This Week, I Read… (2018 #3)

10 - Fahrenheit 451

#10 – Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Given that I love all the other Bradbury works I’ve read, and this is considered a classic, I was disappointed. And baffled, honestly.

The metaphor-laden prose was so vague at times I had real difficulty figuring out what the metaphor was even referring to. And I’m not talking the larger symbolism–I’m talking about the way simple objects are described, and seemingly insignificant ones, at that. I found myself rereading paragraphs or sometimes whole pages trying to figure out just what Bradbury was referring to with these odd metaphors.

Clarisse is a manic pixie dream girl. I know the phrase hadn’t been coined yet, but she’s weird and exists solely to motivate the main (male) character, and then dies. Which is further motivation. So she’s a MPDG in a Fridge.

Montag’s actions and characterization throughout the book are startlingly inconsistent. He’s dumb, then he’s raging, then he’s brilliant enough to evade capture, then he feels dumb and worthless again when he meets up with the book-men? Who is this guy? Am I supposed to admire him or pity him?

This also felt incredibly sexist compared to the other Bradbury stuff I’ve read. Even keeping in mind the prevailing attitude of the times, Montag’s wife and her friends seem to be created directly from the worst stereotypes of women that literary tradition has to offer; and even if that’s supposed to show the intellectual erosion of society, it’s only demonstrated explicitly by female characters, while the heroes (Montag, Faber, the book-men at the end) are all men.

I don’t disagree with the core message of the book–don’t censor, restrict, or destroy knowledge–but I can’t help feeling this specific narrative has a very narrow view on what knowledge is worth preserving. Famous books and essays and the Bible are all named in the end, but I felt much the same way I did when I read Moby-Dick recently: this is a White Male Author classic that only values the contributions to society made by other White Male Authors (and the Bible, which isn’t technically “white,” though modern America has certainly white-washed it.)

I don’t want this (or any) book burned or destroyed–but shouldn’t we be more careful about which ones we put on pedestals?

11 - The Cartographer

#11 – The Cartographer, by Tamsen Parker

If I were rating this as an emotional reaction to the love story and kink alone, five stars all the way. Rey gets his HEA (finally) at the end of a series I deeply love (if you ignore the novella about Hunter, which I do, because it’s just a bad idea from start to finish). The four other books are all brilliant.

This does a lot of things right, representation-wise, and needs to be applauded for that, as well. The two leads are both queer MoC, and Allie specifically is an big, outwardly masculine black man who spends the story coming to terms with his submissive side. It’s so blatantly against typecasting (where big black men are always scary!) that I loved it.

But there were representation issues that, while they didn’t touch on my experiences directly, did make me uncomfortable. Ableism, in that Rey’s disability is treated as a plot twist–though I picked up on the foreshadowing and figured it out early, the reveal is shallow both emotionally and in terms of handling disability with respect. I get that Rey’s parents didn’t know how to handle it, and that left him with some issues, but those issues aren’t explored much before they evaporate as an obstacle to Rey’s happiness.

And I’m honestly not sure how to feel about Julian, the trans character. Am I glad a trans man was included as a real possibility for a love interest without Allie treating him any differently than a cis man? Yes. Do I like the way Rey spoke about Julian internally? No–because Rey did make a distinction, and one I didn’t feel like it was his to make, when he speculated that Allie might like to be with someone he could have a family with, without intervention. It seemed…callus? Cavalier? It’s not entirely clear to me if Julian’s trans-ness was public knowledge or not, and while Rey outing him to us as the readers is merely narrative, I was really uncomfortable with his tone, because whatever did or didn’t come of Allie’s dalliance with Julian while he was separated from Rey, Rey didn’t have any business making decisions based on Julian’s reproductive status. Which he would know, of course, because Rey knows everything about everyone, so that doesn’t actually give me any clue about whether or not Julian is “out” as trans or not.

I tried to look at that as a failing of Rey’s arrogance, and it fits–I mean, he is trying to set up his lover with other man as a break-up gift, basically–but it still irks me beyond that. I’m not sure I can explain it any better, but this felt like it fell short of good representation.

12 - The Virtu

#12 – The Virtu, by Sarah Monette

As with my review of book one, I’m still disturbed by a lot of things about this. M/M romance is completely normalized–in fact, it dominates the plot–but there is still no hint of any wlw characters, which still smacks to me of fetishization.

Though at least the incest part isn’t happening, as I feared it would. Mildmay found out about his half-brother’s desire for him, but upon reflection, his major objection wasn’t that it would be incest, but that he’s simply not attracted to men at all. So Felix isn’t trying to get with him, and in fact, takes another lover altogether. One he doesn’t usually seem to actually like very much, but whatever, because it keeps him off Mildmay, right?

The non-faux-romance plot is decent, but not amazing. After spending the entire first book trekking across an enemy empire in order to find the place where Felix’s magic-induced madness could be cured, he and Mildmay then have to safely make it back home so that Felix can restore the broken Virtu. Which (while being a mystical object of little importance to the reader) is at least a reasonable goal for the man who broke it in the first place, albeit unwillingly. It’s a sort of redemption arc (I stress the sort of because it doesn’t restore Felix’s standing among his peers much at all) but it works as a personal milestone.

In fact, it works so well, I’m wondering what the next two books could even be about. A few loose ends aside, this easily could have been the second book of a duology rather than book two of four.

My last criticism is definitely the pacing. After taking most of the book to get back to the Mirador, with the journey being touted as dangerous as all hell, then the ending sequence takes them halfway back through enemy territory to its heart, the Bastion, in the blink of an eye to resolve Mildmay’s kidnapping, which happened with so few pages left to read that I honestly believed it was going to be a cliffhanger for book three. And it isn’t. The conclusion is rushed and unsatisfying.

After all that, though, I still enjoyed the book. In fact, the highly individualized tone of the first-person narration, no matter whether it was Felix’s or Mildmay’s, kept me turning pages at lightning speed. And I was fascinated by the notion of labyrinths underpinning both the magic system and the story arcs, and I definitely want to know more about those.

I’m just not sure what to expect going forward.

13 - Rustled

#13 – Rustled, by Natasha Stories

DNF @ 35%, laughably bad. I didn’t have high hopes when I spotted a major error in the very first section–the heroine gets in a car crash and can smell carbon monoxide coming from her tailpipe into the vehicle, except, you know, that CO is a colorless and odorless gas and that’s why it’s so dangerous that you need special detectors?

Seriously, shouldn’t any editor or beta reader catch that, even if the author didn’t know?

Things don’t get any better from there. Charity is an escapee from a polygamous religious sect who didn’t want to become the umpteenth wife of someone: a trope I’ve seen more often than I’d like. Too bad she escapes her cult prison only to end up trapped in a snowstorm with a complete stranger who she near-immediately decides to sleep with. Because screwing the first guy who’s not a religious nut from your old life is clearly an empowering choice for a woman, right?

Neither lead has any distinct personality to speak of, and the narrative dissolves into so-so sex scenes with no plot to speak of pretty quickly. I didn’t have to finish this to know I wouldn’t like it.

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