This Week, I Read… (2019 #2)

3 - royal assassin

#3 – Royal Assassin, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 1/2/19 – 1/5/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (2/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book with a two-word title
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

After the masterpiece that was Assassin’s Apprentice, this was disappointing.

Most of the length of the book felt like it was treading water, waiting for the right time to move the plot along. Very little of note happened in the first half of the story, aside from Fitz indulging himself in his disastrous relationship with Molly; I want my heroes to have flaws, and I know he’s inexperienced with women and love, but he’s both stupid and selfish in his treatment of her. Not that the faults all lie with him, because Molly basically shuts her eyes and blithely pretends she’ll get her happy ending, too, and when she realizes she won’t, she still sticks with Fitz for a good long while before she breaks it off.

Fitz’s relationships with Burrich, Verity, and Nighteyes are far more interesting, once they get going, but the Fool and Chade both seem like ghosts of themselves here, and basically everyone in the whole book got hit with the stupid stick. No one suspected a spy among the Queen’s maids? No one but Fitz ever realized how far Regal might go in his quest for power? No one realized he was maneuvering people too?

And that’s another issue, because if Regal is supposed to have outsmarted them all, then I wanted his petulance, indulgence, and arrogance to be a pose to hide his intelligence, and it seemed near the end that that would bear out–but then when he’s initially denied the pleasure of executing Fitz, he throws a temper tantrum and immediately starts antagonizing his own supporters, so I guess he really is an overgrown man-child and not a political mastermind.

With all that being said, I still found plenty to like about this, especially when the pace finally picked up in the second half and things happened. The ending? Whew boy, that had me riveted. I just wish we’d gotten there faster, and with less whining on the way. I’m in it for the long haul, and I love the dark, soul-examining aspects of Hobb’s writing, but I can’t help but hope the last book in the trilogy improves on this one.

4 - fair game

#4 – Fair Game, by Monica Murphy

  • Read: 1/5/19 – 1/6/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (3/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book set on a college or university campus
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 30%. I couldn’t find anything to like about this.

The heroine is so stupid and inconsistent it hurts to read her POV sections. First she knows all about gambling because her grandfather taught her as a kid (which is weird?) but then, without even realizing it at first, she tries to help her boyfriend cheat at poker and gets caught, because she does it so badly. Then she’s rightfully pissed when his opponent (and her eventual “love” interest) suggests the boyfriend bet her to cover his losses, and even more pissed when he does, and then loses.

So the hero (and I use that term only because it’s standard for romances, not because Shep deserves it) “wins” her in a card game, and she slaps him and dumps her boyfriend. “Good for her!” I thought for about two minutes, until she’s so super-attracted to the hero that she’s waffling about whether or not it’s okay to win a girl in a card game. Her best friend doesn’t think the bet is a big deal. Also her best friend is the most stereotypical and bland of all best friends; she’s clearly a party girl and talks about sex all the time, with the heroine, basically telling her to get some. And I’d be all for the sex positivity, if the heroine wasn’t constantly slut-shaming her best friend internally for all of her gross, slutty ways. No, thank you. I expect the female characters in my romances to be allowed to enjoy sex. It’s kind of the point!

But said best friend also doesn’t necessarily think the heroine should have dumped her loser boyfriend, because the bet didn’t really mean anything, right? And if he’d won, the payout would have been $50K! So clearly it’s okay to bet your girlfriend, right? (I’m totally with the heroine here, his ass is gone.)

So H and h run into each other at a frat party, and he immediately manages to whisk her into an empty bedroom on the flimsiest of pretexts and starts flirting with her. And eventually distracting her so much with his charm and wit (not!) that she doesn’t even notice his hand up her skirt.

First of all, no. I’ve always noticed when some guy is trying to get into my clothing, whether he’s been invited to or not. Does this heroine not have nerve endings in her skin? Or is her sense of self-preservation so atrophied by stupidity that she literally can’t detect a guy trying to stick his body parts in the vicinity of her hoohaa? Because I call bullshit on that.

Secondly…she likes it. She “knows” what he’s doing is wrong, out of line, inappropriate, whatever; but she’s so attracted to him, he’s so mesmerizing, that somehow it’s okay both that he’s an obvious asshole for intending to “collect” on the bet (which, might I remind you, she didn’t make on her own behalf) and that he’s sexually assaulting her.

How is any of this a) romantic, or b) morally acceptable?

5 - casino royale

#5 – Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming

  • Read: 1/6/19 – 1/7/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (4/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book that has inspired a common phrase or idiom
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I expected this to be sexist, but I was still shocked at just how bad it truly was.

Bond is introduced as a cold, hard, brutal man who regards women either as sex objects or puttering domestics. He’d be a great portrait of an antihero, if only the tone of the narrative didn’t celebrate everything else about him; his intelligence, his dedication to detail, his appreciation of luxury. He’s not supposed to be anti- at all; he’s clearly meant to be aspirational.

Because this is a power fantasy for educated ’50s-era British white men who wish they were rich. The target audience is so specific, so clear, from the way Fleming wrote it: not explaining the constant streams of French, a commonly studied language in the UK, while explaining in exhaustive detail the rules of baccarat, which is a high-stakes game few of his audience would have ever played. Handling lightly the politics of the Cold War and depicting the British intelligence services as a boys’ club. Describing various items of luxury in great detail.

And as far as that purpose goes, it’s brilliantly done, I can’t fault it for doing precisely what it set out to do. But when I tried to set aside the rampant sexism and casual racism (it’s limited but telling) to search for whatever else I could gain from this book despite it, all I really came up with was that it spawned Bond himself, who ended up being in a lot of great (and especially recently, less sexist) movies.

I’m already regretting my goal of reading the entire series this year, but I have hope that it might get better.

6 - graceling

#6 – Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

  • Read: 1/8/19 – 1/9/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (4/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book about someone with a superpower
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I can see why so many people adore this book, but it was actually a rough start for me. The text is loaded with awkward sentence structures and dangling modifiers, so from a technical level I feel it needed finer editing. Then the Council is introduced, and I simply found it hard to believe it could grow so big–out of Katsa’s control, as she acknowledges early on–and remain undiscovered by those in power.

The rest of the book didn’t really solve either of those issues, but since I absolutely fell for Prince Po, it didn’t end up mattering. This is one of the most solid, believable romances I’ve read in a YA fantasy, with a male lead the least affected by toxic masculinity that I’ve ever seen.

Also, while Katsa is definitely Not Like Other Girls, it’s not a shallow and pointless use of the trope; the entire plot amply demonstrates just how unlike other girls she is, and how much it’s not something she ever wanted. She can be abrasive and irritating, but I never disliked her or questioned her motives.

Bitterblue was a fun and surprising side character with her sass and get-it-done attitude; when I finished and looked into the rest of the series, I was pleased to see she gets her own book, down the line. I’ll definitely keep going with this series!

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