matter. A lot. I can be won over, even if the story isn’t usually what I’d read, if I’m getting some good voice and mechanics in the bargain.)

If you’ve read the summary for Landry Park, you probably saw the most confusing, and yet enticing, comparative titles ever: Downton Abbey meets The Selection.

I have personal reasons for not ever having picked up The Selection (and most of those reasons go hand-in-hand with me not being the type of girl for dystopians), and, surprisingly, though I’m a period drama fan, I haven’t seen any of Downton Abbey.

But, unlike The Selection, I do have a gist of some of the scandals and sob scenes that do go on in good old D.A. (*cough cough* Lady Mary Crawley *cough*), so I can tell you that this title – as odd as it sounds – is legit.

Let’s get down to the meat of Landry Park. Our heroine, Madeline Landry, is a heiress in a futuristic world where the gentry flourishes. Madeline wants her chance to flourish, too, through a stint in university, but her father would rather her settle down ASAP, and have some grandkids to inherit their wonderful lineage. 

(I did wonder how Daddy Dearest expected Madeline to know how to manage the estate without proper schooling. It wasn’t as though she was asking for a million-dollar yacht or anything that required money going down the tube for good.)

Anyway, through a twist of fate, Madeline gets tossed into a scandalous situation which involves her being taken out of her comfort zone and seeing that there are other people involved in her glorious world – the Rootless, or the poor class. 

This is the main part that stuck in my gullet. I know that this is something that happens in real life – rich girl suddenly realizes a compassion for the ‘little people’ and goes all savior and visits Africa and talks at Oscar speeches about how ‘helpless’ the people are – but it doesn’t make Madeline’s “I am a hero of the poor” savior mode less offensive, or easy to swallow.

I know there are people who genuinely give their lives for others, and I appreciate every one of them. But the fact is, Madeline doesn’t come off that way. She feels like she’s forcing it, and, compared to the romantic subplot that I’ll be pointing my (figurative) laser pointer at in a few sentences, it’s more of a hobby than an actual burning aspect of her motivations.

It didn’t make me hate her – but my like-o-meter did go a teeny bit down.

So I mentioned that we do have a Matthew Crawley for our somewhat Lady Mary (a.k.a. Madeline), who is referred to as David Dana within Landry Park’s parameters of fiction.

David seems pretty into Madeline when they meet, but then he makes a point of debuting – a.k.a. pretty much stating his intention to court and eventually marry – Cara, Madeline’s sort of childhood friend, who also has brought Madeline into the Rootless drama by accusing a Rootless man of attacking her and bruising her.

Well, fine. That would make a girl look elsewhere, right? Except that Madeline cannot let it go. David makes an overture. Madeline sways toward him. Enter Cara, giving them suspicious looks. David switches his affectionate overtures to her.

To me (even though it all ends in the requisite ‘I do have feelings for you’ and dumping of the other girl, who thankfully was glad to be dumped, and I don’t blame her), David was a right cad. I couldn’t find it in me at all to see him as the dashing hero, and, like Madeline’s involvement with the Rootless, his enthusiasm for helping them just really rubbed me the wrong way.

Beyond these aspects, though, I can definitely give Landry Park its fair amount of recognition for an engaging and desperate climax. The bad guys get theirs, a shocking family secret comes to light in true period drama tradition, and – yes – there are the appropriate confessions of love and not really being in love after all and coupling off.

Like I said, I’m very rarely swayed by dystopians. Landry Park was an entertaining read, but overall, not the weight needed for my personal scale to lower to the right side – but, my appetite was whetted by Bethany Hagen’s writing and her creativity, and I look forward to whatever else she will have to offer.

Of note: Attempted assault, child abuse on the part of a parent, some tense action scenes and one awful attempt of violence and coerced poisoning on a child that did bother me a little bit. Nothing dirty to stain your pretty gown, though.


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