Monday, May 5, 2014

Night Season (World of the Lupi #4) by Eileen Wilks

Cynna is a Finder, and a damn good one, able to find almost everything over a vast range. It’s a power that is high in desire – including by the Gnomish rulers of Edge, another realm that is now accessible after the magic flares.

The Realm is in danger – but the ambassadors from Edge are certainly not to be trusted and may have their own agenda.

On top of this, Cynna has to deal with her feelings on another matter – she’s pregnant, and the father is a sorcerer who is essential to their plan for Edge.

What I think is bothering me a little about this series is how out there we have suddenly been thrown. When the first book, Tempting Danger, in this series came along, we had Lily in San Diego, working with supernatural within the world, adapting, learning, revealing the world. Then in book 2, Mortal Danger, Lily is suddenly in a Hell dimension surrounded by demons and she’s split in 2 and it’s all kind of abruptly very new. Then book 3, Blood Lines we switched to Cynna and we’re up to our eyebrows in demons and alternate dimensions and magic waves and the whole world now under threat.

And now we’re travelling to Edge, a different dimension that resembled a high fantasy more than anything. And I kind of want to go back to Tempting Danger.

It’s not that I don’t like this direction of the books – but I need more time. I needed, maybe, 2 or 3 books between Tempting Danger before we reached Mortal Danger so I could spend some time getting to know Lily and werewolves and magic and Cynna – get to know the world before the whole world is dumped into a blender and mixed up so completely. I feel lost, I feel adrift – I needed more of a foundation before I was dragged off into these different world and fae and gnomes and magic and Ahk and whole new political systems. It’s not that this story was bad, by any stretch of the imagination – but I don’t know this world well enough to be read to have this many wrenches thrown into the works and I’m too adrift to keep running with it. I don’t know Cynna well enough for this. I don’t know the world, the magic, the entitles enough for this. Let me catch up!

Ok, the story… ok I was never actually bored reading it, I never wanted to stop and I never found it dull – but it’s a really basic quest story. Cynna, with her magic finding power, has to find the McGuffin (yes, I’m calling it that because it really is irrelevant what it is) which everyone else wants as well. So they head off. Occasionally they’re attacked, occasionally they batter from one person seeking McGuffin to the next, but it’s not really meaningful to our actual characters.

It’s not badly written, it’s not boring, it’s not poorly paced, but nor was it especially exciting with any real twists or deviations and the world it’s revealing through this is Edge – which is a different realm entirely so I’m not even that invested in the world building. The B plot is Cynna and Cullen’s love which, is nice and non-problematic… but also not especially complex or conflict laden (which isn’t a problem – a non-conflict laden romance is excellent) and doesn’t balance the very linear A plot.

Particularly since we follow Cynna. And I want to like Cynna, I really want to like her. She has a lot of interesting elements – she has a power that is not overblown but also useful. She’s capable, she’s intelligent. She has a complex background with a lot of class issues. She has her own non-conforming style, she’s still finding her feet but she is learning and growing, recognising her mistakes and trying to overcome.

But she rides this whole book with little agency. From the very minor – Lily rebuilding her wardrobe according to her bank balance and taste (and yes it’s well meaning and yes Lily is considered more fashionably able – but still it’s another choice Cynna isn’t making), through to the fact that everyone in Edge values her because of her super-special abilities; there’s very little of her own personality there – she’s a walking avatar of her power. She’s coerced from the very beginning – kidnap after kidnap and there’s never really a break away from that. And she’s not even really angry about that – which is especially wrong for a character who is repeatedly described as trapped and lashing out violently to burn off steam – she doesn’t seem especially angry about some of this coercion. None of the cast does – they don’t even demand any real sense of reparation. There’s one point where everyone is kind of concerned about one of the characters, Tash, a kidnapper and I just gape at the screen – why do they all care? Why are they invested in whether this character survives or is chopped into sushi?

She does get angry later against a different set of kidnappers, but it’s very much a futile anger. Even when she’s urged to take charge, she doesn’t – she just kind of follows the story along, occasionally complaining and fighting, but usually not. I kind of want more from her. I kind of want more from this world, more to be invested in this world since it’s so disconnected. There’s also her dad who is there for… reasons. And it’s all a big huge massive revelation to her… but she doesn’t really do anything with it.

I’m also having some problems with sexual politics of these books. We have the Lupi who are culturally promiscuous – they’re expected to have multiple partners and not just multiple relationships. They’re brought up to think of sexual jealousy as a shameful and dubious thing – which is an interesting twist. Except the Lupi are all straight and male. This is a rule – Lupi cannot be women and cannot be gay or bi, it’s inherent (why? Who knows, the goddess has problem with women and LGBT folks? In fact there are no LGBT folks in the story at all, just thrown homophobic insults) to which you dismantle this whole twist – because a culture that is totally fine with straight men sleeping around is hardly revolutionary. Especially since we now have two Lupi who have found their TWU LUV and become monogamous. Cullen doesn’t even have the woo-woo mate bond to justify it. So what we actually have is a trope where, even when culturally and mystically the werewolves are driven towards polyamory or promiscuity, they will become monogamous when REAL TWU LUV appears. Because that is how TWU LUV must look.

We had some POC at the beginning of the book – Lilly for one and quite a few around the side. Once we reach Edge there’s some background POC humans – but we’re almost entirely focused on Cynna and Cullen who are both White and they are by far the core of the story with all other humans kind of not very existent (and the ones that follow them are White). What the book has done is make some effort to racially diversify some of the alien species – the alien species are not racially homogenous. And the mystery couple running around is also part Native American. But she exists only for her special woo-woo.

Oh an aside on these two – Nathan and Kai are wandering around until they pull a Deus Ex out of their arse. I just boggle – why the hell are we following Cynna at all since these two are here? What kind of clumsy insert is this?

This story ends with me feeling that it could have done a lot better. The pacing is better than the flabby mess of the last book, but that’s about the only positive I can say. We got a fair chunk of world building – when I’m not really sure the world is relevant. Despite being in Cynna’s head the whole time, she wasn’t actually developed all that much or even did all that much. And I wasn’t invested in the characters’ quest because I was kind of waiting for Cynna, Ruben, Cullen – someone – to turn round and say “how fucking dare you?!” and demand at least a proper apology or something. It fell flat for me.