Friday, July 13, 2012

The Taken by Vicki Pettersson Book One of the Celestial Blues Series

Griffin Shaw is a very haunted man.  Fifty years ago, he was murdered along with his wife, whom he loved with everything that he had.  Unable to get over the grief of being unable to protect Evie, instead of passing into paradise, Grif becomes a centurion.  His job is to ferry souls who have died as a result of violence into everlast. 

In what should have been an ordinary take, Grif displays empathy for a murdered woman by allowing her to inhabit her body briefly to change her clothing and fix her hair.  To do this, he has to enter her body briefly.  This means that Grif has participated in the sin of taking on flesh and it is compounded by the fact that his actions end up marking Kit for death.

Grif is told that in order to learn to do his job properly, he must watch as Kit is gang raped and murdered and then bring her over to Everlast.  He waits in her bedroom and watches as the attack begins, but quickly discovers that he cannot watch as an innocent woman is violated and murdered.  Thus begins the search the person who is responsible for the attempt on Kit's life, as well as the person who 50 years ago brought an end to Grif's life. 

The Taken has a very interesting organizational structure for heaven and the angels.  I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the difference between the Pures (those who have always existed as angels) and imperfect humans.  Existential conversations have been popular as of late in the genre and Pettersson managed to pull it off without giving the feeling like a philosophy 101 lecture.

One of the universal themes in this book was challenging gender based violence and misogyny.  Too often in the media, there is much slut shaming, and victim blaming.  Though the story involved sex workers, who clearly would have what many have socially determined to be spoiled identities, we were clearly meant to sympathise with them and to understand the actions which forced them into sex work. Women in this case were strong not because they were badass gun toting vigilantes, but because they refused to turn away from the ugliness of the world and sought truth.   Even when Kit was demeaned for having a mind of her own and for daring to express her opinion, she continued to do so.

Kit lives the rockabilly lifestyle, which means that she dresses in vintage 50's clothing and attempts as much as possible to live in the past.  As a marginalized person, I found this glorification of this decade extremely troubling.  It was however made easier to tolerate by Grif's constant assertion that the 50's were not a decade to be nostalgic about because the world was involved in great strife, including racial segregation.   It is however worth noting that Grif didn't actually say Rosa Parks' name and instead referred to her as a woman. He seemed to fixate more on talking about the red scare and the cold war.

Unfortunately, The Taken is yet another novel in which dead parents figure prominently.  We have discussed this phenomenon before and in this case, the death of Kits parents seemed to exist only to substantiate her resolve and isolation.  

I didn't expect a lot of inclusion in this book, having already read Pettersson's Signs of the Zodiac series.  Pettersson absolutely stayed true to form in this.  There were four characters of colour mentioned in this book. Of the four, only one was relevant to this story. Charis only seemed to exist to warn Grif to treat Kit well and Fleur and Lil were basically throw away characters.  Anas, a Pure, is the most visible character of colour.  She spends most of her time bullying Grif to let Kit die and in the end sacrifices her life in Kit's protection of all things.  If that were not enough, at one point, she attempts to force herself on Grif sexually, but he of course refuses her being to filled with love for the dead Evie and the endangered Kit.  Though we are told that she is a powerful being, she is secondary in every way to the White women in this novel.

There were no GLBT characters in this novel, though it was set in Las Vegas of all places.  Since when did Las Vegas turn into a supposed utopia of straightness?  We did however get a nice dose of "no homo," when Grif refused oral sex from a woman whom he believed to be a sex worker.
"I don't quite understand your beef with this," Chambers snapped, see the disgust roll across Grif's face. Are you of the homosexual persuasion?"

If this was straight, Grif realized, he'd rather be. "I ain't queer. I just don't like taking advantage of women." [page 176]
Though this passage is without doubt offensive, had Pettersson bothered with even cursory inclusion, this would not have stung nearly as bad.  Why go to the effort to play the "no homo" game but exclude GLBT people?

I liked many of the messages in this book but there was little to no suspense.  We knew from nearly the beginning who the antagonist was and what his motivations were.  The end was fairly predictable and made certain to leave room for a sequel.  Essentially, The Taken, is meant to be a mystery, but because it reveals so much at the beginning of the novel, there really isn't a mystery that needs to be solved. I greatly approve of the pro woman messages but the story seemed to get lost in the overarching message.