Monday, December 31, 2018

The Last Conception by Eva Darrows

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a novel that started out great, but then seems like it jumped the tracks and went off into a completely different territory and got lost. That - around sixty-six percent in, at the end of chapter eighteen - is where I quit reading it because it had become too boring and silly to pursue for me. Was it an LGBTQIA romance? Was it religious fiction? Was it a mystery? Was it supernatural? It couldn't decide.

I had really been invested in it because not only do I love reading about Indian characters I was also engaged in this particular character's lesbian relationship(s), but I lost interest when it lost its way and was no longer engaging. Part of the problem as that the main character, Savarna, was diminished and her role seemed to be taken over by minor characters such as her sister Chitra, who had barely been in the novel at all, and also in part by Savarna's girlfriend (one of two she had!) who had been in it more than Chitra, but was also largely a minor character until about the fifty percent mark.

It was very confusing and didn't make for a satisfactory read to have these people coming out of nowhere with no real past. Just as 'Charley' started becoming more interesting, Savarna rather cruelly abandoned her for a trip to India which was such a tedious whistle-stop tour that it was meaningless instead of being the pivotal event it ought to have been.

Savarna is an embryologist in a bit of a YA love triangle with the trope 'bad girl' as well as with 'sweet girl' Charlemagne, obviously the good softer, gentler partner. The bad girl completely disappeared from the novel without any explanation while Charlemagne, typically referred to as Charley, was also listed as Charlie on occasion. Savarna also appears twice in as Saverna.

She has Indian heritage - that is from India, not American Indian, but she has she no interest in her heritage or her parents' religion. Her parents have been urging her to find a nice boy and settle down, but neither of them know that Savarna is gay - not to begin with. Something suddenly changes (there are a lot of sudden changes in this novel) and her parents start urging her to have a child, because Savarna is supposedly the last of this ancient lineage from some mystical teacher in the past, and since her sister is 'barren'. It's all on Savarna, but no explanation is offered as to why this has so suddenly become an issue.

It's patent nonsense, because by the time Savarna was born her so-called 'blood line' would have been so genetically diluted as to be completely meaningless in terms of carrying on anything, and Savarna would have known this if she was the scientist she was supposed to be, yet her parents put this appalling pressure on their daughter, and nothing is said about that either? Savarna is supposed to be rooted in science, yet she never once questions any of this, and neither does her 'devoted' girlfriend Charley.

Eventually Savarna bows right down to the pressure for no apparent reason, and desperately starts trying to get pregnant using sperm supplied by a completely unquestioning coworker, who himself has a partner who never seems to question his involvement at all - in fact, she's barely mentioned.

None of this made any sense to me, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that I couldn't take it seriously. No one talked about how stupid this blood line idea was, and no one talked about how inappropriate it was to put that kind of pressure on a woman to have a child. Neither was there any reason supplied as to why it was so critical that they have this child. So what if the line died out? We don't know because it was never discussed. This whole mess is where the novel lost me as a fan.

Note to author: You can't carbon-date something if it doesn't have carbon in it, so gold? No! Maybe the old robe if it was made of natural materials, which I assume it was, but even then, you can't nail it to an actual year, only to a range of years, so you could prove the robe is roughly X years old, but not to whom it belonged. But none of this mattered really because no significance was ever attached to the existence of the robe and the ring - what did it matter? So what if they were old and really had belonged to a guru? What difference did that make to anyone?

No-one was questioning that this sect existed and had been around for many years, so the robe and ring seemed pointless. I assume they were brought in to convince Savarna, but nowhere was that change of opinion really predicated on the evidence. In short, it had no influence on her precipitously diving into this conception binge, so what was the point? She'd already begin trying to get pregnant before she ever went to India so what was the point of that? These things never had any real import or relevance. By this time the novel was a complete mess. It was like utterly random stuff had been tossed in for no good reason, and I gave up on it.

I had thought I would be reading a complex novel about a strong lesbian woman and difficult choice, but none of that was in this novel. Savarna was not remotely strong except in her stubborn determination not to have a baby, which rapidly crumbled for no good reason. She was stringing along two lesbian partners and did not have the intellectual wherewithal to choose the one who was best for her, so she came off like an idiot at best and a cruel player at worst.

She more or less fell into the relationship with Charley/Charlie and then began talking of raising a family with this same woman she was unable to honestly commit to for half the novel? To me, Sarvarna was simply a jerk. If it had been Savarna who was obsessing on continuing her family lineage (for whatever reason) that would have at least been something concrete, but for her not to really care that much and then suddenly obsess on it made her look weak, stupid, and childishly impulsive.

Her girlfriend Charley/Charlie could have been a really strong character, but she was essentially reduced to the job of nursemaid with benefits, having vague sex with Savarna at random times, and titillating her after she's been injected with her coworker's semen. Those scenes felt a bit creepy , but was Charley/Charlie really supporting her? Not so much. Savarna was already resenting her presence. Did Charley/Charlie fight to travel with her to India? Nope. Did Charley/Charlie question this whole thing, including Savarna's psychotic parental pressure? Nope. The only thing Charley/Charlie did was to railroad through the 'carbon-dating' of the artefacts, and she did this in such an underhand fashion, going behind Savarna's back that it actually made her look like a meddling troublemaker.

The book felt like it really wasn't ready for prime time. In general the writing was not bad, but there were some issues such as the variant name spellings I mentioned above, and also minor instances such as where I read, "And what, per se, where you asking?", which clearly should read 'were you asking'. The biggest technical problem though, was the same issue I've encountered repeatedly when Amazon gets its hands on your book and mangles out a kindle version of it. This novel was obviously written as a print book with (what to me are pointless) page headers and so on, but Amazon mangles these things with glee, so there were page headers appearing in the middle of the text.

That's not all! Most of the first two paragraphs in chapter thirteen were in red - presumably because of Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. As if that wasn't enough, random sets of those red words were tied together with no space between them such as: haveGrandma'sthingscheckedout,but. There were many other examples. In chapter eighteen there were nine screens of badly-formatted text. The justification was lost, so the text had ragged right margins, and again, headers were mixed with text, so the Kindle version is definitely not fit to sell, and that fact that this wasn't;t checked is on both publisher and author. It should never have been offered for review in this state.

But the formatting is something that can be fixed relatively easily. A tedious story that makes no sense and demeans its main character cannot be fixed without a rewrite. Consequently I cannot commend this as a worthy read.