Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review of "City of Souls":The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Vicki Pettersson

I am happy to report that this is the first book in this series where I did not come across any GLBT failure.   I think Pettersson just decided to go all out with her erasure. As a straight person, I am not in a position to say that the complete erasure was a relief, because it also represents a form of failure that is reoccurring in this genre.  Once again, the book takes places in Las Vegas, and there are no people of colour.  As a woman of colour, I can say that after watching her treatment of the GLBT community, that I am kind of happy to be erased.

If I had to say that this particular book had any message at all, it would be that absolutism is dangerous.  Throughout the series, Joanna/Olivia's nemesis is her biological father tulpa.  His mission is to either destroy her before she can bring about his destruction, or to force her into becoming his ally.  When we examine this from a womanist perspective, it is clear that in this case that the tulpa constructs her as a possession to be claimed or punished/destroyed for a failure to submit.  When we consider that historically daughters have always been understood to be the possession of their fathers until they were lawfully wed, the tulpa's quest to claim to Joanna/Olivia fits into the framework of women as objects.

On the other side of the equation we have the warriors of the light led by Warren.  From the beginning of the story, Warren has been either outright deceitful or manipulative.  He justifies this by saying that as a leader, he does not have to explain his actions, and that he has the best intentions for his crew.  Unfortunately, Warren's best intentions mean sacrificing anyone in his bid to destroy the Tulpa.  He said at the end of the third book that the only reason he didn't erase Ben's memory, is because he didn't want Joanna/Olivia distracted, and in this book, he manipulates the end of the budding relationship between Hunter and Joanna/Olivia, because he feels that this would distract her from her true purpose.  When Joanna attempts to make it clear that she is a person, he tells her that she is a weapon. Warren also sent her to Midheaven knowing that it would weaken her, but because it was part of his goal to strip her down and remake her in his image, he had no problem with the loss. Warren does not actively seek Joanna/Olivia's death, but he is hardly much different in his approach to her than the tulpa.  Once again Joanna/Olivia is an object to be manipulated at will.

Olivia is filled with self doubt because her entire life has been spent being nothing but a tool between dueling male forces, and this is ironic given that she is in fact the Archer - the most powerful superhero. Though it was noble for Olivia/Joanna sacrifice her powers for a child, when all the male characters were more than happy to see the child dead, it really does play upon the idea that women are natural nurturers  In the end, Joanna/Olivia's troop rewards her by completely severing ties.  This once again tells us that unless a woman can serve a purpose, that meets the needs of a man that she is no longer considered valuable.  
I suppose what I really don't understand is why Olivia/Joanna is wise enough not to tell Warren about the existence of her daughter, but not bold enough until the end of the book to tell him that he is no different than the Tulpa.  Even in that exchange, there is a sense of Olivia holding back.  I know that Pettersson wants Olivia/Joanna to be seen as a strong female character but her failure to actively circumvent Warren sort of falls very short.

When I started the Zodiac series, I really liked the books, but now that I have finished the fourth one, I am ready for the series to be over.  I am quite certain that if I read these books back to back, rather than taking a break in between them, I would actually have found them boring.  I think it is because there was a lot of character and world development in the first book, while the books since then have sort of fallen flat.  We really have not learned much about the characters, with exception of Hunter, and what their true motivations.  The fact that Warren is an ass was easily discernible by the early part of the second book, and so even whenJoanna/Olivia's declaration that he is little different from the tulpa does occur, it is not a huge revelation. I am not sure where this story is going, but I hope that in the next two books that the pace picks up, and we learn more of the motivation of the characters, because right now it sort of feels like been there done that.

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