Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Iron Night (American Vampire #2) by M.L. Brennan

Having accepted the reality that he is part of the vampire world, Fortitude Scott has made some significant changes to his life.  He is now working out seriously several times a week with his older brother, feeding more frequently from his mother, has even found himself a new job and shocker of shockers, a roommate who actually pays his half of the rent on time.  Finally, Fortitude has achieved the stability he has longed for but unfortunately for Fort, it's short lived.  When he awakes one morning to find his roommate Gage drained of blood, missing body parts and dead, Fort is determined to get justice for him and not allow his powerful mother to sweep Gage's death under the carpet.  Fort's investigation brings him closer to crafty kitsune Suzume Hollis, as together they race against time to discover why bodies are starting to pile up.  If that were not enough, Matt, the one human Fort has loved since childhood is starting to get suspicious.  Can Fort get justice for Gage, while keeping Matt in the dark, in order to save his life?

In Iron Night, Brennan enlarges the world and we learn about the necessity of vampires as apex predators to police their territory.  We get a very strong sense of the hierarchy amongst the supernaturals and how delicate the balance of power is with humanity.  As Fort's vampire nature continues to mature, he begins to change.  Now Fort makes the necessary decisions to accomplish his ends no matter how difficult. He doesn't want to be like his sociopath sister Prudence but at the same time, he is highly aware that he cannot allow people to fun roughshod over him anymore.

American Vampire is one of the few series with a male protagonist but the women in Iron Night play exceptionally strong roles. Suzume continues to delight me with her trickster nature and I love that Fort is continually left off balance by her antics.  Though Fort is supposedly in charge of the mission, Suzume is not a side kick who follows blindly; she is an equal partner.  Suzume is not only highly intelligent, physically she is clearly more capable than Fortitude. This naturally subverts gender roles and Brennan manages this while allowing Suzume to remain feminine.  Madeline, Fort's mother though clearly on the decline, rules with an iron fist.  Prudence plays the role of Fort's enforcer and while there is no doubt she is a sociopath, her relationship with Fort is extremely complex.

The only issue I have in terms of gender is the treatment of Beth.  In Generation V, Beth was the woman who cheated on Fortitude.  In reality, she read more like a polyamorous character than a scarlet woman; however, she was treated like the latter.  Beth faced the ultimate punishment and was skinned alive as a lesson to Fortitude. Once Beth was dead, she was suddenly described with reverence and at times even romanticized.  It took death to redeem Beth and that is highly problematic, given that women have historically been subjected to violence for supposed sexual misdeeds. This situation is made worse in that Beth then becomes a mission of retribution for Fort.

One of things I continue to enjoy about this series is Brennan's portrayal of class.  Fort is at best working class and as such, he continues to have everyday struggles to survive.  He takes the bus to save on parking and his beloved car is practically held together by chewing gum.  Fort buys the cheapest booze he can afford and when he does want to treat himself to something new, it means cancelling his Netflix account and living on Ramen noodles for months at a time. These privations are worth it to Fort because it means he gets to retain his independence.  This line is important because it helps support Fort's character as a young man struggling to survive on his in terms. 

Not only is this series magically diverse, it's also racially diverse.  Brennan continues to take great care with the character of Suzume.  I have come to trust Brennan's writing and no longer fear that this great character will be reduced to the all to common trope of lotus flower or dragon lady, as often happens with Asian women  in media. In Iron Night, Brennan built on Suzume's character and took care to include cultural groundings, which not only solidify her as a kitsune but as an Asian woman. Suzume is no card board cut out.

At the very end of Iron Night, Fortitude got a new roommat Dan the ghoul.  It's clear that Dan is a gay man and the first one in the series.  I can only hope that he will play a significant role in the next book because up to this point, American Vampire has not had any GLBT characters. Dan's brief appearance however did not diffuse the instances of highly problematic language in Iron Night.  We learned for instance that Fort and Matt posed as lovers to infiltrate a gay swingers club.  This was meant to be comic relief but the invasion of these safe spaces by straight cis people  makes them unsafe and is no laughing matter.  Furthermore, while there are certainly gay men who are not monogamous, there are plenty who are and they certainly do not get  portrayed in the mainstream media. Gay was used as a pejorative to describe Jacoby (page 111).  Then of course we have Allegra who was described as having glamour caked on her like a transvestite's makeup job (page 74). A little trip to GLAAD's Media References, would have taught Brennan that this term is considered pejorative by the trans* community.  Marginalized identities should not be used for comic relief.

Iron Night like its predecessor had so much going for it.  I loved reading about Fort the vegetarian being forced to eat meat by wildly eccentric chef he worked for. I loved the continual movie, comic and all around geek references.  At times, Iron Night was laugh out loud funny.  The pacing of this story was absolutely excellent and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I want to know where this story is going and to continue on the journey of Fort's transition from a partially human vampire to full vampire in his own right.  I am even more excited to see where his relationship with Suzume goes. Iron Night hits so many right notes that it is a an absolute pleasure to read, even with the aforementioned faults.

Editor's note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley