Showing posts with label sexual abuse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sexual abuse. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies by Joe Benítez, MM Chen, Martin Montiel, Mike Garcia


Rating: WARTY!

This combines volumes one through six of the original comic books and was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a beautifully wrought steam-punk world, the young daughter of a friend of Lady Mechanika's is in need of assistance, and the Lady responds. Her father has disappeared on a quest in Africa, and Mechanika sets out to find out what happened. Her quest is lent added urgency when the young girl is kidnapped. Mechanika meets a mysterious guy in London, who offers air transportation to Germany, where the kidnap victim is, and where lies another clue pointing to a specific site in Africa, so they set off there, only to crash in the desert and be taken prisoner by slavers!

Meanwhile in interleaved portions, we get the view from the other end of this quest, where the professor and his assistant are under pressure to decipher ancient scripts and uncover what the villains believe is an unprecedentedly powerful weapon.

The adventure was well-written, fast-moving, and full of action and feisty characters, including the distressed young girl at the start. The artwork was beautifully done and colored. That alone would have been sufficient for me to rate this graphic novel as a worthy read, but what bothered me too much here was what I let slip by in volume one, and it was the sexualization of all the female characters. When the blurb says, "Lady Mechanika immediately drops everything" it really means her clothes, and for me, this is what brought this particular volume down.

I found it disturbing, because Mechanika is fine regardless of her physical appeal or lack of same! She doesn't need to be rendered in endlessly sexual ways to be an impressive character. It's sad that graphic novel creators seem so completely ignorant of this fact. It's like they have this phobia that their female characters are going to be useless and entirely unappealing unless their sexuality is exploited. I'm not sure if this failing says more about the creators or about their readership, but either way it's obnoxious and I sincerely wish they had more faith in women than they evidently do. Do we really want to be writing comics which only appeal to people who see women as sex objects and very little else? Do we really want to be perpetuating a message as clueless as it is antiquated, and which offers only the sleazy equation that girls = sex = girls? I hope not.

This abuse was bordering on being abused in the first volume, but it was nowhere near as rife as it was here, so why they went full metal lack-it in this one is a mystery. Unlike in the first volume, it was all-pervasive here, with full-page in-your-face images of scantily clad adventurers bursting at what few seams they had, entirely impractically dressed for their quest.

I guess I should be grateful that the African woman who joined Lady Mechanika wasn't bare-breasted, but what I most noticed about Akina (other than the fact that she at least had a Congolese name) was that she looked like your typically white-washed model from Ebony magazine, not like the Congolese woman she supposedly was, whose skin would have been darker, and her face broader and less Nordic-nosed-white-westerner than this woman's was.

Why are comic book artists so afraid of showing the real world? Do they think real Congolese women are unappealing? Or is it that they feel they cannot sell the sexuality of a black woman (as opposed to a pale brown one)? If this medium is to grow-up and maintain relevance and meaning, then this kind of bias needs to be dispensed with urgently, because it's bone-headed at best, and racist at worst.

So, despite the appeal of the art in general, and the entertainment value of the story, I can't condone these practices, and I cannot rate positively a graphic novel which is so brazenly perpetrating abuses like this one did.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Livia Lone by Barry Eisler


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I enjoyed this novel very much. Normally I'm not a fan of flashbacks, but though the ones here were extensive, they were done well, and were integral to the story rather than filler or back-story for the sake of back-story. The entire novel moved quickly and determinedly. There was no fluff here and no time-wasting, and no young-adult-style first person, for which I personally thank the author! This is a book for grown-ups and will make even those feel uncomfortable. Events were credible (even when they were incredible!) and organic to the story, and the main character - Livia - was amazing: believable, endearing, demanding empathy, yet not pitiful. She was a woman with a mission and she never let anything get in the way of it, yet she did not ride roughshod over others to get what she wanted. She was patient and determined and in the end her dedication paid off, yet the ending was neither sentimental nor clichéd.

I grew to like this character from the start, and only admired and rooted for her more as the story continued. She was my idea of a strong female, and not necessarily in that she was physically tough - although in this case she was. She had more than that, though: she had spine and grit, both of which she direly needed after what she'd endured, but endure she did, never letting life get in the way of being a human-being no matter how single-minded she was in service to her cause. She had a habit (nicely not over-done) of saying "Yes, that!" which both evoked her non-English past, and made her at once endearing and sad. I found myself adopting that phrase in my mind from time to time when I was just going about my daily business, it made such a warm impression on me.

Her personal story was horrible. Sold by her uncaring and impoverished parents into sex slavery, thirteen year-old Livia's only concern was for her younger sister, who was sold with her in Thailand. Only one of them arrived in Portland, USA, and for the next two decades, Livia spends her time struggling to survive what befalls her and at the same time stay alive no matter what, so she can find out what happened to her sister Nason.

Just when her path looks like it will become straight and narrow, it meanders into serious problems, but upholding her silent promise to her sister, she keeps on going, true to herself, and eventually works her way into a position where no man can overwhelm her and take advantage of her again, and that's not simply because she becomes a police officer. As a law-enforcement officer however, she can now try to track down her sister, but after all this time, will the trail have gone too cold to follow? That life and that mission is what this story is about, and it was excellent from start to finish.

The story was told well, with sufficient detail and technical knowledge to make it believable, but not so much that it looked like the author was showing off, or you felt like you were reading a technical training manual rather than a novel, which is how Tom Clancy's novels sound to me. Whether in the US or Thailand, it felt real and it entertained and engrossed, and it lived and breathed. I loved the ambiguity of the title, which sounds a bit like 'leave ya alone'. Definitely my kind of phrase! So all in all a great book, and well worth reading.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Asking For It by Kate Harding


Rating: WORTHY!

The problem with this book is that the people who need most to read it will not, and if they mistakenly happen upon it, they will dismiss it as "more feminist propaganda". It's an uncomfortable experience to read it, but I think people need to read it until they get beyond discomfort and get downright angry that this crap not only goes on in 2015, but that it evidently doesn't even cause widespread outrage. The problem is that when people are talking about "rape-rape" (like it's a baby topic that no real grown-ups waste their time with), or about "legitimate rape" or about "the rape thing", then you know as well as I do that despite recent progress, there's still a hell of a long way to go. That's what's disturbing.

What also outraged me is that this didn't show up in the first page of results on Goodreads. Asking For It it is evidently a really poorly-chosen title because Goodreads showed over 500 screens of titles that were triggered when I typed that in. Even when I typed in the author's name it was second in a long list! The title is even one in a fictional series, which reportedly attempts to retro-justify rape - because she liked it in the end. What the hell kind of a fantasy that is, and how dangerous is it? That's rape culture in all its shabby glory.

The book explores the topic of rape in civilian and in military life, and how rape culture (which the author defines) enables rapists and does serious injustice to those who are raped, to the point where those who have gone through this horror can be even more victimized by the aftermath than they were by the original atrocity itself. Even to the point where survivors have subsequently been charged with a crime - essentially charged with the 'crime' of reporting it!

That's not to say it was all plain sailing. I had some issues with the way this was written. For example, the author does explore the wider implications of a rape culture, but nowhere near enough for me, and in nowhere near enough detail, especially for a book that is specifically about the rape culture rather than specifically cases of rape. She covers, for example, the absurd clamoring of celebrities to support other celebrities - such as those who came out for rapist Roman Polansky who ostensibly couldn't distinguish between a thirteen-year-old and a consenting adult, and others like Bill Cosby and people from other celebrity ventures like the sporting world where victims aren't even given a sporting chance in popular reporting.

Having said that, she fails to address the wider picture (except briefly in passing, and tangentially) of the whole culture we live in - the movies, the video games, the comic books, the novel, the TV shows. Yes, she briefly covers some of them, but briefly isn't sufficient in a book like this which is supposedly aimed at this very problem. Rape culture isn't just rape victims getting a raw deal and rapists getting a good deal - it's the entire ethos of how women are treated and viewed in society and I felt this got short shrift.

Another issue I personally had is that the author's tone felt a bit preachy and strident at times and thereby at risk of undermining a really strong case. In this kind of environment, lists didn't help as much as they ought, and her love of lists to me was counter-productive to her aim. I'm not a fan of lists and regimented structures because life is neither, and neither are personal interactions except in crappy rom-coms. Once you start relying on a fixed list, you're in danger of missing things that are important but have failed to make the "official list". One list which I felt which was particularly confusing at best was the first one, on page 14. Clearly the author fully expects us to answer "No", but the lists are full of ambiguity which, to someone who is not clued in (and no rapist is, by definition) is going to miss, or misinterpret.

This goes to what I've been saying about taking wise precautions, and about making a "No" quite clear. Yes, lack of clear consent means no, that's a given, and yes, even a clear and unequivocal no has indeed failed to stop rapists, but given the pervasiveness of rape culture, a lack of a clear "No!" has also been used to try to muddy the waters in rape cases. A clear "No!" will cut that off at the knees. Remember, we are not dealing with an ideal society here. We're not even dealing with a rational one, much less a victim-friendly one. Here we're dealing with one which facilitates criminals getting away with rape the bulk of the time. You simply cannot play fair in that environment. You're a fool if you think you can hold out any hope that a rapist will be reasonable, considerate, nuanced, decent, or amenable to argument or persuasion.

I'm not even sure what the author was trying to demonstrate, but let's look at the list:

  1. I'd love to, but I already have plans.
  2. Sweet of you to offer, but I'm afraid I won't be able to make it.
  3. Oh geez, maybe another time?
  4. I so wish I could!

Not one of these actually says no (not that this means 'yes', understand!). If you're sensitive, which rapists are not, you will suspect that this person does not want to be involved with you, but even so you may feel free to ask again at some point, because you want to be sure, and because the answers equivocated at best and invited a "return match" at worst. Indeed, three of them say the opposite of no: "I'd love to", "Maybe another time?", and "I so wish I could!". Einstein is often quoted as saying something along the lines of "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war," which is nonsensical, but it's that kind of approach which is being pursued here. Rather than give an unequivocal "No!", the person in question here has offered what might well be seen as an "invitation" to further predation from those who are given to viewing women as prey and are blind to subtlety. Even those who are not predators are at risk of being thoroughly confused by such ambiguous answers.

If you have no intention of becoming involved with a guy, you do not say you'd love to! You do not offer another (what may be seen as an) opportunity to stalk you. You do not utter wishes that you could be together. You do not use the word "afraid" in your response. You say "No!" It's better to be perceived as rude than to offer what a potential pest at best and rapist at worst will see as weakness, equivocation, or invitation.

If you like, you can soften it with "I'm involved with someone" or "I don't want to be involved with anyone here" or whatever, but don't omit the clear "No!". Having given that, you are in no doubt as to whether you "encouraged" someone, and neither are they - if they are even remotely reasonable. If the worst happens, you will be confident you made it crystal clear that your answer was no, and you will not be haunted with concern that you somehow "encouraged" this guy. Rape is god-awful enough without bringing self-doubt and self-recrimination into it, on top of whatever other horrors you're going through.

On this same topic, it bothered me that on some occasions the author appeared to be disparaging rape prevention advice and campaigns by presenting an anecdote which "proved" all the advice was wrong. Yes, in an ideal society, women should not have to do these things. It's reprehensible that they're forced into this position, but the fact is that we do not live in an ideal society, and we're a long - probably impossible, I'm sorry to say - way from ever getting there, so until and unless we do live in that ideal society, the advice isn't wrong and people are foolish not to take it and follow it.>/p>

It's like saying that it's foolish to wear a seat belt, because there are some occasions where the seat belt has been the problem - the victim died anyway, or the seat belt trapped them in the car. Indeed, I was once trapped in the back seat of a car fortunately not due to an accident, but because the car was old and the seat belt was shitty. We had to find some scissors and cut me out! Did I give up wearing seat belts because of this fail? Absolutely not. This doesn't mean that a victim who has failed to take this advice is the problem and no crime has been committed. Far from it. There has still been a crime and the victim's lack of forethought isn't a mitigating circumstance by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how hard the police or the commanding officer, or courts might dishonestly pretend it is - because of this rape culture. But there are nonetheless ways in which, regardless of whether we're talking about rape or any other crime, you can endeavor protect yourself from harm and it's just plain stupid not to heed them.

They're not guaranteed, by any means, and they will at times fail despite the best efforts, but on balance, they will make women and men safer, and this author's single-minded focus on the need to address the rapist problem, not the victim non-problem, commendable and accurate as that approach is, did a disservice to prevention in a society where it is a real a present danger, as they say. It's this evident inability on the author's part to separate the wheat from the chaff which for me weakened the message she was bringing - a message which is long overdue.

By that I don't mean it invalidated it, but I think it served to tint water which could have been clearer. For example, I would have liked to have seen the author outright condemn binge-drinking for an assortment of reasons, but because her focus was solely on rape, she tended to gloss over this problem because, it seemed to me, she felt it took away from her message that even if the person who was raped was drunk, she was still the victim of a crime and this does not mitigate the rapist's criminal behavior. This is unarguably true to anyone with half a functioning brain, which rapists and anyone else who buys into the rape culture quite evidently doesn't have, but more instead of addressing the real and unarguable issue

In the same vein, I would have liked her to have talked about educating men not to be criminals rather than zero in on the narrow field of educating them not to be rapists. That needs to be a distinct and pronounced part of such an education, but there needs to be a wider focus.

There are also issues with the prevalence of rape, which I admit is a doomed thing to try and calculate given how little of it goes reported because of the very fact that we do live in a rape culture. Numbers are tossed around without very much verification, so we end up with a one in five or a one in four number which then becomes folklore without anyone going back to see how that number was arrived at in the first place. Lisak's 2002 study was evidently flawed. We can see how hazy the numbers are by looking at this article on the Drew Sterrett / CB "affair" which is well covered by the author. "...a reported sexual assault rate of 0.03 percent" Even multiplied by ten that's a far cry from one in five.

The Sterret case is interesting not only in and of itself, but also because it makes it clear that not all cases of rape (or in this case alledged rape) are about power. This one clearly was not. And neither is the power always with the guy - in this case the power to ruin his life was clearly in his supposed victim's hands.

In a 1996 study, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina set out to determine the rape-related pregnancy rate in the United States. They estimated that about 5 percent of rape victims of reproductive age (12 to 45) become pregnant — a percentage that results in about 32,000 pregnancies each year. If 5% become pregnant and that's 32,000 per year, it's an atrocity, but that's not what I want to address here. Multiplying that 32K by 20, should give us 100% of rape victims, which is 640,000 annual rapes. Even one is too many but over half a million is phenomenal and shocking beyond polite words.<.p>

Reading elsewhere, we get this number: "...there were overall 173,610 victims of rape or sexual assault, or 0.1% of the US population 12 or older in 2013". That's a far cry from 640,000, unless of course 466,390 failed to report the crime - but that's entirely possible. Elsewhere still, we learn that according to RAIIN, every 107 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. There is a yearly average of 293,000 victims we're told, but a rape every 107 seconds comes to 294,729. This is good enough to fall in with that average, but it's a far cry from either 640,000 or 173,610.

My point is not to belittle the magnitude of the numbers, which regardless of which number is most accurate, are appalling, but to point out that the numbers vary wildly, and this is the kind of thing which will be the very one that nay-sayers latch upon to try to call "the rape thing" into question. Look," they will claim, "they're making wild guesses! No one knows, clearly they're making this all up as a scare tactic!" Obviously that's blind nonsense, but that doesn't mean that it would not help to get better, more reliable numbers, because quoting poorly substantiated or discrepant numbers isn't going to do anyone any favors. A look, in this book, at the accuracy and sources of the numbers would have been appreciated, and while the author touches on this more than once, she never really pursues it as a legitimate topic in its own right. We do not want to give those who would continue to try and sweep this rape culture pandemic under the carpet any ammunition even if they're firing blanks.

I like that the author covers the fact that while the overwhelming number of rapes is indeed male on female, rape isn't just male on a female. It's very much cross-gender despite the British rather Victorian idea that girls can't rape guys. I liked the discussion of the focus on college versus focus on 'civilian' rape, but this was a relatively short book and the author obviously could not go into great detail on every topic. Focus on college is important, but in one way it's a bit of a mis-focus because college female students are only about half as likely as non-college females of the same age range to be affected by violence:
http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-sexual-assault-legal-20140608-story.html
http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2014/11/07/after-uwc-complaint-two-students-wait/
That doesn't mean it's not a problem, by any means, but it does mean we can be smarter, use better resources, and be more effective across all areas, instead of focusing on one and pretending we're addressing the problem.

I like that the author called into question some of the at best ill-advised, and at worst, situation-exacerbating ad campaigns aimed at reducing rape, but done in a wrong-headed manner. The problem isn't so much those, however, as the very effective ad campaigns which are aimed in the opposite direction, and which flood our senses throughout our lives almost subliminally. Indeed, they are so pervasive and so common and so readily available that we don't even consider them, much less talk about them.

This is why, for me, where this book most fell down is in its almost complete failure to address the far more widespread, and often very subtle rape culture problem: that which shamelessly pervades TV, advertising, movies, and literature. The author did cover, briefly and in a limited way, some movies and some TV, and even took a very small dip into advertising, but nowhere near enough. In my opinion, it's in these areas that rape culture is seeded, because it is all-pervasive and it hits men and women alike from childhood. Note that I am not saying here that some guy watches a TV show or sees a commercial, and suddenly is filled with the idea that he can simply go out and rape him some women! It doesn't work like that. But when you have, for example in movies, been subjected to a lifetime of stories where the tough hombre battles the odds and is rewarded with the helpless "chick" every time, a "babe" (not the infantilization in play here) who pretty much literally falls into his arms, a wilting violet subservient to his every command, it's not hard to see that this cultivates a mind-set which takes only a weak will not to act upon.

Every time I'm in the grocery store waiting at the check out line, I'm bombarded with a host of magazines aimed at women, and what do all of these magazines have on the covers? Curiously enough, semi-naked woman. What text do the covers most often carry? Something about sex, about improving your technique, making yourself sexier, spicing things up, and on and on. I rarely stand at the check-out without seeing at least one mention of sex on the cover of at least one magazine. These are magazines that used to cover the model's head with the magazine title, as if to make it clear that only her body was of interest - you can safely ignore the mind. Only a professional idiot (aka a rapist) would view this as a guide to your average woman's mind-set and inclinations, but if you're one of the idiots, this tells you quite unequivocally that women want sex, they're desperate for it, they crave it, they need someone to deliver it to their open door. That's all the "consent" a rapist needs.

These magazines, to me, are more abusive to women than actual pornography is, because they are much more pernicious and sly, and they're everywhere. TV and movies send the same message - a message that a woman is only waiting for the right man and she;ll hop right into bed and the hell with worrying about STDs. Books are just as bad, especially the ones showing a woman in a state of undress with a manly man on the cover, and even more-so, ill-conceived and misguided young adult novels. The worst of those are ones which purport to deliver a strong female character the main protagonist, yet almost inevitably have this character wilt and take second place when a man shows up, as though she's really quite weak, if not outright incompetent, by herself and in truth needs a man to whip her into shape. All of this contributes to a comprehensive and overwhelming, if seriously deluded, view of women. I find ti a bit sad that this author who does so well in other areas, barely mentions these areas, if at all.

Overall though, despite some issues (one of which is the author's unilateral declaration that couples in happy long-term relationships are pretty much rapists if they wake their partner up by means of foreplay!) this book is well-written, well-researched, and full of useful, needfully disturbing, information and I unreservedly I recommend it.

Here's an addendum based on a recent report, which cast previous figures into doubt - so once again we're stuck with the problem of which numbers can be relied on and how the hell we get any kind of handle on a problem which we evidently cannot measure reliably! These numbers were here:
http://www.aau.edu/Climate-Survey.aspx?id=16525

KEY FINDINGS

*Overall, 11.7 percent of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at their university.

*The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female undergraduate student respondents was 23.1 percent, including 10.8 percent who experienced penetration.

*Overall rates of reporting to campus officials and law enforcement or others were low, ranging from five percent to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.

*The most common reason for not reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct was that it was not considered serious enough. Other reasons included because they were "embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult," and because they "did not think anything would be done about it."

*More than six in 10 student respondents (63.3 percent) believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey





Title: Kushiel's Dart
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Tantor
Rating: WORTHY!
Audio Book read by Anne Flosnik

Call this an act of faith! I swapped The Girl who Played With Fire which was due back at the library, for an even longer audio book! This one is 25 disks! (no, my car doesn't play mp3!) - or about a thousand pages if it were printed. God only knows how long it will take at the rate of about one hour/day as I drive to/from work. But the faith part comes from the fact that at this point I have no idea if I'm going to like this. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but...! This is evidently book one in the Kushiel’s Legacy series.

The story is about Phèdre nó Delaunay, who starts out as a young child in the nation of Terre D'Ange (land of angels - France, but in an alternate universe)) who is "flawed" in that she has a very obvious blood red spot of discoloration in one of her dark eyes (in other words, she was hit with Kushiel's Dart). This prevents her from reaching her true potential in her guild, so her mother ends up selling her into indentured servitude to the disgraced poet, Anafiel Delaunay, who has secrets of his own and a fake name. Phèdre unsuccessfully runs away (she doesn't run far and is easily tracked down), and is now looking at entering the poet's service when she turns ten, a few months hence.

Throughout the first two disks, I kept thinking, "Why am I listening to this?" but then I would become so mesmerized by Flosnik's voice and cadence that I couldn't stop listening. So here's the deal: I make no promises! I'm content so far, but if it continues to be talking so much and apparently saying so little, I might have to revise my opinion, the poetic delivery of the prose notwithstanding! We'll see.

Delaunay buys Phèdre's 'marque' hence her name: nó Delaunay. This means he owns her until she can buy her own marque, which she cannot even begin to save towards until she comes of age and starts earning. In the meantime, Delaunay educates and trains her along with a young boy, Alcuin, who he also has in training. His plan is to use them as incidental spies. As the two of them mature, they become of interest to people from the other guilds/houses, and are rented out as sex partners to whoever wants them. Alcuin is "rented", as a virgin, for 6,000 ducats. Phèdre's price is only 4,500 ducats, but as Delaunay tells her, unlike Alcuin, she will become ever more valuable as she matures, and her price will only go up, whereas the boy's value will soon decline.

As an anguissette (a devotee of Kushiel, the punishing angel, a servant of Namaah, and a worshiper of Elua), someone who is supposed to be masochistic: unable to enjoy pleasure without accompanying pain), Phèdre is extremely rare, and her virginity, both vaginal and anal, is sold to a cruel enemy of Delaunay's by the name of Childric d'Essoms. Delaunay is willing to put up with this (and so is Phèdre) in the short term for the prospect of long-term gains if Phèdre learns anything of value. Delaunay tells her to ask nothing, and to be cooperative for the first couple of visits. It is after this that the information will flow - so Delaunay hopes, and the hope isn't misplaced, although a hot poker is - and I'm not using that as a euphemism.

Talking of which, a few words about Carey's authorship: I found it entertaining, but she has her quirks. I found it curious that she would relate all kinds of sexual deviation and peccadillo without hesitation, but then baulk at calling genitals what they were! Instead, she would use euphemisms like "phallus" and "nether lips" which struck me as utterly bizarre.

Finally, I got past the halfway point in this novel! I was still hanging in with this story even though I had, until I reached this point, really no idea at all where it’s supposed to be going. I have discovered a few quirks and points of interest to relate. Anne Flosnik's British narration is charming, but I found it really amusing that her voice for Hyacinthe, Phèdre's male friend who she met on the street, sounds almost exactly like Simon Vance's voice for Lisbeth Salander in his narration of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. Flosnik also has a really odd way of reading in that she will frequently read the first part of a sentence in a very soft voice and then finish it up with a very slightly hoarse or growling voice. And her pronunciation of the name of the traitorous Prince Baudoin de Trevalion is hilarious. She makes the middle bit sound like Duhh!

But rough times are about to hit the house of Delaunay. Joscelin Verreuil, a servant of Cassiel, is drafted in to replace the slain Guy, also a servant of Cassiel, but whereas Guy was expelled from the order, Joscelin has barely completed his training. The evil is visited upon Delaunay due to the machinations of the very woman with whom Phèdre is cluelessly infatuated: Melisande Shahrizai.

After Melisande seduces Phèdre, she finally has sufficient funds to make her marque - that is to complete the tattoo on her back, and become a free citizen. As she is at the tattooist having the work done, Delaunay and his entire household, including Alcuin, are slaughtered, and Phèdre and Joscelin taken prisoner by the Skaldi. All of this was orchestrated by Melisande on behalf of the Duc de De-Glamor (or whatever the spelling is! That's one big problem with audio books. How do you review something when you can't look up the spellings?! I had to go on line to find these, which is a royal pain, so I'm going to simply make them up from this point onwards!

The Skaldi are modeled on Vikings, and the tribe which captured them held them only for a short time before presenting them as a gift to the Skaldi overlord, an educated, smart, cunning, and powerful man who has dreams of ruling Terre D'Ange as a king. I had a real problem with the plot here for the first time which is why Joscelin and Phèdre didn't slaughter the Skaldi in the night when they were sleeping off their daily drunken binges? They could have been done with them and escaped. Of course, that would have seriously screwed with Carey's plotting, but it could have been written around.

Because she didn't do this, we're treated to Captivity by Skaldi 2.0, wherein Joscelin and Phèdre are now prisoners of the overlord who treats them like slaves, which isn't how they were treated by their previous captors. Here, Phèdre, spying on the Skaldi council meeting, overhears their plans to invade Terre D'Ange. Now she and Joscelin plan a daring escape, which, despite bad odds and appallingly cold Skaldi winter weather, they bring off, finally making it back to Terre D'Ange, but there are traitors there, and they must tread carefully to bring their news of impending invasion to the right ears.

I haven't quite finished this novel yet, but I've given way too may spoilers here, so I am going to simply wind this review up and call this novel a worthy! It's kept my interest this far and I don't see it going so far south that I end up disliking it. Call it a vote of confidence! Having said that, I don't know at this point if I'm enamored enough of this to want to read any sequels. If I do read any more in this series, rest assured that it won't be in audio format! It takes too long to get through such a lengthy work listening to it only to and from work, and there are too many distractions on the highway which readily take precedence, meaning that I'm constantly having to jump back to re-listen to something I missed! I think I'm going to keep my audio books short and light from this point onwards!

So having now finished this novel and still happy to recommend it as I had expected to be, I decided that I can’t let it go as though it was all plain sailing and no issues! All novels have issues. The problem isn’t the issues, it’s what the ratio of issues is to absorbing and skilful writing. Readers will forgive much if the writers make it worth the readers' while to persevere. This novel had a positive ratio of quality to issues for me, and this is why I had no problem with it in general, and am happy to recommend it. Other reviewers have not found it so.

There are of course things which I did not like. The length was one, and this length, I feel was likely exacerbated by experiencing it in audio rather than on the printed page/screen. Much of the novel is occupied with long descriptions of things and events which could have been adequately addressed with less, and this seems worse in the last third than in the first two-thirds, but perhaps this was some sort of fatigue setting in?! OTOH, the last disk was a tedious one indeed, so maybe it was just that the story became boring. I skipped none of the story in the first two thirds, but I found myself hitting the skip button on the CD player quite often for the last six disks or so. I have read some reviews which complain of 'flowery' language, but that was one of the attributes which appealed to me. It was like reading poetry but without the tangled tedium of such a medium. But that style of writing seems to me to be more wisely confined to a shorter work, so perhaps it wasn't the flowery language so much as so much of it!

I have to say I found Carey's over-use of 'mayhap' to be jarring, and her use of the term 'red blood' (as if fresh human blood is ever any other color!) to be inexplicable, especially such copious use. She pretty much excelled that, though, at one point by using the phrase "wooden tree". Seriously? Some have complained about Phédre's frequent foreshadowing, but that didn’t stand out to me, given the tone of the novel in general. I found Carey's eagerness to write 'thusly', but to avoid-like-the-plague committing 'scarcely' to the page (writing the cruelly trimm'd 'scarce' instead) to be as inconsistent as it was an oddball affectation.

I know that one reviewer expended an entire review in obsessing on the sexual encounters (and it wasn't the only one which focused on those). Those encounters took up perhaps one or two percent of this novel! For any reviewer to agonize over those and completely ignore the other ~99% of the novel is inexplicable to me and says far more about the reviewer than ever it does about the novel which the reviewer failed to properly review! What a disservice to the novel and to reviewing. It seems that, for some reason, this particular reviewer was mesmerized into thinking the sexual scenes were intended to be a cheap thrill! Weird, huh?

The fact is that people behave this way sexually in the real world, and especially so in Carey's world for good reason because that was the nature of the story, and it was tied inextricably to the religious aspects of the story. Sexuality and religion go back a long way, as do sado-masochism and religion. Nothing new there. So are such disingenuous reviews advocating, in their fumbling manner, that the novelist mustn't write about naughty things or cruel things? Perhaps I should downgrade Kushiel's Dart for featuring sword-fighting? I mean really, how dare the writer portray people being hurt? Some were even cut or stabbed, and some (gasp!) lost their lives! This must never be allowed to happen in a fantasy novel. Clearly Carey is a sadistic brute to write about fighting and stabbing; it didn’t turn me on at all, and I should have based my entire review on that brutality and dismissed the novel as unworthy for no other reason!

Fortunately for Carey, for writing, and for reviewing, I am neither that shallow nor that blinkered. I hope the majority of other reviewers share at least those traits with me.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jenny Rat by Martin Simons





Title: Jenny Rat
Author: Martin Simons
Publisher: Bookmasters
Rating: worthy!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is shorter so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more detailed than you'll typically find elsewhere!

Errata:
P40 "silentl" should be "silent"
At about 17% in: "People call me up went they need me" - "went" should be "when"
At about 35% in: "tris" should be "tries"

This novel in brief, is a cross between Nabokov's Lolita, and Shaw's Pygmalion. I'd actually looked at another of Simons' novels on Netgalley, Cities at Sea and decided against it, but after reading this, I might just reconsider looking at that one.

Michael Ingram, an engineering consultant who lives by himself out in the wilds in Australia, is winding up his weekly tryst with a call-girl (the only 'date' he can get) when he discovers a girl in her early teens, almost dead, lying in the road outside his house during a severe and chill hail storm. He brings her in. She's incontinent, and dirty and wretched, but he calls for an ambulance and bathes her, wrapping her warmly while he waits. The call-girl who is with him reacts almost abusively to the discovery of this girl, calling her a 'rat' repeatedly. I have no idea what the significance of that is, and it isn't explained; it's as though the reader ought to know. Does it have a specific meaning in the context of this novel, or is it a well-known term in Australia for a lowlife teen - or a lowlife teen girl, or a young prostitute? I don’t know, and a very brief search for Australian slang didn't bring any useful results.

The call-girl has never stayed overnight with Michael, but on this one occasion, with the weather being so bad and it being so late by the time the ambulance has been and gone, she stays the night. The next morning she asks Michael to show her around his home, and she's impressed with his modest wealth and independence. She starts talking about arranging for a different girl to start visiting him because she's getting old, but Michael isn’t interested in replacing her. She then reveals that she's thinking of retiring from the game. Is she considering hooking up with Michael permanently? What she doesn’t grasp is how negatively her abusive reaction towards 'the rat' has affected Michael in his opinion of her. Even this doesn’t seem to put him off her, but his life is about to change.

He speaks with the girl's doctor the next day and the doctor advises him to come in and have blood tests - thinking Michael had sex with the girl. Obviously, he didn’t, but he has the tests as a precaution, and he ends up visiting the girl. She's recovering, but only very slowly. She's thin and tired, and she's not eating or talking, but she seems to respond to him when she hasn't done so to anyone else. She can vaguely remember the night he saved her. She won’t tell anyone her name, but she insists that the hospital staff know her, implying that she was there some time before. And she claims she killed her dad....

So Michael continues to visit, irregularly and not frequently, and Jenny continues to improve. She interacts with him when she will with no one else, even telling him her name, which turns out to be Gianetta, but she prefers Jenny. She shows great interest in learning about Michael's work and has serious insights into it. She's also an artist and she ends up earning some money for herself by drawing portraits of her fellow patients. But one thing she draws is horrible, and it represents her fear of ending up in a home and sliding down the slick slope to where she was when Michael found her.

Well I don't want to go into much more detail here otherwise I'll be telling a story when it isn't my place to tell. This story is so rich, however that there's lots more to talk about. There's the discomfort for one thing. My discomfort is not so much what Simons describes, which is pretty graphic (or more to the point, ugly graphic, so be warned), as the fact that I know what he describes isn't just confined to fiction: it's out there in the real world, too. Children, both boys and girls alike, are put through what Jenny goes through in this fictional world, but they face it for real, and it's sickening.

There are other forms of discomfort present, too. Eventually, and it's no big spoiler to pass this on because it's clear from the blurb that this is going to happen, the two share his house together and their relationship is, for me, running down the wrong side of dangerously inappropriate, but Simons writes well and slips in little preparatory passages here and there. He manages to walk that tightrope more or less successfully - dependent, of course upon your own personal position. In that, he's aided by the fact that it's not really a child and an adult here, it's more like two children, given Michael's rather handicapped position in life, and from that perspective, it's a lot easier to see what's going on. For me, I have to say I hope child services doesn't work that way, but this is fiction and I could see (I thought) where he was going with this.

When I finished the novel I was very disappointed in the ending which seemed to me to be a betrayal of everything which went before. I felt misled since the ending seems so completely out of line. But in some regards it did fit, so I won't say more about that! As I said, I thought this was well-written and was inventive and sensitively done. Sometimes it was a but much, and there were times when Jenny's character seemed far too fey given her supposed background. Other parts of it, too, seemed more like wild fantasy than fiction, but overall, and despite the ending, I consider this a worthy novel. It's a good story and while it wasn't necessarily executed in its best light, it is definitely worth a read if only to make you feel a bit uncomfortable in your easy reading chair!