Book Review: Books I Read for English Class, part 2

When I started this blog in April I did a mass review of all the books I’d read in my freshman English class up until then. The school year is almost over, so I decided I should review the last two books I read: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Ayn Rand’s Anthem.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury:

I still can’t decide what I thought of this book. I enjoyed reading it, as much as I ever do when I have to annotate a book, but the more I thought about it after I read it, the more problems I had with it.

The plot, which feels exciting while you’re reading it, has a very simple progression. The main character’s, Montag’s, character arc is predictable in a frustratingly point-A-to-point-B way. The side characters–Clarisse, Faber, and the book men–though interesting in the moment, have no character arc at all, only appearing to influence Montag, then disappearing, to be replaced. It’s well-written, but a little heavy on metaphors for my personal taste (thought that might just be the overwhelmed and sleep-deprived student talking, trying to annotate at 11:00 pm talking).

Most of my problems with the novel come down to it’s length. It is about 50,000 words, about half the length of today’s YA novels (80,000-100,000 words). Which means it is short, something I loved as a student, but which eventually drove me to dislike the book.

Fahrenheit 451 is clearly a plot based book, focused on sending a message about the dangers of technology/over-stimulation/basically the world we live in. And on that note, it succeeds. However, I prefer character-driven books. I want to fall in love with not just the protagonist, but every person he meets. I want to be amazed by how they change, surprised by their actions, blown away when I compare them on the first page with them on the last page. Ray Bradbury’s novel was missing this for me. It simply wasn’t long enough for Montag to have a complicated arc, or for the backup characters to be anything more than cardboard cutouts of messages, like bad movie props. I understand why the book is so popular, but I wanted more from it, especially because it was the one book I actually wanted to read going into the school year.

 

Anthem by Ayn Rand:

Literally every person I’ve told we read this book says something along the line of, “They’re making you read Ayn Rand?!”

Yep.

I didn’t like this book, though I’m not sure if it is for the classic, anti-Ayn-Rand reasons of most people who hated it.

As in the case of Fahrenheit 451, this book was heavily message based and way too short for characters or plot to develop.

I don’t think anyone can argue Anthem was written for a plot or character development reason. It was written to spread an anti-collectivist message during the rise of communism in Eastern Europe. Ayn Rand even explains that the title of the book is drawn from her feeling that it was an anthem to the Objectivism movement. I can respect that she looked to a literary device to spread opinions she clearly held strongly.

But couldn’t she have done it better? Instead of the heavy-handed slapping me in the face with your message, couldn’t she have subtly woven the message into the plot and the characters. It didn’t even have to be that subtle. It just would have helped if there was any plot.

Nothing about the novel makes sense. The modern world has collapsed and a totalitarian, collectivist government has taken over. There is no technology past candles and glass, and people are back to thinking that the world is flat. No one explores the Uncharted Forest. It is a society completely stripped of humanity.

Sure, that’s the point. But if you examine the book closely (again with the annotating), you break through a sort of backwards 4th wall, and you can see Ayn Rand trying to send messages be separate from the logic of her world.

For example, the character names: Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000. As we discussed in class, this is a gorgeous allusion to American values and the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”). But why would a totalitarian government hell-bent on destroying the past weave these allusions in. Equality’s name makes sense, but Liberty? The society is not based on freedom, but full obedience to the Councils. This is Ayn Rand talking, not caring about her plot, only the message.

Then some things just aren’t logical. There’s the prison that doesn’t have working locks on the doors or guards because no one would dare to escape. But presumably if people disobeyed to get into jail, they’d to it again to get out. The society reinvented candles and managed to call them by the exact same name. Equality stumbles upon electricity (again with the NO TECHNOLOGY ANYWHERE) and invents the light bulb in a few weeks. Only Scholars are allowed to read but everyone can. Wouldn’t a totalitarian government destroying independent thought keep people from reading in the most basic way possible? (However, this skill is useful when Equality finds books and learns of the past…so we can understand why Ayn Rand couldn’t keep her populace illiterate.)

And for a novel written solely for spreading messages throughout the world, it is stupidly misogynistic. (*Spoilers, though predictable*) Liberty falls in love with Equality, and there’s a quote that goes something like “And her eyes which defied the world looked at me as if they would do anything I asked” (sorry for the paraphrase, but you get the gist). Liberty, who starts out as a refreshingly rebellious female figure, turns complacent and practically worships Equality. Ayn Rand’s message that individual thought is the most important value apparently only applies to cocky, power-hungry males who consider themselves gods.

I’m fine with authors using their books to say things about the world. (Read Laini Taylor’s Smoke and Bone series and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens.) But I won’t respect your message if the book doesn’t make sense and if it’s clear you thought you could get away with a half-assed plot because your themes are just so important.

Hell and Styx #12: Easy to Hate

Hell and Styx #12! It’s a dozen. (It’s the dozenth?)

School is finally ending (hello, finals) so my posts have been a bit sporadic. Apologies.

I think you’ll like this post. It’s insight into Hell and Heaven’s dynamic, and foreshadows some of the next posts I have planned.

It continues the plot line that has been running since Heaven’s arrival, which would be posts #9 and #11. If you haven’t read those, you probably want to catch up.

As always, an explanation of what the heck this series of short stories is can be found on the Hell and Styx page in the upper right hand corner.

Hope you enjoy! Likes and comments are always open. 🙂

Hell and Styx #12: Easy to Hate

Pretty much every conversation Hell and Heaven had over the next two weeks went like this:

“Why are you so [blank]?”

“Why are you so [opposite of blank]?”

And then it spiraled into an argument, which ended with Hell calling Heaven a perv.

 

When Heaven saw that Hell’s closet only contained variations on black pants and a unisex black or grey t-shirt:

“Why are you so opposed to dressing like a girl?”

Hell glared at his white shirt on freshly ironed dress pants look. “Why are you so obsessed with looking like a preppy jackass?”

“Just because you deal with death doesn’t mean you actually have to dress like the grim reaper.”

“At least then I’d be wearing a dress, right?”

“Not the kind of dress I want to see you in, Hell.”

“Perv.”

“Wimp.”

“Do you want me to sock you in the nuts again?”

 

When Heaven kept walking into objects because he was so accustomed to being incorporeal in the human world.

“Why do you spend so much time over there?”

“Why do you never spend any time there?”

“There’s nothing there for me.”

“How would you know? Have you ever been back?”

“Nope. And I’m proud of it. I don’t pine away for what can’t see me.”

“Don’t you?” Heaven asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Nope, but I’m not a perv.”

 

When the powers that be in purgatory decided to create a room for Heaven:

“Why do you have to be so…human?” Hell sneered, looking at his walls, covered in posters for movies and bands.

“Why do you have to hate everything from that world?”

“It’s done nothing but abandon me.”

“You left it! And you’ve never been back. How is that it’s fault?”

“I’m not human. You’re not either. What is it about you that makes you try to fit in with them? They can’t even see you!”

“You don’t know why I go back. You don’t know who I am.”

“Oh, the chickflick dialogue? We’re gonna fight like that? Can I play the my-father-never-loved me card?”

“How do you know mine did? How do you know I love anything about that place?”

“You loved something enough. Even though purgatory apparently thinks you’ll be moving in, you’re never here. I’m downstairs sorting souls and you just poof out of here to hang out where you’re invisible. Which is pretty pervy, if you ask me.”

“What about me makes you insist that I’m a perv?”

Hell gave him a cynical once-over. “You need me to answer that question?”

 

When Heaven walked in on Styx and Hell in Hell’s room, sharing a pizza.

“I know I’m new but could you put a sock on the door?”

Hell’s jaw dropped, pizza frozen halfway to her mouth. “We’re eating pizza.”

Yeah, you are.” Heaven bro-nodded to Styx. Styx just stared.

“Why are you so pervy?”

“Why are you so determined to call me that?”

“We are eating a pizza. Special divine delivery service from above. I know it’s not human but it’s enough for us.”

“Can I have a slice?”

“No.”

“Then you two are on a date.”

“Actually, it just means that you’re a jerk, and I don’t share the holy gift of pizza with people I hate.”

“Everything in this world is a divine gift. Don’t suddenly act like this is a big deal.”

“And ‘ungrateful’ goes on the list of adjectives to describe our newest roomie.”

“Hell, they invented the word ‘cynic’ to describe you.”

“Not even close to the worst insult we’ve come up with for you,” Styx said casually, speaking for the first time.

Heaven waved him off. “I’m fighting your girl.”

“I’d work on your pronoun use if you value the ability to eat pizza,” Hell threatened.

“Or really anything,” Styx added.

The two shared a grin, smug in their rebuttal of Heaven’s entirety. Heaven gaped at the couple and left the room.

 

“Why do you hate me?” Heaven asked Hell.

“You’re really easy to hate.”

“But why?”

“Because you get an easy life. You get to sort awesome, pure, euphoric souls. And chill out in the human world. Which is weird, but whatever. You get to stroll in here ten years late and act like we should love you for no apparent reason. I can’t do that.”

“My life isn’t as easy as you think it is.” But for once, his tone wasn’t defensive or hostile.

“Well, duh. We’re death deities, even if you get to play God. You’ve clearly got issues I don’t even want to get into. The perviness, for one.” Heaven started to interject but Hell held up a finger. “And other, realer issues. I’m sure you’ve got your fair share of abandonment issues and random dependencies.”

“Thank you,” Heaven said, nodding his head, accepting Hell’s understanding without a fight.

“However,” Hell said, and Heaven regretted his decision to be civil. “Your issues—they’re your fault. I’m trying to heal, okay? I’m living my life in purgatory and trying to forget what I’ve lost. You’re torturing yourself. You’re throwing yourself day-in and day-out into a world that just wants to rip out your soul and spit you back into this hellhole. Don’t endure Prometheus’s punishment when you haven’t done anything heroic. Why would you put yourself through that?”

“It’s not like that—”

“Oh, no, I’m sure you’ve got real issues, too. But you’re hiding the PTSD and the hurt and whatever the else I could relate to under this obsession with the human world. You’re avoiding the truth by torturing yourself.

“I have enough pain, without intentionally hurting myself. It is despicable that you would do this to yourself. Either ask for help, or leave. Say what you want about me, but I don’t hide. And while you childishly refuse to face anything actually existing in our world, I can’t be around you.”

Heaven’s spine was painfully straight. He forced himself to adjust his cuffs, calmly, preparing to say the words he never wanted to have to say.

“Then, goodbye.”

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

I FINALLY FINISHED IT.

It took me close to six weeks, pretty much the longest a book has taken me in easily two years (possibly since I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows in second grade).

The beginning is really good. The last 100 pages are tear-inducing and powerful.

It’s the 400 pages in between that made me consider giving up on it.

I don’t really know what else to say. It’s heavily historical and the author’s writing style definitely takes some getting used to. (Long sentences and high vocabulary words. It’s like studying for the SATs with minor plot in the background.)

I wish Chabon had stuck more to the heart of the story (comic books) which took up most of the beginning and ending of the novel (the parts I enjoyed). However, he brought WWII into the plot for, like, 200 pages (at least that’s what it felt like) and the plot I cared about totally vanished.

It has been pointed out  to me that I’m not the “target audience” of the book. Whatever. I’ve read a ton of books I wasn’t the target audience of. I don’t believe in target audiences. I don’t read one genre or age group or plot line. That would be boring. That would probably get as close to killing my love as reading as is humanly possible.

This book was recommended to me, I read it, I learned a lot about comic books, life in the 1930s-1950s, and how to read a book where an entire page can be one paragraph, possibly only a few sentences.

So screw target audiences. I believe that the reason I didn’t enjoy the book is because of the writing style and the course the plot took, not because of some arbitrary assignment of age/gender to the envisioned reader. The best books I’ve read were good when I was ten years old and my grandmother loves them when she is in her seventies. I’ve read books way to old for me and enjoyed ones way too young for me. I fall in love with stories, not genres or demographics. Books I read in fourth grade will hopefully follow me to college. That’s what I love about reading.

I will definitely be taking a popcorn chicklit break though. I need some light reading.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Short Story: Parlor Tricks

This (incredibly short) story is in response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge this week.

(According to my Microsoft Word word counter, it is 98 words. I can’t believe I actually managed to keep it under 100.)

Hope you all enjoy!

Parlor Tricks

Alice’s fingers read anything they touched.

Like any gift the gods ever gave a human, she squandered it on parlor tricks, guessing cards for passersby.

And Heth was a passerby. Shoulders bent from piggybacking his twins, Worry and Doubt, who liked to grab pens and scrawl their maybes and what-ifs on his skin. In a mirror, he was a novel of anxieties, but no one else could see.

Crowded streets threw the two together. Alice’s fingers read a story of worry and she chased the book back to his library.

And that night, she learned she could erase.

Hell and Styx #11: Lucky

Et voila! Hell and Styx #11!

This one is picks up right after the ending of H+S#9: Where Are You From?. If you haven’t read it, go back and read, possibly with H+S #10 first (sorry, my posting order got screwed up).

Enjoy! Comments and likes are always open.

Hell and Styx #11: Lucky

“Well, you’re everything I imagined,” Hell said.

Heaven laughed. “I know, right?”

“As in, you look like a complete, arrogant, too-good-for-the-rest-of-us jackass. Which is, you know, the impression I’ve always gotten from you, when I tried to imagine what kind of bastard would leave Styx and I alone in purgatory while you enjoy your blissfully rewarding existence.”

“You don’t pull any punches, do you?”

“Would’ve thought I’d already demonstrated that.”

Heaven winced at the fresh reminder of the kick his crotch had just received, but he covered it up with more bluster. “And would you like to hear my first impression of you?”

Hell turned her back on him, casually strolling out of the room. “Nope.”

At the staircase, Hell shouted, “Styx!” and then leaned against the hallway wall, tapping her foot impatiently.

A full minute later, Styx appeared in the staircase. “Yeah?” he asked.

“There’s a thing.”

(Neither of them knew how often this phrase would slip into their vernacular in the coming years, or how much dread it would come to inspire.)

It was at that moment that Heaven followed Hell out of her room, pompous smirk reaffixed, to say, “A sassy little girl trying to hide up her dependency on the people around her with self-imposed loneliness in the name of being ‘strong’.”

Styx gaped at Heaven. Heaven ignored him, staring straight at Hell. “That was my first impression of you.”

Styx glanced at Hell, trying to piece through the echo of a conversation, the forced plainness on her face, the charged hunger of her muscles. “Heaven, I presume?” Styx asked, extending his hand.

Heaven frowned at the quick deduction but accepted the hand shake. “Styx.”

Styx took a step closer to Hell, staying parallel with her in the hopes of conveying that they were equals, of showing the intruder that Hell was not a little girl trying to be strong but a strong girl wishing to be little again. From Heaven’s smirk, he didn’t get it.

“And now your protector has shown up. No need to fight dirty anymore.”

Hell wanted nothing more than to spring forward and point out to him that she wasn’t fighting dirty, she was fighting with some of the most specialized forms of martial arts from history.

But he wanted a reaction, so it was exactly what she wouldn’t give him.

If Hell was anything more than she was violent, it was stubborn. “Dirty is what the losing side calls any fight.”

Styx gave Hell a playful frown. “Did you kick him in the crotch?”

“You know me so well.” The two shared a mischievous smile and swayed toward each other, tapping shoulders in a practiced gesture of friendship.

Heaven stared between the two of them like a toddler trying to stay calm after a parent stole away a toy.

Hell turned to Styx. “How bad is it down there?”

“Crowded. You should probably get back.,” he replied with a sympathetic shrug. “I was just about to come get you.”

“Yeah.” Hell gave Heaven a distracted half-wave and disappeared down the staircase.

Styx wordlessly followed, eager to see how Heaven would react to the only two people in the universe who didn’t care to get to know him.

* * *

Purgatory had a sick, evil feeling when Hell returned to it. She took a deep breath of the toxic air, centering herself.

Then she did her job.

It was a day of horrible people and horrible deaths. Hell grabbed, shoved, kicked, elbowed, headbutted, and forced souls into her personal domain, taking out her frustration with Heaven on the dead. The blackness of the souls leeched into her, but she ignored it, pushing through the crowds to find the next soul. She didn’t let herself stop and think. She worked until only Styx’s souls remained, and even then she stayed in purgatory, leaning against the wall, trying to catch her breath.

Then she went upstairs, waving goodbye to Styx as she left purgatory, to go to her room, praying that Heaven was gone with a passion almost approaching religion.

Heaven was waiting for her in her room, grinning. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”

Hell started, then cursed herself for showing weakness. “What is?” she growled.

“Our work. It’s so fulfilling. So spiritual.”

Hell gaped at Heaven. “Our work? There is no our work. There’s my work and there’s your ‘work’ and they aren’t even sort of in the same universe.”

“We both take souls.”

“Is that right? Then how come you’re never around here?”

“I prefer to work on Earth.”

“And that works cuz you sort, like, twenty souls a year. I just sorted a hundred souls in a few hours.” The great disparity between the number of good people in the world and the number of bad was something the keeper of angels didn’t seem to dwell on.

“I guess you got the better end of the bargain.” A hint of jealousy burned in the corner of his eyes.

Of course. If evil souls felt like tar and blackness, then good souls had to feel like light and joy, Hell realized. Souls were a grayscale and Hell, Styx, and Heaven were assigned different portions of the gradient.

And then she realized another thing:

Heaven hadn’t figured out her side of it.

“You clueless bastard,” Hell snarled, grabbing his wrist and yanking him down the stairs, into the confines of purgatory. She scanned the crowd for the blackest soul, focusing on the minute buzzes of grayness or blackness each soul emitted.

Minutes ago, there were none. Already there were a dozen of rank, dark auras oozing out of souls. Hell selected a hefty, glaring, muscled guy in the corner. Her highly trained skin could feel his blackness from yards away. She dragged Heaven over, careful to accidentally tighten her grip on his wrist to a painful extent.

They stopped a few feet from the man. Hell pegged him as a hired goon, probably a security guard with a vague and morally flexible job description. By no means the worst soul she would come into contact with in her life, let alone in a given day. Hell dropped Heaven’s hand and turned to face him. “You think I’m lucky?”

Heaven rubbed the blood back into his hand. “Yes.”

“Try taking his soul,” Hell dared.

Heaven gave the guy a once-over. “He’s yours.”

“I know that. But if I’m so damn lucky, try taking him, just for kicks. Get a taste of my daily life.”

“That’s pointless. You know purgatory won’t let me take him.”

“Just touch the bastard’s soul.” Hell feigned a lunge, making Heaven flinch.

“Fine.”

Heaven straightened his tie, pushed up his shirtsleeves a few inches, and grabbed the man’s hand.

Hell leapt forward, latching her hands around both of the men’s wrists, keeping them together.

The effect was immediate. Heaven shuddered and convulsed, his face pinching with disgust. The longer he held on, the less strength he had, until he wasn’t fighting the contact, just whimpering and moaning.

Satisfied, Hell dropped her hands. Heaven stumbled backwards, gagging, shaking his hand as if he could get the residue off.

Hell smirked. It was never that easy.

Then she manhandled the guy into through a portal, a maneuver that required what Heaven would deem ‘fighting dirty.’

Heaven was still dry heaving when she was finished.

“Yeah. I’m incredibly lucky.”

Book Review: Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead

I read this series about a year ago and LOVED THEM. They are some of the best paranormal romance I have ever read.

It is a six book series: Vampire Academy (book 1), Frostbite (book 2), Shadow Kiss (book 3), Blood Promise (book 4), Spirit Bound (book 5), and Last Sacrifice (book 6).

The characters are alive and real; you will fall in love with them. The romance is passionate, heart-wrenching, tragic and powerful. The good/evil conflicts (especially in the later books) will make you question your own morals. Richelle Mead’s plots are intense and captivating and the entire series links together well.

However, Richelle Mead’s real strength lies in world building. This isn’t just some vampire novel. She created an entire culture around vampires with different types of vampires, royal families and their feuds, and tiny details that makes their society feel real, such as the concept of blood whores. She expanded on the drive-a-stake-through-their-hearts method of killing to involve complex magic and years of training. The hierarchy between the different types of vampires and the royals is easy to understand but rich in plot points and depth.

These novels took thought. They are well planned out and powerful. Richelle Mead did an amazing job.

 

A side note on the movie:

The trailer they released makes it look like it’s Mean Girls with vampires (mainly because it has the same director as Mean Girls). These books ARE NOT. They are dark and violent and intense and in no way the flippant, romantic Twilight-esque stories the trailer paints it as. The school uniforms that the actresses wear on the official movie poster make them look like slutty preppy girls, when in fact the main characters is a BAMF fighter and her best friend is a magician and royal heir. Also, in a different movie poster my twin found online, the main character, who is supposed to be a badass fighter, is holding the wimpiest (and blatantly wrong) fighting stance possible (and my sister is taking Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido, so she knows what it is supposed to look like). The actress they hired to play the protagonist, Zoey Deutch, is a dancer, not a martial artist. Why they couldn’t follow Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s example and hire an actress who is actually a black belt, I don’t know.

(It seems like the first Percy Jackson movie, which was related to the books by barely anything more than character names and setting.)

I’m not seeing the movie. I love these books. I’m not letting any movie change my perceptions of the series.

Hell and Styx #10: What She Deserved

Hell and Styx #10!

I messed up and thought I had already posted this story before yesterday’s post, Hell and Styx #9. They don’t directly play off of each other (if you already read #9, you aren’t missing any major plot details) but I intended to have you guys read this one first. So if you haven’t read #9 yet, read this one, and then go back. I think it will set up the conflicts better.

(Sorry about that.)

This story takes place after H+S#3, when Hell has just turned fifteen and Styx is about seventeen, but before H+S#9. Having read Hell and Styx #2: Hell’s Childhood, would probably help understand some of the character conflicts mentioned.

Hell and Styx #10: What She Deserved

The little girl had done nothing wrong.

She was jumping on her trampoline and her dad went inside to get lemonade but she could see him through the window so she jumped just a little bit higher and waved her arms and shouted, “Daddy!” and he turned around to look and she reached toward him and lost her balance and looked at the ground as it rushed up toward her and snapped her neck.

She was five.

No one could be blamed for her death, though Styx knew that back on Earth it would be the dad who left her alone and the trampoline company that made a net so flimsy that it couldn’t survive the thunderstorms of the year before and said dad took it down because it was so uselessly shredded by the elements.

Styx didn’t care about blame. He had been down here long enough to stop caring about the why of a death. He found out the how with a simple touch and a pointed thought—all it took was contact with the soul’s persona and the intention to know how they died. Usually Styx avoided the knowledge. He could tell by looking at the person, by the brief touch of their soul against his aura, if they were his problem or Hell’s. Hell looked at more of the deaths, but that was who she was.

It was a perverse curiosity, sometimes. It was a morbid gratefulness often. It was a helpless urge other times. It was reflex the rest of the time.

What she saw she rarely said, but Styx learned to read her, and could tell how violent the death was by how pale she was as she shoved them into an eternity of violent punishment. He could tell if the person’s death was connected to their life of horrors by how forcefully she shoved them into her namesake.

Styx knew he had ended up with the better cards in this game. He got to deal with the nobodies. The people who weren’t good or bad. The majority of the population who did nothing but live. Of course they sinned. Everyone did at some point. And of course they did wonderful things. But the bad wasn’t enough to make them Hell’s issue and the good wasn’t good enough to warrant them an eternity in heaven—if that was anything more than a legend.

Styx had come to terms with it. He didn’t know where his souls went, but he knew about the myth around his namesake. The Greek underworld. One of the more ambiguous ones. Some torment, some palaces. Styx guessed that the reality was neither, closer to his purpose. His domain was an empty place, a barely conscious place, a vague life. Probably the most merciful. The souls hovered near death—the absoluteness of death, the real death, the death Hell and Styx both doubted existed. The end. Of thinking. Of being.

Styx was a mercy. The human life ended and they for the most part stayed dead, possibly no more alert or aware than a person on the twilight between dreams and reality. They were free.

He didn’t care how they died. They were here. They were over.

Sometimes, Styx could see their lives, too. And this little girl’s life was perfect. Innocent. Tea parties with stuffed animals and parents that loved her. Her father wasn’t a bad man, not at all. It was homemade lemonade and a freak accident caused by a little girl’s love for her father, her need to not even be separated from him for a minute.

This girl deserved heaven. She should have gotten to grow up.

Styx was tired of his job. He wanted a reason to keep going. He didn’t want to take this girl’s soul. He couldn’t. Hell would say he was being unreasonable, make a crack about therapy, but Styx didn’t think there was anything wrong with him for wanting there to be a kind side of death.

Styx didn’t know what heaven was, or if it even existed, or if it had a gatekeeper, like hell and the underworld did. He didn’t know how he should go about summoning Heaven.

So he did what he did best. Nothing. He waited to see what would happen.

The first day she was there, Hell said nothing. It wasn’t weird for Styx to take a little longer to get around to a peaceful soul when the chamber was crowded with large, confused adults.

Even on the second day, Hell allowed the girl to remain. Lots of people seemed to be dying on them and Styx could easily make a show of choosing others to push through the cracks before her.

But when the girl was still there, hovering at the edge of purgatory, watching with wide eyes, never saying anything, on the third day, Hell got angry.

She grabbed Styx’s arm and yanked him out of the chamber and up the staircase into their personal rooms, shoving him into the hallway when he was on the top stair. He winced as he tripped, remembering exactly how Hell spent her day.

“What the hell, Hell?”

“That girl. Why is she still here?” Hell’s face was red like her hair, angry.

Styx was never ready to deal with Hell’s anger. “She’s fine. There have been others, more pressing. I’ll get around to it.”

“There are barely any souls down there right now. How about we go down together and you show our guest to her eternity?”

Styx shook his head, searching for words to express his denial. He couldn’t. The girl didn’t deserve him. He couldn’t take her and kill her. That wasn’t his job—he couldn’t believe that. He had to believe that some people, the few great souls of the world, got a reward. If there was a punishment, there had to be a reward. And Styx was not that.

“You can’t do it, can you?” Hell asked. “You think she’s special.”

“She’s so young.” Styx didn’t want to tell Hell about the girl’s soul, so white, so pure, blinding like sun after an infinite night.

“I’ve taken those just a few years older.” Darkness crashed across Hell’s face. “You took me when I was just a year older.”

Always that little bit of blame in Hell’s voice. Always the reminder that Styx was the one that took her away from everything she had ever known to live a life in purgatory.

“You’re different.” It was true. Everything about Hell was the opposite of this girl. Hell was stuck in a black night, half by her own will. She had been raised in it. Who could fault her for reaching for the blanket that cocooned her since she lost her world?

Hell snorted. “Thanks. I hadn’t realized that one.”

“You know what I mean.”

The look on Hell’s face told Styx to back away from the subject of her and refocus on the intended purpose of the argument.

“She’s done nothing wrong.”

“Great. So I can’t take her. Who else could?” Hell made a show of exaggeratedly looking around the room. “Oh, look! Maybe you. You’re the only other person I see with keys out of this place. Use them.”

“Let her have a few more days.”

“What will change in a few more days?” Hell asked.

Styx stared at the floor. He wouldn’t voice his hopes. Not in front of Hell. Hell was the strong one, but she was also the one with the closed-off heart. Her heart’s armor was made of scars and she was too tired to risk feeling and getting another memento to remember it by.

“You think she deserves Heaven.”

It wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.

“If anyone deserves it—” he tried.

“Not her. You said it yourself. She hasn’t done anything. She’s five. She can go to your underworld. Don’t drag superstition into this mess.”

Styx didn’t bother correcting her misparroting of his words. She had a memory of granite. If she messed up his words, it was deliberate.

Hell went on. “You’ve sent good men to your world. You’ve let go of soldiers and heroes and saintly mothers. Why does this girl have to be different?”

“Have you touched her soul?” Styx asked quietly.

Hell paused, thrown off. “Of course not. She’s clearly yours.”

Styx forced a challenge into his gaze, knowing if he phrased this right Hell would listen. “Go down there and feel it and tell me I should damn her to an eternity with the rest of those gray, lumpy oatmeal souls.”

“You think it will change my mind?” Hell asked with the defiance of someone who has been promised the same result many times before and found herself sorely disappointed.

“Would I waste your precious time?”

His sardonic, mocking tone grated at Hell’s nerves. “Fine,” she said, stalking down the stairs. “If you’re wrong, I take her myself.”

Styx shuddered, unsure if this was a bet he was willing to take. Hell paused on the stairs and looked back, giving him a chance to refuse.

Styx shook himself, reminding himself of the few pieces of humanity he had seen in Hell. He remembered the girl he had transported here. The girl who laughed with him. The girl who made herself dresses and kept them in her closet but never wore them, who thought Styx hadn’t seen them the many times he’d visited her room.

There was a girl in there. There was a person underneath the armor. She had to be hard and strong and unfeeling—that was her purpose, as much as Styx’s was to be bland and wandering.

But she was human. She would touch the girl’s soul and she would know that she was pure, that she was good, that there were actually people who deserved a heaven.

Styx met her gaze and let her turn back around and stalk down the stairs.

“Where is she?” Hell asked, spinning around in the middle of the room, her gaze blocked by the hundreds of other souls who had died recently.

Styx looked to her corner, where she had spent the last three days.

She was gone.

“I don’t know,” he said.

They never found her.

Hell never spoke of it. Styx never brought it up. But it was there, a tiny hope in that place between death and hell, one star in an endless night.