Tag Archives: power fantasy

Review: Night Myst

…I really wanted to start the week with a good one for my birthday, but I’m going in the order of my migraine-reading. (Next week will be a good one though!). And Night Myst should have hit all the right buttons for me. There’s a lot of fantasy elements in it that also factor into my own series, Sun’s Guard, and that I just like seeing played with in new and interesting ways. And in that sense, this series didn’t disappoint. But for the rest… Well, let’s get into the meat of things.

Night Myst by Yasmine Galenorn follows the return of the Indigo Court into a world where vampires, were-creatures, fae, and magic users are in an uneasy truce… a truce the new Court is about to break. Enemies of the vampire’s Crimson Court (and for good reason), they aren’t afraid of ruining the lives of humans or fae to get their revenge. Enter Cicely Waters, a witch with a crappy past who is finally feeling the call to return home. But her childhood/teenage sweetheart, the fae prince Grieve, has changed because of the new Court returning in his woods, and it is going to get Cicely involved in games of politics that will threaten her physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Okay, let’s get the ugly out of the way. I had severe, and I do mean severe, issues with the Crimson Court’s dealings with Cicely in the book, in particular the ending-up required blood giving. It was rape. Pure and simple. And the way Galenorn handled the aftermath of it was just as atrocious as her writing it to begin with. I expected better, I really did. I’m pretty open minded and have the philosophy that as long as your lifestyle isn’t hurting me or embarrassing the crap out of me, do what you will. And as a writer, I’ve got more curiosity than my moral senses are sometimes comfortable with. But the way this writer portrays the BDSM community is just as bad as Fifty Shades of Grey, only without any stupid attempts at redeeming, it’s just evil. This is further enforced by the rape scene. And having sex with your lover immediately afterward is not an instant band-aided, especially with the screwy relationship Cicely and Grieve have. Nothing like what you expect when the protagonist is of an alternative life style herself.

There. That’s done. To turn this into a more positive note, I did think the way the vampire and the ousted-fae court tried to manipulate Cicely was perfect. So many times, vampires or fae are humanized, even if the book tells us that these races are manipulative bargainers, we don’t see it. This book showed it, over and over and over again. It was impossible for Cicely to stay ahead of them, and she didn’t really bargain well with them, usually getting scared to the point of being dumb. Or being dumb on behalf of Grieve (I’ll get to this). It eventually got overwhelming, and not in a good way. Scene questions, from a writing perspective (have I talked about this, I should check) should end in, “No,” or, “Yes, but,” until the very end of the book. If there had been a couple more, “Yes, but,” endings to scenes, it would have been perfect, with us seeing the manipulative factors to the races, but less dumb reactions on behalf of our protagonist.

Characters time…only, there isn’t much to say. There was a decent sized cast, but so much of the focus was on being afraid, both of outside and inside causes, and Cicely kept running off to be alone or with Grieve, we didn’t see much of our motley crew, outside of the cousin’s boyfriend possibly being a butt-munch, and the cousin herself being messed up via ignoring her powers (which is always bad). Mostly by ways that don’t balance with the impression we’re supposed to have of deceased/missing characters. (Lots of characters are mentioned, then are revealed to be dead, missing, or otherwise not involved, get used to this.) Similarly, the other courts are so cluttered, it’s a constantly rotating image that is difficult to keep up with. In the end, the only two who are really solid…ish…as characters are Cicely and Grieve. This works for romance novels, but if that is where the focus is supposed to be, the side cast needs pruned down.

Cicely and Grieve. Oh lord. Okay, let’s establish this: I am okay with the reincarnated lovers thing. Believe it or not, this is a trope I like. I’m also okay, if it is written well, with immortal men watching a girl grow up and falling in love with her as an adult. But that’s not what happens here. Grieve loves Cicely…even if it is how Cicely will be as an adult..when she’s a child. And really starts the manipulation early. This is a particular kind of child offender, so while other people are cooing over it, I can’t get over that bit of backstory. It’s a delicate balance to write, I know (this is spoken as someone who ships Thor’s daughter with Fandral in MCU, trust me, I KNOW), and this one just strays too far. Grieve as a character is so bipolar and confusing, all it does is feed my image of him as this creepy man who needs cut out of Cicely’s life immediately. Some of this is plot related, but it again, wasn’t handled well.

Cicely herself is very much a power-fantasy, wish-fulfillment character (which makes the rape scene even creepier, actually, in a way). Judging by author pictures, it might even be a case of author insert, though that could also be wrong. Regardless, I don’t have problems with these characters, as my hatred of the term Mary Sue can attest to, and outside of her plot, I like most of Cicely well enough. I have to say most. Her background got hella-complicated with the half-fae, reincarnated vampiric fae, thing she ended up having, which irked me to have dumped all in one book, and her love for Grieve made her dumb to the point of being a complete idiot who I couldn’t like for that reason alone, levels. But if those had been toned down, and the writer didn’t steal any agency her character had with her plot, this was very much a character I could have gotten behind. Seriously, if she had focused on the reincarnated thing for this book and left the half-fae part for the second book and just foreshadowed, I’d be okay (as long as it doesn’t go too far beyond this). Similarly, I know love makes you do crazy things, but Cicely was having all the markers of an abusive relationship, which is not cool. But if she gets slapped out of it later, this could work. So not a bad character overall.

Here’s the really good note: the world building was well done. Cramped, but well done. Seriously, when the only problem I have is everything is too conveniently located in the same town for no real reason, that’s a good sign. This writer has good ideas, has a good knowledge base, and builds accordingly. The antagonists aren’t just evil for no reason. Myst has valid reasons for what she is doing, completely valid, and they are explained well. When it comes to things like being too cramped, usually why things are happening in a particular place can be explained in a future book, if there just isn’t room without making things clunky, so it’s something I’m pretty quick to forgive. Now, did the ice spider things freak me the crap out? Yes, but I’ve got serious arachnophobia. I can’t even handle dead Aragog from Harry Potter. Again, free pass (except okay, I wish we’d seen earlier hints of spiders, but maybe I had blinders on and missed them. It happens).

Will I read more of this series? No. I can’t. The vampires left too big of a sour taste in my mouth, as did Grieve. Unless the very next book involves some character deaths of a very specific nature, this series is unsalvageable for me. I honestly can’t even recommend this series to others to read. But, and this is a big but, I am willing to give this writer another shot…with a different series.

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Writing: The Mary Sue (and Why I Hate That Term)

When I first started writing, I did what most young girls did. I created a new character (usually female), threw her into a show or book I liked, and either rewrote what had happened in the show or set it after the show was over. And I will be the first person to admit…those stories were awful. I had no concept of how to plot, and because my brain functions so highly on visual input rather than audio, there would be far too many details. I also had no concept of what made a good or balanced character. I just made what I thought sounded cool and what I wished I could be if magic was real.

Cue the many cries of the fandoms in question declaring my character a Mary Sue.

Eventually, I learned what that term meant. I tried to do better, to not go so far in my characters. But remember, I’m a fourteen year old girl. I just want to have characters that I think are cool and happen to be my own gender in shows I like, since many of the shows/movies/books in question at that time were focused on making the boys cool and the girls…pretty twirly love interests with no real substance. None of it worked, and I even left one fandom that I loved, no longer able to tolerate their views on anything that deviated from the blessed, misogynistic canon.

Thus started my hatred for the term Mary Sue, and honestly as an adult and trained writer? I still hate it.

Once upon a time, a Mary Sue was a character who could do nothing wrong, knew things she had no right to know, and clashed with whatever fandom she was put into so bad, it was jarring. I mean throwing a magical girl into Lord of the Rings, jarring. Obvious author inserts were also lumped into this category (never mind that people like Mercedes Lackey do this in their original work). It originated from a Star Trek fanfic, and it’s just grown in infamy.

Now? Now it simply means a character has traits that people may or may not like. Is your character attractive and ends up in a romantic relationship with a male in the show? Mary Sue. Can your character sing and/or dance? Mary Sue. Has anything happened in the backstory that could be considered tragic? Mary Sue. Since the wonders of Twilight, is your character a klutz? Mary Sue. If you’re dealing with a fantasy story dealing with nobility at all, is your character nobility or royalty (and maybe doesn’t know it)? Mary Sue. And if your character is perfectly ordinary and has nothing special about her except MAYBE ending up in a relationship with a male in the series? Not only is your character a Mary Sue, it’s a BORING one. Do you see how ridiculous this is?

What makes it worse is the term has made its way to describing original fiction characters, which really blows my mind. I understand the main character maybe being poorly balanced or written, but I don’t understand how they can clash with their setting as poorly as a Mary Sue is supposed to…unless it’s because again, we are using the word to simply describe a character we don’t like, rather than what it is supposed to mean.

Let me make it even worse. There isn’t a definite name for male Mary Sues. Some call them Gary Stus, Marty Stus, or just male Mary Sues. It is nearly impossible to write one, either. Why? Because male power-fantasy characters are easily accepted in our current society. Seriously. Batman, Indiana Jones, Anakin Skywalker, even friggin’ King Arthur himself. All of them if they were female? Would be labeled as Mary Sues. But as male characters, they are accepted and are even made to be some of the greatest characters ever.

But their female counterparts are turned into one of three things or a combination of them. Helpless damsels in distress who are constantly kidnapped (because sadly, Guinevere becomes this way too often, and Indy can’t KEEP a girl). They get trapped in being the girly love interest whose supposed moments of awesome are just annoying or make no sense (Padme, I love you, but you play pretty pretty princess and awkward love interest and that’s it). Or they get hypersexualized until girls no longer want to read the comic (…the entire comic industry, really, is this. And much like Indy, Batman can’t keep a girl).

And when there is a strong, feminine, powerful character for female power fantasy? Mary Sue.

As I said earlier, I still hate the term, just in general. I wish instead, we could say, “I don’t like the character for x reasons.” Because then we could have a healthy conversation about the reasoning behind it. And honestly, that’s my response to original work too. If someone tries to say my main character is too perfect or too tragic, I want to know what specifically bothers them, so this way we can have a discussion about it. Is there a possibility my character is out of whack? Yes. But there is also a chance that this is just the patriarchal structure of our upbringing talking.

And I don’t know about other writers (except Tamora Pierce, she’s all sorts of awesome about this), but I’m pretty determined to get some female power fantasy characters out there who aren’t dependent on romantic love.