Friday, June 22, 2012

Review of Silver Tounged Devil by Jaye Wells, Book Four of the Sabina Kane Series

If I had only one word to describe this book, I would have to EPIC.  Okay fair warning folks, I am a huge Jaye Wells fanpoodle.

For the first time in her life things seem to be okay for Sabina.  Her relationship with Adam is going great and she is happy. The treaty to unite the dark races is only days away from being signed, when on her way to Slade's vampire club, Sabina comes across a dead human body completely drained of blood.  Sabina sees this as vampire business and since she now sees herself largely as a mage, having killed her grandmother Lavina in the last book, Sabina keeps moving.  Things escalate when she gets to the club and a mage dies, as Pussy Willow is having her debut.

Sabina does not want to get involved but she is ordered to investigate. She quickly learns that there is a connection between the mage death and the human death and believes that this is an attempt to destabilize Slade's leadership of the vampires in New York. If that were not enough, Maisie has yet to recover from the horror that Lavina has subjected her to and her PTSD is stopping her from having a vision about the future.  No matter how she reaches out to her twin, Sabina keeps being rejected. 

The peace that she has worked so hard to achieve is crumbling around and Sabina realises that perhaps the reason is because they are up against the evil of all evils - Cain.  Can Sabina somehow unite the dark races and keep the people she loves safe from harm?

Silver Tounged Devil starts agonizingly slow and the bickering between the characters is distracting but when it all comes together, one realizes how necessary this is for the conclusion of the book.  The climax of the story is so shocking and unexpected that it is impossible to put the book down until the last page is read.  

Okay, I suppose I should add some critique, even though my mind is screaming don't attack the precious, must protect the precious.  Unfortunately, there is a deal of ableism in this story.  A side character in the story is Goldie and she is a little person. On page 136, she is referred to as a "midget", though the preferred term is little person, or person of short stature.  To her credit, Goldie Schwartz does call out the usage of the term midget but says, "And I'm not a fucking midget. I prefer the term fun-sized."  As in Green Eyed Demon, she is also called the gimp.  Obviously, this is far from the ideal and is completely unnecessary to the story. The only thing we learn about Goldie is that she is disabled and that she is into water sports.  

There's also the issue of Pussy Willow, who was formerly Brooks. After being attacked, Brooks assumed a female persona as a way of dealing with the tragedy.  Pussy Willow completely identifies as female and lives her life as a woman on a full-time basis and this is why the usage of the terms transvestite and cross dresser are not fitting.  Part of my issue is that it took a trauma for this to happen, which suggests that anyone who transgresses the gender binary is damaged in someway.  When Pussy Willow is banned from participating in the roller derby, Giguhl says:
"It's the whole penis thing." He shrugged. "Somehow the league found out she was smuggling extra equipment in her skirt.  They're refusing to bend about the whole 'only biological females are allowed on to be on the teams' thing. So I had to tell her she can't play." [pg 164]
Okay, what Pussy Willow is dealing with is cissexism or transphobia. It is certainly not "phallocentric tyranny." If you are going to include an ism, it needs to be called exactly what it is. To make matters worse, though we're told that Pussy Willow is upset by the exclusion, the very next scene in which she appears, she is happy to be an announcer, rather than a participant.  This makes it appear as though the cisgender characters are more concerned about the bigotry aimed at her than she is.

On the surface, Giguhl seems to support Pussy Willow, but he takes it upon himself to call out her gender presentation because he finds her mean in comparison to Brooks, and believes that she "just needs to deal with her shit".  Again, if Wells had not created this situation by having the transition be a result of violence, there would be no room for Giguhl to suggest artifice. This in and of itself is very problematic, as trans women already face enough bigotry based in the false reasoning that they are not "real women."  I really feel that Wells could have done so much better with this portrayal.  Her treatment of Pussy Willow/Brooks will stand out not as a sign of rare inclusion but a sign of why writers need to do more research about the trans* community before writing about them.

The other GLBT inclusion in this story was the relationship between Mac an Georgia. Mac is a werewolf and the only living female relative of Michael, the alpha of Manhattan and Georgia is a vampire. The werewolves have trouble keeping their numbers up and are very dependent upon females of breeding age to mate and so Michael has chosen a male mate for Mac, despite the fact that she is clearly a lesbian.  Mac is pulled between obeying her alpha and being with the woman that she loves.  I thought that this was an excellent portrayal about the pressure that comes from family expectations of heterosexuality.   Where this portrayal falls short is Sabina's involvement. Though the couple initially beg her to intervene, when things go wrong, it is Sabina who claims that they're meant to be together  and encourages Georgia to fight for her woman.  When Sabina and Georgia finally approach Michael, it is Sabina who points out that Mac has no desire to sleep with a man. This should at the very least have been Georgia's declaration, if not Mac's.  It is not for a straight person to declare.  Mac is not even given the chance to speak, until Sabina does her whole straight person to the rescue routine. GLBT people are perfectly capable of speaking and acting for themselves and though Sabina is the protagonist, her involvement in this issue smacks of straight hero to the rescue

Finally, I am afraid I must point out the fat phobia.  This is not the first time in this series that Wells has engaged in outright fat hatred.
"The problem with killing an obese vampire is that the results are always messy.  All the blubber acts like an accelerant. Thus, two seconds after Tiny  ignited, his body exploded. " [page 105]
Wales have blubber, people have fat.  I also think it's worth nothing that when Tanith died, and her body exploded, there was no mention of mess or blubber.  I suppose this is something that only happens to fat people. The language in this series that is aimed at fat people is without doubt fat phobic and unnecessary.

I know that I have actually listed quite a few problematic elements with this story, but in spite of its obvious social justice issues, I truly love the Sabina Cane series.  I can see the effort for real inclusion, but Wells gets it wrong, more often than she gets it right. If this series was not as well written, or as entertaining, I think that the failures would seriously hamper any enjoyment.

Giguhl's antics are laugh out loud funny and I love the banter between him and Sabina.  Between the first book in the series and this one, Sabina has grown tremendously.  She has moved from someone who flouts authority for the sake of it, to someone who attempts to see the larger picture.  Though she was always sure of who she was as a fighter, for the first time, she begins to understand who she is as a person and the complicated world that she lives in. Sabina is irrepressible and it is absolutely impossible not to root for her to succeed.

I really wish I could unreservedly recommend this series, because it is an absolute joy to read but the failures concerning historically marginalized people, have caused me to add caution.  The portrayals are heavily problematic and may even be triggering to some and so I suggest that you keep that in mind when choosing to start or continue the Sabina Cane series.

I am going to give this book a 4.5 Fangs because of the excellent quality of the story itself.