Series: The Conspiracy of Us #1
Published by Putnam Juvenile on January 13th, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance, Young Adult
A fast-paced international escapade, laced with adrenaline, glamour, and romance--perfect for fans of Ally Carter
Avery West's newfound family can shut down Prada when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war. Part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle, they believe Avery is the key to an ancient prophecy. Some want to use her as a pawn. Some want her dead.
To unravel the mystery putting her life in danger, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the monuments of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul with two boys who work for the Circle—beautiful, volatile Stellan and mysterious, magnetic Jack. But as the clues expose a stunning conspiracy that might plunge the world into World War 3, she discovers that both boys are hiding secrets of their own. Now she will have to choose not only between freedom and family--but between the boy who might help her save the world, and the one she's falling in love with.
*deep sigh* It’s been almost 3 months since I read this book, but I’m just getting around to reviewing it now. It’s so laughably terrible that I needed to have the right energy and enough time to fully explain why. Honestly, before I dove into the book, I’d already seen that the public opinion on it was largely negative – but I still went into it with an open mind. It has such a beautiful cover and awesome premise (YA Da Vinci Code!), that I desperately wanted to like it. However, by page 24 my hopes were already shot.
On page 24, the main character reveals herself to be a TSTL speshul snowflake – a theory which only gets more and more support as the story goes on. First: she has purple eyes. I know I’m not alone in my hatred for purple eyes because it’s usually the first step to have a total wish fulfillment speshul Mary Sue-like character, who is just so beautiful it’s not fair. It’s also unrealistic. Purple eyes don’t happen (don’t fucking cite Elizabeth Taylor to me, her eyes only sometimes looked purple due to lighting/make-up/clothing – there are scientific articles about this), so unless there’s some paranormal/sci-fi/fantastical reasoning behind it, it should not be in contemporary books.
Admittedly there is a reason for Avery’s purple eyes and she’s not the only person on earth with the eye color. It’s actually a link to her father’s family, though she has no idea who he is. That family is part of an elite Circle of Twelve families that controls the world (more on that later), and all those 12 families have the gene for purple eyes due to interbreeding (because that’s how that works, no birth defects, just purple eyes). So she’s not super speshul. But then, she’s the only GIRL with purple eyes, so she is speshul, so speshul that there’s even a prophecy about her (we’ll get to that too).
Oh and did I mention that Avery has been bullied and teased for her purple eyes as a kid, because no one thought they could possibly be real? So much so that she wears colored contacts to hide them? Yeah, feel very sorry for this speshul unfortunately beautiful girl. Further descriptions of Avery:
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like one of those dolls?” he said. “A… kuklachka. How do you say it in English? With the white skin and the big eyes.”
“A porcelain doll.” My pale complexion and dark hair would have been enough, but add dark eyes and cheeks that flushed too easily and too often–like I was determined for them not to do right now–and that sealed it. He wasn’t the first to make the comparison. The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
“Five foot two inches tall.” He looked me up and down again, and I straightened automatically. “One hundred and three pounds.”
“Could use a little more meat on those bones, if you ask me,” he said, leaning across the seat to wrap one slim hand entirely around my upper arm. The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
Her TSTL (too stupid to live) nature also reveals itself very early on. When the new, mysterious, handsome guy at school, Jack, drops a picture of her that he was carrying, instead of being creeped the fuck out, she decides to get closer to him and go to prom with him. As you do. She usually keeps herself from making friends because she moves constantly (later revealed as her mom trying to keep her hidden from the Circle of Twelve), but when she hears she’ll be moving again she figures she can have one night of fun with this presumed stalker. At the dance, she meets this other guy, Stellan, who she’d spotted once before leering at her from a parking lot. He grabs her to go dance, and then Jack comes along and they start fighting with cryptic reasoning over her. And thus the seeds of the love triangle are planted, because this book needs to cover every YA cliché ever.
This Stellan guy seems a bit more forceful and dangerous than Jack – who for the record does try to be honest with her and does seem to be looking out for her. But both guys have been sent by MYSTERIOUS MIGHTY PEOPLE to find her. Those people are connected to her father, who might be from one of these Circle of Twelve families. But instead of confronting her mom, who never told her about this side of her family, she obviously decides to drop everything and right that minute fly off to Paris with STELLAN. Not Jack, he’ll catch up with them later. And this in spite of her earlier musings that her mom was basically her only friend and only constant in the world. *sigh*
So she finds out she’s probably related to the Circle of Twelve and arrives in Paris like a total dumbass. Her supposed family, the Saxons, are not there but would arrive the next day, so she’s staying with the Dauphins in a wing of the Louvre. Like you do. When you practically run the world, you get to live in one of the world’s most famous museums because duh. She finds out that Jack is a “Keeper” for the Saxons, and Stellan is a “Keeper” for the Dauphins. Keepers are something like bodyguards, and the two families are kinda rivals but kinda not.
The next day there is a ball or something, so obviously they have to go dress shopping. At Prada. Which the Dauphins just had closed for the day so they would have the shop to themselves. Stellan leaves her there to try on dresses and just before she’s ready to leave, this guy comes in and tries to attack her. She runs and gets stabbed in her arm, but then Stellan and Luc (the heir to the Dauphins) arrive and kill the assassin and his partner. One had his head cut off. The other was stabbed in the chest in front of Avery. So THAT escalated quickly, but Avery is hardly traumatized – not by the deaths happening in front of her, or by these new “friends” who hardly blinked before killing people.
Jack reveals that the assassins are from the Order, who are against the Circle – they don’t believe the Circle should be in charge of the world. The Circle is basically the New World Order – descendants of Alexander the Great who hold almost every position of power everywhere. They are responsible for the two world wars (because of internal feuding) and all this other shit (which, okay, maybe I fucking agree with the Order and the Circle needs to die).
Avery then reveals she has purple eyes just like Luc, and Jack is *SHOCKED* because this means she’s a direct descendant of one of the heads of the families. The whole prophecy gets revealed – when the girl with purple eyes and the One are joined, it will somehow reveal treasure, wealth, power, and weapons – the birthright to the Circle, left behind somewhere by Alexander the Great. Now, Jack tells her some of these things and offers to take her to the Saxons who will keep her safe. Obviously the Order wants to kill her, and the other families would try to manipulate her. But Avery thinks that Jack and the Saxons would keep her under intense scrutiny, while Luc and Stellan don’t know about her eyes yet, so if she stays with them she’ll have a bigger chance of sneaking off. She’s acting like she’s been kidnapped even though she voluntarily went off to Paris with them, because retconning makes for great storytelling.
Because she is so too stupid to live, she goes off with Luc and Stellan, who for some reason are going clubbing in ISTANBUL so bye bye Paris. Anyway, they’re clubbing in Istanbul and Avery learns about more of this prophecy stuff in infodumps from Luc because why not. The prophecies are apparently all super accurate because they were made by the Oracle at Delphi and stuff because reasons. And this one – the Mandate – is so important because of the internal power struggles. The families all want to be the One. To get all the glory.
Finally it seems like Avery is acting with minimal intelligence, and she does try to sneak away.. But then Jack shows up outside on a motorcycle because apparently he’d put a tracer in her purse – isn’t that romantic? He takes her to find Fitz / Mr. Emerson – his mentor, and her previous neighbor from when they lived in Boston. Fitz knows THINGS, but had sent a message to Jack that things were going wrong and they had to follow the clues he leaves them. When they get to his apartment, they find blood everywhere, and eventually they find a secret message that they have to go on a scavenger hunt thing because apparently “they are wrong about the mandate.” (They call the prophecy “the mandate” as if those terms are synonyms. *sigh*)
The Order then shows up and the two try to escape out the window. A chase sequence follows, and when they finally get away in a market, the two are pressed close together and tempted to kiss. Because obviously, being on the run makes for the perfect time for kissing. They go to the Haggia Sophia, where Fitz worked, and where the first of three clues would be hidden. It points them towards the Notre Dame in Paris. They narrowly escape from the Order again – who yell that they will kill Fitz if they don’t tell them who the One is – and go back to Paris.
At the Notre Dame, they find the next clue – a gargoyle that “watches over” the place, and they realize where it’s looking would be the next location. (They puzzled over this for ages, but I had it figured out in seconds. *sigh*) It’s looking at the ferris wheel and Jack says it’s the Louvre.
FREEZE FRAME: This is INCORRECT. The ferris wheel in Paris is in the Tuileries Garden. It is next to, but not part of, the Louvre. FACT CHECK FAIL.
Regardless, they go to the Louvre anyway, and find the next clue there (it should have been in Tuileries but whateverrrrrrr) in an exhibit, where Avery crawls under a sarcophagus. When the security guard comes to question them, she says she fainted and fell UNDER the sarcophagus. Because that’s so believable. Well, the guard thought so. (THIS BOOK IS SO RIDICULOUS.)
The Order shows up again and chases them, but by disguising themselves (by switching coats) and pretending to be a couple kissing, they manage to evade them. Then they come back around, so Avery actually kisses him, and it’s all very dramatic and cliché – but honestly I’m a glutton for this kind of situation so I giggled anyway. At this point, Jack reveals that Keepers get killed if they get involved with anyone from the Circle in that way, so OOPS IT’S FORBIDDEN. (Yep, we needed to fit in that cliché too.)
The Louvre had yielded them a book by Napoleon, where he documents more about the prophecy. After some research and sleuthing, a masquerade ball on the third level of the Eiffel tower, eavesdropping on conversations between the Circle families, meeting her father, make out sessions, and Stellan finding out that Avery has purple eyes, Dauphin kidnaps Avery and decides to force her to marry Luc, so that he will be “the One”. (Right: the Circle is all about the patriarchy, with women mostly being good for marrying off and bearing children.)
While in captivity, she, Jack, and Stellan start piecing together the clues and realize that what Napoleon had figured out was that the interpretation the Circle had was wrong. The prophecy mentions “the One superior to all others” – as in a thirteenth descended from Alexander himself. And as there’s a bit in the prophecy about the One walking through fire unharmed and Avery realizes that Stellan has burn scars and he was brought to the Circle by Fitz after surviving a fire… They test it out with a lighter – he feels the pain of fire but it doesn’t leave a mark on him (because reasons). Dun dun dunnnn, Stellan is likely the One.
Anyway, the wedding is on, in Notre Dame because obvi. However, after many dramatics, Avery reveals herself to the crowd as having purple eyes, exposing Dauphin for tricking the Circle and trying to use Avery for her “power”. Chaos erupts, and she manages to escape with Jack, aided by Luc and Stellan. They contact the Order to ask for more time, but they kill Fitz and reveal that they kidnapped Avery’s mother. They want the identity of the One ASAP.
The story comes to a close the next day, when Avery and Jack meet up with Stellan, now enemies of the Circle and the Order. Stellan agrees to help them and comes with a last bombshell…
“That’s right, kuklachka. Congratulations to us. It appears you and I are getting married.” The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
While big picture this story is pretty terrible – mostly due to the very many clichés and terrible writing – there is some entertainment value. The chase scenes are decently intense. Avery doesn’t escape unscathed, and enough characters get wounded/killed that it’s not entirely lame. Towards the end, when more of the conspiracy stuff comes to light, there is an actual sense of complexity to the story that can be fun for readers to puzzle out. But then again, it usually comes with enough contradictions/inaccuracies to make me groan again.
The biggest mystery to me is that I actually didn’t find the romance altogether terrible. It’s cliché and corny and overdramatic – sure. And they are super ~attracted~ to each other and tempted to kiss at the absolute worst of times. But the kiss scenes themselves are almost swoonworthy? However, all the stalking and dramatic stuff does keep me from boarding a ship. (Though, for the record, Jack is superior to Stellan.)
All in all, if the story isn’t ridiculous enough for you, there are more than enough horrific examples of the writing.
Stellan pulled out the other bar stool and sat. My feet dangled, but his rested solidly on the floor. The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
Jack nodded. “I need to borrow a shirt from Fitz anyway,” he said, rolling his shoulders. The shirt from Prada was a little tight, and stretched taut across his shoulders. The butterflies flapped harder, but I shook them off. What was wrong with me? How could I possibly be thinking about how good he looked in a tight shirt right now? The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
But the best thing ever, and the quote of the book, in my opinion, comes when Luc explains the significance of the number twelve in the world, all due to the Circle.
Luc grinned wider. “Then you’ll really be impressed with this. The twelve months of the calendar. Inches in a foot. Hours in a day. Zodiac symbols. The ‘twelve’ aspects of those all came into being around 300 BC, just around when the Diadochi took over.” The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
Twelve hours in a day.
TWELVE HOURS IN A DAY.