This Week, I Read… (#11)

26 - Kindred

#26 – Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler

  • Read: 3/8/16 – 3/11/16
  • Provenance: Library (hardcover, an original edition–it’s older than I am! The librarian even mentioned it because the bar code was on the front and they started putting them on the back years ago. The card pocket is still on the cover page with “Dec. ’79” stamped on it. I squeed.)
  • Challenge: PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge
  • Task: A science-fiction novel; also the Adult Booklr book club March selection
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Going into this mostly blind, I expected more sci-fi and less historical fiction, though the inside-cover copy calls it a blend of the two.  (I didn’t see that until after, I just dove in.)

So it wasn’t really what I expected to find myself reading, and it almost feels like it doesn’t qualify for the task.  I like my sci-fi to be explained, and to have rules.  I want things to work in a way that can be quantified or measured.

And the portal/time-travel bit here is far more magical than science-y, which I disliked. It’s only a valid criticism for a purist, though, because not knowing precisely why it works as it does, doesn’t really detract from the story itself.

If I consider this as historical fiction with a unexplained magical element (say, like Outlander), suddenly, it’s a good book again. I felt Dana’s terror at the danger she found herself in, her hopefulness and practicality in trying to make herself a safe place outside of her own time. Actually, her streak of stubborn practicality really endeared her to me, given that it’s something that comes up frequently in my own dystopian writing.

What I liked less, and wish had been explored more, was Kevin’s reaction to being stranded without Dana for so long.  A few sentences here and there after they were reunited, it didn’t feel like nearly enough.

Genre questions aside, I did enjoy it, once I got over my initial confusion. And I’ll put Butler on my read-more-of-later list, because engaging stories told in clear, direct prose can be surprisingly hard to find.

27 - Captive Prince

#27 – Captive Prince, by C. S. Pacat

More like, read THE book you saw on Tumblr. Booklr’s going crazy for this the last month or so.  I succumbed to the hype and looked into it. Fantasy with political intrigue and romance? It sounded like an M/M version of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, which I’ve probably read at least ten times over the years.

Now that I’ve read Captive Prince, I see what all the hype is about. But I also see the reasons for the hatred, too.

So, for the second week in a row, it’s time to talk about sex in a book review. Sadly, this time it’s not in a positive context.

Don’t read this book if you have even the slightest issue with rape.

I don’t turn away books that discuss or involve rape.  It happens, much as I wish it didn’t, and stories shouldn’t be forbidden from drawing on that, though I’ll never criticize anyone who doesn’t want to read those stories. (I will put down a rape-apology book, if I ever read one…I hear there’s a pretty scandalous one making the rounds now, but I ain’t touchin’ that with a ten-foot pole.)

So the reason the readers who love the book love it boils down to the incredibly fraught relationship between Damen and Laurent. The sexual tension positively drips off the page, and I devoured every chapter, waiting to see what turn they’d take next. Damen is a powerful man, physically, intellectually, and politically–seeing what becomes of him when stripped of his power is compelling. Watching him navigate the waters of a foreign royal court is entrancing.

Laurent’s an absolute asshole, but once you dig into the meat of the story, there are so many clues as to why, that the reader can begin to understand and forgive him.

And that’s where the haters object. And not without reason–Laurent participates in some awful behaviors and tacitly condones a hell of a lot more. I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t see past the monster he’s demonstrated to be to get the glimmer of what Pacat obviously means to be the “real” person inside.

There is rape in this book. There is sex trafficking. That’s how Damen has lost all his power, by being sent to an enemy nation as a sex slave.

Which is absolutely disgusting.

I felt that internal tension in myself while reading. The bones of the story are exactly my jam–two well-written characters squaring off against each other in what’s obviously meant to be an enemies-to-lovers tale. (We’re not even remotely there by the end of the first book–more like, enemies-to-extremely-reluctant-temporary-allies.) I’m completely down with that.

But why did it have to be framed in the larger context of slavery, rape, and abuse? And a dash of M/M fetishization, because as some people rightly point out, would anyone love this book if Damen’s character were female instead?

With that said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this book, because I did. And I’ll still be reading the rest of the series. As so many people have said, it’s not terrible to like something problematic, as long as you understand why it’s problematic.

But I can’t argue with the criticisms leveled at it. The only defense I can make personally is that despite the horrible things that happen, at no point did I ever feel like this story had an apologist tone. We only see things from Damen’s side, and he feels nothing but disgust and contempt for what’s happening around him, which goes a long way (for me) towards the lack of discomfort I had reading. (Unlike, say, 50SoG, which is constantly attempting to normalize, romanticize, even glorify abusive behaviors.)

So I will read, but I won’t necessarily recommend, and I don’t think I’ll be doing anything to promote the hype. As good as I thought it was, it’s going to be hard to stomach for a lot of people.

And, bonus, after I wrote this treatise of a review, I didn’t have the energy to rehash it in my reading journal, so I just wrote this:

CP journal bit

Moving on.

blind book

My library has had a blind-date book display up since just after Christmas, and while it’s not a personally tailored, hand-sold book, I figured, if nothing else applied, it would fall under “recommendation from a librarian,” since the librarians picked these books out to promote. While I’m not exactly into vampires (I got that all out of my system during the Buffy the Vampire Slayer years,) I’m not strictly opposed to them, either. The book turned out to be…

28 - The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

#28 – The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

DNF @ about 40%. I wanted to like this book, based on the premise, much more than I actually did. The opening was strong, with a great inciting incident and some really compelling action.

But then, it was all action. Everything was frantic, there was never a chance for the characters to breathe. And while that’s a great way to get a reader hooked, at some point, it has to ease up.

Consequently, I feel like I never got to know the characters. The motivations for their decisions seemed alternately shallow or incomprehensible. Deeper meanings might have been hidden, to be explained later…but if I’m so tired of trying to establish a connection to the characters that I give up on the story, well, there’s no later, right?

It wasn’t even that I found them unlikable, just flat. I never could understand what Tana was thinking or feeling, even when the narrative was right there inside her head, and Winter and Midnight were painted so broadly as stereotypical vampire-wannabe posers that I never felt inclined to find out if they could actually be more. Aidan wasn’t so hard to figure out–hunger tempered with all the morality he could muster–but Gavriel…well, I just got to his reveal, and was both unsurprised and uninterested. I think that’s most of why I put the book down and didn’t want to pick it back up.

Which is too bad, really, because the world Black created has so much potential.

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