Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hunted (House of Night #5) by P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast

After a series of dubious events force Zoey and her people back to the House of Night after they managed to escape in the last book they are left only with a random series of poems to guide them to finally drive off Kaloma.

Yes, it’s time for another House of Night book, inflicted on me by Cyna and Mavrynthia, who will either be co-defendants in my trial for trying to annihilate humanity for no longer deserving to exist, or will be the people I blame in my defence. I intend to use this link spam in my defence argument.

Let’s start small – this book is utterly overwhelmed with stand-alone-stuffing. I’ve said before that this series treats their readers as having the intelligence of algae – every book feels the need to recap every single book that has passed before. By the time we get to book 8 it will be 10,000 pages long and only 100 pages of it will be actual plot, the rest will be endless, painful, dull recap

Which pretty much sums up well over 100 pages of this book. We have a brief introduction of the Red Fledglings, most of them who are nothing more than a name (and the one who isn’t, frankly, would probably be preferable as a name). Zoey and Erik begin their relationship do-si-do and they all do… nothing. They hide in the tunnels, safe from their enemies that hates going underground. They have no idea what to do but they’re safe unless they go outside and are attacked by their enemies.

Which Zoey promptly does. Of course she does. In a desperate, forced attempt to move this limping plot forward, Zoey abandons even her limited supply of common sense. She gets injured, they belatedly decide they simply have to return to the House of Night for REASONS so we can try and drag out a storyline

I say try. Because when they get there they do…. They do… uh… well Zoey and Stark connect and then they escape. That’s pretty much it until the very last chapter. It’s one bizarre distraction which was really all about Stark and the clumsy relationship and terrible love dodecahedron (more on that later).

The one attempt at a plot line is the prophecy of how to get rid of Kaloma the big bad, brought by Kramisha, the convenient source for more Nyx “wisdom”. Like the last book, this prophecy involves everyone scratching their head about how impossible it is – only Nyx has even less faith in her minions than I do! Rather than suffer Zoey & co struggling to figure it out, she again plays Irritable Bowel Goddess and gives Zoey her special “feelings” whenever she’s right. Honestly when deciding what special people they need to banish Kaloma they didn’t even need the prophecy – they just needed to read the phone book aloud and wait until Nyx started churning

“Aaron A Aaronson? No Nyxy feeling, not him… next!”

Of all the bafflingly awful parts of this book, I think Nyx baffles me the most. Sure it’s not the most offensive, it’s not the most vile, but it’s the part that makes the least sense.

Kaloma and Neferet take over the school and possibly plot to take over the High Council. The kill the last High Priestess and then use woo-woo to stop the rest of vampirekind from finding out…. All of which would be utterly impossible if Nyx would do something. Let’s be clear, Nyx isn’t an aloof god – she constantly gives Zoey psychic feelings, she constantly sends them visions and prophecies, she even appeared last book to have a 10 minute conversation with Zoey and Aphrodite. She’s quite a chatty goddess. But she couldn’t appear before the teachers and say “nope, naughty bad guy!”? She couldn’t send a memo to the high council or something?

And don’t give me the “free will” excuse. Refusing to send a memo while the whole school is mind controlled into being happy little drones, even accepting and welcoming a rapist among them cannot possibly be excused in the name of “free will.”

Brace yourself readers, we’re now entering the dread pit known as Zoey’s love life.

And I’m going to start by saying something almost positive (well, it’s less “positive” and more “my expectations are so utterly lowered that anything being less than completely awful is an amazing relief”). Zoey and Erik end up back together (more on that later) and Erik is much more pushy with his attentions, his kisses more sexual. Zoey, probably rightly, assumes he is now initiating sex because she is no longer a virgin and there’s that nasty idea that once a woman has had sex with one woman she is somehow now “fair game” – in the same way a woman’s sexual history is often attacked in rape trials. Zoey is quick to realise and reject the idea that because she had sex with Loren means Erik is now in a stronger position to cross that same line. Which is good

Except she never actually vocalises any of this or challenges Erik. So he makes a move on her… and she draws away. He backs off, but it’s less “I’m out of line” and more “wait, softly, don’t drive her away” because he then tries again later. It’s not respecting the barriers she raises, it’s him stepping carefully so she doesn’t make her “no” too firm. It’s like a hunter stalking their prey or taming a wild animal more than actual respect.

Now to Erik and Zoey’s rekindling their relationship – which basically involves Zoey and Erik deciding the other is hot so they’re basically going to just move past all the bullshit between them – Zoey’s infidelity, Erik’s repeated public humiliation of her – all of it is completely ignored because hawtness (let’s face it, Erik has no other personality at all).

Venturing into this new relationship with a man who has already made it extremely clear that he has no wish to be anything other than monogamous Zoey promptly dances into the middle of her miserable love dodecahedron.

And let’s be clear here – this is not the depiction of a healthy polyamorous relationship even if we’re clearly building up to a reveal that High Priestesses have several men in their lives. Zoey rekindled her relationship with Erik – after they broke up after her infidelity no less – on the understanding that they were monogamous. In fact, Erik’s character is defined by his jealousy and anger about Zoey with other men – it’s quite literally his sole personality trait. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this relationship is healthy and if Zoey decides to end it because Erik is a controlling, obsessive arsehole who needs a swift kick to the yin-yangs then yes I would completely agree. But pursuing a relationship with someone you KNOW was hurt by you being with another man and then kissing another man within hours of that fresh start is not good for any relationship- and more than a little arseholish.

Part of the problem for this is Zoey’s odd understanding of attraction and the overwhelming slutshaming that permeates this series. She seems to believe that if she likes a guy/is in a relationship with a guy then she should not be attracted to any other guys ever. While that is often presented as our sexist and anti-sex society’s moral ideal, very few people are actually like that. But not only does Zoey repeatedly shame herself for daring to be attracted to other men – but she seems incapable of the idea of saying no to a relationship with a guy she finds attractive, like attraction automatically makes the relationship unavoidable. She may be in a relationship with Erik, but she’s attracted to Heath – so why would she object to him kissing her (in front of Erik no less?) twice? Why would she not kiss Stark back when he kisses her – that would involve saying no. That would involve something resembling self control. That would involve a concept of cheating that recognises the first step of cheating is ACTING not FEELING. That would involving respecting the people you’re in a relationship with and the promises you made to them

It’s also essential for the clumsy moral lesson that this book desperately tries to make – that we can all make good choices. And it fails. Oh gods it fails. It fails with Zoey because her difficult “good” choice is saying no to Kaloma. The big terribad evil who is hot and (of course) finds Zoey compelling. The only way saying no to this guy is in any way an achievement or moral triumph is if you’ve already established that Zoey finds it nearly impossible to say no to a hot guy who shows an interest in her.

Despite this awfulness, it pales next to the moral trainwreck that is Stark and the Red Fledglings, he bad naughty vampires. Stark has returned from the dead (predictably) and becomes an arsehole. No, let’s not be subtle about this. He becomes a rapist, a predatory, vicious, self-obsessed, violent rapist. And, in a stunning moment of actual clarity, Zoey’s gang of servile minions condemns him for his awfulness

Zoey thinks they’re terrible mean and judgemental because of it (because he’s hot and interested in her of course. This is Zoey’s morality). Because Stark deserves another chance, Stark deserves forgiveness and redemption and to kiss Zoey repeatedly and spend all night in her bed – never mind actual actions. Never mind the people he hurt. Never kind the complete lack of any attempts to address this – Zoey is trying to redeem him from the very first second. She doesn’t even pause to consider what he’s done – his redemption is all she cares about and is quickly achieved by the end. This was clearly always intended – because he was introduced as “the Bad Boy.” Despite nothing about him being the “bad boy” until he dies, is reborn and becomes a rapist. This whole sexy bad boy persona is BUILT around him being a rapist.

While we’re considering the awfulness of Stark’s redemption we need to look at Stevie-Ray and the other Red Vampires; who ate at least one homeless person. The whole gang treats this as… an unfortunate and embarrassing incident. Like that office party where you got sloppy drunk and threw up on the boss's shoes. It’s super-duper embarrassing but not evil, right? They seems to alternate between dismissing the incident as an embarrassing faux pas, or being disgusted because it was a HOMELESS PERSON. Let’s stress this – whenever they talk about this person Stevie-Rae ate they emphasise they were a homeless person. Nor a person, not a human – a homeless person (with the undertone of how icky and dirty that is) – both disposable and repulsive.

That leaves us one more horror to face – the depiction of marginalised characters.

Shaunee, the series recurring WOC, a Black woman and walking Sassy-Black-Woman stereotype (which isn’t even remotely made better by her having a white clone who duplicates all of these stereotypical mannerisms) continues to be awful with little real role or presence or personality. She does regularly refer to herself as a food stuff (caramel, coffee, etc) in between her quips. And yes, she will mention her race fairly frequently given the lack of any actual role in the book because how else can you get maximum useage from a token.

She is now joined by Kramisha, another Black woman, complete with this author’s idea of how Black people talk. Their terrible, terrible, terrible idea of how Black people talk. It’s sassy, it’s angry, it’s aggressive and it’s pretty cringeworthy. Kramisha is also sure to mention the race of everyone around her – this white guy, that white boy, etc just in case we forget she’s Black for a moment. We also have a briefly mentioned Hispanic guy who is “thuggish” with “sagging pants”

And why is Kaloma white anyway? If he’s a fallen angel who took up with Native Americans and part of a Native American history and mythology?

Then there’s Jack and Damian – who can’t do anything without mentioning they’re gay, usually in the most awful stereotypical way. Whether it’s Kramisha calling them gay-white boys, to huge amounts of stereotypical assumptions based on their sexuality, to the Twins’ new habit of calling Damian “Queen Damian”.  Of course, Zoey always introduces them as gay on first meeting – because it’s never ever their choice whether they come out or not. Oh and Heath throwing around “gay” as an insult. And Jack? He faints, he weeps, he cries and screams, he’s derided as weak but he can gift-wrap! We have a “very gay squeal” I cringe every time his name is mentioned.

Throw in lots of slut shaming and girl hate (there’s “ho” “slut” and “bitch” merrily scattered around), actually comparing themselves to Martin Luther King (no, really), some gross ableism (“special needs” as an insult, really?)

Her grandmother is still around and she herself is Cherokee – which is all there for woo-woo! Yes, special special woo-woo. Mythology, magic, curses and blesses, woo-woo, woo-woo, woo-woo. I long one day to find a Native American accountant.

Really, I have to say this whole book is… so very very very typical. And now I have the next one to look forward to…