Friday, August 22, 2014

Dirty Little Misery (Miss Misery #2) by Tracey Martin

After her rather public exposure last book, Jessica receives an offer from the Gryphons – they want her to work with them as a consultant, using her unique gifts to catch criminals. For which she will be paid a generous salary – and not go to prison. It’s less an offer and more a demand with menaces.

And part of her “unique gifts” involve exploiting her friendship and connections with the satyrs – who are currently prime suspects in a series of grizzly, sex related murders.

The satyrs are not happy about this, nor overly happy with Jessica. And Jessica may finally be getting her dream job – but can she live with the strings attached? And is that her dream any more, especially as she learns more and more about what she is and the source of those oh-so-mysterious powers.

When reviewing a series that continues good elements it can be hard to write reviews of second and later books. I mean, how often can you write about the same world that continues to be compelling, unique and interesting? Ultimately it’s repetitive – but if the goodness keeps on going from book to book to book, then shouldn’t it continue to be mentioned? If you take the “good” as a given and only mention any new badness then your review looks negative undeservedly

This is my long winded way of trying to excuse being repetitive – because what I have to say about world building and story for this book are the same as for the first book. They’re unique, deep and fascinating. The pacing is excellent, the mystery very well drawn out and balanced; action scenes blend well with character building and exploration. Mental monologues provide enough information to both feel the world and the characters’ place within it without swamping out the actual activity. The plot is twisty without being twisted and complex without being convoluted

All of this is wonderfully shot through with some really good complexity that adds so much depth to the world building. Yes there are sexy satyrs – but the consequences and realities of sexy satyrs are considered. We’re not supposed to lust over them, we’re supposed to see their moral ambiguity in their powers, the exploitation and the fearsome control they have over people

We see a police force that is intrusive and gets in the way and we’re not just thinking of ways to cover it up – but asking questions about what’s being covered up, how to negotiate around the Gryphons and not just falling into the trap of demonising them

The whole thing has layers and complexities all with an exciting story with lots of twists back and forth to sell the whole thing. There’s a lot of good here

Jessica is a very real character to me and one that is surprisingly lacking in tropes – she has good friends (and female friends at that!), a supportive family (even if she isn’t as close as she’d like). She has a lot of moral conflicts, a lot of growth and some very reasonable flaws – even flaws that make me kind of not like her at times, but are very real to her character: Like the Satyrs

Jessica’s treatment of the satyrs annoyed me. In the last book, they went to bat for her. They risked a lot for her. They protected her, they housed her, they risked a seriously conflict with the other Preds for her. They owed her nothing but still gave and risked so much for her… and she doesn’t really acknowledge it in this book. She still regards them with hostility and suspicion. She doesn’t seem to realise any kind of debt she owes them nor even seriously consider that her being part of the Gryphons can be seen as a betrayal. Yes she had no choice – but she is still using her connection with the satyrs to gain information about them without ever really acknowledging what they’ve done for ever or even trying to be apologetic about it

I don’t know if it’s a terrible part of the character though. Jessica, like most humans in this world, has a strong fear and distrust of the Preds. And not entirely unreasonably, since they feed on humans and control them through their sin addictions. This is something she does have to work through with the book and something she does come to realise and adapt as the book progresses. It annoys me, but I think it’s not a bad part of the character – it’s an annoying part of a developed character; after all, not every character is going to be entirely likeable or made up of likeable traits. Or they shouldn’t be anyway. Jessica has unfortunate preconceptions about Preds, they’re not always fair and sometimes cause her to be a bit of an ungrateful arsehole sorely in need to a stern lecture – such is her character

On the other side of the scale, she has a wonderfully epic, ragey moment confronting someone who is behind her unusual nature. It’s epic, I cheered and it’s probably deeply, deeply unwise. A sensible character probably wouldn’t have done it – but I would have and I was behind her all the way.

There’s also some really interesting conflict about Jessica basically being blackmailed into working for the Gryphons. How do you react to being blackmailed into obtaining your childhood dream? She’s being forced, she’s being threatened and her choices are being taken which enrages her. But then, she had always wanted to work for the Gryphons and thought that dream could never be achieved… how do you react to being forced to do something you always wanted and never thought you could have? Not only is it really complex to pore over, it says a lot about Jessica and her character that her go-to reaction is anger and resentment – her need for control and agency are strong which in turn relates back to her fear and hatred of the Preds not only because of what they could do to her agency – but what they can do to others as well.

That feeds into a lot of moral conflict with how much she gives her tacit seal of approval to satyr behaviour, especially Lucen’s behaviour, while getting on her high horse about other satyrs and using it as an excuse to disdain them. Then there’s the conflict of the fact the satyrs – all preds – have to prey on their addicts to survive. Flip back the other way and all preds actually chose to become preds. It’s a knotty problem worth chewing over.

Then there’s her own powers and Steph and Olivia (head of the Gryphons) both calling Jessica out on the uses of her own powers and her soul trading activities – both of which have consequences, neither of which are moral. She’s launching a lot of stones from her glass house.

Then there’s the whole definition of monogamy and relationships when you’re a satyr.

In addition to the continuing theme of presenting satyrs and their magical sexiness as scary and disturbing and a horrifying theft of agency, there’s another element in this book – F. F is a drug that makes people unbelievably horny to the point where they have to have sex – and that sex is very good sex. And while many people use it recreationally between consenting adults the book first and foremost remembers just how dangerous this drug is in terms of a date rape drug – that’s the overwhelming message of it; it is so easy to violate consent and agency with this drug. Just like the satyrs, super sexiness is not considered a good thing when coupled with magically altered consent.

There’s a blind character in this book, a satyr, and she faces a lot of prejudice within her community. This prejudice has a full history and explanation within the satyr’s culture and is also very thoroughly called out as outrageous and disgusting by other characters. In addition, the character is very capable, skilled, an asset and sexual; so many disabled people are presented as completely lacking in sexuality. She is not – she is sexual, sensual and beautiful. In all, it’s one of the better presentations of prejudice even though she is not a major character.

In terms of LGBT representation all satyrs are bisexual inherently – or so it seems – but that’s also linked to them being satyrs (incubi/succubae); so we have the bisexuality linked with magical sexual predation and required promiscuity. 2 background, one shot Gryphons are both female and in a relationship. The main representation is Steph, Jessica’s best friend and a trans woman who fits no stereotypes, has a powerful moral compass and is generally pretty decent if rather forced to the periphery of Jess’s life. The problem is, I can’t recall any line in this book that made it clear Steph is trans, you have to remember the last book.

There are several POC in background scenes, like in the Gryphons, in the clubs, some of the victims, but the only main character I can remember is Dezzi – the leader of the satyrs. It’s not entirely dissimilar to promotion to obscurity – but Dezzi is an awesome leader; she’s tough, she’s capable, she doesn’t take any foolishness but nor does she refuse to listen and she clearly has compassion to go with any necessary ruthlessness. I just wish there was more of her and hope there will be in future books.