Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review of Blood Rights by Kristen Painter Book One of the House of Comarré

I have to say that I was quite impressed by this book despite the absolute absence of  GLBT people and problematic  references to people of colour. Blood rights is essentially the story of what are commonly called dhamphirs.  In this series they are known as comarré.  They have been breed for the potency of their blood and have developed their own form society alongside that of the various forms of vampires.  All vampires must drink human blood to survive, but only the noble vampires who are descended from fallen angels are able to afford to purchase the blood rights to a comarré.

Painter's world was vast and the following list includes the list of supernatural bodied mentioned in the series: Nothos, which are hellhouds, Varcolai, a race of shifters descended from fallen angels and animals, Fae, who are actually another race descended from the fallen angels, fringe vampires, who are descended from Judas Iscariot, Anthema who are vampires who have been cast out of noble society and finally, Castus Sanguis are the fallen angles themselves.

Chyrsabelle is a very special comarré and no other has had a price in the millions paid for the rights to their blood.  On the night of the ceremony which would grant her, her freedom after a hundred years of servitude, her patron is killed.  Chrysabelle must flee into the kine (read: human world)  world in the hope of disappearing and finding safety.  Unfortunately for her, Tatiana is fast on her heels, because she wants the ring of Chrysabelle's former patron in the belief that this will make her ruler of the vampires.

Chrysabelle meets up with Mal  in a human vampire bar where he tries to help her escape because immediately recognizes her for what she is - a comarré.  Chrysabelle, quickly stabs him just inches below his heart and makes her escape.  When next they meet, Mal is less trusting but in the end, determines to help her free her aunt, who has been kidnapped by Tatiana and clear her name.  What is interesting about the relationship between Mal and Chrysabelle, is that he continually attempts to act as her hero and she consistently reminds him that she is capable of taking care of herself.  He has a habit of reminding Chrysabelle that she is a comarré, and therefore no match for a vampire, let alone a vampire of royal blood.  This is of course is a sexist patriarchal streak, but Chrysabelle has little patience for this.  She spends much of the book proving to him that she is more than capable of defending her self.  The comarré are not the helpless supplicants that the vampires have come to believe that they have a right to, instead they are a fierce group of warrior humans awaiting the day when it may become necessary for them to stand against the very monsters they now call master.  

As a protagonist, Chrysabelle is tough and not afraid to violently to protect herself if need be.  She is not prone to spunky agency, but when she makes a decision to sticks to it.  What I like the most about her, is that she knows exactly who she is and where her values lie. As irritating as I found Mal's constant denial of Chrysabelle's strengths, Isms should never be erased because it denies the harm that they case.  It is far better for the ism to appear and to have another character fight against it as Chrysabelle does continually in the face of Mal's obvious sexism. 

The antagonist in this story is Tatiana a vampire from the house of Tepes.  She is clearly made out to be an evil, power hungry creature. I have two issues  with Tatiana and one is the gruesome rape that she endures.  It reads as though this is something she deserves because of her quest for power, and this reduces the absolute harm and violation that rape is.  At one point, Tatiana even tries to have mind go blank, so as to not think about the violation of her body, but even that is denied her.  This gruesome rape goes on for two days, and yet at the end Tatiana is not only healed completely, but puts it behind her as though she simply had a paper cut, rather than experienced a vicious rape. I found this to be extremely disrespectful to rape survivors.  It sets up a situation in which women who have been violated should be able to simply move on, and this is exactly the attitude that rape culture and patriarchy would like to proliferate, rather than face the fact that no woman, no matter what she says, does, or wears deserves to be raped. 

In many ways, this book amounted to an overt celebration of Whiteness. The comarré not only are dressed all in White, they are all White.  Their bodies are tattooed with signum - an inlaid gold to purify their blood.  We are constantly told about how these tattoos play off Chrysabelle's blond hair along with how they make her skin glow.  The characters are in constant awe of her and this coupled with the fact that the comarré are set up as the saviors of mankind. 

On the other side of the equation of you have the antagonist Tatiana.  Painter actually refers to her as a gypsy, which of course is a slur, and so from the start Tatiana is dehumanized in comparison to the ever so White Chrsyabelle. For those who are unaware, the correct term is Roma and not gypsy. Much of the negative character traits attributed to Tatiana, can be traced directly to the social denigration of Roma women.  Mal tells us that she was almost executed for theft, she is also clearly unrapeable as her response to the sexual assault shows, she is angry and treacherous.  These characteristics placed up against Chrysabelle's blinding Whiteness help serve to cast Tatiana into the role of 'unwoman' and evil.  We have seen Whiteness constructed as good while racialized bodies are either erased or placed in a negative light time and time again, and so while the White equals good and of colour equals bad binary is not new, it is tiring and racist. Roma are a historically oppressed group in Europe, and this casual demonization of a Roma woman, to serve a plot line serves to falsely substantiate many of the negative social stereotypes in existence. Painter's choice of Roma antagonist loaded with horrible racist markers may not have been intentional, but it certainly was damaging and a reflection of her prejudices.

The final issue I had with this book has to do with disableism. Maris is introduced to us as a wheel chair user.  This was exciting to me because disabled people are extremely erased in this genre.  Unfortunately, the moment that Maris is put into danger, we learn that she has been faking her disability. As a disabled person who has constantly had to deflect this charge I found this offensive.  We already see characters constantly miraculously cured in media.  There is rarely permanence to disability and this takes it to a whole new level with the idea that faking disability is appropriate. 

All in all, there are certainly social justice issues with this book; however, the story itself is good.  There is a love story blooming, but I am pleased to say that Painter managed to avoid the whole love at first woo woo tripe that has become far to common.  Mal is suitably musty for a vampire, but at least in his case, we are given a good reason for his self loathing.  I look forward to seeing where this series heads and hope that in that in the books to come that Painter will take a more inclusive approach to her characters and step away from the harmful racial binary that was promoted with this book.