This Week, I Read… (2017 #4)

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#9 – Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas

I tried to read this book once before, back in 2015. One of the librarians who most often handled my checkouts saw me, over several visits, taking out their entire Maggie Stiefvater collection, so she asked me if I had ever read Sarah J. Maas. I had not, so I added ToG to the pile.

Perhaps because I was coming down from a Stiefvater hangover, ToG suffered badly by comparison. I hate love triangles as a trope and got about four chapters in before I saw the angst coming for me down the line. And I thought Caelena was too perfect–despite her assassin-ness, she struck me as good at everything with no flaws except her temper. I DNF’d and didn’t even record that I’d tried to read it.

Here I am, giving it a second chance after reading (and loving) Maas’ other series, and hearing extensively from book buddies that the ToG series starts weak and gets better.

Surprisingly, this time I found I liked it much more than I expected to. I guess I was acclimated to Maas’ style, and honestly, knowing Caelena is held up as a shining example of “young love doesn’t have to last forever” and “it’s okay to date lots of people before you find the one you want forever” has reconciled me to the love triangle. Those are lessons young women need to hear (this is YA, after all) and while you know I’m a diehard romantic, true love doesn’t often come into your life so quickly.

And, to be fair, the relationships between the three people involved were much more nuanced and less angsty than I was given to expect.

It’s not going to win any awards as my favorite book, or even my favorite Maas book (thank you, ACOMAF) but I am definitely intrigued enough to keep going with the series. Caelena shows a lot more potential than I’d expected, even if she’s still basically good at everything and her only initial flaws are her temper (I was right about that the first time) and occasionally her impulsiveness. But given what I’ve seen from Maas elsewhere, I don’t doubt there will be lots of character growth to keep me going.

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#10 – The Dark Wife, by Sarah Diemer

I’d heard a fair bit of buzz about this. A lesbian retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone? Sign me up!

But, sadly, it’s a wreck of a story.

First, the technical aspects: the prose is stilted and florid. It felt like it was about 80% dialogue and internal monologue, so there was A LOT of telling and almost no showing, ever. I was being spoon-fed this epic, semi-tragic romance, hammered repeatedly over the head with just how beautiful everything was, how sad it was, how absolutely and completely wonderful and amazing and ohmygod the first “sex” scene is a single run-on sentence with about a, hundred, commas, for, all, the, clauses, it’s seriously an entire page long, but it’s so vague, you’re halfway through, before you even realize, they’re probably having sex.

Whew. That was actually painful to make myself write.

But the romance, being entirely told, was weak. Neither Fem!Hades or Persephone had much of a personality, it’s insta-attraction turned semi-instant love, and partway through Gaea, Mother of Everybody, comes to Persephone and tells her this has all been foretold, she’s going to save Hades and the Underworld and Everything Else Ever. It’s all hand-waving instead of actual character and relationship development.

But my real bone to pick deals with Fem!Hades herself. Gender-bending Hades is entirely unnecessary and doesn’t add a single thing to the story.

WAIT! PUT DOWN YOUR PITCHFORKS!

I want LGBTQIA representation in romances, I do. I want it across the board in all genres. But what does this story, specifically, gain from making Hades female?

The common romanticization of Male!Hades is that he’s misunderstood. Not in the typical modern bad-boy way, but the other gods speak of Hades as a cold, implacable force, Lord of the Underworld, without a heart or much in the way of feelings.

Persephone comes and either a) shows him how to love; or b) reveals that he’s always been a heart-of-gold type of guy, nurturing and loving and tender behind the mask he’s forced to don as LotU.

In one fic I read years ago (sadly it’s been taken down so I can’t provide the source for you) Male!Hades was actually Farmer!Hades–he had a deep love of his land and wished he could have gardens and farms and all that like the Earth did, but nothing would grow until Persephone showed up. It wasn’t a desire brought on by her appearance–he was always that way, and that’s why he was emotionally closed off, because he was unfulfilled by the life he had before her.

So you see what I’m getting at, right? Hades as the romantic hero actually relies on the subversion of Alpha-Male-Hero stereotypes. Sure, he’s powerful, he’s a god and it’s often stated/implied he’s actually one of the most powerful gods around, if not the most. But that’s never why Persephone loves him. She does because she expected to find a monster and got a loving, wonderful man, a man he either becomes or is revealed to be solely because of her presence. Loving!Hades is hers and no one else’s.

Making Hades female undoes all the good of that subversion. Women are expected to be loving, nurturing, to care for their homes and everyone around them. Here, Fem!Hades isn’t defying or subverting any stereotypes, she’s embodying them.

Which is why this was such a disappointment. It’s not even that the gender-bending is merely cosmetic–I wouldn’t have a problem with that–it’s that it actively undermines the entire dynamic of the love story.

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#11 – The Martian, by Andy Weir

A modern take on the epistolary style of novels, I chose The Martian for this task because the bulk of the story is told through Mark Watney’s logs of his time on Mars. It’s a blend of genre-saavy and narratively engaging, and I love it.

Problem was (slight problem, anyway) that I didn’t keep loving it. By the end, I felt the constant “This piece of tech went wonky, here’s how I fixed it” to be extremely repetitive and numbing, taking away some of the emotional drama from the climax.

This book, while awesome in so many ways, definitely illustrates the danger of having your protagonist exist for long periods of time in isolation. Without anyone else to interact with, the only actions Watney can take are accidentally breaking things and then fixing them.

The beginning started off strong with his realization of his predicament and all the MacGuyver-esque problem-solving, and the highest point of the story (for me) was not when (spoilers) Watney got off Mars at the end, but only midway through, when he made contact with Earth again for the first time. So, yeah, the same-ness of the plot throughout really dragged at me towards the end, which dinged it that star it could have earned if it had continued to be awesome all the way through.

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#12 – The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, by Carey Wallace

Another contender in the Starts Strong, Ends Weak category. I was enchanted by the fairy-tale tone and idyllic Italian villa setting, with the promise of romance.

What I got was a muddled mess of vivid dream imagery interwoven with boring characters doing nothing. Over-reliance on the protagonist’s dreams, with their incredibly fanciful descriptions, made it hard for me to recall while she was awake that she was blind–she was born sighted and gradually lost her vision, so she could still “see” in dreams, and having the two types of passages constantly switching back and forth made the distinction hazy. Tighter writing could have fixed a lot of that, or making the dream passages shorter or less frequent.

It was clearly a literary device instead of an actual component of the story, and it weakened the already-trite plot. What was supposed to be a “romance” was actually two unhappily-married people having an affair with each other and almost running away together, but not, because the protagonist’s husband took her away himself before she could go. And then an incredibly brief, unsatisfying tacked-on epilogue about her typewriter, which despite being the titular object of the story, shows up very late and doesn’t really change as much as it should. It’s such a non-object I almost forgot to include it in my review at all!

 

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3 thoughts on “This Week, I Read… (2017 #4)

  1. I actually loved both the Throne of Glass and The Martian. The love triangle in Throne of Glass didn’t bother me, but I suspect it will as I continue to read the series – currently I’m just thinking that it’s the classic example of “this should be solved by polyamory”, which is probably the first time that happened to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t heard too many spoilers for the ToG series, at least not any that make sense without having context, but I have heard it held up as a good example of a female protagonist NOT being shamed for having multiple love interests. Because as many rightly point out, it’s pretty rare to find Forever Love on the first try, but a lot of YA paints that picture. So I’m hopeful.

      Liked by 1 person

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