Rating: 4.5 stars (I couldn't decide if I wanted to rate this a 1 star book, or a 5 star book; so I settled. :) )
So I started reading the unedited PDF version online up till chapter ten, then bought the physical book on Lulu to prevent my brain from overloading. The book was expensive, but in the end, I was happy with my purchase. The Substitute is probably one of the most fucked up piece of fiction I have ever had the pleasure to read. There was so much I HATED (which I will get to later in this review). When I think about it, there really wasn’t that many good points. Yet despite my bickering thoughts throughout my reading (just check my status updates if you haven’t already), I had to re-evaluate how I felt. What was that cliché? Love and hate tread a fine line? So I let me start by describing the premise of this book:
The story is told through journal entries from Guntram (Guti for short), a 19 year old orphan who visits Europe with his best friend. The entries date back from 2001 and chronicles to the year 2008. The book is divided into three equal parts: The Duke, The Order, and The Griffin. Each part is around 200-250 pages each. By the time you get to the third part (The Griffin), you get brief journal entries from a secondary character that helps to give some diverse perspective to the story. For better or for worst, most of the story is told through dialogues between characters, or Guntram’s own thoughts. There isn’t much description of the physical world except for certain architecture and basic things (e.g. a lake, a cloudy day, or the warm sand; nothing too descriptive). I count this a blessing since the author’s use of the English language might have made things difficult if she tried to go in great details of the physical world.
So now, I will list my dislikes:
1) Grammar Nazis, beware! It is quite obvious that the author’s native language is not English. Parts of the PDF version that I read (up to chapter 10) had many errors: punctuation, incorrect spelling, incorrect use of articles, incorrect sentence structures, many inconsistent verb tenses, incorrect verb/noun usage, and just strange use of the English language. The physical version cleaned up a lot of the punctuation and misspelling and such (but still had them). To me, it made a big difference in my ability to read the book. However, if you aren’t bothered by these nuances (or go in with the right frame of mind), then the PDF version may be fine with you. The story is understandable even with the butchering of the English language, but it kind of ruined some moments for me (like awkwardly spelled out love confessions, sex scenes, or tense moments) i.e. “I love you” replied with, “I also" or "what have you being doing here?" (these were repeated mistakes too).
2) Guntram. Sorry to all the Guntram fans, but I just really disliked him. He is a 19 year old boy with an “innocent” heart that can only be labeled as really, really, really x 1000 naïve. He is bratty and picks verbal arguments that felt…well, stupid. For instance (this doesn’t spoil anything, but I know some people are touchy about that kind of stuff), he gets angry when his defender tries to kill an assailant that punched him in the face, kicked him in the ribs, then held a knife to his throat (and actually made a cut). Really?! The person just tried to kill
you, and now you are angry at your defender for trying to protect you?. Not only that, but he constantly makes the same mistakes over, and over, and over again. Maybe it’s just me, but it was EXHAUSTING being in the mind of a 19 (to an immature 25) year old for 650 pages (can you imagine if the ICOS was solely written from Boyd’s perspective?).
3) This book was just too long. I didn’t skim (even though I wanted to at times), but this could have probably been 200 pages less. It seemed like the meat of the story was in the The Griffin, but that in itself could have probably been reduced to 50-100 pages. And most of The Order also seemed like fodder material.
So I’ve written paragraphs of what I disliked, and some of you may be wondering: why did I rate this book so high? Especially if I really disliked the protagonist, from which this story is told from (1st person POV, no less). Well, here’s why:
1) The plot. Holy shit, this was the biggest clusterfuck
of a story I have ever read. You think the basis of the relationship between Boyd and Sin, or Vadim and Dan, or Warrick and Toreth, or Laurent and Damien were complicated? Well, The Substitute has so many twists and turns, lies, deceptions, and betrayals that it made all other relationships look like a blind date at McDonalds (well, maybe Laurent and Damien from Captive Prince are a contender, but still…). Just when you think things are settled, you’re smacked in the face and land bare-assed on the floor. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fodder material throughout the story so it takes a lot of reading to unravel the complicated crap that happens. But you’ll get bits and pieces of things that will slowly add up until the end.
2) The relationship. How does it work between a naïve 19 year old orphan, who is dirt poor and a rich and violent 45 year old Swiss German banker? Add to that secret organizations and a very dark and twisted plot, and my answer is: it doesn’t. And that’s the premise of why this book is so exhausting, yet delicious: to try and make this relationship work (and my whiny Guntram-hating voice tells me that it’s mostly his fault). This relationship is chalked full of love, hate, deceit, VIOLENCE
, and is so much god-awful shit that it made my dark little heart pulse in a flutter of happiness. But seriously, even though I dislike Guntram, I loved seeing the dynamics in his relationship with Konrad.
3) Good secondary characters. Though they never took center stage, the secondary characters were meaningful and had a good supportive role in the whole scheme of things. I liked them more than the main character himself!
So if you’re still with me at this point, I will also say that despite all the BAD things, I still could not put this book down. I needed
to know how things played out. It was a constant itch on my mind: what else will happen? How are these events related? Even though my brain hurt from all the auto-correcting it had to do, and the Vodka I had to drink to get through Guntram’s naïve rambles, I had to keep reading. And that driving passion to read every page is what made me realized how much I love this book.
Will I read the sequel? I don’t know. The ending is a HFN, which was all I could hope for with the direction it took towards the end. But the sequel sounds like round two of the same thing (except with more pages, and possibly more infidelity based on the blurb). I don’t want a repeat of other series where quitting on the first book would have been better than reading the sequels. I will wait and see!