Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tempted (House of Night #6) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

It’s time for another House of Night book, yes my epic suffering continues

Here we have an evil plot to take over all vampire society and doubtlessly do bad evil things – but far more importantly we have to spend an age battling with Zoey’s endless love dodecahedron. This eclipses doing any actual plot line. Oh and Stevie Rae decides to lose her ever loving mind and find yet another irredeemable evil to redeem. Of course she does.

The desperate, awful, contrived theme of this book is “choice” and making the right choice. This was kind of touched on in the last book and now has been taken to new, utterly awful, appalling levels. So the whole point of the Red Fledglings is because they made the right choice which made them good little vampires. Or there’s the whole conflict with the Raven Mocker and, again, choice.

So, here’s the theme – making the right choice to be a good little Nyxy follower

Now the problems, firstly this “making the right choice” comes with a clumsy and pretty offensive retcon. Previously we knew Kalona came to the House of Night and managed to get everyone to worship and obey him because he used woo-woo. Mind control allowed him to take over the House despite how clearly dubious the whole thing was – and only a few managed to resist because they had sufficient woo-woo to do so. Even Zoey’s band of sycophants had to fight against his pull and they managed that because of their woo-woo

Now, instead of woo-woo they make a big thing of choice and outright blaming people for making the wrong choice. There’s a whole lot of judgement of people who continued to follow Kalona and Neferet because they made the “wrong choice” – but that support goes up to and includes actually murdering a teacher. So what is it now? Are these students and professors mind controlled (and we’re blaming them for “choosing” to be controlled?!) or did they, of their own free will, decide that a raven monster killing one of their teachers was totally ok? Whichever way you look at it, it makes no sense. It’s there only so Zoey & co can be morally superior to their mind controlled fellows

But this goes to much much much worse levels when we consider Becca. Becca was the girl who Stark (the new redeemed Red Vampire) raped – something Cyna covered in her excellent take down of fucking Stark here. Becca was assaulted by Stark and he would have raped her if Darius and Zoey hadn’t stopped him. She was then mind controlled into forgetting and promptly turned into a mean girl so Zoey could get on with redeeming Stark. Now, Becca is back, and she is the terribad awful mean girl who hates Zoey because Becca just can’t make the Right Choices. Because that’s how it’s framed now – Becca is a terrible, weak, awful person because she’s not making the Right Choice.

We have zero sympathy for the rape victim, have demonised her and are outright blaming her for her victimisation (for making a bad choice!) while Stark is now firmly on team good guy. This is when I’d normally call for killing everything with fire but I fear the air pollution it would cause.

But let’s look at this redemption mess – because ye gods is it awful. See, we already have Stark the rapist now declare himself to be Zoey’s warrior and because he has made a “good choice” (i.e. joined Zoey’s sycophant team which absolves him of everything) and all his bad actions are now redeemed but now we also have Rephraim.

Rephraim the Raven Mocker. Rephraim the Child of Kalona. Rephraim who has killed or tried to kill numerous people. Rephraim the enemy found weak and helpless – and Stevie Rae declares that she simply cannot cannot cannot bring herself to kill him because she can sense his HUMANITY and how can she possibly kill that humanity?

Now, don’t get me wrong, not killing a helpless enemy isn’t a bad thing. Being merciful, being kind, being empathetic, refusing to be cruel, valuing life – these are all precious traits and good to explore.

Except Stevie Rae is a killer. We’ve had numerous references to how she and the other Red Fledglings killed a homeless person – and regarded it as nothing more than an embarrassing, unfortunate incident, a faux pas which is oh-so-awkward. There are still at least 3 other Red Fledglings out there who are still out there killing people eating them and Stevie Rae not only leaves them unsupervised to go about killing and eating – but when they talk about it she just brushes over it. She skips past the topic with, perhaps, mild disapproval at best – certainly no outrage or worry about someone’s humanity.

For that matter, what about the Black men that Zoey so casually killed and then didn’t spend more than two seconds feeling sad about this guy

So, no, I’m not exactly going to praise the agonising over the humanity of the vicious, evil Raven monsters when none of them have so much as spent 10 seconds together worrying about the humanity of the now demonised Becca, or those nameless Black stereotypes, or the often dismissed and demeaned homeless people that Stevie Rae snacked on. I’m not going to celebrate the agonising over the life of another monster while innocent bodies have been scattered in their wake - in fact it’s an insult to all those dead and victimised people that they finally decide to realise the value of life when confronted with an evil Raven-monster

Who they then start to walk down the path of redemption! Which means we’ll have another load of victims hastily brushed under the rug for the sake of a character’s rapid joining of team good guy. And while we at it, let’s add extra awful of how the Raven Mockers are evil because they’re products of rape.

While we’re at it, let’s look at some of the people on the various bad guy teams:

Kalona – who we spend most of the book with Zoey umming and awwwing because she wants him to be redeemed as well! Yes, of course she does! Because he’s hot (yes, we will return to the tortuous morass of awful hat is her love life later). He even gets a sympathetic back story.

Neferet – evil with a capital E. While Kalona is considered redeemable, no-one even spends a second considering that the former High Priestess may rejoin team good. In fact, in the last book and even this book Kalona’s evil is repeatedly blamed on her – she is presented as corrupting and possibly leading Kalona astray

Nicole – leader of the rogue Red Fledglings. Evil, despite a couple of requests (well, threats actually – yes threats) redeeming her is not high on anyone’s agenda. She’s evil and even scares her fellow rogues

Venus – Venus is Aphrodite #2, a woman who exists entirely for Zoey to hate, to be sexual (therefore evil), dare to go for Zoey’s men (because, of course, Zoey can have multiple love interests but someone even looking at her ex is a slutwhorejezebel) and is generally straight from Mean Girl central casting.

Aphrodite – has now joined team good guy – but only by debasing herself at every turn. The last three books have had multiple instances of Aphrodite saying what a terribad, awful person she was and how much she hates herself and is totally unworthy of anything. Aphrodite is one of the rare women who is allowed to be redeemed or considered redeemable like the men only by engaging in constant mea culpas and self-punishment which none of the men have had to endure. It’s also worth noting that when Aphrodite was terribad evil, she was sexual – she had sex. She even outright denounces her past sexual behaviour as a desperate need of control. Now she’s good? She’s chaste, because her relationship with Darius is “purer” than sex (because this book so loathes all things sexual). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Darius (a man in his mid-twenties) and Aphrodite (a 17-18 year old girl) to enter a sexual relationship (but then, him declaring his eternal bonded love to her is hardly better) but the contrast between evil sexual Aphrodite and good, chaste Aphrodite is gross and obvious.

Stark has never had to endure such self-flagellation. His only angst is whether his Red Vampireness will be able to properly protect the sainted Zoe.

The redemption of men vs the redemption of women is increasingly blatant.

Alas, it’s time for a depressing trip into Zoey’s awful love life – and that includes the awfulness of Erik.

Erik is a mess. His sole personality trait is his overwhelming, raging jealousy. It’s vicious, it’s all consuming and all he cares about. No matter what epic events are happening, what he cares about is always being Zoey’s one and only. He’s always stomping and whining and angsting and attacking Zoey – including attacking Zoey for Kalona being interested in her. Yes, the big bad guy stalking Zoey is totally Kalona’s fault.

Of course, narratively he HAS to be terribad awful. Because if he isn’t almost cartoonishly terrible then there’s no way that Zoey can have the moral high ground. If he weren’t cartoonishly awful, there’s no way that Zoey couldn’t be the bad guy. She cheated on him which ended their relationship. She then re-entered that relationship on the understanding they would be monogamous – and continually pursued relationships with two other men, Heath and Stark. She repeatedly sleeps with other men, she kisses other men over and over again. She doesn’t make even the slightest token effort to respect him or follow through on that pledge of fidelity.

I say again, this is not a good representation of polyamoury. Not least of which because both Stark and Heath now have woo-woo reasons to be connected to Zoey (therefore “justifying” the relationships with Nyxy seals of approval). But mainly because none of the men involved want a polyamorous relationship – they’re connected to Zoey largely through woo-woo reasons or her own promise of a relationship, all of them want to be her one and only, she even promises that to Erik – while she continues to maintain romantic or quasi romantic relationships with all three.

Erik has to be an arsehole, otherwise there’d be no way to distract from how outrageously Zoey is behaving.

Oh and can we have a special prize for Zoey being JEALOUS of Stark feeding on someone else. The hypocrisy is stunning. I mean, it takes a special kind of arrogance to even dare to be jealous in this context

This is all linked to Zoey’s eternal conflict to Kalona and the epic struggle of actually not running away with your libido. Just because you’re attracted to someone, especially someone morally repugnant, doesn’t mean not following through with that attraction is so epicly impossible. Zoey’s “struggle” with her being “drawn” to Kalona is cringeworthy. Yes, he’s hot. Deal with it. It would help if Nyx would actually get involved

Speaking of – on to Nyx and the whole terrible plot

Let’s look at Neferet’s Master Plan and how it all rests on the complete uselessness of Nyx.

See, Neferet has decided to declare herself Nyx incarnate, Kalona is Erebus and wants the vampire High Council to make her the new boss. Obviously this would completely fail because Nyx would naturally buzz in and say a loud “not true, you lying liars who lie! Bad, naughty, wrong!”

Except… she doesn’t. Of course she doesn’t. Because Nyx never does get involved – except to direct Zoey’s every move, give her prophecy through two different cryptic prophets (yes, two) and give her random certainties (honestly half the time Zoey and now even Stevie-Rae just KNOW things because NYX and because it saves them having to think or research or use their brains at all) and, of course, the constant stomach cramps and rumblings that guide Zoey’s every move.

Give me one, just one, logical reason why Neferet wouldn’t arrive at the council and the whole council wouldn’t get vast amounts of Nyx stomach cramps?! She should have arrived, been chased out within 10 minutes, then the whole council should have had to retreat to baths and clean underwear.

Time to cling to one vague, desperate attempt at a positive. The treatment of Kramisha, Shaunee, Jack and Damian is better. Not because they’re treated with anything resembling respect but because they’re just mentioned less. The author’s inattention ensures that we are spared the immense awfulness which is every word they say, every time they’re described or, in fact, every time they appear or are referenced. It’s sad that the depiction of marginalised people approaches more tolerable simply because they’re more ignored. That’s the ultimate “pass at writing marginalised people” right there. Oh it’s not free – we have Damian “looking gayer”, “gay boys” and referring to Jack as a girl/boyfriend as well as Aphrodite being insulted by calling her “Aphrodikey” (really). “Special needs/services” is also used as an insult. Shaunee is described as “cappuccino” and worried about being “scared white”, Heath and Erik throwing around “pussy” as an insult as well as lots of misogynist insults. And ye gods Zoey needed Damian to tell her what misogyny means.

Really, it says how BAD this series has been that this terribleness is actually a step up.

Part of lower rate of awful may come from all of the tiresome Stevie Rae point of view – she’s completely separate from everyone else and gets to inflict a terribly written accent with hokey vernacular that overwhelms her “narrative.” Honestly does anyone actually speak like this? Really?

I am impressed that it has found another way to be annoying. It plumbs new depths each time.