Feminist Concepts: Gender Roles Part II

Disclaimer: All contents of the Harry Potter books and related terms, phrases, materials and so forth belong to J.K. Rowling. I’m merely reproducing brief slightly modified extracts from the books here to illustrate a couple of points.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR ALL SEVEN HARRY POTTER BOOKS ARE LIKELY

Key:
Helen Potter – Harry
Deirdre Dursley – Dudley
Veronica Dursley – Vernon Dursley
Peter Dursley – Petunia Dursley
Alberta Dumbledore – Albus Dumbledore
Apollo McGonagall – Minerva McGonagall
Ruby Hagrid – Rubeus Hagrid
Petra – Piers Polkiss
Denise – Dennis
Gerda – Gordon
Melanie – Malcolm

“Mrs. and Mr. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
“[…] Mrs. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. She was a big, beefy woman with hardly any neck, although she did have a very large moustache.* Mr. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which  came in very useful as he spent so much of his time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. The Dursleys had a small daughter named Deirdre, and in their opinion there was no finer girl anywhere.”

*I kind of just find the idea of mustachioed Veronica Dursley hilarious. What do you want to bet Aunt Marge has a moustache too? Because as far as I can tell, the description of Aunt Marge as a female version of Uncle Vernon is supposed to be hilarious (she’s large, fat, ill tempered, unfeminine, and drinks WAY more than Petunia does). It also goes a long way towards cementing her position as a firmly negative character in the reader’s mind, because we invariably associate these traits in women with a particularly unsatisfactory style of non-conformity.

In the course of my exercise, what really struck me is that when I re-read the modified chapters, many aspects of them appeared jarring to me, when I’d given them barely a second thought when read in the original. A beefy, bullying Director Vernon and his thin, blonde, snoopy and gossipy wife did not evoke comment… but a beefy, bullying Director Veronica and her gossipy husband Peter straightaway falls into our trope of the butch, domineering female and her ‘whipped’ husband. A gossipy Petunia, while evoking mild contempt, generally falls under the radar because she conforms to the expected stereotype of a bored housewife. My knee jerk reaction to gossipy Peter on the other hand was that of extreme contempt.

It was only after I swapped their genders that I even realized just how much the portrayal of Petunia as OCD about cleanliness in her house, and wildly interested in celebrity divorces and neighbourhood goings on contributed to our negative impression of her. On the other hand, a Petunia Dursley who had a steady job, was more business like and didn’t really care about gossip would have evoked, I think, grudging respect even as she was being abusive to Harry.

[…] Mrs. Dursley hummed as she picked out her most boring tie for work, and Mr. Dursley gossiped away happily as he wrestled a screaming Deirdre into her high chair.

This method and line of logic informed my re-read of the series (I got as far as halfway through Chamber of Secrets) by rewriting the chapters. And the jolts and jars kept coming in steady profusion all the while.

  • “They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters. Mr. Potter was Mr. Dursley’s brother, but they hadn’t met for several years. In fact, Mr. Dursley pretended he didn’t have a brother, because his brother and his good-for-nothing wife were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. – Here, I was interrupted in my reading so I could wonder for a miniscule second why the brothers didn’t share a surname, whereas it would not strike one as abnormal for married sisters to have different surnames. 
  • Side note: Would a screaming one year old girl child be affectionately referred to as “little tyke” by someone as Dursleyish as Vernon is?
  • Also consider Deirdre Dursley, school bully, and her little gang of likewise bullies.
    “Helen was glad school was over, but there was no escaping Deirdre’s gang, who visited the house every single day. Petra, Denise, Gerda and Melanie were all big and stupid, but as Deirdre was the biggest and the stupidest of the lot, she was the leader. The rest of them were all quite happy to join in Deirdre’s favourite sport: Helen Hunting.”

This is obviously a nitpicky point – anyone wishing to write a realistic portrayal of our contemporary world will not do differently, and the problematic gender roles and characterizations herein are a reflection of our patriarchal life structures in general. That is to say, they’re not unique to Harry Potter. 

Now check out this introduction of three extremely important characters into the series:

“Nothing like this woman had ever been seen on Privet Drive. She was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of her hair and beard which was long enough to be tuck into her belt. She was wearing long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. Her blue eyes were light, bright and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and her nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice. This woman’s name was Alberta Dumbledore.”

“[…] She turned to smile at the tom(cat), but it had gone. Instead she was smiling at a rather severe-looking man who was wearing square shaped glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had around its eyes. His black hair was drawn into a tight bun parted severely down the middle. He looked distinctly ruffled.”

“But how is the girl getting here, Dumbledore?” He eyed her cloak suddenly as though he thought she might be hiding Helen underneath it.
“Hagrid’s bringing her.”
“You think it – wise – to trust Hagrid with something as important as this?”
“I would trust Hagrid with my life,” said Dumbledore.
“I’m not saying her heart isn’t in the right place, […] but you can’t pretend she isn’t careless. She does tend to – what was that?”
[…] If the motorcycle was huge, it was nothing compared to the woman sitting astride it. She was almost twice as tall as a normal woman and at least five times as wide. She looked simply too big to be allowed, and so 
wild – long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of her face, she had hands the size of trash can lids, and her feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins. In her vast, muscular arms she was holding a bundle of blankets.

McGonagall’s relationship with Dumbledore was one of extreme respect (practically bordering on reverence, as was the case with most of the adults around Dumbledore). While very much her own strong and independent person, there’s no doubt that McGonagall looked to Dumbledore’s lead in all things, and was willing, even if at times irritably so, to accept a great many of his perceived eccentricities on faith alone. This reverent respectfulness and acknowledgement when seen as coming from a distinguished man towards a woman who is possibly the most capable magic user in the world makes their dynamic – and these characters – infinitely more interesting than the original (standard trope) of a very, very distinguished, very well bearded Gandalf-figure looked up to by everybody around him, saving the day in the nick of time, blah blah bleh.

If I could read a story about an Alberta Dumbledore, the most reliable person in the magical world, the one everyone turns to for assurance that the day will be saved and the fight will go on… oh, how happy I’d be.
[But what about those marvellous Dumbledore-is-an-Asshole comics? How would they work for an Alberta instead of an Albus? Would she sound bitchy, like women in power are often perceived to be?]

These comics are done by the awesome http://floccinaucinihilipilificationa.tumblr.com/

Sidenote: An additional benefit of having an Alberta Dumbledore is that Harry’s Helen Potter’s second child wouldn’t have to bear the burden of a name that was probably lame two hundred years ago.

Similarly, the case of Ruby Hagrid, the wild, leather wearing half-giantess who is so the opposite of everything Olympe Maxime stands for. Every time I replaced my mental image of the Hagrid we all know and love with that of Ruby, I felt a thrill of excitement. Careless and excitable and irresponsible and fond of large and unwieldy and severely dangerous monsters… oh Ruby!
I know that a major part of Hagrid’s appeal is that mothering streak he has which is at odds with the fact that he’s male… oh, but think of Ruby wrestling Acromantulas!

Unlike Alberta, Ruby Hagrid and Apollo McGonagall are not perfect creations of the gender swapped method. In this I see not failure, but the influence of the perfection of the original creations. Jo Rowling bent those pesky gender roles quite a bit when it came to Hagrid and Minerva McGonagall, and that shows!

To Be Continued…

Up Next: Feminist Concepts – Gender Roles Part III

Book Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #3 – Prentice Alvin

Title: Prentice Alvin
Author: Orson Scott Card
Year of Publication: 1989
Series: Tales of Alvin Maker
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.76
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2.5

Watch for Spoilers

prenticealvin

Plot Description: After his adventures with the Native Americans, Alvin finally reaches his birthplace for the long promised apprenticeship. The blacksmith under whom he is to learn is understandably put off by the fact that he’s about a year late. In the meantime, Peggy (the Torch from the first book) is finally ready to stop protecting him full time and get herself a life of her own. The very day Alvin is set to return to Hattrack Town, Peggy runs away. A subplot deals with a runaway slave girl who is determined to ensure that her child is born a free man.

Prentice Alvin is undoubtedly where the Alvin Maker series begins to spiral out of control. For the most part, the plot is boring, dealing with Alvin’s trials under the ornery Smith, who finds it difficult to decide whether to be jealous or greedy. The people around him continue to react to him in predictable ways – unconditional admiration, or jealous loathing, but obsessive in either case.

The runaway girl’s son is named Arthur Stuart, after the King of England of the time and adopted by Peggy Guester’s mother in the place of the daughter she had lost. Arthur Stuart grows up to completely adore Alvin and has a knack of mimicking voices and sounds perfectly, along with an eidetic memory.

I spoke about the theme of white guilt pervading Orson Scott Card’s writing in Red Prophet, and this theme becomes even more pronounced in Prentice Alvin. Card goes out of his way to emphasize the foulness and vileness of slavery as a practice, as if to ensure that the reader is left with no doubt as to Card’s stance on the issue. Unfortunately, Arthur Stuart is a complete nonentity of a character, surrounded by privileged white characters who devote their time and energy to protecting him from danger. He is the first non-white character to have a major role in this series (yes, it took three books) and he barely does anything at all.

Card’s worldview as far as Native Americans and African Americans are concerned is similar to the Orientalist perspective on Asian countries. Factors that are considered indigenous to that culture are upheld and applauded, while attempts at integrating factors that were until then unique to white cultures are looked down upon. For example, he decries the decisions of the Iroquois and Cherokee tribes to integrate with the American nation, and in his alternate universe, the Native Americans move away to form their own nation, on which Whites may never set foot. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, the ‘greensong’ has all but died out there, and will never return. That land is considered dead.

The problem with a privileged party taking up the cause of an oppressed party as a means of assuaging their own guilt is that the voices of the oppressed are once again passed over in favour of that of a member of the privileged class. In addition to this, Card’s interpretation of history is still largely white-centric, for all his moral lecturing, and black characters are yet to become a major part of the story of Alvin Maker.

Moreover, I’m one of those people who think that scenes depicting graphic violence towards demographics that have traditionally suffered much violence, and who are still quite vulnerable to violence should be avoided unless completely necessary to the plot. This is one of the biggest reasons why I stopped watching Game of Thrones, and it’s a major criticism I plan to bring up when I eventually review the Alex Cross series by James Patterson. A lot of GR reviews talk about how the adult content in this book prevents them from reading it to their kids, and I think that while the scenes in Prentice Alvin still fall under the heading of ‘Adult Content’ and not ‘Completely Unnecessary Pornographic Sensationalism’ (CUPS?) they were perhaps not entirely necessary to the plot. I can think of a few other ways in which the same information could have been imparted to the reader without using the scenes Card did in this book.

My final criticism of Prentice Alvin (which extends to the rest of the series as well) is how obsessively the story centres around Alvin now. The lives of every character – most prominently that of Peggy Guester – centres now around him. In one of the final scenes of the book, Alvin uses his powers to create his journeyman piece – a plow made of living gold. While the fantasy genre is no stranger to wild, weird concepts, it feels out of place in this series which largely rests on an atmosphere of American folk magic.

P.S.: I really don’t like the Alvin depicted on the cover above. He looks awfully smug and arrogant.

Next Review: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Next Review in this Series: Tales of Alvin Maker #4 – Alvin Journeyman

Book Review: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell

Title: The Indigo Spell
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2013
Series: Bloodlines
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.43
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

Spoiler Warning

the indigospell.jpg

Plot Description: Having kissed Adrian once, Sydney is now struggling with the realization that she might perhaps return his feelings, even as she continues to follow up on leads that hint towards corruption within her organization, the Alchemists. She also finds herself in danger thanks to a mysterious serial killer witch who is tracking down young magic users and draining them of life and power.

The Indigo Spell begins on a hilarious note:

This wasn’t the first time I’d been pulled out of bed for a crucial mission. It was, however, the first time I’d been subjected to such a personal line of questioning.

“Are you a virgin?”

“Huh?” I rubbed my sleepy eyes, just in case this was all some sort of bizarre dream that would disappear. An urgent phone call had dragged me out of bed five minutes ago, and I was having a little trouble adjusting.

My history teacher, Ms. Terwilliger, leaned closer and repeated the question in a stage whisper: “I said, are you a virgin?”

“Um, yes. . .”

I was fully awake now and glanced uneasily around my dorm’s lobby, making sure no one was around to witness this crazy exchange.

Sydney’s proficiency in spellwork is improving, as is her willingness to engage with her potential for magic. These are two reasons why Jaclyn Terwilliger pulled her out of bed in the middle of the night to help her with a spell. The third reason is her virginity.

This is possibly due to my own personal hang ups, but I hate the idea of virginity holding any special kind of power. It’s a theme that’s inescapable however, turning up in a wide range of subjects from historical virgin sacrifices to modern society’s obsession with virginity.

For one thing, the concept of virginity is highly subjective. We’re given to understand that the historical definition of virginity centres around the heteronormativity of sex – (i.e. where a man, a woman and their respective private parts are involved). This sucks for a lot of reasons – anything that’s not heterosexual is not included, for starters. Even within this narrow definition of sex, one still runs into problems, because people have been using the hymen as the designated virginity marker. And the hymen often… doesn’t exist. Or is lost in ways other than through sex. Or can remain unbroken despite intercourse due to incredible elasticity. In young women, it even shows remarkable healing qualities.

A theory I like more these days is that virginity is more psychological than physiological. If you feel like you’re a virgin, then you’re a virgin.

Whoa, I’ve gotten slightly off track. Bloodlines is not the first universe to attribute magical qualities to virginity, and I don’t doubt that it won’t be the last. Even Terry Pratchett’s Discworld makes allusions to this trope by contrasting the unmarried and virginal Granny Weatherwax against the thrice married and happily promiscuous Nanny Ogg. But yes, the idea still makes me uncomfortable – partly because of the horrendous mess ‘virginity culture’ has become, and partly because I’m afraid it might be true.

Ms. Terwilliger’s spell reveals the location of a powerful witch – one who she worries is going after young witches for their youth and power. Once again, she’s pushing for Sydney to actively learn more magic – for her own protection if nothing else.

On a much lighter note, Bloodlines provides us with happy Vampire Academy cameos in the form of a Royal Wedding (Sheesh. Does there have to be so many of those?) Queen Vasilisa Dragomir is getting married to longtime boyfriend Christian Ozera, and it’s all very cute. Of course, the Queen is still in college, but when you’re a monarch, I’m guessing such mortal concerns go out the window. Sydney is attending the wedding as part of an Alchemist contingent who are there to ensure that they don’t accidentally insult the Moroi by not turning up. Adrian manages to create quite a lot of controversy by asking her to dance – a proposition that horrifies the Alchemists, and shocks many of the Moroi (including – get this – Abe Mazur).

Ha! Got you, old man.

Sydney’s boss implies that she’s got to take one for the team because they don’t want to look ungracious (or repulsed) by declining. And so we get our first Sydrian dance.

Told you it was cute.

He was unconcerned. “You’ll make it work. You’ll change clothes or something. But I’m telling you, if you want to get a guy to do something that might be difficult, then the best way is to distract him so that he can’t devote his full brainpower to the consequences.”

“You don’t have a lot of faith in your own gender.”

“Hey, I’m telling you the truth. I’ve been distracted by sexy dresses a lot.”

I didn’t really know if that was a valid argument, seeing as Adrian was distracted by a lot of things. Fondue. T-shirts. Kittens. “And so, what then? I show some skin, and the world is mine?”

The Sydrian plotline converges neatly with the rogue witch plotline as Sydney and Adrian go roadtripping. Their objective? Track down young women in the neighbourhood who might be in danger and ask them to be on their guard.

Sydney finally manages to track down Marcus Finch, an ex-Alchemist who rebelled and has been in hiding from his former employees ever since. Marcus is the one that finally reveals the secret behind the golden lily tattoos worn by all the Alchemists. The tattoos are made with Moroi blood and have bits of compulsion infused into them, making it impossible for the Alchemists to reveal the secret of their occupation to anyone not already in the know. It also makes them compliant and unquestioning, and might even promote the revulsion for vampires that they all seem to share. The good news is, Marcus has found a way to break the compulsion in his tattoo by means of an indigo coloured ink.

The teenager subplot drags alongside the main plot, being neither so interesting as to catch my attention, nor so boring that I’d completely skip over those parts (which is what happens to me every time something romantic turns up in a James Patterson novel). A love triangle turns into a love quadrangle and eventually resolves itself to mutual satisfaction. Sort of like in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but with gender roles reversed.

Mead’s humour and comic timing is as ever on point, which makes the occasional hiccup in her writing style so much more bearable.

It was hard for me to talk. “It’s instinct. Or something. You’re a Moroi. I’m an Alchemist. Of course I’d have a response. You think I’d be indifferent?”

“Most Alchemist responses would involve disgust, revulsion, and holy water.”

The overarching story line continues to be paced off well, with Sydney and Adrian finally taking their friendship to the level of a tentative relationship, and with the appearance of a new antagonist more powerful than any Sydney has faced up until now.

“Are we going to run off to the Keepers?” he suggested.

“Of course not,” I scoffed. “That’d be cowardly and immature. And you’d never survive without hair gel – though you might like their moonshine.”

The Indigo Spell is a comfortable middle ground for a series – ferocious action combined with cheesy and heart warming romance and serious character development. And my favourite parts about the Bloodlines series are yet to come.

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #3 – Prentice Alvin

Next Review in this Series: Bloodlines #4 – The Fiery Heart

Book Review: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily

Title: The Golden Lily
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2012
Series: Bloodlines (Series sequel to the Vampire Academy series)
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.37
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3.5

Spoilers… and all that.

The golden lily

Plot Description: In the course of her new assignment protecting Jill Mastrano at Palm Springs, Sydney Sage gains new insight into the working of her organization – the Alchemists, about rogue vampire hunters who call themselves grandiose and cultish names, and even goes on a couple dates. Oh, and there’s like, fighting and stuff at the end.

Anyway, the progress of Sydney and Adrian’s relationship in Golden Lily is wonderful to watch. They start looking out for each other, thinking about each other’s mood, doing little things to cheer the other person up. They went from strangers to friends in Bloodlines, and Golden Lily upgraded the S.S. Sydrian to best friendShip.

One of the biggest themes of the Bloodlines series is Sydney’s journey from being a brainwashed bigot to someone more sensible – someone capable of thinking rationally. In Golden Lily, she’s already seeing the Moroi and dhampirs around her as people, caring about their problems in the human sense rather than as logistical issues standing in the way of the mission. But she’s still not completely free of bias – and in this she can’t exactly be blamed because it’s a bias shared by the rest of the supernatural world (with perhaps the exception of the Keepers). Humans and vampires don’t mix, don’t date, don’t marry, don’t interbreed.

      He reached out and pulled me to him, one hand on my waist and the other behind my neck. He tipped my head up and lowered his lips to mine. I closed my eyes and melted as my whole body was consumed in that kiss. I was nothing. I was everything. Chills ran over my skin, and fire burned inside me. His body pressed closer to mine, and I wrapped my arms around his neck. His lips were warmer and softer than anything I could have ever imagined, yet fierce and powerful at the same time. Mine responded hungrily, and I tightened my hold on him. His fingers slid down the back of my neck, tracing its shape, and every place they touched was electric.
      But perhaps the best part of all was that I, Sydney Katherine Sage, guilty of constantly analyzing the world around me, well, I stopped thinking.
      And it was glorious.
      At least, it was until I started thinking again.

The pacing is just right, bearing in mind the fact that this series is six books long, and we’re still only on the second. Sydney’s progress is phenomenal, but not enough. The notion of humans and vampires dating is also explored outside of the Sydrian dynamic – notably with regard to Jill’s relationship with the human boy Micah, or Angeline’s background as coming from a family of Keepers.

A major factor which has no doubt helped along the process of removing Sydney’s bias is her tutelage in the use of human magic under Jaclyn Terwilliger. In the final, climactic scenes of Golden Lily, Sydney uses a number of magical items and spells in the course of a battle, to their ultimate advantage. Once again, the pacing is perfect.

Golden Lily (and by extension the Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series) are a wonderful exercise in perceptions, and how drastically changing perceptions can alter the narrative as we see it. Vampire Academy saw the Moroi world through the eyes of a perceptive dhampir who wasn’t afraid to question norms – and on occasion, through the eyes of a privileged Moroi. Bloodlines sees the Moroi world through the eyes of a human who was brought up to fear and hate the supernatural, and that of a Moroi guy battling Spirit induced mental illness. When one adds in the storylines of Mia Rinaldi, or Dimitri’s family in Baia, or Angeline of the Keepers, the Vampire Academy universe takes on further depth and meaning, becoming a layered entity.

Without a doubt, Golden Lily is still very much Sydney’s story – her quest to discover the truths that her Alchemist bosses are hiding from her, the truths behind the cult of vampire hunters, her continued efforts to protect her little pack of Moroi and dhampir, her study of magic, and yes, her struggle with body image and eating disorders. Adrian’s final chapter intervention might have seemed ham handed if it weren’t for the fact that his lecture came – at least in my opinion – several books late.

    I handed the gelato back. “I can’t. Not with you watching. It’s too weird. Can I eat it later?”
    “Sure,” he said, returning it to the freezer. “If you’ll really eat it. I know how you are.”
    I crossed my arms as he stood opposite me. “Oh?”
    He fixed me with a disconcertingly hard look. “Maybe everyone else thinks your aversion to food is cute—but not me. I’ve watched you watch Jill. Here’s some tough love: you will never, ever have her body. Ever. It’s impossible. She’s Moroi. You’re human. That’s biology. You have a great one, one that most humans would kill for—and you’d look even better if you put on a little weight. Five pounds would be a good start. Hide the ribs. Get a bigger bra size.”
    “Adrian!” I was aghast. “You… are you out of your mind? You have no right to tell me that! None at all.”
    He scoffed. “I have every right, Sage. I’m your friend, and no one else is going to do it. Besides, I’m the king of unhealthy habits. Do you think I don’t know one when I see it? I don’t know where this came from—your family, too many Moroi, or just your own OCD nature—but I’m telling you, you don’t have to do it.”

And yet, it’s also beginning to show us how Bloodlines is as much about Adrian as it is about Sydney. The Vampire Academy series was forever Rose Hathaway’s story – there’s no doubt about that. Everyone else, Dimitri and Lissa included, were supporting characters. But Golden Lily begins to dip into Adrian’s family, his background, his psyche, building the set up for what I would call one of the finest depictions of battling mental illness I’ve ever read.

Next in this series: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #2 – Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card

 

Book Review: Bloodlines #1 – Bloodlines, Richelle Mead

Title: Bloodlines
Author: Richelle Mead
Year of Publication: 2011
Series: Bloodlines (Series sequel to the Vampire Academy series)
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.22
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

Insert the Usual and Mandatory Spoiler Warning Here

bloodlines.jpg

Plot Description: In this series sequel to Mead’s Vampire Academy series, we revisit the world of dhampirs and Moroi – and the much overlooked human component of this world, the Alchemists. We’re following the continued story of Sydney Sage, a minor but favourite VA character who made her first appearance in Blood Promise, the fourth book of that series.
We’re also following complete fan favourite Adrian Ivashkov, who, broken hearted and looking for meaning in life, is drawn to Sydney as the two of them work on a new assignment together.

I have to admit, when I first heard of the idea of Adrian and Sydney getting together, I was skepticalYou cannot imagine two people MORE different than these twoBut I tried to be open minded, and by the time I got to Book 6, I was Team Sydrian all the way.

The main characters from VA – Rose, Lissa, Dimitri, Christian – barely make an appearance in Bloodlines, which is filled with supporting cast members coming forward to take center-stage. And they each bring their share of secrets and problems to the table, which, as everyone knows, is the recipe for a really good book.

Adrian’s broken-hearted following the end of his relationship with Guardian Rose Hathaway. Sydney, on the other hand, is in a LOT of trouble with the Alchemists – the organization she works for – for her involvement in Rose’s adventures from Last Sacrifice. She’s suspected of having colluded with vampires, and of having developed feelings other than disgust or contempt for them. (Yes, this is a really serious accusation that is levelled amongst Alchemists. They’re all insane.) Although there’s no formal inquiry, Sydney manages to dispel the cloud of suspicion in time to be assigned to the latest Alchemist case in Palm Springs. Her biggest reason for taking on the case was to ensure that her sister Zoe doesn’t get caught up in the Alchemist life, which she will if their domineering father has his way.

The rest of the characters in Palm Springs are Jill Mastrano,  along with her dhampir guardians Eddie Castile and Angeline Dawes. While Jill (Lissa’s half sister) and Eddie were very prominent in VA, Angeline barely got a mention for the first time in a subplot involving the reclusive  keepers in Last Sacrifice.

The important subplots are the ones involving possibly magical tattoos being given to humans, of Sydney’s teacher trying to get her to learn human magic (sort of like Wicca), teen drama among the younger set of dhampirs and Moroi, and Sydney’s relationship with Adrian.

My God, Sage. Your eyes. How have I never noticed them? The colour, when you stand in the light. They’re amazing . . . like molten gold. I could paint those . . . They’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.

– Adrian Ivashkov, Bloodlines

Sydney’s character development kickstarted early on in this universe – right from the moment she was introduced, in fact, although there was no way I would have imagined that she’d come to lead her own series. As an alchemist, she’s been indoctrinated to hate, fear and hold in contempt these ‘unnatural’ and ‘unholy’ creatures – vampires, and dhampirs by association. But since there’s always the greater Strigoi threat to be dealt with, Alchemists have an uneasy alliance with the Moroi. Sydney’s bias and bigotry are evident in her behaviour towards Rose, but by the time we come to the end of the series, it’s evident that she’s beginning to think of them as just a different kind of people – not monsters of the night.

Adrian, on the other hand went from alcoholic party boy to good boyfriend who gave up his debauchery in order to impress his girlfriend. Even if personal change is precipitated in you by another person, it should never stay that way. If the only ever reason why you change is another person, that change is going to fall apart the minute that person leaves, or is taken from you. So it’s kind of a one step forward, two steps back kind of situation that Adrian is dealing with. And to cap it all off, he’s now spirit bonded with Jill.

Yes, the reason Jill is incognito in Palm Springs is because there was an attempt on her life, she died as a result, and Adrian brought her back. The concept of a spirit bond was a lot cooler back when it was two teenage girls who were sharing thoughts. Now it’s a high school freshman (or however old Jill is supposed to be) who has access to the thoughts of a highly unstable grown man. Eek. After Jill is punished for being drunk and then having a hangover the next day, Sydney figures out what’s going on and reams Adrian out.

Jill’s guardian is Eddie Castile, long time best friend and sidekick to Rose Hathaway. Eddie was the only guardian to attempt to protect Jill during the attempt on her life, since all the other guardians were busy protecting the Queen, Lissa. The reason for this is because he’s really in love with her, which is the cue to kick off all of the teen drama and love triangles quadrangles that take place in this book.

I would choose this space in order to rant about the impropriety in Eddie falling for a girl whose initial nickname was literally Jailbait (courtesy Adrian, who else), but hello. This is the series that brought us the great Rose-Dimitri love saga, where they could barely wait for her to hit eighteen before ripping each other’s clothes off. And the age gap in that case is a LOT greater than in the case of Eddie and Jill.

Any age-propriety rants in this universe are just going to fall on deaf ears. So it’s one of my blind spots in this fandoms – one of the things I have issue with but choose to ignore in order to continue enjoying the fandom itself. Other examples include all time fan favourite Damon Salvatore engaging in an abusive relationship with Caroline Forbes in early first season The Vampire Diaries and the subject never being brought up after that storyline wrapped up. Till date, the only sign that something like that ever happened is Caroline’s continued dislike of the guy – despite the fact that one of her best friends is soul mates with him, and her other best friend is his best friend too!

But, this is not a review of The Vampire Diaries. Nor is it a review of the Ezria relationship in Pretty Little Liars, which was pretty outrightly illegal at the start. So, coming back to the final main character of the Bloodlines series – Angeline – let me just say this:

Angeline is the most fun. Ever.

Angeline flushed. “It’s not my fault.”

“Even I know you can’t write an entry on Wikipedia and then use it as a source in your essay.” Sydney had been torn between horror and hysterics when she told me.
“I took ‘primary source’ to a whole new level!”
Honestly, it was a wonder we’d gotten by for so long without Angeline. Life must have been so boring before her.”

– Adrian Ivashkov, Fiery Heart

Angeline has trouble adjusting to civilization because she was raised in a moroi-human-dhampir communeity that felt they were keeping to the old ways by staying in contact with (and reproducing with) humans, unlike current Moroi society. The Keepers refuse to submit to the Moroi monarchy, and therefore must do without the little luxuries of life. I.e. Electricity.

Now, I’m pretty sure Mead drew on many, many stereotypes for her portrayal of the Keepers, but… it’s kind of hard to care about considering it’s not a main plot point. And it makes Angeline REALLY funny because of all things she doesn’t know is considered appropriate or inappropriate in society. (Like random violence and sexual harassment: inappropriate; cheating on class tests: inappropriate).

Angeline provides a fresh voiced perspective on society – all of society, not just the parts with vampires and stuff in it – through her constant questioning of everything. She poses a very important lesson for – (and I cannot stress this enough) – each and every one of us:

Question all the facts you’ve been handed since you were born. I mean, you can’t think out of the box without first seeing the box itself, which is a huge problem when it comes to challenging social norms (like their school’s dress codes) and why and how they came to exist in the first place.

In most cases, when asked to explain the rationale behind oppressive norms and customs, those defending them will have the option to either shut you down – which is what schools do when they hand out detentions; or hide behind stupidity and blind faith. [“Because I said so” type arguments brought out by religious leaders come to mind.]

Two more characters that need to be discussed are Keith Darnell and Jaclyn Terwilliger. The latter is a teacher at the school and the leader of a witch coven who’s trying to recruit Sydney. Imagine the kind of conflict an indoctrinated magic and vampire hater faces when they’re told they have the innate ability to do magic flowing through their veins.

Keith is the subject of a more serious topic – and also the reason why Sydney was so deeply obligated to Rose Hathaway’s gangster father Abe Mazur in VA. Sydney was the only person who knew about her father’s Golden Boy Darnell raping her older sister, and her sister made her promise not to tell anyone. So when Sydney grew up and joined the Alchemists, she did what any sane person would do – took a hit out on Darnell, and used Abe Mazur’s contacts to do it. Keith thinks a random Strigoi attack took out one of his eyes with an arrow. Keith can apparently be very gullible.

The first time I read Bloodlines, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the book. Something about it – the style of writing, the editing maybe? – rubbed me up the wrong way. But my second read this year didn’t pose too many problems in that direction, so perhaps it was the crappy pirated pdf version that was the problem.

It’s a great set up book, establishing Sydney as determined to do the right thing and imbued with a great sense for fairness. It also shows us a side to her that goes beyond indoctrination and machine like obedience, both in her affections for her vampire friends and in her dealings with Mrs. Terwilliger.

Containing much of Mead’s hallmark comedy and teen drama, Bloodlines is a light read that touches on bigger and darker issues to be explored as the series progresses. It’s a must read for Vampire Academy fans, but you don’t really need to know the history of the series in order to pick it up and start reading.

Next in this Series: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

Next Review: Tales of Alvin Maker #1 – Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm #7 – 9

Title: The Everafter War; The Inside Story; The Council of Mirrors
Author: Michael Buckley
Year of Publication: 2009; 2010; 2012
Series: The Sisters Grimm
#: 7, 8 & 9
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.31; 4.28; 4.39
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3; 2; 2

SERIOUS AND MAJOR SPOILERS (Especially for Book 9) INCLUDED.
Don’t even think about reading this book unless you don’t care about spoilers. 

Also, REALLY long review. Sorry, but there was a LOT to rant about.

Plot Description: The final three books in this series are darker, edgier, and the plots get more wilder and implausible than ever. To add to this mess, there’s more sexism and problematic plot points, story lines that drag on forever, and TERRIBLE editing and continuity issues.
To summarize, The Everafter War deals with a Civil War between factions led by Charming and the Queen of Hearts respectively. Oh, and the children’s parents are finally awake – which is not the good thing I was hoping it would be. The Big Bad is finally revealed, and while this reveal is impressive at first, I was progressively less impressed and more annoyed by the Master’s plan, motivations, minions… everything.
The Inside Story is a bizarre and completely meta journey through the original book with which the fates of all the Everafters are entwined. Sabrina and Daphne follow the Master through all the fairytale stories as they try to stop the Master from rewriting their story.
The Council of Mirrors features the final showdown/ battles/ curses et cetera et cetera. It also features what was possibly the most random subplot; inserted as the most random plot twist ever, and about which I’m completely conflicted.

While Sabrina and Daphne are finally beginning to show signs of solid character development, the appearance of their parents on the scene kind of sets the whole family back by about ten steps. To be more specific, it turns out the girls’ dad is a controlling idiot who won’t listen to reason, doesn’t consider his daughters’ opinions worth listening to despite everything they’ve achieved so far, and follows a policy of requiring strict obedience. Including from his wife.

Suddenly, the girls’ mother getting involved with the Faerie in NYC is put into greater perspective. She went to great lengths to keep her activities secret even though she was standing up for something she believed in – all because her husband will throw a temper tantrum and ‘forbid’ her from doing things he doesn’t like.

[Full disclosure: The girls’ father is only unreasonable when it comes to Everafters, and that’s because he watched his father die because of them/ at their hands or something else. This, however, does not excuse a grown man for dragging his family out into the woods in the midst of a war, with NO plan, NO money or supplies, and NO agenda except for ‘you’re all supposed to just listen to me’. ]

One of the characters in the book tries a retcon justification for his behaviour by calling him the ‘protector’ of the family. But dude, no.

I think this nonsense about confusing protection (and the affection that comes with it) with the need to control people needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW. Too many fathers and other kinds of paternalistic figures have justified the most unacceptable kinds of behaviour by claiming that they were acting in the best interests of their dependents. And this is despite the fact that in a LOT of these cases, their behaviour when evaluated from an objective perspective was found to NOT to be in the best interests of their dependents.

Clearly Mr. Grimm isn’t the only person to ever have engaged in such nonsense behaviour, and he certainly won’t be the last… but let’s not confuse protection with control, and let’s not ignore this issue.

From an objective plot perspective, The Inside Story is convoluted and largely unnecessary. It’s clear by this point that the story is being stretched as thin as it can be without it falling apart.

But I won’t deny that The Inside Story was kind of fun to read. It’s every reader’s fantasy to be able to step into their favourite books and get to enact parts of it out – maybe even change stuff around. To suddenly be the star of your favourite show – that’s what this book is all about.

And that brings us to The Council of Mirrors and an end to this whole… experience (for lack of a nicer word). The final scenes of the story involve Snow White – a character who has always been a part of the story without really taking centre stage at any point of it. Her on-off relationship with Charming is one of the running gags throughout the stories. Snow is someone who actively works to shed herself of the damsel in distress tag – she’s a Ferryport self defence instructor, and she refuses to allow Charming’s self absorption to define her or their relationship.

In the final plot, it is revealed that the story of Snow White has been faked – it wasn’t the version included in the original Grimm stories. In the real version, she’s married off to a sadistic and abusive husband, at whose hands she dies. Unable to watch her daughter’s life play out in this manner over and over again, her mother – the Evil Queen – steps in to modify the story and edit the abusive husband out of it (replacing him with herself as the villain instead). Charming, the sadistic Prince’s younger brother, was written into the story as Snow’s love interest, and that was that.

Or it would have been, if Sabrina and Daphne (and the Master) hadn’t crashed through the Fairytale book in which he had been trapped, and freed him. In a final showdown between this man and Charming, (after Snow has been kidnapped and taken away as the guy’s lawful wife – and property), he’s finally overpowered. It took like, a bunch of people to get the job done. And then Snow delivers the killing stroke – and with that action supposedly reclaims her identity and her life.

Heavy stuff, huh. At first I felt it a little inappropriate – introducing such a horrible sub plot into what’s essentially a book for children. But then I remembered that the original tales by the real brothers Grimm had been graphic, gory and ugly.

This evocation of the spirit of the original tales – be it conscious or unconscious – seems to be a theme in the Sisters Grimm series. I was discussing Sleeping Beauty a few days ago, and we were talking about how in the original story, the Prince rapes her in her sleep, causing her to become pregnant and to deliver twins – whilst still asleep. She only woke up when one of the twins accidentally sucked the cursed flax/ needle out of her finger.

At the time, I couldn’t remember where I’d read something similar. At least, not until I began reviewing books 4 – 6 of this series. The girls’ mother, Veronica, is pregnant at the time when she’s kidnapped by the Master along with her husband and put into an enchanted sleep for two years. She delivers the baby while in her sleep – because yes, THAT’S how childbirth works. (I don’t know why he didn’t just throw a stork in there too, just for kicks.)

I mentioned in my review of Books 1 – 3 that I had issues with the subtextual messages being sent by this series. In addition to the conflation of protection and controlling & my issues with this trivializing of subjects like childbirth and murder (remember the juvenile homicidal maniacs from book 2?), I find the way Snow White’s story was resolved extremely problematic.

For one thing, that entire subplot was completely unnecessary to the plot – the homicidal husband was never a part of the Master’s plan – so clearly it was thrown in there because Buckley thought this a masterful retelling of the story on his part. Now, I’ve mentioned that he has managed to that very thing with the story of Little Red Riding Hood earlier.

But whatever worked for that subplot does NOT work for this one. For one thing, trauma is not easily or instantaneously gotten over. If years of training herself hasn’t helped her yet, putting a knife through a man she didn’t even help overpower is not going to do it. Life’s not that easy, and if you’re going to try and make it “realistic” for the kids by including homicidal husband storylines, then you really ought not to pull a last minute cop out and wrap it up neatly in a very unrealistic bow.

The final three books in the Sisters Grimm bring a series that started out promising to a very disappointing (and badly edited) finish. The story was dragged out unnecessarily, and at times, it felt like the only thing keeping Buckley’s universe together was a thin strand of fiction – which is the only thing every character and subplot in this series have in common after all.

Next Review: Bloodlines #1 – Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Sisters Grimm # 4 – 6

Title: Once Upon A Crime; Magic and Other Misdemeanours; Tales From the Hood
Author: Michael Buckley
Year of Publication: 2007; 2007; 2008
Series: The Sisters Grimm
#: 4, 5 & 6
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.25; 4.28; 4.28
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3; 3; 3

A Few Spoilers are Inevitable

This review covers books four to six of The Sisters Grimm series. I’m your reviewer for the day, and if I sound a tad automated, it’s because I’m too tired to be witty.

*Puts on Damon Salvatore voice*

Once Upon Crime finally lets the sisters, their grandmother and the whole Scooby Gang out of the miserable little town that is Ferryport. They head to NYC, which is where the Faerie Kingdom holds court (duh) for the purpose of saving Puck’s life (he was injured by the Jabberwocky in the previous book). While they’re there, they fall headlong into the assassination of Puck’s father, Oberon, King of the Faeries. No prizes for guessing who the prime suspects are!

Literally the only interesting thing to come out of this book in the long term is the fact that Sabrina comes face to face with her mother’s legacy involving Everafters, finally allowing her to make peace with her family’s history to some extent for the first time. She basically ends up finding it difficult to hold on to her bigotry so hard when her mother was obviously an active supporter.

A supposedly funny subplot in Once Upon A Crime is the way Puck, while incapacitated in his healing cocoon (a large and smelling eggplant like structure that floats around) picks Sabrina to be his chosen guardian – instead of his fiancee, whom they discover when they reach the Faerie Court. Sabrina finds the cocoon disgusting and embarrassing, and she has to deal with the fiancee’s anger on top of everything else.

I get that this is supposed to be some kind of love triangle, but all I saw was a pair of pre-teens being catty to each other over a boy. Don’t we have enough stories of this sort flying about in the world already? Buckley tries to do a good job of writing in defences against casual and/ or internalized sexism in his stories, but they just keep creeping in!!!

[Honestly, this is a theme that will only get more pronounced as we progress through the series.]

Magic and Other Misdemeanours once again deals with a series of thefts – of magical objects, as well as a discriminatory campaign against human residents of Ferryport, who are being pushed out of their homes, jobs and lives by any means possible – courtesy of the new Mayor, the Queen of Hearts.

Baba Yaga – a crazy witch who lives in a house on legs and fits every stereotype of the ugly, scary witch there ever was – makes an appearance. Puck continues to be hyper and over the top, acting like he’s seven or eight, even though his feelings for Sabrina are actually making him grow older.

The resolution to the mystery was sad in both senses of the term. It was saddening, and it was pathetically sad at the same time. After all the mystery and tension and so many plot twists and blind alleys, the final reveal is a complete letdown.

In terms of plot development for the series overall, Magic and Other Misdemeanours holds its own. In fact, the entire Sisters Grimm series just feels like an endless row of dominos falling over – one after the other, and with each precipitating the next.

Tales From the Hood is, I suppose as close to a personal favourite as this series is ever going to get from me. That’s because it has my favourite character from this book – Canis, aka The Big Bad Wolf – at the centre of the plot.

I think part of what makes Mr. Canis so interesting is that – at this point in the series – he stands out amongst the characters. It’s been six books. We (especially those of us who binge read the series) know these characters so well, that all the quirks that started out as endearing are now extremely annoying. The characters dutifully fill in their assigned roles –

Charming is all blustery and he hates them and he gets in their way a lot, but he ends up helping save the day in the end. Puck is mischievous and a trickster and very, very GROSS. He also has his moments of maturity, but not nearly enough of them. The three little pigs were too much to write, so two of them got written off the series (TV Show style), and now there’s just one Little Pig. He’s caring, has a heart of gold, yada yada yada.

The Queen of Hearts is evil. So’s Rumplestiltskin and a bunch of other people. In fact, they’re so evil, that they’re black-and-white, cardboard caricatures of what evil fairy tale villains look like.

Disney called. They want their Standardized Villain Mould (TM) back.

Canis though, is a character with layers to him. He’s on a constant anger management schedule. He spends most of his time meditating. He can turn into a rabid wolf. He has a split personality disorder, and now that he’s put on trial in Tales From the Hood, it’s up to his lawyers (the Scooby gang) to prove that Canis is innocent because it was the other personality that did it.

I like Canis, and I’m not just saying that because I might not be entirely sober right now. I’ve always been fascinated by powerful forces of nature kept under strict restraint, lest they get free and wreak havoc.

Oh, and I appreciated the re-telling of the story of Red Riding Hood. Points for ingenuity and subversion of tropes and all that. Points off for a tale within a tale that could have been a LOT less convoluted.

The Sisters Grimm occupies a little niche all by itself in the children’s fiction market, and while the first three books were passable, the next three represents the perfect transition stage from acceptable to holy-***-everything’s-going-to-hell mode.

What I’m trying to say is they’re worse than the first three, and yet nowhere as bad as the last three.

Next Review: Aftertaste by Namita Devidayal

Next in this Series: The Sisters Grimm # 7 – 9 by Michael Buckley