Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Haunted (Anna Strong Chronicles #8) by Jeanne C. Stein

Anna is drawn to Beso de la Muerte when an old acquaintance of Culebra's suddenly appears to cash in on a blood debt.  Anna, Culebra and Max the DEA agent, soon find themselves in Mexico trying to thwart a drug king pin and in the process, exact revenge for the murder of Culebra's family.  Anna has wondered for a very long time about Culebra's background because his mind has never been fully open to her and now she is going to realise that sometimes one should be careful what they wish for.

For the first time in this series, Culebra becomes someone more than a servant (a role which always irritated me) at Anna's beck and call.  We learn that Culebra is an outcast amongst his family because he is he first one in generations to touched by the curse (shapeshifting), as a result, they don't invest in him and he becomes a poor youth with very little options.  When he is approached by the cartel, for the first time he has hope of becoming more than what he is. What he does not know, is that this choice will alter the path of his life forever.  I found this part of the story extremely compelling and found myself sympathizing with Culebra and irritated with the overly privileged Anna, who decided to sit in judgement of him. This is not to say that becoming an assassin is a good moral choice, just that it irritated me that Anna couldn't see past her own privilege empathize with his story.

As you might well have guessed, much of this book involves the ongoing criminal activity of the Mexican drug lords.  Stein took great care to point out how innocent women and children quickly become their victims through no fault of their own.  She writes about the silence of communities who regularly hand over their daughters and the pain which results.  Though this is clearly a work of fiction, it is a story that needs to be told.  I liked that even in their powerless state, Stein still found a way to make these young women strong, brave and hopeful.  That was an extremely tall order given the tenor of the story. Yes, Anna did in the end rescue them but they were active participants in their own emancipation. 

Several times throughout the book, Stein had the drug lords use misogynist language towards Anna and even at one point slap her across the face. This actually revealed some growth because previously, Anna would have attacked without thought regarding the situation.  It was actually quite enjoyable to read as these men degraded Anna simply for being a woman, never knowing that with each word they sealed their own fate.  I found myself cheering at times, to see them realise that a woman can be strong and dangerous.  I found pleasure in their fear.  Now, if only Anna could find an adult woman besides her mother that she could get along with, it would really support the pro woman message of this story.

The one stumbling block that I see is the fact that through large swathes of this story, it read like an action movie.  We had Anna with AK47's, throwing grenades, snapping necks and even ripping out people's throats.  At times she didn't feel like a person and was instead simply a weapon.  Some of this can be forgiven because now that we are on book 8, we really do know a lot about Anna herself. I do however hope that in the next book that Anna will explore more of her struggle to deal with her dual nature. 

With the exception of Culebra all of the people of colour who were not abused children were evil.  I understand that the setting of this book necessitated this; however, the Anna Strong Chronicles does not have a good record when it comes to the inclusion of minority characters.  It isn't helped by the fact that once again, we have a White, class privileged, straight, cis gender, hyperable protagonist leading the story.  It is also worth mentioning that we didn't actually have a GLBT character again.  The closet we got was a disgusting stereotype that Anna must be a lesbian because she didn't want to wear a dress. This was blamed on Catholicism, which indeed has a role to play in heterosexism, however; homophobia is something maintained by every single social organization.

Despite its faults, I really enjoyed Haunted.  This series has really been up and down for me with The Becoming remaining my favorite because many of the things I liked about Anna quickly disappeared after that first book.  Haunted doesn't really advance the over all meta of the series, or give Anna great development but I really enjoyed the story.  There is something to be said in just being able to lose oneself in a book regardless of the faults.