Top Five Tuesday: Books That Weren’t What I Expected

This week’s Top Five Tuesday from Bionic Book Worm is all about books that weren’t what we were expected.  This is a trait that can send a book in one of two directions: either it delights and surprises you as new layers are revealed, or you’re left underwhelmed as a book fails to deliver on what you were expecting.  I’ve got examples of both joys and disappointments this week, so let’s dive in!

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SPIN THE DAWN by Elizabeth Lim
Most of the publicity I saw for this YA fantasy pitched it as Mulan meets Project Runway.  And while that definitely captures the essence of the first third of the book, that is not at all the main thrust of the story!  After the initial set-up where Maia dresses as a man and competes against tailors for a royal position (in a sequence so like Project Runway you can hear Tim Gunn), the story takes an abrupt turn.  For her final test, Maia has to travel the realm to collect three incredibly rare magical items to sew into dresses.  At this stage, the story becomes something that feels much more inspired by Tales of Arabian Nights. It was a turn of setting I was not expecting and I really enjoyed this added element.

THE BEAUTIFUL by Renee Ahdieh
This is an instance where an element I was expecting wasn’t actually in the book, and it very much let me down.  Somewhere along the trail to this book being released, I got the impression that this was a story about vampires.  Now, to be fair to the book jacket, nowhere does it actually say the word “vampire” in the description.  But the publicity definitely pushed that angle, so when the supernatural elements of this story were largely removed from the story, I found myself heavily disappointed.

JADE CITY by Fonda Lee
This is one where my misconceptions stopped me from reading a book sooner than I might have.  I got it into my head that JADE CITY was set in a medieval Asian-inspired setting, and at the time I wasn’t in the mood for that particular genre of fantasy. So imagine my chagrin when I realized that this was a much more “modern” fantasy, with cars and phones and televisions. I was WILDLY wrong about this book, this time for the better!

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THUNDERHEAD by Neal Shusterman
SCYTHE drops us into a world where death has all but been eliminated, and a select group of humans known as Scythes randomly “glean” a set number of people every year as a mean’s of population control.  I don’t know what I expected in book two, but it was not for the AI system that was largely in the background of book one to take an active prominent role.  While Scythes Rowan and Citra are still central to the plot, Thunderhead enters as a full character, and only grows in importance as the series goes on.

THE EMPRESS by S.J. Kincaid
After thoroughly enjoying the space politics of THE DIABOLIC, I thought I knew what I was getting into with the sequel, THE EMPRESS.  That is, I thought I was getting more of the same, backstabbing court politics as our two heroes fend off those with designs on the throne.  And that’s where it starts…until about 1/4 or 1/3 of the way in, when the story takes a DRASTIC left turn that completely shook up everything.  To say more is to ruin some great twists, but it was definitely NOT just a simple sequel.

So what books surprised and delighted you or left you cold as you discovered what they really were?

19 thoughts on “Top Five Tuesday: Books That Weren’t What I Expected

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  1. I really want to read Spin the dawn now! I already lowered my expectations for the vampire aspect of The beautiful, since I keep hearing that that is the main reason why people are disappointed in that one!


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  2. I loved SPIN THE DAWN, and I can see what you’re saying. I didn’t catch that at the time I was reading it. I read SCYTHE but haven’t read THUNDERHEAD yet. I want to. Not sure how I feel about the AI being so prominent. I love the human characters, though. Thanks for your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s about vampires, but the most vaguely described vampires I’ve ever met. It’s basically like “these people at this club seem like they’re not human. Weird, right? Anyway let’s move on to that murder mystery, we’ll come back to them being weird in the last 20 pages of the book.”

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  3. I haven’t read any of the books that you’ve mentioned here but I know what it’s like to feel both sides of the expectation spectrum: disappointment and joy. I have tried to reduce the disappointing reads by becoming more picky but still some slip through. 😉
    I hope 2020 sees more joy than disappointment in both our reads. x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s publishing’s fault for describing any Asian-inspired fantasy where the protag has to dress like a man for whatever reason as a Mulan retelling. Just let them stand on their own unless they are explicitly a Mulan retelling. I was let down by The Beautiful as well. It wasn’t so much the lack of vampire elements, but it was so darn slow.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think in my review I described it as being able to tell the author had done a ton of world building, but she put a giant curtain over it and lifted just a tiny corner and that’s all you were allowed to see.

        Liked by 1 person

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