Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Burned (House of Night #7) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Zoey’s soul has been shattered but, sadly, because my suffering has not ended that means everyone is running around trying to save her.

Meanwhile Stevie Rae is determined to make even worse relationship decisions than Zoey. That sounds like a near impossible task, but she is up to the challenge.

This book is… so very typical of the House of Night series.

We have a plot line that completely rests on Zoey even though it really should be about someone else – Heath. Heath is the one who died – but no, it’s all about Zoey and her shattered soul. Y’know, I’d be a teeny tiny bit of sympathetic towards her if every last death in this series wasn’t all about her. Heath just follows Stark and Stevie Rae as yet another death that was all about precious precious Zoey.

So with Zoey properly centred as all important, nearly everyone else (except Stevie Rae, which we’ll come to) runs around trying to help her. This involves, inevitably, cryptic clues, poetry and everyone spending far far far far far too long trying to interpret everything because Nyx is incapable of being clear and the rest of the cast don’t have two brain cells between them.

Of course all of this happens with Neferet and Kalona planning terrbad naughty things and with Neferet manipulating the Council to try and make them believe she’s still on team good guy. And Nyx, while happy to send cryptic poetry, happy to send prophecies, happy to have little conversations with Aphrodite and Zoey and is even willing to slap Kalona upside the head in the Otherworld. But she STILL cannot bring herself to send her precious High Council a memo, or informative bowel problems or anything. Seriously, you’d think they’d be due a text or something. A tweet. Smoke signals, carrier pigeons (or raven monsters) something, anything. Nyx is trolling, pure and simple.

But while we’re discussing Kalona let’s touch on the intolerable retcon and redemption we can see hoving into view with inevitable awfulness: Kalona is going to be redeemed. I know this is coming because we spent time in this book AGAIN saying how sad and tortured poor Kalona is with an added side dish of how terribad evil Neferet is. Yes, she is definitely promoted to biggest of big bads and directly connected to the Darkness more than Kalona (more than that later) and is even imprisoning and forcing the poor tortured evil Kalona. I’ve said before, this series is much much more invested in having a female villain. The last two books have tried very hard to downplay Kalona’s villainy while bigging up Neferet’s awfulness.

Now some sensible people would say that Kalona, a rapist and multiple murderer can’t possibly be redeemed. To which I say, oh sensible person why are you even reading this book?!

I don’t even know if it’s worth even poking this damn plot. I mean Zoey goes to the Otherland with her shattered soul and puts it together. I’d like to say that this was an interesting story in which Zoey confronted all the different aspects of her personality and ritually murdered each terrible one but that would be a lie – we have three bits which wave and lo, done. There’s no conflict or development. Zoey goes form “waaah I can’t put my soul together” to “ok putting my soul together now” by just… trying harder.

Most of the plot is consumed by the dullness of Stevie Rae’s love life and the attempt to portray some desperate conflict with the House of Night which basically involves Stevie Rae occasionally meeting people, losing all patience with them within seconds and without them really saying anything and then storming out. It’s like the authors really want to portray her as getting sick of the establishment and storming out – but doesn’t have the patience to actually write the storyline because, really, it’s all about the love life

Stevie Rae has looked at the hot trainwreck mess of Zoey’s relationship and said that she can totally trump it (but probably with more folksy aphorisms because the way she speaks is so terrible I think the whole state of Oklahoma should declare war on the Casts. Or, at least, the book should come with a Gibberish Hillbilly to English dictionary). Yes, her imprint with Rephaim the evil bird monster has turned into a full blown romance. Of course, this being a House of Night book we can’t possibly have just one love interest for our pseudo-protagonist – so she’s already being followed around by the electric Red Fledgling Dallas (so called because he has absolutely no personality at all but instead has a shiny special magic power which kind of makes up for not having a personality right?).

Like her precious Zoey she decides the best way to deal with a love triangle is to sneak around behind the back of your boyfriend while you establish a relationship elsewhere. Of course, this would make her an utterly terrible person so, in proper House of Night fashion he transforms into an utter monster so Stevie Rae manages to keep on being the good guy. It’s very very helpful that the love interests in this book are always willing to start mining to the depths so the protagonists can cling to their moral high ground.

This may also explain why they’re attracted to the most evil possible guys around. Zoey got her redeemed rapist (aaargh, why do I even have to type that phrase?) who has pretty much set himself up as her one and only - so Stevie Rae decides she’s going to fall in love with and bond Rephaim, the inhuman, murdering Raven Monster

I just can’t wait until the next book when, if we’re following Zoey’s patter, Stevie Rae declares everyone judgmental meanings for not accepting her super evil love interest as a good guy.

There’s another issue with this imprint – Stevie Rae is sexually and romantically attracted to Rephaim because woo-woo imprint (also, can we say again how Nyx magically connects guys to the women so they don’t actually have to pursue their own love interests which means it’s totally ok they’re all naughty bad evil?). Stevie Rae previously imprinted Aphrodite and, as Cyna pointed out, the whole cast practically jumped up and down yelling “no homo no homo no homo no homo no homo!” at the very idea that Aphrodite and Stevie Rae may have be attracted because of the woo-woo. This is repeated this book with Stevie Rae making it super-duper clear that she’s not gay and totally not attracted to Aphrodite ever not for one moment. Ok, not gay let’s swallow how very very hard they try to convince us of that – but then consider that she IS developing those sexy feelings for the Raven Monster. (Cyna has also provided a picture of said Raven Monster. It haunts my dreams so you must all click the link and have it haunt yours). Stevie Rae has a thing for feathers it seems.

And I suppose I need to talk about the new edition to the cannon – the Light and the Darkness, good and evil (which nicely shits all over the previous insistence that making dark bad and light good is narrow and simplistic – hence the whole Nyx being goddess of night but not evil) which involves people actually not knowing what a bull is (no, really, she feels the need to explain that a bull is a male cow because the authors really have this little respect for the intelligence of their target audience). There’s really not much more to say there – there’s a big evil darkness and a big good light. It’s a speculative fiction staple, naughty darkness, nice lightness. There’s nothing especially original about this except the clumsy way it’s retconned in: the whole idea that this whole religion of good and evil fell out of fashion is because all this conflict is all “masculine” while the vampire high council is a Matriarchy. This Matriarchy comes with a super-duper rigid set of gender roles apparently.

Which, of course, makes it almost amusing when Stevie Rae tries to call out Dallas for being upset that he can’t protect her. I mean, it’s supposed to be a “rawr I am woman I don’t need a man to protect me” moment, but since book one this series has had this Matriarchy rigidly declare that men get physical gifts and protect the women. They’re protectors, warriors, guardians - over and over again this is repeated and then you turn round and try to call it out?

But his does segue into, technically, an improvement: the terrible awful treatment of POC and gay characters is, technically, better. I don’t say “improved” because that’s a lie. Even more than the last book, the “nerd herd” has become less and less involved, more and more absent. It does mean when they’re referred to it’s still terrible – but usually they’re not referred to at all. They’re a footnote and, thankfully, there’s a limit to how much of a hot mess a footnote could be. Kramisha remains the most prominent POC – who plays poet, prophet and sounding board for Stevie Rae. I mean she’s more prominent than most, but that’s because she’s lackie-in-chief

I find myself disappointed by this book. It’s terrible, but it’s very predictably terrible – mangled cannon, terrible writing, awful portrayals, a plot line that makes no sense, a ridiculous Zoey focus, a train wreck of a “romance” and a general urge to strangle everyone. I don’t hope for the series to get better, but I would rather like it to be terrible in original ways.