Killing Me Slowly

A leopardess who learned how to dance. And read.
SPOILER ALERT!

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent - Veronica Roth

I kinda feel like I should have liked this book more? I mean, it avoids doing a lot of things I dislike in YA genre romance, it includes a few things I theoretically like, and the writing was actually better than average for YA. Yet rather than making an enthusiastic fan of me, all of that stuff just…helped it break even. I’m really just sort of ambivalent about Divergent, and I’m still trying to suss out exactly why.

So whoo, let’s have a list. A VERY SPOILERY LIST

Pros:
Here watch me try and be positive for once

- A Flawed MC
So I have my issues with Tris not really speaking to me personally as an interesting character, but I can appreciate that she was a character with actual flaws and defects and deviant pleasures that a lot of female characters aren’t allowed to have. I appreciated that she wasn’t the best at everything, that Roth wasn’t afraid to let her suffer and fail, and that she had moments of harshness and vindictive glee that most proper, caring YA heroines wouldn’t think of showing.

- No Love Triangle
There was no love triangle in this installment. Huzzah. That may change as the series goes on, I don’t know, but I do appreciate the restraint in not shoehorning a second viable romantic interest in there.

- The Romance Was Relatively Up Front
No four hundred pages of milling and doubt, But does he like me? Sure, he follows me around and saved me from rampaging wildebeests and then held me sexily against him, but does that mean he likes me?. It’s still there, sure, but it’s not drawn out neeeeeeeeearly as much as it could be. Much to I’m sure everyone’s surprise, there does come a point at which Tris accepts that yes, a dude kissing and stroking you and holding your hand does mean that he is romantically interested. She even, gasp!, initiates some of the intimacy and relationship development between them. Thumbs up.

- Lady Friends
Tris had like three, maybe four, and her mother played a good-sized role, too. Granted, none of them were super-developed, but hey! They were there. This is a selling point. Man this is sad.

- Sacrifice & Suffering
Roth isn’t afraid to have her characters go through the ringer. Tris and several other characters get the crap beaten out of them, characters get brainwashed, maimed, injured, they even get killed, or kill other people – cartoonish as this future world may be, you can’t say there isn’t consequence or loss.

- Tough Choices
They are there. Tris has to make them.

- It was Compelling
Even when I was rolling my eyes at some of the dumbshit happening on screen, it was never a chore to read, and I always wanted to pick it back up. There was some nice turn of phrase, some interesting ideas, and some decent characterization.

So it’s not like it’s a total festering crap pile, there are good things. But they have to make up for:

Cons
Or basically just, “man this is stupid.

- The World
I know it’s been harped on to death, so I’ll try not to go on about it for too long, but JESUS FUCKING CHRIST this world is stupid. Dividing into weird values-based factions was somehow seen as a solution to war??? Um how about no? Just aside from it being a dumb motherfucking idea, how would anyone come to this conclusion? How would reasoning fucking adults get together and decide, “Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Separating ourselves into themed societies. Nah really man, it’s great, we can pick a team name out of the thesaurus, design our own logo, make official seals, demand people be loyal to us over friends and family, pick a group color, it’ll be so cool! Dibs on “The Fire Ponies”!”

The answer is that they didn’t, and that is because only small, excitable children would think that this is a reasonable way to run a society, and even then only for like half an hour, until naptime, and then the whole thing collapses.

The whole idea is just so dumb, and asks for an excessive amount of my already limited suspension of disbelief. I mean, I’m willing to give some leeway when you’re talking satire or allegory or metaphor, and you’re trying to make a point, but if there’s a bigger point, I’m just not seeing it.

I guess it’s my expectations getting in the way – I expected Divergent‘s weird social system to be have a point, to be a critique of some sort, but if the conflict is about proving that “Hey, people can be “kind AND brave AND honest AND selfless AND smart”, I already know that. We all know. Because, we, too, are (hopefully) multi-faceted human beings. All you’re proving is that somehow, this society has managed to exist for years without accounting for basic human nature. It’s not a feature, it’s a bug.

Basically, if there’s not some sort of social criticism at work here, I have to be able to believe that Divergent World could conceivably exist, and I don’t. And seeing as how that is basically the entire premise, it seriously undermines my ability to enjoy the ride.

Of course, it doesn’t help that…

- The Dauntless are Dumb
I mean yeah the concept of the Factions is dumb, but the Factions themselves are infuriatingly stupid too, especially the Dauntless. For starts, I don’t really see how Courage is supposed to prevent war? I mean yeah I guess the core philosophy of “standing up for the little guy” is a good one, but you’d think that standing up for people causes more conflict than it prevents. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context we’re given, as separating into these six five groups was how humanity supposedly ended war.

The Dauntless being physically trained as soldiers makes even LESS sense, since I THOUGHT THE WHOLE IDEA WAS TO GET RID OF WAR, so WHY ARE YOU GUYS TRAINING AS SOLDIERS? WHAT ARE SOLDIERS USED FOR IF NOT CONFLICT UGH THIS WHOLE FACTION IS A FUCKING CONFUSING MESS OF PHILOSOPHICAL IDEALS.

If their existence or activities were at least geared towards the idea of defending the defenseless – and there are defenseless and downtrodden in this world, kthnx – I could accept the philosophical weirdness because at least they were following through in some sort of vaguely helpful manner, but instead the Dauntless just seem to be a faction of Jackass rejects and Darwin Award candidates who get off on giving common sense the finger, and yet inexplicably haven’t gone the way of the fucking Dodo yet.

I realize that the divergence (hur hur) from their ideals is at least partially a plot point, but ultimately the whole concept and execution of the group just comes off like they wanted to have a “cool, sexy faction” that you should be SUPER EXCITED about Tris electing to join, whether it makes sense within the world or not. Also, I mean, it’s not a dystopian trilogy without a revolution, right? And if we’re going to have a revolution, there has to be someone to be threatened by. Definitely not those gross, nasty scholars, amirite?

- Erudites are Godless, Science-loving Heathens (Which is Apparently a Bad Thing)
So, obviously a lot of the bias against the Erudites (the scholarly, academic faction) in the book comes from Tris, and Tris being raised among the Abnegation, who are apparently the most religious of the Factions and HOLY SHIT MOST OF THE DIVERGENT COME FROM ABNEGATION. JESUS FREES YOU FROM THE LITERAL MIND CONTROL OF THE HORRIBLE SCIENCE WIELDED BY THE SCIENCE ELITE OH MY GOD HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE????

Ahem. Er, anyway, sure, Tris being biased against Erudite makes sense, it’s true to her character, and it’s cast as unreliable, so you know, whatever. Except THEN we get to the end, in which we learn that the Evil Mastermind behind the sudden downpour o’conflict is the leader of the Erudite faction, who has brainwashed the Dauntless with science so that she can mind control them into eliminating Abnegation.

Wait what.

Review continued at You're Killing.Us

SPOILER ALERT!

Kinslayer Review

Kinslayer - Jay Kristoff

I really did not intend to read this book. I feel like I got my fill of/said my piece in the Stormdancer review, and who wants to retread? (other than Kinslayer, BA-ZING) So you guys (and I!) can thank Shiori and my pitiful resistance to peer pressure for this, another miserable two-month, 500-page slog. Also, UNMARKED SPOILERS ABOUND in this review.

I immediately regret this decision gif

First things first: the sama-as-'sir' and hai-as-'yes' thing - which, I'll have you know, was a totally intentional linguistic twist, I don't know why you're so upset about it - has been mostly fixed.

Applause

Honorifics are almost entirely dropped, and while "hai" still appears frequently, it's not in the middle or at the end of sentences or masquerading as "ne", so it's slightly more tolerable. I mean, I'm pretty sure it's still being used wrong, but the Japanese proficiency level has at least moved up to "Weeaboo", so that's something that those of us who were irritated by the first one, yet are inexplicably reading the sequel, can be grateful for.

Don't get me wrong, it's still Weearific as fuck -

Jurou’s grin was all Kitsune-in-the-henhouse, aimed squarely at Hana... 


- probably so that we don't forget that this is, like, super-exotic steampunk fantasy, man, and we should all be grateful, excited, a little bit horny, and totally throwing cookies its way for deigning to take place in the ~land of the rising sun~.

I mean, this isn't necessarily anything new. When it comes to Japan, and Asian culture, and outside cultures in general, it seems like most of what we're given access to are weeabooks or the equivalent - white people's exotified "riffs" on cultures and mythologies not theirs. And I think that's sort of the larger issue that I didn't emphasize enough in the "sama-hai" hullabaloo of my Stormdancer review.

Ellen Oh wrote a fantastic blog post on the subject earlier this year, that articulates the problem quite beautifully.

It is a complicated situation. There is no easy answer. We need diversity in literature. We need it desperately. [...] And so it is important that all authors include diversity in their books.

But there is that part of me that wonders why is it that when I see a list about what Asian fantasy books are out there, the books are predominantly by caucasian authors. Are POC writers not writing them or are they being passed over for books written by non-POC authors instead? And why is it that books by or about POC don't tend to sell as well as other "mainstream" books. What is the difference? Is it the difference in how they are marketed? Is it their cover art? Where they are placed in the bookstore or library? How they are pushed or not pushed by the booksellers, librarians, and teachers?

The reality is, there are just not a lot of POC authors out there. We are not representing the 37% of our population when we only amount to 10% of publishing. When you look at diversity panels or even the YA tag in racebending.com, the authors tend to be predominantly white because they reflect publishing.

This is why I can't help but be resentful. I freely admit it. It sucks being a POC author sometimes. You feel invisible. You feel passed over. And true or not, it feels harder for us to get to tell our own stories. And that shouldn't be the way things are.



So look. Being totally up front: I think, in terms of cultural representation, The Lotus War is pretty gross. I think it's lazy, exotifying, frequently reliant on Western fantasy tropes and attitudes even when they make no sense in the setting, and I think that most of what was intact and researched and detailed was the shiny pretty totally marketable aesthetic. And I think that uncritical glorification of this book and books like it are part of what keep us from getting better things.

That being said, I want to talk about other aspects of Kinslayer separately, because a) there ARE things I found interesting and ideas I liked, and b) it fails rather spectacularly on several other axes.

So, premise: basically, after killing the Shogun at the end of Stormdancer, Yukiko has driven her powers into overdrive - or so we're lead to believe - and they've begun to overwhelm her. The thoughts and presences of animals and humans alike cause her physical pain, and so Yukiko has become an alcoholic to drown them out, and to numb the pain of her father's loss. She drags herself away from the bottle to cause problems for the Guild and defend her comrades-in-rebellion, but little by little her control over her powers is slipping, and endangering herself and everyone around her. After a good three million pages setting all this up, Yukiko is positioned to spend her part of the book on a Journey to find someone in Shima who can help her learn to control her powers.

This isn't a bad start. I was begrudgingly digging Yukiko being in such a dark place - I mean, not very many "YA" authors I've come across will put their MC in that kind of unglamorous, self-destructive position. The goal was clear, and the Journey ahead promised adventure and discovery! Maybe we'd even get some - dare I even say it it? - progress to move this slog along?

LOLOLOLOL NOPE

OH, YOU!

Yukiko's attempt to learn to control her powers falls by the wayside fairly quickly, and she instead spends most of her plotline dealing with a streak of bad luck that seems designed mostly to keep her out of the way of the main plot - and to introduce this world's Russians, which'll hopefully pay off in the next book. Maybe.

On the bright side, her emotional conflict and inner turmoil is mostly resolved, even if her superpower issue pans out in the most groan-inducing way possible.

—CANNOT FEEL THEM, KINSLAYER? NOT HEAR THEM SCREAM WHEN THE MONKEY-MAN STRUCK HER BELLY?—

[...]

Buruu sighed, storm howling overhead, lighting reflected in the bottomless black of her eyes. The girl he loved more than anything in this world. The girl he would do anything to protect, to spare her even one more second of pain.

But he could not spare her this.

YUKIKO …

Oh, gods, no …

The sigh came from the heart of him.

YUKIKO, YOU ARE WITH CHILD.



YEP! SHE'S PREGNANT. That's where all her power is coming from. BABBIES. Always BABBIES. That's a thing women do, right? That's also how she recruits the female griffin to their cause -

He could feel the little ones inside Yukiko—two tiny sparks of life, shapeless and bright, intertwined with her own heat. They pulsed, too formless to know true fear, but real enough to feel their mother’s terror, shock, sorrow through the Kenning. The fear spilled into him, fear for them, for the one who carried them, for the beating, bleeding heart of his world.

He knew Kaiah could feel them too.

PLEASE.

Kaiah growled, deep in her throat, tail whipping side to side.

—NO. WILL NOT FIGHT FOR YOU.—

[...]

Kaiah padded over to Yukiko, knelt on the stone before her. The girl looked up, swollen, trembling lips and frightened, blackened eyes. An age passed, there in the howling storm, the clawing wind, the driving rain, until at last, the thunder tiger leaned in close, pressed her head against Yukiko’s belly, and listened.
The sun slipped out from behind the clouds.

Just for a moment.

—BUT I WILL FIGHT FOR THEM.



Because women, right? They may not give a shit about people, but they give a shit about babbies, goddammit.

The truth, though, is that Yukiko and Buruu just aren't of much consequence in Kinslayer. We're teased with the question of the fate of the remaining griffins, with hints of Buruu's past, he's even the titular Kinslayer, but all of that potentially interesting bit of backstory is withheld, presumably for the finale. Or the never.

Instead, Kristoff uses Kinslayer to make The Lotus War an ensemble, adding a handful of new POV characters and three separate storylines to the mix.

 

Those are the ones that really factor in to Kinslayer‘s overall plot, and I suspect that the introduction of Hana, along with Kin’s progression, were what Kinslayer was meant to serve – mostly because they’re the only things that really differentiate it from Stormdancer. BUT WE’LL GET TO THAT.


Look, the important part here is that while two of the new storylines may primarily follow female characters, the generous helping of new POVs means that we get to slip into the perspectives of the people around them. You know what that means!

LEGITIMATE EXCUSE FOR OBJECTIFICATION TIME!

 

Aw yeah, she isn’t a Strong Female Character if we don’t get some good ol’fashioned fap material!

Ahahaha, I jest, but it is actually disappointing, because there are times when the characters are well-drawn. Both Michi and Hana get an abundance of backstory and some agency in their own subplots (it’s somewhat hard to gage when so much of the story is “waiting around” and “flashbacking”), but the sexualization of the female characters is never far off. The male gaze is ever-present, whether it’s in women describing women –

"Seventeen, perhaps eighteen years old at most. Her lips were full and pouting, as if she’d been stung by something venomous, her features fragile and perfect; a porcelain doll on its first day in the sun. She narrowed her eyes, held one hand up against the light.

Inexplicably, Yukiko felt her heart sink.

She’s beautiful."

Or women somehow sexualizing themselves in the third person.

"Her tongue emerged from between bee-stung lips and she touched it to her fingers, just once, shivering as she tasted copper and salt."

And we’re given to male POVs at the most convenient –

"Her lips tasted of strawberries and sweat, warm as spring and soft as Kitsune silk. Wet beneath his fingertips, thighs smooth as glass, a river of glossy black spilling around her face and clinging to dripping breasts. She swayed above him; a long, slow dance in the lamplight, spilling across her contours, down into soft curves and sodden furrows. Soaking all around him, slick and scalding to the touch. She took his hands, pressed them against her, biting her lip and sawing back and forth atop him. Her sighs were the only sound in his world, her heat soaking through to his center. Her hips moved like a summer haze over lotus fields, climbing the mountain as she moaned his name over and over again.

“Ichizo.” Her lips on his own, breathing into his mouth. “Ichizo…” "

…and most disgustingly horrifying of times.

"She was not clad in a jûnihitoe as occasion would dictate; just a plain shift of deep red, rivers of long, raven hair spilling about her shoulders. No powder upon her bloodless face, nor kohl around her bloodshot eyes. Her right arm was bound in plaster, her lips pale and bereft of paint, left eye still surrounded by a faint yellow bruise, skin split almost to her chin down the left side of her mouth, stitched with delicate sutures. Yoritomo’s beating had been far more brutal than most in the court were allowed to believe.

And still, she was beautiful."

WELL THANK GOD SHE’S STILL BEAUTIFUL. I MEAN SURE SHE’S PHYSICALLY BROKEN AND BEEN BEATEN ALL TO SHIT, BUT I’M GLAD WE’RE TOLD WHAT’S IMPORTANT.

"She wailed in fear as he stepped closer. Bruises on her face, those bee-stung lips swollen further still, ugly purple around her wrists, across her thighs."

Yes, thank you. I really needed the reminder that her lips are pouty and full while you’re describing her physical state, post-rape.

I mean, what am I meant to make of that? So much of the hype around Stormdancer seemed based on the presentation of this strong, proactive woman of color – Yeah, look at how badass she is on the cover! Look at that sword! – and it just seems like little by little, the books are undermining the heroines, in their moments of triumph and even in their pain and suffering, to remind us that they are totally fappable.

Michi gets the brunt of it, being the book’s designated femme fatal. Her arc involves stuff I’d really be interested in, normally – a hardened woman out for revenge – but ugh, the squick comes in quick when she starts falling in love with the man she’s been seducing to secure her escape, and she has a big moral event horizon when she chooses the rebellion over him and stabs him while she kisses him, which is how you want to go, guys, amirite? And from there her scenes get this creepy fetishy Dragon Lady quality where she kills dudes with her hair sticks and sexy martial arts and…well…

She reached into the box and drew them out, scarlet card falling to the floor. Four and three feet long, gentle curves and glittering saw-blade teeth. She thumbed the ignitions on the hilts and the motors roared to life, vibration traveling up her arms and into her chest, bringing a small smile to painted lips.

Michi gunned the throttles of Ichizo’s chainkatana and wakizashi. Tearing away the intact layer of her jûnihitoe gown, she stepped out of her wooden sandals, wriggling her feet in split-toed socks. She took up her stance, flourishing the blades about her waist and head, a twirling, snarling dance of folded steel.

[...]

Michi dashed across the floorboards, narrowed eyes and gleaming teeth. The commander came to his senses first and stepped forward, bringing his nagamaki into some semblance of guard. She slipped down onto her knees, fine Kitsune silk and her momentum sending her into a skid across polished boards, blade passing harmlessly over her head. Cutting the commander’s legs out from under him, a blinding spray of red, a shriek of agony as the chainsaw blades sheared through bone like butter. Spinning up to her feet, katana cleaving through another bushiman’s forearm, wakizashi parrying a hasty thrust from a third as the soldiers at last registered the threat. Sparks in the air as steel crashed, the girl moving like smoke between the blades, swaying to the music she made.

A blade to a throat. A crimson spray on the walls. A parry. A wheel-kick. A thrust. Red mist in the air. Heart thundering in her chest.

Then stillness.

She blew stray hair from her eyes, idling chainswords dripping into the gore pooled at her feet, staring at the commander’s corpse.

“I think I’ll put you down instead,” she said.

Fap guy gif
HIMYIM NPH
Did I just read a scene out of fucking Suckerpunch? Because it felt like something around that level.

We actually talk about this in more depth in an upcoming podcast about agency (and Shiori’s dramatic reading is priceless), but the problem is well-articulated by this quote that she found for the occasion:

<blockquote>A female character who kicks ass and chews bubblegum and does a billion slow-mo kills in a slinky nightgown or catsuit (Aeon Flux, Resident Evil, Ultraviolet, etc) is not traditionally thought of as empowering because behind that concept is the lurking terror of a creepy, objectifying male writer or director. Even though “the writer” or “the director” don’t exist in-universe, their presence is felt strongly enough that it’s nearly impossible to think of such characters as being “a woman exhibiting agency”.

“The lurking terror of a creepy, objectifying male writer”, indeed.</blockquote>

Of all the female characters, Hana is the one I’m most unsure of. I feel like Hana and her storyline need more context before we’re able to completely unpack it, but the reveal of her and her brother as half (unspecified) gaijin caught me off guard. I sort of hope they don’t go the foreign inheritance, special-because-white route, but…we’ll see. At least, in the context of this story, I appreciated that she had agency, that she remained mostly unsexualized, and that she was allowed revenge for some of the bad things that happened to her.

Her brother’s subplot was fucking miserable, though. Yeah, totally, killing off the barely-characterized gay lover who only gets a backstory three seconds before he’s taken in to be tortured, so clever, so edgy, man.

Dave Grohl says fuck you


As a whole, Kinslayer‘s steep descent into grimdark gritty town doesn’t do much for me. FYI, there are at least two attempted rape scenes, one actual rape – provided it was, indeed, a rape; we only see the aftermath – and an intimate violation of a bedridden character mentioned towards the end. Of course there’s a lot of violence, being a steampunk rebellion action book, and most of it gets skimmed over in a typically action-booky way, until you hit the gay character’s torture scene. From there, it seems like a torrent of shudder-inducing stuff follows, and I kind of wish someone would have seen fit to mention it in a review. Obviously it’s personal preference, but I am so totally not here for the eyes-being-yanked-out, toes-being-broken-crap, and I’m sure there are others who’d appreciate a word of warning.

I also feel like it’s worth mentioning that the worst bits of torture, prolonged suffering, and victimization are only wheeled out for women and gay men. I mean sure, lots of random dudes die, but they’re relatively quick deaths that aren’t, y’know, prolonged arduous setpiece plot devices. I’ll be bitter about Aisha’s fate til the end of fucking days, man, because not only was she brought back despite being presumed dead in the last book, but she was brought back just to become a fucking human incubator, and to figure in a plotline that was basically middle book bullshit filler. Her character was victimized and suffered and died and it didn’t even forward the plot.

Also, that possible – because I’m not convinced we won’t eventually go the “she faked it” route, ugh – rape? Another plot device meant to be a turning point, not for the character it occurred to, of course, but for her love interest, Kin. He is SO UPSET she got raped, you guys, it was just the final straw. Now he’s going to do some shit. Naturally.

middle finger gif

 

I’m actually starting to suspect that Kin might be our backdoor protagonist, here. Again, I feel like one of, if not the primary purpose of Kinslayer, as an installment in The Lotus War, was to transition Kin into whatever role he’ll be playing in the finale, and it’s Kin who has been given the tropey fantasy mantle of having an epic prophesied destiny looming in the distance that he’s caught between fighting and giving in to. I suppose we’ll see as the series conclude, but it’s kind of telling to me that the only time Kinslayer is EVER in first person is in his ominous epilogue.

Ultimately, if the appropriation weren’t going to put you off, if the creepy objectification wasn’t enough, at the very least, Kinslayer feels like a waste of time as an installment. Once again, it’s like 300 pages of slow-as-molasses plot development until you hit the home stretch and shit starts actually happening. But even then, Kinslayer has classic Middle Book Syndrome: it treads water with a redundant plot while new characters are introduced and/or maneuvered into position for the finale. We end Kinslayer in almost exactly the same position as we ended Stormdancer, and oh god why did we even bother? I wouldn’t be surprised if you could just skip Kinslayer entirely and go into book three without much trouble.

Then again, I don’t think anyone would be worse off for just skipping Kinslayer, period.

 

Come for the quotespam, stay for the fun? Quotespam over at <a href="http://yourekilling.us/?p=1462">You're Killing.Us</a>.

Awoken - Serra Elinsen

This book is full of awful, awful characters, horrifying ethnic stereotypes, godawful writing, skeevy-as-fuck victim-blaming, rape-culture bullshit, internalized misogyny, and probably the second-worst fucking relationship in YA, after Patch and Nora.

And it was
amaaaaazing



...that sounds worse than I thought it would. WAIT LET ME EXPLAIN.

So if you aren't already aware, Awoken is a stealth parody, taking depressingly common YA tropes to their (more) disturbing extremes. I wasn't sure whether or not to bring this up, but as amusing (and potentially calm-threatening) as it would be to think this horrifying shit was sincere, I feel like you can't fully appreciate Awoken without the comforting blanket of "parody" tucked firmly around your brain. It's difficult to appreciate the tropes being poked fun at unless you know that they're really for reals poking fun at them, and that could potentially be hard to discern. Not because the author(s) haven't gone above and beyond in making this shit ott and utterly ridiculous, but because, well, waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many authors have played the same shit totally fucking straight.

Our heroine is Andi and oh-my-fucking-god this chick. This chick. I don't wanna say she's the "real monster here", because Cthulu, man, fuck that guy, but Andi is pretty awful. She starts out normally enough I guess, with just your standard Sad Upper-Middle-Class White Girl complex, angsting about how bad her life is because she had to move, even though her best friend moved with her, and she has happy loving parents, and a decent school life, BUT WOE IS HER, the town is so boring, her existence is meaningless, yadda yadda.

I stared up at the ancient white wooden beams above me— my parents had been so excited to renovate this old ship maker’s house when we moved in two years ago. They left the ceiling beams exposed because they said it gave the house character.

Personality. Depth.

“This house has more meaning than my life,” I groaned aloud.



Then Riley shows up and of course she ~knows him from a dream~, and he's a dick to her, and they don't even talk civilly once, so naturally, it's a straight shot for both to Obsession City.

After he’d been so weird and smug and then downright threatening, why couldn’t I just be relieved that he wasn’t at school anymore to give me that smoldering look of disdain he had reserved special for me?



The relationship between Riley and Andi is about as depressing as you'd expect, the power balances having been slid allllll the way to the end of their respective scales. Riley is overtly menacing, controlling, and possessive. Those are literally the only traits he displays. He's incapable of not being condescending, even when he's trying to be romantic, and he almost never addresses Andi as anything other than "[insert synonym for "small" or "unimportant" here] one". I'm gonna say that like 95% of his lines were straight-up non-sugarcoated orders directed at Andi, and the other 5% were orders directed at other people, or exposition. All 100% was(were?) in flawless Ye Olde Formal Speake.

“When we met in the realm of dreams, our destinies became entwined irrevocably. Thus do I hereby anoint you as my sacred charge and accept you as my burden, my albatross. I shall protect you always, for you are small and weak. And I am greater than you.”

 

He totally talks like that for the entire book.



He's also an unabashed murderer who solves most of his problems by driving people insane and then eating them. Cuz Cthulu.

For her part in the relationship, Andi took the Bella/Kate "cripplingly co-dependent" option, with tasty swirls of "relentless dismissal of self-worth" and "blind obedience". Most of her interactions with Riley (positive or not) left her berating herself for her unworthiness, or concocting increasingly elaborate scenarios for his continued presence in her life, because he couldn't possibly be interested in a boring, plain, mundane girl like her.

No! No. I would not cry. Not anymore. I was not worthy to cry over him. The mere fact that I dared to even entertain the notion that he might have even considered staying was an insult to him!



And it's at this point that I realize that this all probably sounds far more disturbing than funny...

Read full review at You're Killing.Us

City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

So, turns out City of Bones is AU Harry Potter fanfic starring the children of the Death Eaters.

I was kind of not expecting this? I mean, I knew Clare wrote HP fanfic and I'd read rundowns of all the plagiarism wank and I'd heard that Bones had been influenced by her Draco fic, but whatever, I've read books before that were probably adapted from fanfic, right? I mean, who hasn't ripped of Buffy at this point? I've seen plenty of books take familiar characters and tropes and archetypes and play with them, with varying degrees of success, so even though I'd heard, I wasn't expecting the level of wholesale ganking that I found in City of Bones.

Cuz that's the thing about City of Bones, it's not just like an archetype or two that's been lifted and adapted - Clare has straight up filed the serial numbers off this shit. This is Harry Potter world with a new urban fantasy paint, this is a Marvel What-If? experiment, this is Draco Goes to the Big City...although to be fair, this is Draco in Leather Pants, and that, by far, is the most original thing about it.

SPOILERS ABOUND



So the wizards are now nephilim, and the twist is that they Don't Do Magic, dammit, which they will tell you up one side and down the other. Instead, they use steles to trace magic runes (on themselves and other objects) to do things like unlock doors, and shoot people across the room, and allow them to get around without being noticed, and create one-way mirrors for eavesdropping, and create magic pictures, and heal people, and generally ass-pull themselves out of any situation that requires a miracle solution, and GOD FORBID YOU CONFUSE THAT FOR MAGIC CAST FROM WANDS, because Shadowhunters don't fucking do magic, what the fuck do you think this is?

A fanmade stele

A stele. Did I mention they can also be activated by pointing them at things and shouting keywords? BUT IT'S NOT A WAND OKAY? GOD!



Nephilum are more colloquially known as Shadowhunters, which basically just means that wizard society got a lot more militant in its disdain for magical creatures. In the fantasy kitchen sink that Bones takes place in, vampires, werewolves, faeries, etcetceretcetefuckingra, all exist, but they're all literal demon-offspring. Some like to eat humans, which the nephilum don't appreciate, so treaties have been put in place to keep them from eating humans indisciminately, and to ensure that Shadowhunters only kill "downworlders", who've committed crimes. Despite this, it's apparently totally okay to entrap hungry downworlders, and then kill them for taking the bait. Go fig.

The Big Bad is the MOST militant of the militant wizards, Volde - I MEAN VALENTINE, a charismatic Shadowhunter obsessed with ridding the world of filthy half-breed downworlders, because master races are where it's fucking at, man. He spent his years at Shadowhunter school amassing a cult of devoted followers with names like Pangborn and Lightwood who spend a lot of time wearing robes and plotting to overthrow the Shadowhunter council because they aren't militant enough.

Luckily just before the heroine was born there was a violent uprising in which Voldentine and most of his Death Circle were killed or reformed, so now everything is lah-dee-dah again, except it's not, because Voldentine's back and he's looking to stir up some shit with a magical MacGuffin, which is where our story begins.

So I mean let's be real here: this is a Harry Potter fanfic. This is a Harry Potter fanfic with very little modification, and whole chunks of world mythology and backstory left intact. And personally I find this kind of fascinating. I mean, it really raises huge questions, doesn't it? About intellectual property and inspiration, and where the line between "influenced/inspired by" and "ripped off" is drawn. I think Clare perfectly straddles that line, I mean obviously City of Bones was Legally Distinct enough to be published, but the veneer of originality is thin. Here, here, let me give you an example!

Let's talk about the Silent Brothers, or the Legally Distinct Dementors. So, I took the liberty of looking up the introduction to the dementors that we get in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and comparing it to the information that we get about the Silent Brothers in City of Bones.

Prisoner of Azkaban:

Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry’s eyes darted downward, and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water...

[...]

An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart...



City of Bones:

Then she saw a figure move out of the dimness, and she realized that what she had thought was a patch of darker shadow was a man. A tall man in a heavy robe that fell from neck to foot, covering him completely. The hood of the robe was raised, hiding his face. The robe itself was the color of parchment, and the intricate runic designs along the hem and sleeves looked as if they had been inked there in drying blood. The hair rose along Clary’s arms and on the back of her neck, prickling almost painfully.



Is it exactly the same? Well, no. The Silent Brothers are brown, you see, and they also talk (telepathically), were once Shadowhunters themselves, and play a completely different role in the story. But still, underneath the layers of brown parchment paint and runes, you can see the links back to the Harry Potter universe. And that's the crux of it!

They are different, they are used differently, but you can tell that they were dementors, once, just like you can see that steles were once wands, and Valentine was once Voldemort. But is it plagiarism? Is it thieving? How many changes have to be made before it qualifies?

Personally, I'm kind of amused and morbidly fascinated by the whole thing. I feel like the relationship between City of Bones and Harry Potter is not dissimilar from the one between, say, Cinder and Cinderella, right, except that Cinder and others like it specifically acknowledge that they are adaptations and retellings, and they are adaptations and retellings of things that have fallen into public domain. On the whole, Clare probably should have put more effort into blending her ingredients into this new cuisine, but it still might have been able to work for me, if, well, everything else hadn't been so awful...

Full review at the BRAND-SPANKING NEW You're Killing.US!

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black

I don't know what it is about Holly Black. I'm fairly confident that in literally any other author's hands, a great deal of this book would have had me rolling my eyes right out of my head, but something about this book just...worked for me. I warped back to a time many a year ago when this genre and its tropes were all fresh and new and exciting to me, when I was an easily-pleased twelve-year-old girl sitting on her bed reading LJ Smith for the first time, with warm fuzzies and bated breath.

So, while I'm aware that there are issues, and while I can't quite ID why some of these tropes and characters work for me here when I've scathingly dismissed similar premises elsewhere, I just can't bring myself to hate on this book. I really enjoyed my time with it, and that like literally almost never happens.

happy crying
I NEED THIS OK?

One of the biggest things that Coldtown had in its favor, for me, was that I rarely had any idea where it was going. There's not any immediately distinguishable plotline - no Meeting the Supernatural True Love in School, no Secret Princess/Chosen One, no Murder Mystery - and that in itself is incredibly refreshing. Like, I didn't even realize how refreshing that would be, to not have to endure another fucking cliche-ridden recycled plotline that I've read a thousand times before, until I started Coldtown*. IN THIS FAMILIAR WORLD THAT I TRAVEL, THERE STILL EXIST MYSTERIES TO BE DISCOVERED~~~~
*okay so it gets a whole lot more familiar in the last third or so of the book but I'll get to that in a moment.
Rather than relying on one of the four Approved Genre Romance Plots to get us through, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown sets its focus on Tana, our heroine, as she emerges from one really shitty party with a simple goal: stay human. That's it. That's all she wants, that's all she needs to do to win the game, that's her pursuit through almost the entire book, and yet it's enough to drive us through three different settings, dozens of characters, and ultimately keep us pretty invested in and compelled by the story. Tana's journey is FULL of complications and setbacks and moments when the thing she needs most slips right through her fingers, and I cared about 400x more during any one of those moments than I have in the last fourteen books I've read combined.

In worse hands, a story like this could be really meandering - the setting shifts frequently, and since you have no idea what the overall plot arc is going to be, it's difficult to use that to gauge progress. BUT, because Tana's goal is so simple, and Tana almost always has some sort of plan to achieve it, the story manages to feel tight? It's not like she wanders around for days without knowing what she's doing. She's always on her way from point A to point B, always following through on a plan, the plan just gets...revised a lot xD.

The story is roughly split into three separate parts with three different feels: it begins with a short, vampire-complicated road trip, followed by a difficult-to-categorize bridging bit introduces us to Coldtown, and transitions from the roadtrip to the big damn vampire political/revenge scheme, which serves as the climax.

Of the three, I actually enjoyed the road trip most, though it's not particularly fun for the characters. As a reader, though, it serves as a great stretch of world-exploration and development, which I appreciate, because what Holly Black has created here is super intriguing. Coldtown, like her Curse Workers series, has this very distinct "alternate reality" vibe - it's not an underground world of monsters only select people know about, it's not some fantasy kingdom that never was, it's not the distant future we'll never see, it is HERE, it is NOW, but different. It feels grounded, and lived-in, and like this is what the world could be like under these circumstances. It feels real, and that's something that I find incredibly rare in YA.

Tana's America is post-apocalyptic/mid-apocalyptic/at a stalemate with its apocalypse and also adjusted to it. The vibe here is more "outbreak movie" than "dystopia", and vampirism is treated like a plague rather than a supernatural occurrence...

Read the full review at You're Killing.US.

Blood and Chocolate - Annette Curtis Klause

This used to be one of my all-time favorite books - so my co-hosts and I put our nostalgia to the test!

Podcast review at Papercuts Podcast.

Inferno - Dan Brown Fuck I am going to regret this.
The Undead Space Initiative - Casey Wyatt So, backstory time: I requested this book from LibraryThing back in December, because I mean come on. Vampire stripper? Colonizing Mars? Cherry frickin' Cordial? it sounded like the most excellent, campy shit this side of the Beautiful Creatures movie. I gleefully told my friend Shiori about it, because she digs the camp and sci-fi romance is her genre, and we kicked back, eagerly awaiting vampire strippers IN SPACE.

Cut to four months later, and still no word from LibraryThing. I'd won a copy, but none had turned up, so Shiori, goddamn her, bless her heart, bit the bullet and bought a copy. Our precious Cherry Cordial was finally in our grasp!

And then we read it.

The basic idea is that this stripper vampire, Cherry, and a sexy stranger she's met once, Ian, are framed for the death of the Vampire Queen, and to avoid the wrath of the Queen's daughter (who is most likely the true culprit), Cherry's sire drags her and her entire vampire family into the "Undead Space Initiative", some random space exploration program that just happens to be going on at the same time, and seek undead volunteers - with no specialized training or experience necessary - to colonize Mars. Which they do. With a sentient space ship. And a crew of "revenants" and zombies. And then it turns out that all three races are secretly ancient aliens. I am not making this up.

Sounds fucking AMAZING, right? LOL NOT SO MUCH. The dream of campy stripper Cherries in space was crushed by a book that played itself waaaaaaaaaay too straight for a premise that bizarre, and a plot whose events seemed determined by dartboard. The thing is, when you take away the bizarre premise, what remains is pretty much your standard paranormal romance novel, with pretty much your standard Paranormal Romance Issues (with worse editing). And I mean, you've heard me complain about that before, surely? MISOGYNY, RAPEYNESS, BITCHES, MAN. Been there, done that.

So in the interest of keeping this short, but mostly because there's no way I could review this book without Shiori's input, You're Killing Me presents:

The Undead Space Initiative: a review in Tweets


*some tweets are repeated to keep the conversation understandable. IT HAD MANY THREADS.



Read the entire review at You're Killing.Us.

You can also see Shiori's less Tweet-y review here.
SPOILER ALERT!
Promises to Keep - Amelia Atwater-Rhodes I don't even know what to say about this book, if I'm being totally honest. It's not been three days since I've finished it and I've forgotten a great deal. If I were to emphasize anything, it would probably be that - this book, despite having those far-reaching consequences that alter an entire world forever, is just kind of forgettable. I mean, I guess it was interesting enough while I read it, but I'm just entirely ambivalent about it now, and that can't be good, right?

I've had this problem with all of the newer Den books. With the exception of All Just Glass, they've left generally the same non-impression, and I'm running into the same technical issues over and over. The characters are bland or stock, seemingly coming in only three or four variations. They get different names and color palettes and power sets, but they all seem to pull from the same limited bag of personality traits. The voices are downright interchangeable. The pacing is rushed, the story too short, and we get a series of events that happen one after the other with little to no build-up. The goals change too quickly to establish tension, and at any given moment, we don't actually know what the story is supposed to be about. Characters run in and out too quickly to keep track of or get to know, sometimes just for the sake of fan service, it seems, and at this point the world feels too in-joke for a newbie to enjoy, yet we keep getting info-dumps about the world to keep them up to speed, that are obnoxiously redundant for fans. The writing is so very melodramatic, and the whole thing would greatly benefit from a self-serious-ectomy.

Seriously, we need like a fart joke or a pie in the face up in this piece.

UNMARKED SPOILERS ABOUT BEYOND THIS POINT. I AM TOTALLY RUINING LIKE THE ENTIRE BOOK SO READ AT YOUR PERIL K?

I honestly have tried and tried and I just can't hammer out my specific problems into a review that makes any sort of flowing, cohesive sense, so I am going to cheat the shit out of this and do bullet points.

So our semi-co-protagonist is Brina di'Birgetta, the sister of Lord Daryl di'BirAsshole from Midnight Predator, and I had a hard time swallowing her plotline. Brina starts out the book being seriously mentally unstable, and suicidally depressed after the death of her brother, which apparently has happened very recently in-world, despite it being like 4,000 years since that book was published IRL. Anyway, she's sadface and angsty but meets Jay at a party and thinks he's pretty and cheers up I guess, and for some reason he finds her not revolting despite the fact that she is a vampire and he is a vampire-hunting witch, and they become love interests.

But meanwhile Jay finds an injured shapeshifter passed out in the woods and in trying to save her accidentally unleashes a seriously pissy Elemental, who is seriously pissy because her priestess (the shapeshifter) was tortured and broken down and has been serving as a vampire slave for several centuries. And her last owner...was Brina.

So you might see where this could be a problem, yeah? Brina owns slaves. Like currently. She also neglects them to the point that they'd have starved if Jay hadn't poked his nose into her affairs. Not that it would have been better if she'd been feeding them because they'd still be slaves, but for real. Slaves. She owns them. And the book tries to make her a co-protagonist. Wat...

Read full review at You're Killing.Us.
Beautiful Creatures - Margaret Stohl, Kami Garcia A REVIEW IN PARTS! AND ALSO A MOVIE REVIEW PODCAST DOWN THERE SOMEWHERE.

PART ONE: WHAT WAS THE CIVIL WAR ABOUT, AGAIN?
I think my biggest problem with this book can be summed up by the fact that we don't see the word "slavery" until page 288 (out of my 390-page e-version).

With most books that would be a total non sequitur, I know, but this is Beautiful Creatures. This is a book that revels in its Southern Gothic - in the plantations and the history and the characters' descendancy. This is the book whose backstory and plot are grounded in events that occurred during the Civil War. Numerous flashbacks set during the period are integrated into the story, and it prominently features not only a Confederate soldier, but a plantation owner's daughter.

...aaaand yet we don't even see the word "slavery" for almost three hundred pages. In a throw-away line that has nothing to do with the actual plot. So in reality, the practice of treating human beings as though they were property, which was, you know, kind of a thing in the South at that time, is addressed never. It's not even mentioned. In a book involving a Confederate soldier and a plantation owner's daughter.

If it's not already apparently, let me explain why that's a problem.

So, look. Antebellum Southerner characters, whether based on real people or just totally pulled out of your ass, come with baggage. Regardless of whether or not they ever wielded a whip, these characters would have benefited from, and been complicit in, the institution of slavery. You can't hand-wave that away. The Civil War was a real thing. Slavery was a real thing. Both of these things still affect people's lives today. They are kind of a big deal.

The thing is, if you're going to ground your story and characters in a time and place where SLAVERY would be a factor, you cannot deal with this ~moral quandary~ by COMPLETELY IGNORING ITS EXISTENCE. Not only is that problematic in almost innumerable ways, but it's insulting. It's insulting not only to the people who suffered, and continue to suffer, from the effect that period in time had on the formation of our culture, but also to your audience's fucking intelligence. We KNOW what the Civil War was over, you aren't going to get away with anything by being coy about it.

Yet Beautiful Creatures doesn't seem to agree. It is more than willing to ignore, and thus minimize, a culture of oppression and violence against African-American people for the much more important goal of romanticizing both the setting and a relationship between - what else? - Confederate white people.

That is a fundamental problem.

The most alternately laughable and insidious thing about the situation the book has put itself in is that it comes up with about a bajillion ways to try and make this focus and relationship palatable. Like, it's not enough to just have the plantations and Confederate soldiers and shit, no, you have to find that shit APPEALING, DAMMIT. Cue a laundry list of narrative tricks designed to counter any instinctive - and warranted, imo - revulsion on the part of the reader.

1. The Exceptional Racist
So our protagonist is Ethan Wate. He is the descendent of Ethan Carter Wate, the guy who fell in love with a Duchannes witch Caster woman the first time, and got this whole Cursed-family-of-witches ball rolling back during the Civil War. We don't know much about him to start with, but one of the first snippets of information we get is that he is Ethan's great-great &etc uncle, whom present-day Ethan never knew about because he was removed from the Carter family tree. Whhhhhhhhhy, you ask?

"On account a him bein' a deserter." [...] "Deserters. The Confederates who ran out on Gen'ral Lee durin' the War." I must have looked confused because Aunt Prue felt compelled to elaborate. "There were two kinds a Confederate soldiers durin' the War. The ones who supported the cause of Confed'racy and the ones whose families made them enlist." [...]

"By 1865, Lee’s army was beaten, starvin', and outnumbered. Some say the Rebels were losin' faith, so they up and left. Deserted their regiments. Ethan Carter Wate was one of 'em. He was a deserter." All three of them lowered their heads as if the shame was just too much for them.

That's promptly followed up by this:

But knowing my parents' sensibilities, my mom had probably been proud of Ethan Carter Wate. I was pretty proud, too.

Ah yeah, that soothing "deserter" balm to soothe that "Confederate romance" burn. But okay, fine, I'll bite. He deserted. Hurrah. I wouldn't go so far as to be "proud" of him - because hi, hello, yes, not only did he still serve, but he was also still a white guy in the South during the Civil War, and I'm pretty sure Ethan's family owned a plantation? They were at least landowners, given modern!Ethan's home is called "Wate's Landing", so either way - complicity, motherfucker, do you know it? Modern!Ethan may not be able to help who his ancestors were, but "pride" is not the appropriate emotion here. Sorry, no, that trick's not going to work.

At any rate, he deserted. Care to follow up?

"Her family is trying to keep them apart, and he's gone to enlist, even though he doesn't believe in the war, in the hope that fighting for the South will win him the approval of her family."



OH OKAY I SEE HAHA. It's okay if he fights to continue the enslavement of an entire race of people, as long as he was doing it for ~LOVE~. THAT DOESN'T MAKE HIM A BAD PERSON AT ALL NO REALLY GAIS, IT'S NOT LIKE HE REALLY BELIEVES IN SLAVERY, HE'S JUST KILLING PEOPLE FOR IT! That's TOTALLY DIFFERENT AND ALSO OKAY.

WINK!

"I deserted, Genevieve. I couldn't fight one more day for somethin' I didn't believe in. Not after what I've seen. Most a the boys fightin' with me didn't even realize what this war is about - that they’re just spillin' their blood over cotton."

AH JUST COULDN'T DO IT, GENEVIEVE. AH COULD ONLY KILL OTHERS FOR THE RIGHT TO ENSLAVE BLACK PEOPLE FOR SO LONG. AH JUST HIT MAH LIMIT. What gets me most is that last line, thought - "the boys fightin' with me didn't even realize what this war was about". Also, "cotton". RIGHT. So pray tell, what could justify one's willingness to go to war over their right to enslave another race? What did those boys think they were fighting for? Are you really, REALLY trying to garner sympathy for the poor, misunderstood, ignorant Confederate Army? REALLY?

And "cotton". Just in case you guys were wondering what the war was over. It certainly wasn't that "S"-word, that's for sure, none of that going on here. "~FORGET THE PEOPLE I AM FIGHTING TO OPPRESS~." Look, I get the broader context, that the war was over cotton in the sense that slaves were a cheap source of labor, but no. Fuck you. That is intentionally deceptively re-framing the argument to avoid using ~the S-word~, so that we won't remember that this FUCK just spent months fighting for his side's right to enslave black people.

Also, note that Ethan never actually *says* what it is he doesn't believe in. Just that he doesn't. SO THERE. The moral of the story is that Ethan isn't like those people! He just fought for them! IT'S OKAY FOR HIM TO BE A ROMANTIC FIGURE, OKAY??

CONTINUE PART ONE at You're Killing Me.


PART TWO: Your Mother Was a Feminist?!?

PART THREE: Also There is Some Sort of Plot.

ALSO, MOVIE REVIEW PODCAST
Beautiful Creatures  - Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl I think my biggest problem with this book can be summed up by the fact that we don't see the word "slavery" until page 288 (out of my 390-page e-version).

With most books that would be a total non sequitur, I know, but this is Beautiful Creatures. This is a book that revels in its Southern Gothic - in the plantations and the history and the characters' descendancy. This is the book whose backstory and plot are grounded in events that occurred during the Civil War. Numerous flashbacks set during the period are integrated into the story, and it prominently features not only a Confederate soldier, but a plantation owner's daughter.

...aaaand yet we don't even see the word "slavery" for almost three hundred pages. In a throw-away line that has nothing to do with the actual plot. So in reality, the practice of treating human beings as though they were property, which was, you know, kind of a thing in the South at that time, is addressed never. It's not even mentioned. In a book involving a Confederate soldier and a plantation owner's daughter.

If it's not already apparently, let me explain why that's a problem.

So, look. Antebellum Southerner characters, whether based on real people or just totally pulled out of your ass, come with baggage. Regardless of whether or not they ever wielded a whip, these characters would have benefited from, and been complicit in, the institution of slavery. You can't hand-wave that away. The Civil War was a real thing. Slavery was a real thing. Both of these things still affect people's lives today. They are kind of a big deal.

The thing is, if you're going to ground your story and characters in a time and place where SLAVERY would be a factor, you cannot deal with this ~moral quandary~ by COMPLETELY IGNORING ITS EXISTENCE. Not only is that problematic in almost innumerable ways, but it's insulting. It's insulting not only to the people who suffered, and continue to suffer, from the effect that period in time had on the formation of our culture, but also to your audience's fucking intelligence. We KNOW what the Civil War was over, you aren't going to get away with anything by being coy about it.

Yet Beautiful Creatures doesn't seem to agree. It is more than willing to ignore, and thus minimize, a culture of oppression and violence against African-American people for the much more important goal of romanticizing both the setting and a relationship between - what else? - Confederate white people.

That is a fundamental problem.

The most alternately laughable and insidious thing about the situation the book has put itself in is that it comes up with about a bajillion ways to try and make this focus and relationship palatable. Like, it's not enough to just have the plantations and Confederate soldiers and shit, no, you have to find that shit APPEALING, DAMMIT. Cue a laundry list of narrative tricks designed to counter any instinctive - and warranted, imo - revulsion on the part of the reader.

1. The Exceptional Racist
So our protagonist is Ethan Wate. He is the descendent of Ethan Carter Wate, the guy who fell in love with a Duchannes witch Caster woman the first time, and got this whole Cursed-family-of-witches ball rolling back during the Civil War. We don't know much about him to start with, but one of the first snippets of information we get is that he is Ethan's great-great &etc uncle, whom present-day Ethan never knew about because he was removed from the Carter family tree. Whhhhhhhhhy, you ask?

"On account a him bein' a deserter." [...] "Deserters. The Confederates who ran out on Gen'ral Lee durin' the War." I must have looked confused because Aunt Prue felt compelled to elaborate. "There were two kinds a Confederate soldiers durin' the War. The ones who supported the cause of Confed'racy and the ones whose families made them enlist." [...]

"By 1865, Lee’s army was beaten, starvin', and outnumbered. Some say the Rebels were losin' faith, so they up and left. Deserted their regiments. Ethan Carter Wate was one of 'em. He was a deserter." All three of them lowered their heads as if the shame was just too much for them.

That's promptly followed up by this:

But knowing my parents' sensibilities, my mom had probably been proud of Ethan Carter Wate. I was pretty proud, too.

Ah yeah, that soothing "deserter" balm to soothe that "Confederate romance" burn. But okay, fine, I'll bite. He deserted. Hurrah. I wouldn't go so far as to be "proud" of him - because hi, hello, yes, not only did he still serve, but he was also still a white guy in the South during the Civil War, and I'm pretty sure Ethan's family owned a plantation? They were at least landowners, given modern!Ethan's home is called "Wate's Landing", so either way - complicity, motherfucker, do you know it? Modern!Ethan may not be able to help who his ancestors were, but "pride" is not the appropriate emotion here. Sorry, no, that trick's not going to work.

At any rate, he deserted. Care to follow up?

"Her family is trying to keep them apart, and he's gone to enlist, even though he doesn't believe in the war, in the hope that fighting for the South will win him the approval of her family."



OH OKAY I SEE HAHA. It's okay if he fights to continue the enslavement of an entire race of people, as long as he was doing it for ~LOVE~. THAT DOESN'T MAKE HIM A BAD PERSON AT ALL NO REALLY GAIS, IT'S NOT LIKE HE REALLY BELIEVES IN SLAVERY, HE'S JUST KILLING PEOPLE FOR IT! That's TOTALLY DIFFERENT AND ALSO OKAY.

WINK!

"I deserted, Genevieve. I couldn't fight one more day for somethin' I didn't believe in. Not after what I've seen. Most a the boys fightin' with me didn't even realize what this war is about - that they’re just spillin' their blood over cotton."

AH JUST COULDN'T DO IT, GENEVIEVE. AH COULD ONLY KILL OTHERS FOR THE RIGHT TO ENSLAVE BLACK PEOPLE FOR SO LONG. AH JUST HIT MAH LIMIT. What gets me most is that last line, thought - "the boys fightin' with me didn't even realize what this war was about". Also, "cotton". RIGHT. So pray tell, what could justify one's willingness to go to war over their right to enslave another race? What did those boys think they were fighting for? Are you really, REALLY trying to garner sympathy for the poor, misunderstood, ignorant Confederate Army? REALLY?

And "cotton". Just in case you guys were wondering what the war was over. It certainly wasn't that "S"-word, that's for sure, none of that going on here. "~FORGET THE PEOPLE I AM FIGHTING TO OPPRESS~." Look, I get the broader context, that the war was over cotton in the sense that slaves were a cheap source of labor, but no. Fuck you. That is intentionally deceptively re-framing the argument to avoid using ~the S-word~, so that we won't remember that this FUCK just spent months fighting for his side's right to enslave black people.

Also, note that Ethan never actually *says* what it is he doesn't believe in. Just that he doesn't. SO THERE. The moral of the story is that Ethan isn't like those people! He just fought for them! IT'S OKAY FOR HIM TO BE A ROMANTIC FIGURE, OKAY??

Three-part review AND movie podcast at You're Killing.Us
The Goddess Inheritance - Aimee Carter Oh my god that summary. That summary is so fucking far from accurate I can't even. WARNING: this is going to be long and angry and full of unmarked spoilers.

Oh my god, I thought I was done being angry about this book. Seriously, like once I hit that last stretch and the ending clusterfuck began and it became abundantly clear that not one significant thing was going to change, I just pfft, stopped caring. Like,

The last fuck

I realized that all this time, I'd been waiting for this book to be more. I'd thought Carter had pulled us in for the long con. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Carter to jump out of the bushes and yell, "GOTCHA! Hahaha, really had you going there, didn't I? You really thought that I was going to follow through with a fucked-up relationship and "bitches, man" for an entire trilogy! OH YE OF LITTLE FAITHE!" And I was angry because it was taking so GODDAMNED LONG and Kate was being such a GODDAMNED MORON and WHY WOULDN'T THE OTHER SHOE JUST DROP ALREADY?

And then I realized that there was no long con. There was no other shoe. No Carter in the bushes, waiting to Melissa-Marr us, no redeeming moral to the story. It just is. The Goddess trilogy really is a series about a woman who finds true love through abduction, imprisonment, emotional blackmail, and a path to marriage so contrived that "arranged" doesn't even begin to do it service. It is a book about a girl who's not even allowed to get out of her teen years before she's manipulated into being wedded and pregnant. It is a book in which men motivate every woman's action, in which their very special love for particular penises makes the world go round, and the inter-gender hate flow. It is a book in which the primary antagonist is written as a hateful, unlovable, irredeemable bitch. It is a book in which we are supposed to accept all of these things uncritically.

And I was just out of fucks, man, because how do you even argue with that? I've spent two reviews trying to argue with that, and what more can I say about how vile and awful and fucking infuriating and depressing this whole concept is?

I thought I didn't care anymore, I thought I was just out of fucks, and then I went on Goodreads to collect my summary for this review, and all I see are four and five star reviews for this book, and I just...

I don't want to live on this planet anymore

This book is FUCKED UP, you guys. FUCKED UP. I mean, from page one, page fucking one, the story is just irreparably fucked. Kate is fucking PREGNANT. PREGNANT. I know that we knew that already, but it's different, seeing the way it's played out. You open the book, and this emotionally stunted, fucked-up eighteen-year-old girl is giving birth, and it's just like, jesus fucking christ. This is a kid. This is a kid, giving birth, in a book intended for other kids, to a child she WAS FORCED TO BEAR. And you KNOW that this is not going to be about just how awful and emotionally scarring that REALLY is, or whether or not Kate is prepared for its repercussions, or even if she wanted this child in the first place. No, this is pregnancy as a plot device, the most inconsequential, fairytale motherfucking depiction of teen motherhood you will ever see, with a perfect baby, and a body magicked back to normal two minutes after giving birth, and nary a negative thought seen or heard about this motherhood thing, EVER.

But why would there be? Because what this really is is Kate, giving birth to her happy ending. This is Kate giving birth to her reward, that thing that no woman's teenage girl's life would be complete without, right? The story will end and Kate will be eighteen and married for eternity, with a child she was forced to conceive and carry, and what more could a woman ask for? Isn't he just the most precious and important and perfect thing on the planet? Man, guess that forced pregnancy thing really worked out for the best, huh? A+, FIVE FUCKING STARS, YEAH?

And this is the second fucking chapter.

I can't gif

shaking and crying gif

no gif

I just, I don't understand how we've gotten to the point where this is acceptable. Where something this horrifying and awful and traumatic can be portrayed in a positive light, and we are fucking okay with that. But that's what this entire series is: fucking horrendous, awful things happening to this girl and being portrayed in a positive light.

But oh god, if there's anyone who tank any sympathy that I would have garnered for her after the awful things she's been through, it's Kate. Kate is...really kind of a bafflingly awful character. She is still, after three freaking books here, insecure on a level that I think is borderline insane, and I'm not even being facetious when I say that. Three books, and this girl is still, STILL, teetering on the edge of an emotional breakdown, should the people she bases her life around leave her. She's still an utter fucking misogynist, and STILL has such a martyr complex that for a good 50% of the book, all she does is offer to sacrifice herself for other people. This girl is a train wreck of misplaced anger and spunky agency and romantic paranoia that makes her unlikable and almost unreadable, and the book does not one damn thing about it. And it's not like it doesn't know, the book is aware of at least some of this, because characters lampshade things like Kate's willingness to sacrifice herself for other people. And yet it doesn't change.

That is what I was waiting for - emotional development on Kate's part. Isn't that the whole point? Why else give her such massive, infuriating character flaws? But if a shift in perspective came, I missed it. I suspect that if Kate was to have developed at all, the catalyst was perhaps supposed to have been the ending, but if that's the case, I hardly even know what to say. "Too little, too fucking late" comes to mind. I spent 90% of the book in the mind of Asshole Kate, what do I care if she somehow miraculously evolves too late to really change a goddamn thing, and right in time to ride off into the sunset?

Really, though, Goddess Inheritance is just shit with its female characters in general, which I suppose isn't surprising; the series' subtitle should have been Internalized Misogyny in Action. Aside from so-fucked-there's-not-even-a-proper-word-for-it Kate, Ava/Aprodite and Calliope/Hera are the major female players, and as usual, their roles are an infuriating mess.

If we're to go by the narrative, I would say that Avadite has probably the most thankless role. When we last saw her, Ava's husband had been captured, and she was being blackmailed into betraying Kate to Calliope to presumably keep him from death or harm. Nine months later, and apparently Ava has been hanging around and tending to Kate while she is Calliope's hostage, but somehow also reporting back to Walter (Zeus) and the Council (Olympians) as a spy?

I don't really understand this, on a number of different levels. For one, you would think that if you had sided with the enemy to the point that you're pretty much a permanent resident in their HQ, you wouldn't just be able to pop back over to the "good guys'" base to chat and catch up without somebody noticing or trying to stop you. And yet, this is how Inheritance starts: Ava, at Olympus, chatting with her "daddy", Zeus. In person. Updating him about what's going on with Kate, and curling up in his lap for comfort and support.

Yeah, literally. This grown-ass, immortal, ancient goddess is curled up in her father's fucking lap LIKE A CHILD, that's not demeaning or infantalizing in the least, right? BUT I DIGRESS.

Afterwards, Ava is somehow able to pop back over to Cronus' headquarters and resume tending to Kate, without anyone being the wiser, apparently. And I'm assuming she does this a lot, because she's been keeping Zeus appraised of Kate's condition for NINE MONTHS. Yet nobody noticed, nor did the other side take advantage of this apparent lapse in security. Excellent.

For two, was Ava's being a spy supposed to be some sort of secret? To us or Kate? You wouldn't think so, given how the book opens on Ava reporting to Zeus, and yet the public reveal that Ava has been acting on behalf of Zeus the entire time is treated as some sort of twist. That could perhaps be because it was surprising to Kate, but that doesn't really make sense, either. By the time we get to the point where Ava is publicly revealed as a spy, Kate has seen Ava relay information over the Council at least once, has heard that it's a regular thing, and has been on the receiving end of Ava's help multiple times. Buuuut somehow she still hadn't put it together?

Here's why that's so confusing, though: through the whole book, Kate treats Ava like absolute shit for helping Calliope. And okay, it's not like Ava is blameless, here, and I'll be the first to say that I hate that she was man-tivated into that position, but as far as Kate is concerned, Ava's doing all these things because her husband is being held captive. His life is at stake, and while I don't think it lets her off the hook entirely, I do think it's deserving of a little empathy, right? Fuck, Kate even agrees that if their roles were reversed, she would have betrayed the shit out of Ava for Henry.

But apparently none of this matters, because Kate just mercilessly flings hatred in Ava's direction for the entire goddamned book.

Seriously, the level of nastiness levied towards Ava by Kate is just astounding, so much so that even other characters notice, and speculate on whether or not her resentment is being magically bolstered by Calliope. Kate comes to the conclusion that it's not, though; she just really hates Ava for a great laundry list of things resulting from her betrayal, and no amount of Ava apologizing or taking care of her child or helping her escape will ease that resentment. No, Ava literally has to sacrifice herself for Kate before she is able to consider forgiving her.

Well, that's not exactly true - and this is where that did-she-or-didn't-she know about Ava being a spy comes into play. It's actually when Zeus reveals that Ava was working on his behalf the entire time that Kate first begins to start to forgive her.

what?

I genuinely do not understand this.

How does that make Ava's actions any better? How is allowing Kate to suffer for strategic value somehow better than acting under duress because someone else's life is at stake? Not to say there isn't an argument to be made for the former, but from Kate's perspective? SERIOUSLY? How is THAT somehow more acceptable? "Oh, well, gosh, I guess if she was doing it pragmatically for her dad instead of emotionally for herself, well, that just makes it all okay."

No fucking sense.

But that's Ava's arc! Blackmailed for her husband, used by her father, ultimately killed in the climax to atone for her "sins" and possibly teach Kate a lesson about her misogyny, depending on how much credit we're actually giving the book. Kate does take it very personally, because HOW DARE YOU KILL SWEET WONDERFUL AMAZING APHRODITE?

eye roll

Careful, Kate, change positions any faster and we're all going to have to be treated for whiplash.

Then there's Hera. Oh my fucking God, Hera. Or, sorry, Calliope, and yeah, the god-name thing is still stupid and confusing. Anyway, Hera. Fucking Maleficent had more nuance. The Evil Queen from Snow White looks at Hera and goes "Goddamn lady, you need to chill. And perhaps consider taking up a hobby." If there's a character that's more of a traffic jam of awful sexist stereotypes and tropes, I haven't seen them...

Lots fucking more at You're Killing.Us.
My Life as A White Trash Zombie - Diana Rowland AKLNDFLKND HOLY FUCKING GOD YOU GUYS, THIS WAS AMAZING. NO SERIOUSLY, I'M NOT EVEN BEING IRONIC RIGHT NOW THIS IS LEGIT EXCITE ENTHUSIASTIC CAPS TYPING. Seriously, I had begun to despair of ever finding a decent fucking Urban Fantasy book that didn't make me want to brick someone's face in, and thanks completely to Shiori's prodding, I got to read one. I GOT TO READ ONE. IT'S BEEN SO LONG. OH GOD I HAD FORGOTTEN WHAT LOVE WAS LIKE...

awe


My Life as a White Trash Zombie puts the genre to shame. It puts 99.9% of this genre's protagonists to shame. It takes most other books' DRAMATIC APOCALYPTIC WORLD-END LOVE TRIANGLE stakes and just slaps into oblivion with REALITY (+zombies), and it is glorious.

But if we don't get some structure up in this review, I will continue to rave like an inarticulate fangirl, so I'm going to do that horrifyingly twee "REASONS YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK" thing, and inarticulately fangirl in an ordered list. Ahem.

5 Reasons You Should Read My Life as a White Trash Zombie



1. Angel Crawford is Better Than You Everything Else






Yeah, that's right, everything else. Seriously, you try going through half the crap Angel has to deal with and see if you come out with a quarter of her spine.

There is a substance and tenacity to Angel that I almost never see in urban fantasy anymore. She doesn't have her shit together out of the box; in fact, her shit is all over the place, and the whole point of the book is that it's going to be a difficult task to get it in order, but that's the best part. Angel's life is a challenge that she is damn well up to. She doesn't want anyone to rescue her or pity her or make things easy on her; her whole arc is about coming to realize her own worth, earning her place, her pride, and living her life on her own terms.

It's almost pathetically exciting to me that Angel has actual flaws that are not being "clumsy" or a bad cook or "too loyal", and that Rowland isn't afraid to get all up in your face with them. Yeah, she's popping pills and hanging out with a drug dealer and generally fucking up AND SHE'S STILL THE HEROINE, SUCK IT! Angel has no self-esteem, no ambition, very little self-control, and she's made a lot of bad decisions, but she's not shamed or vilified or made to seem lesser for any of that. She overcomes it. I think the defining difference between WTZ and SO MANY OTHER BOOKS HERE LET ME JUST POINT TO LIKE THE ENTIRE GENRE is that the narrative actually acknowledges Angel's flaws, has Angel acknowledge her flaws, and then allows her to grow from them, whereas many other books just steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that they exist. I don't even know if I can accurately describe how satisfying that is.

The whopping cherry on top of this magical sundae is that, in allowing Angel to be responsible for herself, not once does the book sacrifice her intelligence, independence, or agency for the sake of the plot, or worse, romance. So there's no brain-bleeding TSTL action, no spunky agency, and sweet mother of cabbage, no waiting around to get saved.

Which brings me to my second point:

2. The Universe Does Not Revolve Around Penis





You know, about a quarter of the way into the story, I legit paused and thought, "There is something weird about this book. What is missing here?" And then I realized: there was a distinct lack of romantic penis presence. Angel was concentrating on her job and figuring out her zombie-ism, rather than spending every spare moment agonizing over whether or not some dude loved her.

HO. LY. SHIT.

party


Oh god, it's like the first breath of fresh air after crawling out of a sewer filled with the stank of insta!love and romantic angst and love triangles and men inextricably tied to plot resolution and destiny, and oh god, the air is so sweet up here, I never knew! This...this isn't a romance novel! It's just straight-up urban fantasy, where the heroine is the focus, and not just a vehicle to the hot, sexy mens!

I mean, yes, she does still have a boyfriend, and yes, there is also a love interest, but they are not at the center of the galaxy. They're out there on the edges, with like Uranus and Neptune*, hell, even Pluto! Angel encounters them occasionally, but even when she does, the interactions don't exist purely for the sake of sex or romance or angst; they're not just another predictable step stone on the road to forever and ever, amen. They're about Angel, and her relationships with the men in her life change as she develops and grows.

Which is FUCKING AWESOME.

*There is a slight caveat to this, but we'll get to that later.

3. STRUGGLES


You know what I loved about this book? Its scale. This isn't a wide-sprawling epic; Angel doesn't have to save the world, she isn't the Prophesied Messiah of Zombiekind. She wasn't plucked from her upper-middle-class life to become a Zombie Princess, nor was she trained from birth to be the Best Goddamn Zombie at What She Zombies. She is just a woman, who makes a few bad decisions one night in a bar, and happens to get turned into a zombie. A white trash zombie whose death inspires her to do some serious life-assessment...

Read full review at You're Killing.Us.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol.1 - Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli That was really fuckin good. Beautiful, expressive artwork, smart, sweet, thoughtful, and even sad writing, one of the best things I've read from Marvel in a while. So many characters of color! Miles is awesome. Genke is awesome. WANT MORE NAO.
SPOILER ALERT!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 Volume 2: On Your Own -  'Scott Allie', 'Andrew Chambliss' What the fuck? No. Nononono, if you could do a storyline with subject matter this SERIOUS in a worse way, I don't know if I could think of it.

1) A FUCKING ROBOT?!? REALLY? You're going to bring up the issue of an unwanted pregnancy and abortion and some really deep character stuff, and then throw it out the fucking window with some "I'm-a-robot" cop-out? FUCK YOU.

2) In the situation we were initially presented with, BUFFY WAS RAPED. No seriously, and fuck you, comics letter column, for saying she wasn't. She was blackout drunk. She didn't remember who or even if she'd had sex. She. Could. Not. Consent. It was fucking rape, don't you pull that "Well she knew what she was doing when she put herself in that situation" crap. FUCK YOU.

3) ANDREW MIND SWITCHING HER TO ANOTHER BODY W/O HER CONSENT IS NOT CUTE. It's so far over the line I cannot fucking believe that a) Buffy didn't KNOCK HIM IN TO NEXT WEEK, and b) it was played for LAUGHS. HE ROOFIED HER AND THEN REMOVED HER MIND AND PUT IT IN A ROBOT BODY. WITHOUT TELLING HER OR ASKING FOR HER CONSENT. He then gave her body and ENTIRELY NEW LIFE, away from Buffy, where she did not see or know what was going on with it. There isn't even a fucking WORD for that kind of violation. FUCK THIS BOOK for playing it for laughs, like it was endearing or just LOL AWKWARD or some shit. THIS IS BAD, WRITER, AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD. FUCK YOU.

This just fucking needs to stop, they need to let this franchise die.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Freefall - Andrew Chambliss, Karl Moline, Georges Jeanty, Joss Whedon Um no. This is still terrible. You're telling me that after leading a Slayer army, being a general and commander, the best job Buffy can get is in a coffee shop? Even with vampires out in the open, even with magick gone, and vampires falling out of the public's good graces - which, btw, was REALLY STUPID in the first place - Buffy can't even get on with the military or be some sort of vampire-killing consultant? No, just a coffee shop. This is so OOC annoying, badly-written regression - by season seven, Buffy had matured past this stupid teenage shit. Why am I even reading this crap?

The only good things in any of this are Spike and his bugs. Spike and his bugs need a solo. Fuck season nine.

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