Posted in dating, relationships, romance

Hello, Goodbye.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been the kind of person who made lists, whether in my head or in actual writing. I’ve always felt better once I’ve put some semblance of order into the everyday chaos of my life, and things just make so much more sense to me when I can see them in bullet points.

At work, I would probably be described as task-orientated. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean we thank the stars for task-orientated people in our workplaces because they get things done. They tick off each item on the list and move on from one task to the next without batting an eyelash.

I come from a family obsessed with life goals and plans. We’ve always been encouraged to go for our dreams but to make sure that those dreams pay the rent. Again, sensible, but the thing about having dreams and aspirations that no one ever tells you about is that they take a lot of work and a lot of focus. Hence, the list. The list of the things you need to accomplish in order to achieve your dreams.

It’s only now that I’m a little bit older that I wonder what things I’ve missed out on because I’ve been too busy trying to achieve that “life list” in my head. For example, I was so focused on doing well in my studies that I never really dated in high school or college. I mean, let’s forget about the fact that my strict Chinese-Catholic parents (and extended family) had forbidden it, we all know there were ways that I – being smart and sort of devious – could have gotten around it.

It’s telling that I never felt the inclination to rebel against that particular rule when I’ve broken others (curfew, travels to other cities, drinking, spending too much money, you name it!). I think I always knew that dating and having a relationship would put a wrench in my plans; its an unknown variable that I can never fully control. Of course, that’s not to say that love (the unrequited kind!) didn’t shape my life in a major way but that’s a blog for another day!

And since we’re talking about dating, I can’t fail to mention that other list in my head. You know, the list I had of what constitutes the perfect man. Think of every attribute you’ve ever read in romance novels or seen in Hollywood rom-coms and you’ll have a good idea of what my list looked like. These days, much to my chagrin, I’m down to just two non-negotiable traits: hygiene and sense of humour. Everything else – I can learn to live with (or without). But there was a time when I was holding out for Prince Charming or his handsome twin brother.

Lists go hand in hand with plans. I’ve always planned to be successful, married and settled by the time I reach my 30s. I’ve sort of achieved the first one, but yeah, let’s all laugh at that naive teenage girl who thought that the 2nd and 3rd would be easy. I think everything I’ve ever done in my life has been rooted in my need to achieve that marriage plan. It’s so deep-seated that even when it makes absolutely no sense anymore I can’t seem to fully let go of it.

The thing is, I think we all harbour this illusion that we are somehow in control of our lives. And to an extent I think we are, I mean certainly its up to us how we react to or handle certain situations. But as for the things that actually happen to us, the people we meet, the things we experience, I still believe that a lot of that is fate and some unknown force in the universe who likes to laugh in the face of our so-called plans.

And thank God for that. 

Spoiler alert: I’m not married nor am I likely to be in the immediate future. But. This year I planned to seriously think about settling and to keep at dating even when I have one bad date (or two or three. I think the current count is five in a row!). I told myself that I was done with the games and the fanciful aspirations; I want a mature life partner that I can finally think of settling down with, hygiene and sense of humour non-negotiable, stable bank account desirable but not required, good looks – open to negotiation depending on all other criteria met. Lol

I’ve spent the last 6 months making a list of how I can achieve this goal and the last 4 or 5 seriously doing everything I can to tick off the items on that list. I’ve been on a sort of dating frenzy, swiping right and left willy-nilly and never really getting anywhere. But just like the Energiser bunny, I kept going and going because I told myself that he’s out there somewhere and just like everything I’ve ever accomplished in my life, I just need to work harder and I’ll find him.

And then one day, out of the blue, due to some random collision of chance, fate and orthopaedics, I met a guy who made my world stop. It’s like someone was looking at my life for the past 3 months and they got fed up and finally pressed PAUSE. Pause, anj. You’re getting too caught up in all of it that you’re forgetting to actually enjoy life.

Since we’ve met and gone out, I don’t know, its like someone saw a list of all the things I wished for when I was a little girl dreaming of romance and that same someone has been granting my wishes one date at a time: getting lost in the city when its raining, bonding over a shared love for food, cuddling for warmth in winter, drinks and intimate conversations, texts in the morning, secret looks at work, waiting for me to finish up at the office so we can go out, going to a fair together, and my favourite, holding hands in the park while drinking mulled wine.

I harbour no illusions about this guy, nor do I think for one second that there is a future in store for us. In lots of ways, its a case of wrong place, wrong time. We’re at different stages in our lives and we probably want different things. He’ll be going back to his home city in a couple of days and I will not waste my breath hoping that this thing extends beyond that.

But until then, I got to enjoy the oh-so-wonderful present. I’ve loved every single moment of the past 3 weeks, the uncertainty of wondering whether he’ll text or call and the delight when he follows up with the next date and the next date and the next one after that. This is an interlude in my life that I’ll look back on whenever I need a happy memory.

I think that bad dates take away a piece of your soul each time and it gets harder to recover and pick up the pieces to try again with each successive bad date. I didn’t realise until now, writing this post, how close I was to giving up on love and romance entirely. That’s saying a lot for a girl who’s always been a hopeless romantic. So no matter what happens, I am grateful for this wrinkle in time, for this wrench in my plans, for this wholly unexpected blessing that fell into my life just when I needed it the most.

Cheers to another couple of days NOT making plans with you. 🙂

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Self-Discovery, Stress Relief

The Healing Powers of Having a Life

Yesterday, I had a quiet hour at the office which I used to reflect on what the past month has been like: what’s gone well, what could have gone better and what lessons I’ve learned from the curveballs that life has thrown my way.

As many of my loyal readers know, I have a love-hate relationship with my work, in the sense that sometimes I may love it a little too much that I invest too much of myself in it, and when things go wrong it affects me on an almost unhealthy level.

I went through a period where I was so stressed because I got this stupid notion of taking on the problems of an entire department on my unfit could-use-a-workout shoulders. Looking back, I think this was the reason why I was picking fights with my colleagues, magnifying the slightest of slights and why I was unable to shake off even the most minor of incidents. I have (and probably always will be) a dweller, but the way I dwelled on work-related stressors in October was ridiculous, even for me.

So what changed in November?

Simple. I made the conscious decision to actually have a life outside of work. For example, my blogging activities increased tenfold from where it was in October to where it is now.

More importantly, I began to see purpose in what I was doing. What started out as just another social media platform for me to maintain became a tool in which I could reach, for example, book lovers like myself. I’ve actually been asked to do book reviews for external websites and last week I just got my first paid editorial book review order. Not bad for someone whose first language isn’t English.

I’ve tried to socialise more, keep in touch and reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a while and also to keep trying even when I’ve had a series of really bad dates. I haven’t found the time to visit the gym because of my schedule, but I’ve tried to workout at home at least three times a week, and to develop a healthier relationship with food. My Fatness Fitness Pal is quite happy with my daily calorie log for November which is always a good indicator for my stress levels because when I’m stressed, boy, I eat.

But the main difference is that I’ve also developed a healthy detachment from work. I don’t mean to say that I’ve disengaged with it, more like I’ve learned to let go of the things that I can’t control and to focus more on the things that are within my capacity to change.

And because I’ve actually developed a life outside of work, its easier for me to switch off work mode once I’ve left the building. And when things aren’t quite going the way I want to, I at least know that I have something else to look forward to when I get home.

I’ve always preached about having a healthy-work life balance but I’ve never been able to manage walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. But if I’ve learned anything from these past couple of months, its that you’ll be able to love your work more if you keep it at a distance, and most importantly, if you keep it separate from your personal life (and personal relationships!).

I am fortunate enough to love my job, both aspects of it – education and orthopaedics. But. I need a life outside of it, and what I badly needed this month is to re-connect with myself as a person. I don’t want my whole life to be about what I do at work. Who am I when I’m not a practice educator or an orthopaedic scrub nurse?

I am so much more than just those two things. I have varied interests and I am capable of a lot of other things. There are other things that make me truly happy apart from getting recognition at work. And in the end, success at work means nothing if you are utterly and truly miserable the whole time. As one of my students like to say, success without happiness is the worst kind of failure.

So I’ve made this lengthy entry when what I actually meant to say can be summed up in three words (two three-word phrases in fact): shake it off. Get a life. You’ll be a much better person for it.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light – VE Schwab

When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming a published author; I dreamed of writing stories that would take readers to another place and allow them to escape reality if only for a little while. I dabbled at fiction writing at the age of 16, and for as long as I can remember I make one attempt every year to write the stories that are in my head. But every time I tried to put words to a page, the stories I write end up being semi-autobiographical. I realise that I’m merely tweaking elements of my own life and I’m really just writing 10 different versions of the life of Angela.

I’ve not given up on my dream of being a published author yet, but I’ve come to the sad conclusion that my view of the world is just too linear (not to mention self-referential, its really all about me! lol) for me to ever write fiction. I don’t have the kind of imagination that will translate into fantasy and adventure stories. I am grateful however, that there are people in this world who do have that kind of imagination and I feel honoured to be able to review their work.

A Conjuring of Light is the kind of book that makes me feel sorry for people who claim to have no time to read books. They miss out on so much by depriving themselves of the written word, like this story of magic, friendship, adventure, loyalty and love. This epic conclusion to the Shades of Magic trilogy lives up to the promise of the first two books, and ends it in the most satisfying way possible.

It begins immediately where A Gathering of Shadows left off, with Kell – and by extension, Rhy – fighting for his life in White London after he is lured to a trap by a dark force calling himself Osaron. Osaron invades Red London in the worst way, stealing into the minds of its people and corrupting the magic that has always made Red London special.

Fighting against this evil is a small band of people led by Kell, Rhy,  Lila, the “traitor” Antari Holland, Captain Alucard Emery and other members of the Royal Family, especially the King himself, who used to be called “The Steel Prince” because of his prowess in the battlefield. They are also helped by the priests of the kingdom who help to build wards around the palace so that Osaron cannot reach the people within.

In searching for a way to stop Osaron, our heroes go through both a metaphorical and literal journey. They sail the high seas for an ancient weapon that will contain Osaron’s power, and they also search the strength within themselves to resist the pull of Osaron’s power.

I really really really love this book. I have raved about the world-building so many times in my previous reviews that I know I’m starting to sound redundant. But there is just something so special about the world that VE Schwab has created; even when its encased in darkness it just feel so alive. I’ve read somewhere that the movie rights to this book have already been purchased and I hope to God that whoever directs the cinematic adaptation of this novel will do it justice.

The only thing more special than the world-building is the character development. This book is truly anchored by each character’s relationship to the other. The bond between Rhy and Kell is still one of the most poignant aspects of this trilogy, and the scenes between them brought tears to my eyes. The relationship between Rhy and Captain Alucard brought tingles to my palms (always a good sign) because hey, I’ve always had a thing for second-chance romance.

Lila and Kell’s relationship was a delight to read because it just felt so natural and organic. There was no need for convoluted plot devices specifically designed to bring them together, they just fell into each other so effortlessly that they were in love before they – or the reader – was aware of what was happening. It was like they just said, “oh hello, there you are. You’ve been there all along”. Le sigh.

The real revelation if this book is Holland, the Antari from White London who we all thought was dead in the first book. Imprisoned for being a traitor, and for being the one to bring Osaron into the world in the first place, in this third book we get his backstory and we gain a little more understanding of him as a character – his motives, his fears and, perhaps most painful of all, his hopes. In the end, I would like to think he redeemed himself and was finally able to find the peace that was denied from him for so long.

There are so many fantasy elements woven into this story that fans of the genre will salivate over: magical objects, the question of immortality, an undead army and so on. However, VE Schwab always underscores the very real point that we all have the capability to do evil within us, even without the influence of magic or darkness. Its greed, jealousy and the lack of honour that makes men and women do dishonourable things, and that’s not fantasy – just human nature.

I won’t lie, certain parts of this book are heartbreaking but also necessary. I guess its unrealistic to expect that all our favourite characters will come through this ordeal safe and unscathed, but the ending proves that all the sacrifices were worth it. In the end, we are left with a world that’s bent but not broken, and the promise lies in the fact that what’s left of the rubble is made of stronger stuff.

All in all, this book deserves a place in the fantasy genre for its stupendous world-building, on-point characterisation and witty dialogue. The writing is sharp and crisp and there’s not one scene that feels like a filler; every scene is necessary to propel the story to its inevitable conclusion. At the hands of its very capable author,  the book doesn’t lose momentum even for an instant, but rather keeps all of us readers at the edge of our seats, waiting for what will happen next. I would strongly recommend it to fans of the fantasy genre.

Posted in Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

This Week’s Lesson: Just Do You

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with insecurities about myself, especially when it comes to all things physical. Having grown up just shy of obese, I’ve always felt self-conscious about my body: how I look in certain clothes, whether the trousers I’m wearing are showing off those love handles that I can’t seem to get rid off, whether my butt looks big in this dress or that dress and so on and so forth, a seemingly never-ending cycle of self-doubt and fat-shaming.

When I moved to London, I started to realise that I didn’t do myself any favours by constantly putting myself down. Its true what they say, you truly are your own worst critic. Most of the time the flaws you see in yourself are noticeable only to your own eyes, eyes that magnify every imagined fault and imperfection. I think I’ve been living in this city for almost 6 months when the scales fell and I saw that a lot of the time, being and feeling beautiful is rooted in self-confidence and being comfortable in your own skin.

Let’s face it, I’m not a Victoria’s Secret model by any stretch of the imagination, and I shouldn’t attempt to judge myself according to that standard of beauty because I have not been blessed in that department. There are other ways in which I have been blessed however. In my country, we call it “consuelo di bobo” (literally translated it means “at least I’m not stupid” ) and it may sound like sour-graping, but to me its just about enumerating and capitalising on your God-given strengths.

For example, I am confident enough to say that my intelligence is above-average. I am also good with words; either in the written format or in the form of a witty repartee, words and conversation have always come easy to me. I love a good banter and I enjoy making people laugh. According to a program at work that I am currently enrolled in, I apparently also have strong social intelligence, whatever that means. My Thursday boss says that its the ability to lie and manipulate people into doing what you want them to do. Well, hey, that sounds like a good weapon to have in my arsenal. Lol

You might be wondering where this blog entry is coming from. I know I always come across as someone who’s really confident and most of the time I am. Its just that when I’m placed in situations where I feel like being conventionally beautiful is everything, where I start to compare myself to other women, where the setting is not a platform where I can showcase my strengths, then I really struggle with my self-esteem.

For the trauma and orthopaedic christmas party, I went against all my natural instincts and decided on a look that was more mature and different from how I would normally look. The dress was tight-fitting and my heels were so high I think I struggled walking the short distance from my flat to Leicester Square. I got to the party and I felt like I had slipped into someone else’s skin and I might as well have impostor stamped all over my forehead. I didn’t feel like me, and my insecurities came out in spades.

Its funny how much the clothes we wear make a difference in how we feel. I guess in a way its because the clothes really do make the man (or woman), and what you choose to wear is a reflection of who you are. For that night, I attempted to be sexy and glamorous when I’m probably more classy and feminine. I’m not any man’s pin-up fantasy, but I am the kind of woman you can bring to dinner parties and introduce to your friends as an equal and accomplished partner. And that is where I’m most comfortable, that is my natural resting state and I swear to God, I am never going to forget that again.

I’m proud of myself and the woman I’ve become, and I’ve made peace with my weaknesses – for the most part. Its just that this whole physical attractiveness thing is one of my most deep-seated insecurities and I sometimes struggle to remind myself that I am beautiful in my own right, and that I am at my best when I’m just being myself. What I have may not be beauty in the conventional sense, but that doesn’t make it less, just different – in the same way that christmas lights are as beautiful as the blooms of spring. And dammit, maybe beauty is overrated. If you ask me, I would probably rather be interesting than beautiful.

Last week I did 5 long day shifts (0800-2030) because we were short-staffed at work. Friday rolled around and I just could not be bothered to wear my usual make-up. These days you can usually gauge how stressed I am by the shade of my red lipstick: the more stressed I get, the lighter the shade of my lipstick. My friend Romelyn asked me that Friday if I was going for the bare-faced look because I didn’t have anything on my face apart from powder and blush.

That day we did the first robotic orthopaedic case in the NHS, a couple of hip replacements and a couple of knee replacements. I love orthopaedics, and I particularly love joint replacements. So I was so confident in what I was doing that I was able to do my job while still engaging in light banter and, perhaps, harmless casual flirtation with my colleagues in between cases. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have make-up on or that I was wearing the world’s most unattractive uniform (raspberry scrub suits, ugh!), I felt confident and in my element.

The team had a lot of fun that day; work was made lighter by the easy camaraderie among the members of the team. That Friday, I apparently caught the eye of one of the visiting doctors in the team, who then asked for my number and asked me out on a date that weekend. In the course of scrubbing for a total knee replacement, even when I was bare-faced and gowned up with a mask on, I was able to make an impression just by being myself. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it? As cliche as it is, you really just have to do you and the rest of it will come easy.

So dear readers and fellow blabbaholics, let this be a reminder to me the next time I feel the need to be someone other than my fabulous self: Be you, the real you; own it and be proud of it.

Let’s put it this way, there are people who are more beautiful than you; there are people who are smarter than you, and there are people who are wittier than you, but there’s no one else with the combination of beauty, intelligence and wit that makes up you as a unique individual, and that is what makes you special.

 

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows – VE Schwab

Harry Potter meets A Knight’s Tale meets Pirates of the Caribbean in this swashbuckling second instalment of the Shades of Magic trilogy.

In fact, its quite unfair to describe this book in terms of pop culture references because it is so much more than the sum of all its parts, but I do it only to emphasise how truly magnificent this book is.

As with all good things it starts as a slow burn, with the author setting the stage and taking the time to reintroduce us to our favourite characters several months after the events of book one. The first quarter of the book was intent on showing how their brush with dark magic impacted Lila, Kell and Prince Rhy. At first glance, they seem to have weathered the storm well but appearances can be deceiving.

Rhy and Kell are struggling with the implications of the spell that keeps Rhy’s life tethered to Kell’s, and how this changes the dynamics of their relationship. Rhy in particular is tortured with guilt at what his actions have brought and a sense of being unworthy of the second chance at life he’s been given.

Kell meanwhile is haunted by dreams of Red London burning, by a growing recklessness and by an increasing need to use his powers. He also faces the fallout of his past activities as the kingdom continues to regard him with suspicion, and the king and queen increasingly treat him like a prisoner under guard rather than a beloved adopted son. Most of all, he struggles with the responsibility of knowing he holds his brother’s life in his hands and that any pain inflicted on him will also be inflicted on Rhy.

As for our favourite Grey London thief, to no one’s surprise, she’s nimbly landed on her feet and finds herself being part of the crew of the Night Spire, a privateer (ahem, pirate) vessel under the leadership of the enigmatic, mysterious and dashing Captain Alucard Emery. She spent the last 3 months on an adventure, establishing a reputation on the high seas as the Sparow, a thief in the night who will rob you blind and you’ll never even see him (or her, in this case) coming.

Woven through all of this is the stunning background of the Essen Tasch or The Elemental Games, where the strongest magicians from the neigbouring empires of Faro and Vesk compete against the pride of the Arnesian empire for the pride of being champion. All of this is set in elaborate arenas built at the heart of Red London, the capital of Arnes.

The world building is stunning. The way the author describes the setting and the scenes just begs for a cinematic adaptation. Reading the book one can almost feel the buildup to the climactic and pivotal moments of the narrative, one can almost taste the anticipation in the air and touch the pulse beat of the excitement as we wait with bated breath for the next twist, for the bend in the road, for the wrench that throws off even the best laid plans.

The thing that is most impressive is that even with so many things going on, VE Schwab never loses sight of the fact that the real strength of this book is the relationship between her central characters. As Master Tieren (the blessed priest) said, magic is not the unknown in the equation because at its core it is and always will be pure. Its the human hands that wield the magic that causes it to appear in different forms. Similarly, in this book its the characters rather than the events that shape the story.

Rhy becomes more of a central figure in this book and we learn a little bit more of his backstory, as well as gaining insight into his hopes, thoughts and fears. I love reading about strong relationships, especially between brothers, so I particularly loved how this book highlighted the bond between Rhy and Kell; its a rope that is damaged and frayed by uncertainty at the moment but its the kind that will hold.

I think Kell for me never quite settles into his role as the main protagonist of this book. Sure, he enters the tournament by stealth and has the chance to flex a bit of muscle in this installment but he still feels like a secondary character. But I don’t think that’s a testament to weak character development; rather its a by-product of the fact that VE Schwab has created such a strong character in the delightful Lila Bard that everyone else just pales in comparison.

I love Lila. Relentless, uncompromising, fearless to the point of having a death wish, she is the real star of this show. Whether dressed in a demon mask, a suit of armor or disarming Kell in that awesome first meeting by donning an actual dress, she burns through the pages and just comes alive in every scene she’s in. I love that she’s an atypical heroine, and she’s a breath of fresh air in this day and age when the fantasy genre is full of so many vapid female characters.

Reading this book will give you an appreciation for the author’s broad imagination. There is something for everyone, even a Cinderella moment for Disney fanatics like me. Overall, its an exquisite blend of intrigue, adventure, magic and romance that will leave readers breathless, that is, breathless from running to the nearest bookstore to read the next book because its just that darn good. A Gathering of Shadows is a delicious romp across this world that VE Schwab has built, and you will be glad you came along for the ride.

Rating: 5 stars

Posted in Careers, Medical, Nursing

Why I’m Proud To Be an Orthopaedic Scrub Nurse

When I was doing my training to become a nurse back home in the Philippines, it was a toss-up as to which area of study I hated the most: the operating theatre or learning about the musculo-skeletal system. I failed abysmally in those two areas (well, I barely managed to scrape together a pass mark, which to me still counts as a failure) and I always thought my career in nursing would have nothing whatsoever to do with those two things.

Which is why I find it rather ironic that here I am, ten years later, working as an ORTHOPAEDIC scrub nurse on top of my role in education (education, on the other hand, I always knew I would get into. Its in the blood!).

No one is more surprised by my thriving career in orthopaedics than me. 7 years ago, I barely knew what a torque wrench was or that there were different kinds of screwdrivers depending on the type of screw you need. If you had told me 6 years ago that I’d be putting jigs together to do a total knee replacement, I would laugh in your face. Honestly, I only volunteered to be in the orthopaedic theatres in the first place because there was a good-looking company rep teaching people how to use power tools. Lol

I can’t say enough just how much I love this speciality. Its not the easiest in the world to learn, and the people in it are not exactly known for their patience in teaching. But for some reason I can’t explain, it gives me such an adrenaline rush to do it, especially the big arthroplasty cases. I love to the challenge of scrubbing for a difficult case even if it means I have to open a million heavy sets.

I love that our patients always walk away happy because we’ve corrected some kind of deformity in their hip or knee. Sure, ortho isn’t life or death most of the time. But if you think about someone who’s been in pain for a long time and for whom simple activities that we take for granted (like walking) are so difficult, and then think about the fact that one operation can help with that and improve their quality of life…that to me, is a minor miracle.

We’ve come so far with orthopaedics in the last couple of years. There’s been so much research to come up with ways to be more precise with joint replacements for example, with the hope that such precision will lead to improved patient outcomes.

This week, I’ll have the chance to work with the team doing (I think) the first robotic joint replacement in the NHS. I had a little moment when the robot was first delivered where I thought, omigod, the future has arrived and it is amazing. I’m sorry, I just can’t pretend to be blasé about this, I am beyond excited to have this kind of technology at our workplace.

We organised training today and I got the chance to play with Wall-e, which is what I’m naming the robot until I come up with a better name. So here’s a video of me trying to calibrate the robot arm with the sensors.

The future is here. Are you ready for it?

Posted in Books, Dystopia, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Book Review : Champion – Marie Lu

And its finally over.

This amazing series finally come to its conclusion with Champion, the third book in the series. Its really hard to discuss and review this book without issuing any major spoilers so if you haven’t read the first two books, consider this your SPOILER ALERT!

The last book ended with a big reveal about Day as well as an end to his relationship with June. He’s left the capital of the Republic to care for his brother Eden as well as to get treatment for his own steadily worsening condition. June, meanwhile, is in training to become the Princeps, the second highest position in the republic (and a position usually held by the Elector’s wife. Hmmmm, coincidence?). The country is on the brink of a treaty with the Colonies until a new plague outbreak threatens to break the tenuous peace that June and Day have fought for, and subsequently brings them back together.

I have to say I was very very impressed with this book. From somewhat naive teenagers, June and Day have grown leaps and bounds into really sensible individuals who, while still prone to the occasional adolescent angst, can think things through before coming to a decision. I am impressed with the level of maturity Marie Lu has given these characters. It is the highest praise I can give when I say that in terms of YA characters these two annoy me the least.

Marie Lu did a very good job of contrasting the different perspectives (and decision-making process) of the main characters in this book: Day, Anden and June.

Those of us who lead with our emotions tend to see the world in absolutes, in black and white, never seeing the shades of grey in between. Guided by our supposedly lofty set of morals, it would be easy to judge another person’s actions as good or bad. Its often a different story if we experience firsthand what it would be like to be responsible for the fate of so many, to have to sacrifice over and over again our own morals and personal beliefs for the sake of the greater good.

The contrast between logic and emotions is exemplified in the characters of Anden and Day. The former, as Elector, has to make decisions that are often contrary to his desires but are ones that he knows will save the country. He cannot afford to rule with his heart because the truth is, emotion is not something one can afford when facing war from both within and without your country’s borders.

Day, meanwhile, is all emotion. Without the weight of an entire country on his shoulders, he can afford to care for the poor and disenfranchised, to protect his remaining family member as well as the girl who is the closest thing he has to a sister. He can afford to fight the daily battles without thinking about what’s next for his country after the dust of battle has settled.

In a way, June represents the balance between these two men. It was very clever of Marie Lu to have this tale narrated through alternating perspectives (June’s and Day’s). We get to read so many scenes of June attempting to strike some kind of balance and compromise, still doing what she knows is right but also being able to look at it from a more global perspective. Its what differentiates June Iparis from other wannabe dystopian heroines: while she is still vulnerable to emotions and matters of the heart (I hate the way she lets herself be affected by Anden’s attentions in order to fill the Day-sized hole in her life), during moments of crisis she is genuinely able to function rationally and be the kind of leader her country needs.

For me, the whole series seems to be Marie Lu’s subtly way of warning us of the dangers of excess and absolute power. Any government where there are a group of individuals who presume to know better and to act in behalf of their people, rather than giving them freedom of choice, is really just tyranny. I’m glad that while this series is somewhat political, it was also so much more than that. Its about one’s personal journey, staying true to your beliefs and what it means to truly care for another person.

The ending was perfect. While some readers may disagree and yearn for something more decisive, I think I like the uncertainty of a happy beginning rather than the finality of a happy ending. I thought the ending was really poignant and, if you paid close attention to the previous books, also very fitting with how June and Day’s relationship has developed.

This is what a dystopian novel should be like: the perfect mix of action, backstory, romance with a side order of politics. Overall, this was a very satisfying end to a fabulous series and I look forward to reading more of Marie Lu’s body of work in the future.