This Week, I Read… (2021 #19)

#50 – Persepolis Rising, by James S.A. Corey

  • Beat the Backlist Bingo: More than one author
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

So I’m about to spend this review criticizing and nitpicking what is essentially a really strong book. Do I like it as much as several of the others in the series? No. But I also wouldn’t still be reading the series if it had fallen off a cliff already.

Consider everything after this to be major spoiler territory, and these to be the rantings of a deeply invested fan who has gripes, but nothing earth-shattering enough to abandon ship.

Listen, authors, I know one of the themes in this story is “history repeats itself,” but did we really need to spend several prolonged action sequences blowing up Medina Station again? We fought a huge battle on it when it was still the Behemoth and it seems like we can’t go two books since without having to take a chunk or three out of this ship. I’m sure the science behind what they did was smart, it pretty much always is, but I admit that the action/sabotage sections made my eyes glaze over more than a little and I ended up skimming them by the end of the book because they just kept blowing stuff up.

(Once they were instead blowing stuff up on the Storm, I started paying closer attention again. Taking an enemy ship like that was cool and honestly unexpected.)

I’m groaning at the renewed (future) importance of my least favorite POV character to ever show up in the series, Elvi Okoye. While I’m glad we’re finally circling back to the mysteries of the protomolecule and the hyper-advanced, unknown enemy that took out their civilization, I can’t exactly be thrilled knowing she’s coming back, whether as a POV character or not, because she was the worst part of Cibola Burn. I suppose I can hope that the thirty intervening years have made her wiser, or at least less annoying…

While I mostly like how our core crew have aged up over the time jump, and how the authors have shorthanded the missing years by showing us minor and believable changes to each individual and their relationships, I really felt like Alex got shortchanged in this book, with a hand-waved second marriage and basically nothing to do with himself. Even Bobbie’s best-friend-ship with him, while excellent, doesn’t give him any real importance to the plot–everything he contributes to the insurgency is basically “this is how the Laconians either are or aren’t like the Martian military I remember in ways we can exploit” and Bobbie can and does provide that exact same role and information. (Because I am reading this after the end of the fifth season of the show, I know that Alex was killed off, a major deviation from the books, and while that was for reasons relating to the actor and not the story, I’m beginning to see why they felt like they could get away with it, plot-wise. Alex just isn’t important here, at all. And I wonder if he will be going forward.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find Avasarala still alive, as she’s always been a favorite. I found Drummer ending up as a war leader as weird and uncomfortable as she herself did, in-universe, but instead of that drawing me closer to her as a reader, I felt her POV chapters alienating. I guess because I knew her first in her greatly expanded role on the show (being a show-watcher rather than a reader until book/season 4, when I finally caught up) I feel like she’s been so many things, because she’s been so many different characters, quite literally, since show!Drummer took over the narrative of two book characters in addition to her own. This didn’t feel like a natural evolution for her, the way the Roci crew felt in their older versions; and I do get that she’s in a position she never expected and was unprepared for, so that’s deliberate. But I think her chapters were some of the least interesting in the book.

I think that’s it, my list of complaints. As I said, still a good book, and it takes the series in an interesting direction. I do think it’s a solid opening to the beginning of the end, and I’m still going on with the series, but I had issues I wanted to whine about.

#51 – Deliver Me, by Farrah Rochon

  • Mount TBR: 48/100
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

Poorly constructed, poorly researched, poor representation of mental illness, and some tropes I simply don’t like, though that is of course a matter of personal taste.

I got this free in a bundle and it’s my first Rochon read, though I’ve been hearing good things about her for years. I dearly hope that this is not representative of her more current works.

So let’s tackle these issues one by one. Poor construction: first, the whole book is building up to the climactic charity bachelor auction, and I have no problem with that, but then the story ends abruptly at the same time the auction does, with the heroine “buying” the hero from it, some time (several days?) after she literally walks out on him after sex and does her absolute best to ghost him over what we know is a complete misunderstanding. I’ll talk more about the miscommunication aspect of this later, but after the hero’s repeated attempts to get to the bottom of why she left seemingly without warning or reason, he doesn’t really have the chance to apologize or defend himself properly, but then the heroine forgives him anyway for basically no reason. Now, we the reader know that he wasn’t actually cheating on the heroine, but she pulls a one-eighty and forgives him on the spot, when he sees him onstage, because‚Ķhe’s just so sexy? I’m not really sure. That happened to fall at the bottom of the page on my e-reader, so imagine my surprise when I flick to the next page and see the end matter–the book ends quite literally with the big auction, there’s no denouement, there’s no explanation of why she changed her mind, there’s not even an epilogue to show them several months or years down the road being happy together. It’s just OVER.

Second issue with poor construction: the multi-chapter subplot about the second couple who are patients of the hero, complete with an extra POV character, is jarringly distracting and (in my opinion) wholly unnecessary. This book would have been long enough to qualify as a novel without it, so it’s not helpful padding, and I’ll get more into why later, but I believe this subplot actively undermines the main plot.

Poorly researched: I can cover this one pretty quickly. I’m no medical expert, but when the hero early on in the story performs an emergency c-section on a conscious patient, without any form of anaesthesia and without her consent, I was not impressed. No, I’m serious. At the top of the page, the woman very clearly says “I don’t want a c-section” and the next few paragraphs are the hero shushing her and doing anyway. I honestly don’t know the protocols for informed consent in emergency situations, and under what circumstances doctors are allowed to exercise their best judgment and operate without informed consent, but whatever they are, I don’t think it’s just merrily slicing into a woman who moments ago explicitly withheld it.

There weren’t any more insanely obvious medical blunders for the rest of the book, but I also didn’t have much of a sense of realness from the hospital, either. Much later, a side character in the subplot makes an observation about knowing how to scrub up properly from watching “ER,” and that really crystallized the level of medical accuracy in this book to me.

Okay, next issue. Poor representation of mental illness. The entire subplot is about a couple where the wife has bipolar disorder, hides that fact, and her treatment for it, from her husband, and then goes off the rails when her pregnancy screws with her medication regimen, which fails to control her symptoms.

Where the hell do I even start with this? She’s depicted as a shrewish, terrible woman, and yes, I do think that’s mostly because of her mental illness. Bad look to start with. Then add to that, that she thinks her husband will leave her if he finds out she’s ill. Not a good look either. Her paranoid delusions all center on her husband cheating on her–which he’s not–and her erratic behavior includes not following her doctor’s orders about bed rest, which eventually leads to the premature (but ultimately happy and successful) birth of their child.

Now, to be fair, the husband is an absolutely stand-up guy through all of this, and the couple does get a happy ending. So I’m not accusing the author of believing or endorsing the idea that mentally ill people are either incapable or undeserving of romantic fulfillment.

But the problem is that if the point of this subplot is to mirror the main plot, then it’s a terrible idea to have the main couple be a player with a string of clingy ex-girlfriends matched up with a woman who ghosts him because she believes he’s cheating on her. See where I’m going with this? By having the subplot LITERALLY be about a mentally ill woman’s paranoid delusions, it’s drawing a parallel between those and the miscommunication of the main plot. THE HEROINE IS NOT CRAZY, SHE’S JUST INCORRECT. And implying she’s “crazy” for thinking the hero might be cheating on her (even if we know he isn’t!) is doing a disservice to women who have been or really are being cheated on, because a common backlash from the men is “you’re crazy!” Um, no. No to all of this.

The tropes I don’t personally like, but aren’t necessarily big issues the same way: yes, the entire conflict between the leads boils down to a miscommunication, which results in an unsuccessful ghosting, which leads to the hero being really pushy about tracking her down and finding out what’s going on. I hate plots where the love interests refuse to talk to each other for no good reason. Also, I didn’t love that when these two get horizontal, there’s no mention of any kind of birth control in the room with them, nor was it established that they’d had an earlier conversation about it. As much as I dread the “man wants to go bareback, woman bites her lip and says okay, i’m on the pill” scene that half the bad romance novels I read inevitably rely on, at least those books are talking about it! At least we establish there’s not going to be an accidental pregnancy in fifty pages! And the hero is an OB-GYN, so there’s literally no excuse for these two not to have a rational conversation about how they’re going to handle birth control.

I’m genuinely struggling to find anything good about this book.

#52 – Broken Harbor, by Tana French

  • Mount TBR: 49/100
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I said when I reviewed The Secret Place that if I got a chance to read an earlier book in the Murder Squad series, I would take it. Sure, I jumped backwards from #5 all the way to #4, but that’s what fell into my hands at a used book sale.

Did I like it better? Yes. I certainly read it faster–this had far better pacing, and even when new information came up and I said, “aha! I know what happened now!” I also knew there was X number of pages left for the book to add further complications and show me I was wrong. I felt like this plot had a much clearer progression from point to point to point, and always made it clear what you were meant to think about the new twist or reveal, even when you (I) knew that couldn’t be the full answer yet.

I’m still not a mystery fan, I doubt this series will ever convert me to the genre as a whole, because this is far different from the mysteries I’ve read before (my other Tana French read excluded.) Maybe I was reading too many stories that relied on obvious twists or cheap surprises, but the two French novels I’ve read so far are definitely far more reflective and interested in thematic cohesion than the mysteries I’m familiar with–The Secret Place was about friendship, primarily, and Broken Harbor examines family bonds, mental health, and the boundary between civilization and “wildness.” The commitment to exploring those themes deeply is evident in every aspect of the story.

Unmarked spoilers throughout the rest of the review, because some things I want to talk about, I can’t really talk around.

My complaints are simple: despite the better pacing it still feels wordy, on occasion, especially in the many interrogation scenes; and in some senses I’m satisfied by the ending, but in others, I’m not. I understand why the detective acted the way he did re: the case and his job, but I’m not sure I fully get why the book ended where it did with him and his sister–those final pages lacked any sort of punch for me and felt incomplete.

Whereas something that was deliberately left incomplete–the identity/existence of the possible animal intruder in the house–doesn’t bother me at all. It’s immaterial to me whether there was actually an animal or not, as Pat’s behavior was unhinged either way and clearly contributed to the deterioration of his family life. (The theory posited by some reviewers that it was mold toxicity from the poorly constructed house itself definitely has legs, though that’s an interpretation of events that I hadn’t considered myself. I suppose that, in reading this after more than a year of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, I was more willing to believe that the physical isolation of the house and the social isolation of their situation was enough, over time, to send the adults in stress-induced irrational behavior, which caused the chain of events being investigated. That certainly seems to be the case for Conor, who spent comparatively little time in the house itself, though it would have made sense for his hide to also be compromised by mold, I suppose.)

I’ll end this review basically the same way as the last one–I’m still not a mystery fan, but I would read another French novel, if one comes my way. And maybe even start at the beginning!

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