This Week, I Read… (2018 #5)

16 - Night Pleasures

#16 – Night Pleasures, by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I’ll be honest, this didn’t feel like it was that different from the first book in the series, Fantasy Lover, except that somehow it’s worse. Okay, Kyrian’s a Dark-Hunter, which is a vampire but not really, while Julian was bound by a curse to a book–but they’re both still damaged heroes with serious loner-ism and trust issues where women are concerned.

And they both have to suffer orgasm denial as a trope in their romance arcs? Why? It bothered me here more than it did in FL, both because I’d already seen it in this series, and NP ramped up the Buffy the Vampire Slayer references. Yeah, I get it, Angel shouldn’t be getting his happy on, so now vampires who can’t come are a thing…ugh.

One of the most helpful pieces of writing advice I’ve seen pertaining to romances is repeatedly asking the question “Why aren’t they together now?” At first, here, it’s because they’re supposed to be enemies. That doesn’t last long at all. Then, it’s because she’s human and he’s not, even when their sexual tension is (according to them, at least) off the charts. Pretty quickly the reason becomes that their relationship can’t work, because she wants a normal life and he can’t give it to her–even though they both want to be together, if only they could.

And that reason lasts for about 2/3 of the book, never evolving further, even when they’re screwing like bunnies. I got bored with reading over and over how angsty and distraught Kyrian was about being unable to give Amanda the life she wanted or be the lover she deserved. It’s not even a bad reason, for their situation–but we get there so fast, and it never develops further. It gets stale.

Also, I have issues with Amanda’s psychic powers. Not that she might have them–her family seems pretty extraordinary in that regard–but that they’re never mentioned until BAM! she’s a prime target for soul-sucking by the enemy because of her psychic potential. She doesn’t know she has them (or so she claims) and has no idea how to use them; then she “remembers” having premonitions and being so traumatized by both the experience and having others disbelieve her that she represses her powers; then, magically, at the end, she’s pulling free crucifixion nails and slamming doors with her mind, mastering physical agony and fooling demigods. No training, no studying, just zero-to-hero with no development.

At least Kyrian is badass because he’s had his powers for millennia–plenty of time to practice, right?

17 - Let the Right One In

#17 – Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lidqvist

Should I be more horrified by this than I am? Should I be questioning my moral standing when at the end I’m rooting for the vampire?

Yes, Eli drinks blood in order to survive, and that necessitates killing people (to some degree). Which is wrong, of course.

But throughout the book we see how careful Eli is not to allow those victims to become new vampires, either by use of her proxy–a pedophile so repugnant it was a struggle for me to read some of his sections without gagging–or by being sure to kill the victim afterward.

It’s only when things become truly desperate for Eli that the situation gets out of control. Some of my favorite parts of the novel were of Virginia, the descriptions of the slow horror she felt when all of her perceptions and desires became unrecognizable, and the dread of the growing realization of what she’d become, and what she was and wasn’t willing to do.

Virginia as a character is a brilliant counterpoint to Eli, the eternal twelve-year-old. Does this book have something to say about the resilience of children, clinging to life in whatever form because survival is a stronger drive than morality? Can Virginia make her choice only because she’s an adult, who has lived the extra years needed to solidify a moral compass, and to accumulate even a paltry store of people she refuses to harm?

And then there’s Oskar, the butt of all jokes, the target of all bullying. His friendship with Eli is what gives him the strength to stand up for himself, though his methods certainly aren’t principled. But again, there’s a visceral satisfaction in Oskar’s acts of revenge, and even when I know what he’s doing is wrong, the people he’s doing it to are worse. He’s Eli’s human mirror.

Still, the book does have flaws. I don’t equate horror with gore–which is probably why this read to me as a lesson on relative morality and not something likely to keep me up at night–but this is possibly the goriest book I’ve ever read. I have a higher tolerance for it in print than on screen, so it’s unlikely I’ll ever watch any movie adaptation, because I’d like to keep my stomach where it belongs, thank you.

Also, it’s got a relatively large cast of characters to keep track of, and some of them have remarkably similar names. I kept getting Tommy confused with Tomas and Jonny confused with Jimmy, especially since all four characters are (loosely) about Oskar’s age and part of his social group, if you extend it to include the bullies. On top of that, the group of adults we meet as drinking buddies in the beginning has six (or maybe seven?) people in it, only a few of whom get much screen time and end up being important. Did there need to be so many of them? I wouldn’t like to see the scope of the story cut down, only the number of arguably superfluous or confusing characters.

18 - Oryx and Crake.JPG

#18 – Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

I have strong but ambivalent (or perhaps contradictory) feelings about this book. On the one hand, I’m intrigued by a dystopia based on mega-corporation science gone wrong–it feels possible, though this particular work is already old enough that the tech level is outdated, which makes it feel strange as even a near-future version of our world.

On the other hand, everything about the way society was structured in this hypothetical world felt juvenile. The names of the corporations and the products went beyond silly to downright infantile.

But apparently everyone is all about watching live child pornography, executions, and suicides in this world, so maybe they did need their science dumbed down and spoon-fed to them.

So the title names Oryx and Crake, but Oryx never materialized for me. She’s an object of pity and worship, a delicate little flower who refuses to talk about her traumatizing past (which I guess could pass for strength, but comes across more as denial.) To Jimmy/Snowman, she’s an ideal and a memory. But she never seemed important. Even her death was bland, though its consequences were not. It was a single line, an event that happened so fast you could blink and miss it.

But Crake, he dominates the story. He’s the driving force behind literally everything about the world, from its end to its rebirth. And here’s the kicker–I didn’t care for the heavy use of flashbacks and the nearly-nonexistent “present” storyline, where nothing much happened until near the end. But I’m honestly not sure how else this story could have been told successfully. We’re presented with a decaying world filled with abnormal animal creations and beatific almost-humans, establishing the ruin of the world we know as fact right from the beginning. The flashbacks tells us how we got there from here, and throughout it all is Crake, thinking and questioning and plotting.

Would the story have been better told from his perspective in real time? But then we’d have to go on the journey of morality either with him (if he pondered the goodness of what he did) or beside him (if he was a lunatic/psychopath/other) while we watched him dismantle the world that is so close to, but not quite, ours. Told from Jimmy’s perspective, we get to see what Crake is from the outside and judge his motives ourselves, rather than know them firsthand.

Which does add to the story, I think. Even if I had to plod through the Snowman sections wondering what the hell the point of them was, because so little seemed to happen.

And then the ending! Something’s about to happen, but we don’t know what! Cliffhanger! It’s jarring, but I’m actually okay with it, because if the book had ended with Snowman’s death (as it seemed, for a while, to be heading toward) then I would be having a hell of a time wondering what the rest of the trilogy was going to talk about, since life as we know it would be effectively over, and the Craker society doesn’t seem like it’s up for fielding two more books on its own.

I liked it. It has flaws: some of the science is questionable, I don’t think Oryx got the development she warranted, and the present-day storyline wanders and is basically a pretext to have flashbacks. But it made me think, and I’m curious about where the next book goes.

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