Tag Archives: feminism

Review: Closer to the Chest

The last in the Herald’s Spy reviews! (At least until I can afford to buy the Family of Spies series, which may be a while, yay happy homeowning and trying to get my life together over here, ugh.)

So where does the final book in this series take us? Someone is blackmailing and then threatening the noble women in Valdemar high court. While normally not too big of a bother and a part of the political game, this time there is a definite malicious edge to it that Amily can’t quite ignore. Meanwhile, Mags finds that businesses being run by women are facing an increasing level of hostility and sabotage. Both events correlate with the introduction of a new religion in Valdemar that is misogynist at its core. It will take approaching both sides of the problem, plus Mags putting himself into a dangerous situation, in order to unravel the truth for the protection of Valdemar!

First impressions, this was the story that Misty wanted to tell. Both of the prior books were just build up to it, allowing for her to introduce characters, skills, and concepts in prior books so she could get to this story. It’s the only explanation I have for the plot being that much tighter and everything being more in keeping with what I expect from a Valdemar book. This means it finishes on a high note, at least, though I fear most loyal readers are going to skip this series entirely as a result.

There were parts of the plot that worked for me, and parts that I just cringed my way through. I like the idea of the enemy being a religion that is preaching against women beyond bad stereotypical roles. I resent that it was Mags who got to go to the bottom of it, that the idea when Amily first presented it was scoffed at or seen as her making leaps in logic, and that despite it being a very female forwarded plot, it still felt like men were the main heroes of this story. Maybe I’m just too harsh of a reader, but when I figure out that these are the people who are doing something wrong, and then when a female character points it out and gets told to either wait as others investigate or until there is evidence of actual wrong doing… It just rubs me the wrong way.

On the plus side, I did find the church having two Gifted of their own among their ranks to be nice. Usually Heralds are either against normal people or people with regular magic, so seeing those with mind magic who aren’t Chosen by the Companions and how they can end up being used for nefarious purposes by a religion was cool. I also appreciated the emphasis on how expensive books were and how women were the best to copy those texts in the days before the printing press. It’s something I don’t think many people appreciate due to how prevalent the written word is in our lives, but Valdemar has always made a point of emphasizing how important the oral stories and thus the Bardic gifts are, and for good reason.

I like the idea of the Queen’s ladies, the group of handmaids, and I’ve seen similar concepts before, but ugh, I feel like there is so much wasted potential as a result. I don’t think enough was done with them besides making them a spy network that Amily has access to, and I feel like between Amily, these girls, and some of the resources they have, we could have written Mags out of the book entirely. I get the importance of male and female power balance, but come on. We don’t have nearly as many female Heralds as the focus of books as it is, being denied it yet again was just irksome.

For me, Closer to the Chest was the closest that this series has gotten to a traditional Heralds of Valdemar book. But overall, the series just felt tired. Like there were certain scenes that were what Misty actually wanted to write, or certain plots and subplots, and the rest of the book was just a vehicle to get to them. One of my writing professors once said that unless a scene excited you, you needed to edit it to death until you did like writing it or cut it entirely. I wonder if that could be applicable to this series for Misty…


Review: Closer to Home

(Forgive me if this is even more rambly than normal, I’m getting over one hell of a cold followed immediately by getting the flu. I delayed posting just to make sure I was in a quasi-decent head-space.)

Probably because the story about Mags’ continued to wind much longer than her normal books, or possibly as a marketing ploy, or maybe even because of a massive time-skip (like more than normal), but either way, Mercedes Lackey actually continued into multiple series with the same character, rather than others dropping in on new protagonists. I love the first series, and since I got all of the others together in a bundle, I thought I would review the second half for the blog, with a possibility of coming back to the others. (Not sure on that, they were pretty tight and I can only gush so much.)

Closer to Home picks up as Mags and the others are returning to Haven. Lena and Bear have settled somewhere with positions, and he and Amily are trying to establish themselves back into their new lives. But to their surprise, an accident that almost costs the King’s Own Herald, Nickolas, his life gets Amily Chosen as the new King’s Own…except her father, also Nickolas, doesn’t actually die! Mags managed to keep common sense among everyone, pointing out that this means there now allows Nickolas a lot of freedom, as well as providing training so that when the prince inherits, his Own is already up to speed and prepared to work with him. And they get at least partially settled quickly, because there’s a massive feud among the nobility that is threatening to send all of Haven up with it.

I was relieved that the cast of characters was changed up a bit with this book. As much as I loved Lena and Bear, the case was getting very blotted by the end of the last series. She weeded out the cast to its main core needed in Haven now as adults, and that let her add new players as needed. (Also, Lena about drove me nuts and I wanted better girl representation.) This story really gave us a chance to see a working couple who weren’t lifebonded, who weren’t well established in that relationship, and they are having to figure out how to make it work through life changes. That’s a huge thing!

I also felt like Misty did something really brave and important with this series, which is addressed the female nobility characters. Every time she’s used them before, it was either part of being life-bonded, or as part of exceptions to how everyone else behaved. This time, she was right in our faces about how the female nobility were supposed to act, and how if you didn’t have the power to do otherwise, acting against it was going to get you slapped down. I felt awful for Violetta, but with the clear explanations of the other women, you could see how she got herself in trouble and while it was unfair as hell, I couldn’t argue against it within the context of the world. And members of the world acknowledge it sucks and it’s wrong, which… since the nobility lasts for a while longer in the timeline, that’s about all it can do.

The plot….ugh, the plot. I felt like she had this one event that she needed to make happen, and then went, “Well, now what? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, with a twist!”…sorta. Like it stopped even being a nod to the plot and went full-on-commitment about halfway through and I’m sitting there going, “I know how this ends, everyone dies, why am I still reading?” She gave it like a half-twist, but it wasn’t enough to save it for me. On one hand, I’m glad she kept it to something besides wars and assassins, that is a welcome change and I applaud her for trying to branch out. I just wish she hadn’t borrowed a very tired and often repetitive plot to do it with. Even the twist was just making “Romeo” even more of a jerk than he is in the original, that isn’t a whole lot of work!

Worldbuilding wise, not a lot got added to here besides like I said, the female nobility finally being touched on as far as what is considered normal. There being “two” King’s Own Heralds is different, but I don’t think it was touched on very much. I think that probably has to do with the shoe-horned feud plot, since she usually does better with a little more original work. I do find Amily’s Gift to be a cop-out. I want to read the one-shot with Lan and see if she mentions it with Pol, who reportedly has a little bit of every Gift. Otherwise, yeah, I’m not horribly impressed with it. I’d have preferred to see real Animal Mindspeech. It’s come up I think once with a character we’ve met for any period of time? But it gets mentioned all the time.

Overall, I wouldn’t call it a disappointing read. I like the characters, and I like some of the world building elements. Considering I’m planning a similar series-split with the same character, it’s almost a study for me on what to do and what not to do. My annoyance over Shakespeare being reproduced is probably a mostly me thing (I see it….a lot…and I’m probably overly salty), so I definitely still recommend this book to others. But definitely read the prior series so you have the attachment to the characters, otherwise this may seem unnecessarily harsh.

Review: The Dresden Files 6-Blood Rites

We have headway! I got my hands on Dead Beat for Thursday and I’m about a third through it already. Now maybe I can keep one ahead of the game. Now on to…

Blood Rites starts off with a puppy rescue and flaming monkey poop. No, I’m not joking. But it doesn’t (quite) stay that humorous, as Thomas of the vampires’ White Court has a favor to ask of Harry. One that smells of family drama in more ways than one. On top of that, the Queen of the Black Court (yep, more vampires) has dropped into town. While Harry attempts to cut her off before she can cause too much damage,he ends up paying in a big way – and I don’t just mean Kincaid’s bill.

Since I mentioned him, I’ll start off by saying that I was so excited to see Kincaid again. Admittedly, I missed Ivy, but it was also really nice to see him outside of his role as her protector too. Plus just imagining this big, touch mercenary relaying her message to Harry was all sorts of entertaining. (Won’t spoil it for you, it is too giggle-worthy.) I like it when side characters get fleshed out a bit in later books, since it makes it feel like remembering who they are was actually a worth-while effort.

Speaking of characters who got some good development (wait for it, there is a bad piece of development ahead too), Thomas was amazing in this book. He got to be all serious and it really brought home that some of that playboy/party-hard image is a facade he wears to protect himself from his feather. It also served to reinforce how human he still is even among the White Court, compared to his older sister Lana or his father for example.

Plot-wise, it wasn’t anywhere near the tangled mess of some of the earlier books. I was able to track it a lot better, and the cast of characters was both condensed and tagged well so that I never lost my grasp. Some long-awaited moments finally happened, such as Bob being a sneaky little devil and Harry doing more than verbally threaten him in response, meeting some of Murphy’s family and learning more about that part of her life, and delving into some much needed history of both Ebeneezer and Harry’s mom. Oh. My. God. Harry’s mom. Not even the big, important thing but… HER NAME! I just got her name with this book. Margaret LeFey. Morgan Lafay. AHHHHHHHH! (*explosion of squeeing*)

… *coughs* Okay,  now that all of that is out of my system… On to my problem with this book. Murphy. On one hand, she was another good point. We actually got to see her aikaido, see her struggle with what it meant to be in the loop of magic’s secret existence. Even if the situation with her sister and mother was slightly outside of believable for me, I was totally going to give it a pass since it looked like Butcher was finally figuring out how to balance “Murphy is a cop” with “Murphy is a girl.”

And then we get to the final battle with Lord Raith. Let me firmly establish this – I do not like rape as a plot point at this time in our culture. It has become all too easy to use it to degrade and/or destroy a powerful female character. And it is only used against female characters. There is no male-only equivilant, and until we as a society learn how to handle rape without blaming the victims (though I’ll join the bus and say survivor is a better word) or doing even more harm to them, we need to keep it out of our plots.

Butcher hints at it but doesn’t go that far, which would ever so slightly appease my rage. Except for how it is telegraphed that the rape would go down. That Murphy would enjoy it, even though she had already CLEARLY said “no.” And then he proceeded to show how that would happen with Raith’s powers. Not Okay. Not in any circumstances, fantasy world setting or otherwise. Why? Because there is this thing called writer responsibility. Even though Raith is the antagonist and a vampire, he’s also given enough humanity in him that he could easily be considered “cool” by someone who will then want to model themselves after him. Even if they don’t, it spreads the idea that women can enjoy being raped to anyone who is excellent at taking things out of context to suit their own needs. (Don’t believe me on that front? Look at every hate group or group of college students trying to get their own way and how they take information out of context to make their point.)

It was almost enough to make me “black list” this whole series. This book was full of some decent highs and one devestating low for me. What did anyone else think?

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks Review

Derp. I was so busy with the subject of tomorrow’s post that I forgot to type this up. Oops?

That said… *whines* I don’t wanna review this! It isn’t a story, it’s a political agenda pretending to be teen fiction! Ugh. Oh well, here we go anyway. If someone isn’t going to say it, I guess I will.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (God, ain’t that a mouthful?) follows a teenage girl, the title’s Frankie, who has finally blossomed like all teenage girls wish to–spectacularly. She gets the cutest boy in the school for a boyfriend, considers herself in love with him, and everything seems to be looking up. But when her prince charming is sworn into a boys-only secret society dedicated to pranks, Frankie decides to take over to get her boy’s attention back and gets swallowed up in her plans until she almost can’t find what she started out wanting.

The most basic premise of the book is at least moderately intriguing. Girl trying to enter an all-boy secret organization and entering a prank war? That could be really interesting if handled well, and at least a decent start if it wasn’t. If the girl protagonist had strong motivations, and if the society was given a key character to serve as an antagonist, there would have been the bare bones of a realistic teen novel that even I would read.

Which I guess gets to characters. Frankie was set up to be the main protagonist, but… I won’t call her weak because of the traits she was given, but she is a weak character because of the way the writer conceptually set her up. She is a geek, who blossomed into a smart beauty. But she wants to run with the boys, while being acknowledged as appropriately feminine. I have no idea what her reasons were for provoking the society into a prank war, mostly because there was no consistency to her. Rather than being a solid character capable of standing on her own, “Frankie” served as a vehicle for the theme the writer was pushing. (More on that later.)

As for the side characters, well… none of them were really memorable. (I had to double check Wikipedia for names, and I hardly ever have to do that.) It doesn’t help that the pseudo-antagonist, Alpha, is first introduced to Frankie like a love interest, and then the love interest, Matthew, was completely bland. There were other characters–quite a few of them, actually–but none of them served a strong enough purpose. Really, it felt like a harem anime with as little thought was given to the introduction of characters.

I would talk about plot now, but, really, what plot do you speak of? Seriously, about half the book for me was wading to what the summary had promised me–the pranks. The summary and opening letter had a modest intro, and then listed what I assumed was only the major pranks Frankie was responsible for. It took half the book to get to the first prank, and for the record? The list is all the pranks that happen. All of them.

The only good part of the book–if I’m forced to acknowledge any of this travesty as “good”–was the world. I don’t read very much in non-fantasy worlds, and if I do, it’s usually super unrealistic, such as Heist Society or Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books. But the boarding school for Disreputable History had just enough detail to paint a clear picture, without being weighed down too heavily with unnecessary information. Even the Basset Hound Society was created in a way that at least seemed plausible to me. I guess what cinched it was the clubs. I attended a high school where “clubs” was a really loose term. While I was technically part of several, including the debate team on a technicality (thought it was really competitive speech), most of the others were just code-names for class related work. The speech and debate team was where I really found a niche, and I think that was what gave me a point of relatablility to the world.

For once, I’m going to address the author’s message. Mostly because she doesn’t leave me much of a choice. The world, the characters, and especially the plot were just props and tools for Lockhart to spread her feministic message to teen girls. I have nothing against feminism, being an equalist myself, but I also think there are better ways of conveying girl power than this mess of a book. Tamora Pierce’s character Kel, for example, or even John Flanagan’s cast of strong girls in the forms of Evelyn, Alys, Jenny, and even Pauline as a grown-up example. They don’t have to needlessly argue with the male cast, or fall into a near endless list of tropes with female characters that do more harm than good. They are simply relatable, nearly real characters that act true to their natures, and through succeeding in their trials, prove a feministic point.

I think this book’s biggest flaw is it set out wanting to convey a specific message, rather than think about what kind of person the main character had to be, putting any real work into the other characters, creating a strong story question, and then working the message in to the story in such a way it worked with all the elements without completely taking over. Lockhart just threw words on a page and called it good. Not going to cut it, in my opinion. Not going to cut it at all.

Occasionally, I stray from my land of make-believe and fantasy for a taste of so-called “reality.” I’ve found a couple of gems over the years, but then I find or get assigned duds like this one. I then proceed to jump back into mythological waters at the nearest opportunity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book about about Jesus apparently having a wife and the lost sacred feminine to finish reading.