Friday, March 15, 2013

Crossroads (Anna Strong Chronicles #7) by Jeanne C. Stein

Though Anna is the Chosen One, things have actually settled down in her life. Anna has been able to work a steady schedule, start dating a new man and basically live the life of her choosing. For the first time in a year since she has become a vampire, everything is normal.  Unfortunately for Anna, this is not destined to last. Anna returns home to fine Chael, the representative of Middle Eastern vampires sitting on her couch.  Her instinct is to kill him because he represents a threat to her, until he dangles a carrot that she cannot cast away out of hand - the chance to regain her humanity.  When Chael brings up Frey's son John John, Anna knows that she must investigate, if not for herself, then to ensure that John John is safe. What Anna does not realise, is that trip to the Navajo reservation, is going to change her life forever.  Once there, she must confront her White privilege and decide whether or not she can accept the vampire she has become.

Crossroads is easily the best book in this series since The Becoming. Anna has been very busy running around and kicking ass for most of the past year but while doing so, she has become completely self involved.  While Anna has been concerned about the loss of her mortal life, she has done little to sustain the relationships she has developed. I loved that Frey pointed out that she would have known about him breaking up with his girlfriend had he bothered to call.  Anna is forced to accept that she only turns to her supposed friends when she needs them and has not been there for them otherwise.

For the majority of this series Stein has seen fit to erase people of colour, and in Crossroads, she seeks to rectify this by setting the book on a Navajo reservation.  This is a nice change of pace.  Anna continues to be filled with privilege, racism and ignorance, and it is up to Frey to attempt to reign her in.  Anna views the Navajo people initially as ridiculously superstitious for their instant distrust of her vampire nature and refuses to acknowledge that vampires do indeed present a legitimate threat to humanity, despite knowing that members of the vampire council seek to enslave humanity. For much of the novel, Anna exotifies the people of colour she interacts with but by the end of book she develops a sort of reverence, which to me, really still reads as false.  Part of the problem is that she is on the reservation to seek out the council of an elder.  It reads too much like wise person of colour directing the clueless White lady.

I am further concerned by the re-introduction of Chael as a character.  Though he was described as a power hungry coward, I fear that he is going to be set up as the antagonist.  This would make Anna, The Chosen One, battling against a male of colour for supremacy. When placed into context of the current political divide, it's hard not to see this as demonizing Middle Eastern people.  Anna is described as the progressive one because she believes in protecting humanity whereas; Chael would have humanity reduced to little more than cattle.  It reads as though Whiteness and of course a Western identity, represents not only morality but civilization and once again casts Middle Eastern people as sadistic, hopelessly backward and animalistic.  

In a hold over from other books, Anna still has a huge problem with women.  With the exception of Tracy, her new partner at the agency, Anna is not able to maintain a positive relationship with any woman in the series.  Women in this series, with the exception of a few characters, are largely adversaries.  The goodness of the Navajo people is completely represented through masculinity and landscape. The three Navajo women who appear in the story die violently and considering the gender based violence faced by indigenous women, this is highly problematic.  Though it follows a trend of Anna's negative interaction with women in general, when this is extended to people of colour, it adds a negative racial aspect as well.

This book was problematic for so many reasons, yet the story itself was really good.  Stein was absolutely brilliant as she described the landscape of the desert, making it so easy for the reader to vividly visualize the setting. Learning to accept oneself is a universal theme,which can be easily understood. Even more importantly, after everything that Anna has been through in the previous six books, it was time for her to pause and reflect upon her decisions and her future.  

It was interesting to see the vampire constructed as a separate entity to Anna, though they both exist in the same person.  I believe that this represents the good and the bad in all of us. The scenes in which Anna contemplated all of the elements of her existence, were easily the most compelling parts of the story.  Being a vampire in many ways can be considered a gift; however, it's a gift that comes with a cost.  Anna's journey is to discover whether she can reconcile herself with the cost.  The sticking point here, is once again, we have a protagonist cast as the super special chosen one. 

Crossroads is an interesting read and I can tell that Stein is trying to step outside of the very narrow narrative that she has created in the previous books, at least in terms with race. There was no effort to include GLBT people or the disabled.  In terms of race, the problem is that she didn't go far enough and ended up re-enforcing negative tropes in the process.   However, Crossroads reminded me of why I initially liked this series and put it back on track as far as I am concerned.  In Crossroads, Anna grew a lot, though I am not sure if it will be enough to make her a likeable protagonist again.