This Week, I Read… (2017 #17)

51 - A Court of Wings and Ruin

#51 – A Court of Wings and Ruin, by Sarah J. Maas

THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER-FREE. THIS BOOK IS NEW AND POPULAR AND USUALLY I DON’T CARE ABOUT SPOILERS BUT FOR THIS ONE CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.

So, I loved it. I did! But I didn’t love it as much as ACOMAF, and that’s mostly because I’m a romance reader.

ACOWAR didn’t do anything wrong, per se. But since the previous book was focused on Feyre freeing herself from her unhealthy relationship with Tamlin and getting into a much healthier one with Rhysand, well, it felt like a romance novel, even though it’s YA fantasy with a healthy romance subplot.

This one, on the other hand, is really, really, really focused on the war. Which is happening RIGHT FUCKING NOW. I honestly didn’t realize it was coming so soon–it seemed like such a big deal that it was going to be the culmination of the series, and that ACOWAR would spend more time on the preparation for it, and also on Feyre playing spy in the Spring Court, which for all the hype in the fandom, only ended up being the small first section of the story.

The reason this focus bothered me was that it felt like the personal relationships were treading water. Feyre and Rhys get reunited, and that’s sweet (and hot) but then their relationship is pretty static for the rest of the book. Nesta and Cassian get to throw sparks at each other as she fights the mating bond, he fights his instincts to crowd her, and they fight each other–but there’s very little in the way of resolution, they’re still in a holding pattern at the end. And the Lucien/Elain pairing is barely touched–in fact, Lucien is absent for most of the book, after he leaves the Spring Court with Feyre at the beginning.

In the end, I think my disappointment (as noted by the lack of that fifth star) is based on how different this book was from my expectations. Which, to be fair, is more my fault (and to some extent, the rabid fandom throwing out headcanons I absorbed) than it is the book’s. I did like it. It just wasn’t what I expected.

52 - Archer's Voice

#52 – Archer’s Voice, by Mia Sheridan

I added this to my TBR a while back from a list of romances with disabled characters, hoping to expand my horizons some more. Archer is mute and speaks via ASL, and wouldn’t you know it, so does the heroine! Thus begins a story that is often sweet but wildly improbable in terms of the character’s backgrounds, living situations, and personal troubles.

That isn’t to say that the story is bad, or that it handles disability badly. But that nagging sense that everything was falling into place too easily was always in the back of my head as I read.

On the positive side, I do like seeing the male partner in an M/F pairing being the shy/naive/inexperienced one. Not all guys are pro, and not all girls are retiring hothouse flowers who need coddling. I always approve of a good script-flipping.

But on the whole, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough for the story to wow me. It’s cute to the point of sappiness, but if you like that sort of thing, go for it!

53 - Watership Down

#53 – Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Somehow this book, a childhood classic for many, never crossed my radar until I was a teenager reading The Stand, where Stu remembers reading it and experiences the feeling the rabbits call “tharn”–when they’re frozen in terror, unable to move or think or react.

I vaguely remembered seeing a copy in one of my elementary school classrooms, and thought, I should read that someday.

Fast forward to December of last year, when an early paperback copy showed up at the big library book sale. Sold!

I had problems getting started, with the large cast of characters who, by necessity, were little more than names with relative sizes attached. It’s not as if you can describe a bunny by hair or eye color or how they dress. And of course, being bunnies, there are so many bunnies.

But as I soldiered on, I found myself growing attached to Hazel’s determination, Fiver’s anxious predictions, Bigwig’s absolute commitment to his friends, and so on. The slow pace of the story, with many breaks to tell rabbit fables within the larger story, gives the reader plenty of time to get to know each individual.

What I did NOT like at all was the view that the female rabbits (“does”) were basically no more than stupid baby incubators that needed to be fetched, followed, shepherded, and coddled. I had noticed early on that none of the named characters seemed to be female, but I dismissed it as a symptom of it possibly being intended as a young boy’s book–not that I agree that boys will only read books with male characters, but in 1972 when this was published, that was certainly the prevalent view of things. But no, partway through the book, Hazel realizes that there’s no does in his new warren, and maybe they should do something about that, so that there could be babies.

And it never gets better. The few female bunnies there are never get to do anything heroic, interesting, or even merely useful, and yes, they are quickly relegated to the role of mothers. (Kehaar the gull, much as I like him otherwise, actually refers to them solely as “mudders” in his faux-German gull accent.)

So in many ways I can see why this book deserves to be a classic, for its charming setting, interesting rabbit-based viewpoint, and tale of leadership and determination–but it’s so anti-feminist it makes me itchy.

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