Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review of Awakening and Minion by LA Banks, books 1 & 2 of the LA Banks series

So, after receiving many many many recommendations I have made a start on the Vampire Huntress series by LA Banks.

I have read the first 2. The Awakening and the Minion. I feel the need to rant before tackling more….

I wanted to like these books. I heard good things about them, they were praised highly and I was looking forward to them. They were especially praised in progressive circles. And was sorely disappointed as I struggled through them – and struggling was the word, these books were damned hard work.

There could have been a good plot there, there really could, but it is so poorly written and put together that it’s lost in the great waves of Do Not Care. And I think that can really sum up these books: “Do Not Care.” LA Banks makes no real effort to forge a connection between the reader and the story, so there’s no investment in the characters. The reader is not encouraged to empathise with the character’s lives or to care about the plot – it becomes a dry reading, like an especially poor history teacher lecturing you.

Allow me to ramble:
The story opens to the main characters stressing. They do this for several pages, just sitting and stressing. It’s not even clear why they’re stressing, Damali is just on edge about something. And we get to hear about it at length.

The problem is not only is a vague sense of unease something that is rarely ever due several pages to describe – but we don’t know enough about these characters to really give a damn about them being uneasy.

And then the monsters attack. Woo. Monsters. And they battle for their liiiiiiives.

Except, of course, we don’t know these characters. Most of her entourage is a name at best. So while they’re fighting to survive the most pressing thought I have is “yay some of this excess cast could die off and I’ll have less names to remember!”

It doesn’t help that the fight is pretty poorly written. Vampires attack, they get shot. There’s a distinct impression that 2 characters engage them in melee (including a 50 year old woman with a walking stick. Want to make your vampires threatening? Don’t have 50 year old women with walking sticks be able to kill them. While outnumbered.) and the rest of the team shoot at vampires that are advancing very slowly or are stood there waiting to be shot.

And then, DRAMA! One of the vampires is the dead girlfriend of one of the entourage! Horror! Grief! Sadness!

Except for the big ocean of Do-Not-Care. Because again, we have big emotional angst from someone we have zero emotional connection with. It’s like sitting next to someone on a bus who insists on telling you about their bad breakup. The character now spends the next TWO BOOKS in a corner wasting away from magical grief – that’s 2 books of comatose Do-Not-Careness.

And this is a major theme of the books, we never get to know the characters, there’s so little actual characterisation that their emotions, pain or potential loss are all so very meaningless. You can’t have drama or angst or pain or fear or tension when the reader doesn’t care whether the characters kill the vampires or get noshed on.

In fact let’s have an insert here to look at Damali’s entourage since they’re constant companions throughout the book – and I still can’t remember how many there are without going back to re-read. Because they have no character – they are names, a couple of quirks and done. They’re constant characters throughout the whole book and they have ZERO personality.

Marlene: Condescending maternal figure, she exists to be wise and knowing and then protect her brood by keeping all that wise and knowing hidden and annoying to be doled out in grudging lumps for their own good. (Which means she exists to be annoying and secretive with a side order of angst and grief about the shit she can’t tell us about) She also has a tragic past. I Did Not Care.

Shabazz: Muslim who plays condescending paternal figure who aids and abets Marlene’s constant “I won’t tell you everything so I can drag out the info dumping section of the book even further!” Occasionally takes his turn doing the infodumping as well

Big Mike: he’s big and he’s called Mike. He may engage in banter, it saves him actually having a personality

Rider: Snarks and whines and makes wisecrack comments. Probably supposed to be the comic relief. Is neither comic nor a relief, alas.

Jose: His girlfriend is dead and this upsets him. This is his character.

JL: JL is… um… well… there. Yeah he’s in the books. That’s it.

One interesting aspect from a social justice point is that all of these characters (except Rider) are POC and most of them are over the age of 20 (even over 40) except so little time is spent on them as characters that there’s nothing portrayed. Oh and they all act like teenagers to Shabazz and Marlene’s stern parenting.

Which comes to the next problem. Not only is there character drama without characters, there’s lots and lots and lots of info-dumping world building. Seriously, it feels like half the scenes in the book involve characters sat down explaining vast amounts of the plot to each other. I think there’s a room in their hideout that should be called the “Long Winded Exposition Room” because all they do is sit around it and have lectures.

And again, Do-Not-Care syndrome strikes. We have no characterisation, very little actually happening (except for the odd random attack, pretty much not connected to anything) and now we’re being given vast amounts of superfluous information about a world in which nothing happens to characters about which we know nothing and care less. Again, it’s like an academic lecture, someone sitting down and telling you all about the chief imports and exports of Laos. I feel like I should be taking notes in case I am tested later.

Worse still (and yes it gets worse) the world building is not even presented in an interesting and clear manner. Every lecture is pulled out of the lecturer (nearly always Marlene) is like ripping an honest answer from a politician. And every word is accompanied by angst, reluctance, tangents, side tracks, interruptions and random expletives from Rider (which seems to be his only real purpose) from the gang. This makes it not only a series of dull and unnecessary lectures – but a series of dull and unnecessary lectures presented as a stream of conference exercise performed by a team of bickering alcoholics.

There’s a couple of other aspects I’m not keen on. The powerful religious themes in the books and the idea of “sexual purity” (as in, don’t have sex you dirty dirty sinner. Have a holy chastity belt) and the fact all the badness and evil has been caused by a woman believing her husband was having an affair with another man (*GASP* I mean she was hella pissed about it being another woman – but another man? Oh hell no, vengeance demon time!) add in that all the male vampires are creepy and evil because they’re all sexual and making with the sexy thoughts around the straight mennnns (exacerbated by these being the only remotely semi-hemi-kinda-GBLT related issues in either books) and I raise my eyebrow at the progressives who were waxing lyrical about these books.

But in the end the biggest indictment of these two books is one simple thing – they’re boring. They’re poorly written, poorly paced and generally just poor. 

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