Monday, January 23, 2012

Review of Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler: Book One of the Jane True Series

When I finished reading this book, the one word that went through my mind was wow.  The protagonist of this story is Jane True and she is half human and half selkie.  Jane is unaware of her true parentage but knows that for some reason she feels driven to swim regardless of the weather and does not feel cold at all.  She lives in Rockabill, a small town in Maine.  Jane is decidedly haunted because her mother left when she was only six years old and her first love drowned in an accident that she believes is her own fault.  Jane learns the true side of her nature when the little town of Rockabill is turned upside down by several supernatural murders.

Peelers world is so incredibly large and includes just about every single mystical creature that you can think of.  Each one of these creatures however, is slightly altered from the original mythos surrounding them.  Vampires for instance still need blood to survive, but they can function during the day, and genies do have something for you to rub, but it most certainly is not their lamp. Throughout Tempest Rising we learn than just about every creature that humans have ever written about is alive.

Though Jane has trepidations about the world that she is introduced to, she embraces it with vigor, in large part due to her burgeoning relationship with Ryu.  Though the romance between them is a significant factor in the story, it is not the reason for the story.  One of the things I love about this relationship is that Jane does not feel shame over her sexuality and engages freely.  I also love the fact that Peeler made sure that Ryu and Jane engaged in safe sex.  Ryu promises Jane that he cannot get her pregnant and that he does not carry disease but despite his reassurances, Jane demands that Ryu wear a condom much to his consternation each time.  The explicit discussion of safe sex is something that is decidedly absent from this genre and the fact that Peeler chose to include it really spoke volumes to me.  Jane always took time to think about her safety, despite her lust and this is a message that young women everywhere needs to hear.

At the very beginning of the book we are introduced to a lesbian couple.  They own the bookstore where Jane works and act as her friends, as well as her boss.  I really wish this representation had been better.

Not only were they lesbians, but they were as fabulously lesbionic as the inhabitants of a tine village in Maine could ever imagine.  Tracy carried herself like a rugby player, and dressed like one, too.  But she ha an easygoing charisma that got her through the initial gender panic triggered by her reentry into Rockabill society.

And if Tracy made heads turn, Grizelda practically made them spin Exorcist style.  Grizelda was not Grizelda's real name. Nor was Daisy Nethers, the name she used when she'd been a pornstar.  As Daisy Nethers, Grizelda had been fiery haired and as boobilicious as a Baywatch beauty.  But in her current incarnations, as Grizelda Montague, she sported a sort of Gothic - hipster look - albeit one that was still very boobilicious. (page 9)
It is not always great to see marginalized people appear in books because all too often, as the example above shows, they fall into stereotypes.  Butch and femme couples certainly exist, the issue here is that whenever lesbian couples appear in the media, they are often featured this way.  This of course supports that idea that even when two people of the same gender couple, that there must always be a top and a bottom based specifically in gender roles oft played out by heterosexual people. I was very much relieved when the story moved beyond Rockabill, thus limiting their role in the story.

Unlike many stories, the fact that Tempest Rising in small town Maine helps to explain away the erasure of people of colour.  Instead of having racial diversity, Peeler went for diversity in her supernatural world.  I am not pleased to see this kind of erasure, but at least it makes sense geographically. Far too often in urban fantasy, stories are set in major urban centers and people of colour are either completely erased, or reduced to passing figures within the story.

Jane also functions as a cargiver for her aging father.  Their relationship is very complex because her father is in complete denial about the nature of his wife and Jane's mother.  At one point, Jane is institutionalized and the facility is described as horrendous.  I think this is an important discussion, however; it was simplified to assuring us that Jane didn't belong there because she was not crazy. I found this disturbing because if the institution was not fit for a sane person, then it was not fit for someone who is neurologically atypical. The crime is not that Jane was forced to reside there against her will, but that anyone was.   I did however like that Jane was clinically depressed.  Too often in the urban fantasy genre, the female protagonist will survive unspeakable horrors and remain untouched by them, but Jane's depression over the loss of her lifelong friend was real and poignant.  The fact that this depression ended up stigmatizing her identity in a small town, further speaks to the ableism that exists socially.

The story itself is a classicly good introduction book. This is the book where we see this truly fascinating world, this is where we're introduced to the character, get to know her and how she interracts with the world. We see the setting, the people and how it all works together. And on that level this is an incredibly good book - it perfectly sets us up for more. In and of itself, the plot is a murder mystery and a relatively good one. But, the investigation takes a back seat to the introduction of the entire world. It's still quite an interesting investigation (albeit, the only real explanation for Jane's involvement is Ryu's unprofessional behaviour) but our focus is on Jane learning this world. Which is a very good thing - and done without infodumping.

There were so many things to love about this book, and yet on some level I was left troubled, though I can cannot clearly articulate what exactly bothered me at this time.  I am definitely interested in reading more of this series, and watching as Jane evolves as she becomes a part of the supernatural world. She is absolutely on the cusp of something intriguing, and both her weaknesses and her strengths, make her someone I am absolutely interested in learning more about.