Thursday, March 27, 2014

Circle of Desire (Damask Circle #3) by Keri Arthur

Katherine, raven shapeshifter and psychic, and her grandmother are hunting a new enemy of the Damask circle: some unknown and unseen force is kidnapping children. Their bodies turn up weeks after their disappearance – but they’re not just dead, their very souls have been consumed

Obviously, this has to stop. And with Damask circle resources stretched, any help they can get is very welcomed

Ethan is a police officer, his niece has been captured and he’s definitely ready to step up and join the hunt. As a werewolf he has a lot to offer – but he hates what he is and whatever fling he and Katherine has, he is determined for it not to develop into more. Here’s there to save his niece, not fall in love.

Interestingly, after I complained about the formulas of the last book, this book rather subverts them. Oh, he is still the physically superior, she is still the magical, less physical person (there are limits after all), but she is the one who is informed. Katherine is the one who understands about the supernatural and their nature and she is the one who both guides Ethan into the world of the supernatural and works to get him to accept his nature as a werewolf. She is the expert, she is the guide, she is the one who knows what is going on and, with her powers, she is the one who is probably the most dangerous of the two of them

Of course, in the past books those women were scared and traumatised by their true nature, while Ethan is enraged and angsty so while we break the pattern we still have the trope of the love of a good woman saving the broody man-who-has-been-hurt-by-the-ladies before.

That hurt-by-the-ladies can sometimes manifest itself as outright misogyny – one woman hurt him in the past so now all women cannot be trusted. Women are evil and conniving, women get pregnant to entrap decent menfolk with their wicked wicked wombs… I have no idea what Katherine sees in him beyond the hawtness

He also has a moment of, to say the least, careless language towards Katherine’s casual attitude to sex which comes across as slut-shamy, but she is very good at calling that out.

Unfortunately, while Katherine is, possibly, the stronger of the two she also needs rescuing at least twice and there is no real equivalent going the other way. It’s like the book couldn’t just let her be the stronger one, there had to be something to weaken her or put him in the role as white knight.

So there are some nicely subverted tropes – or, at least, patterns subverted – but some problems. The romance itself starts well in that both Katherine and Ethan are happy to have a casual fling and Katherine is certainly not a blushing virgin and has even had good sex before – all of which are nearly unheard of in the genre. But we have the woo-woo raising its head, with Ethan’s werewolf nature forcing him to have sex and creating a special lusty sex aura that affects all women around him in a frankly consent breaking and rape-esque manner. Ok, not with Katherine – she’s eager and willing, but even then, the fact the werewolf aura induces almost irresistible lust in all women around him means it’s virtually impossible for him to know whether any woman he sleeps with during the full moon actually consents to sex.

Other elements of the romance are standard – super-duper fast romance including the super-fast romance and lust. Seriously he’s talking about her amazing sexy voice while they’re battling a vampire on first meeting. There’s lots of “smelling desire” and sexy description in the most inappropriate moments. I’m going to have to read these books in a padded room for the times like these when I am sorely tempted to throw my tablet at a wall).

There’s another pattern in these books I missed last time that’s worth mentioning – an older, wiser woman to play mentor. But I really like this, older women are not common in the genre, and these women don’t all just stay at home and navel gaze, they’re quite willing to get in on the action when necessary as well. It’s a nice subversion.

Inclusionwise… it’s not good. We have one POC – the villain who is referred to as “oriental” and is, of course, stealing babies. Another villain is ambiguously possibly bisexual – which the author refers to as “not being choosey” and he is a sexual predator and a rapist. The problem is exacerbated because this isn’t the first time Kari Arthur has used possible-GBLTness as a short cut for perversion/sex predation and outside of these awful portrayals I’ve found no GBLT characters. Once is bad. Twice is extremely bad. Twice with no positive counter-examples? That’s inexcusable.

The story itself is fairly standard and fairly background the latter of which never feels right in these books. Here we have children who have been kidnapped and are doomed to die a terrible terrible death – and far too often Ethan and Katherien are distracted by each other’s issues or, far more often, each other’s sexiness to an extent that it felt monumentally self-absorbed while there were children under threat. The story wasn’t bad, but it was a fairly standard hunt-the-leads, follow-the-clues with the odd stroke of luck thrown in – it was meant to be a background to the romance and that’s what it ended up being. That’s not always a bad thing – a love story isn’t inherently a bad story (even with the tropes cluttering things up) but when the characters seem to spend as much or more time considering each other’s hotness, whether they’ll be together etc etc than they do about the small children who are literally having their souls eaten… it’s hard not to question those priorities.

In turn this means I just can’t engage with this fascinating world the way I would like to – because it doesn’t really matter if the characters were werewolves or shapeshifters or chasing demons or vampires or monsters or just a mundane human kidnapper – because everything is pushed so far back that the details become interchangeable.

We have some trope aversion in this book, which is nice compared to past formulas and Katherine is a nice character. But there are still some dogged tropes clinging on, some definite inclusion issues and a story that is forced far too much into the background and comes across as rather formulaic. It doesn’t make for an awful read or even a bad read – but it’s not close to a compelling read either.