Friday, February 5, 2016

Night Storm, Alterations #3 (Alterations #3) by Jen Greyson

At the end of Shadow Boxer, Tiana, Evy's little sister and new lightening rider has come under the influence of  Penya.  Evy is quick to blame herself and is desperate to get her sister back no matter the cost.  Constantine, the ancient Roman fighter who loves Evy desperately and refuses to see her at risk, volunteers to travel with Evy to find Tiana.  The only problem is that they don't know where in time Tiana is. When Constantine and Evy learn from Ilif, that Penya plans to alter the life of  Augusta Ada Byron - a mathematician and scientist, whose work went unrecognized due to her gender, they become determined to end Penya's so-called evil plot.  However, even if they find the right Augusta, London is a pretty large place to have to search without any real clues.  Can they get to Tiana before she completely becomes Penya's pawn?

Penya is the antagonist in this series and yet I find it striking that she constantly seeks out women who because of sexism never reached their full potential in life.  Instead of seeing her as evil, it made me wonder how much further humanity might have advanced if it were not for patriarchy.  For so long, women were barred from education and the little they did get were largely arts and language focused and certainly not much math and science.  Whatever women managed to produce was largely ignored, unless they managed to get it published under a pen name and work had to be done with little funding and certainly for many in secrecy. It's hard to see Penya as evil for wanting to change this.
“Ada is far more genius than the men working on the first computers. This opportunity will allow her the freedom to express herself scientifically, to show off her mathematical genius , and to prove that women should never have to hide behind their initials.” 
Tiana blinked and frowned. She didn’t know much about Penya other than what Evy had told her— which wasn’t a lot— but Penya sounded like her friend Sasha’s mom after the divorce. She’d turned all wounded-bird about her soon-to-be ex, went all women’s lib weird and she was always telling Tiana and Sasha that they needed to embrace their womanhood and not take orders from men. It made Tiana feel uncomfortable and strange. Penya was as manic as Sasha’s mom on a tirade right now. 
“That’s really great.” Thankfully, Sasha had figured out the best way to deal with her mom and Tiana used it now. “It sounds like you want to make things better for her and for all girls.” Tiana pressed her clasped hands to her chest like she’d seen Sasha do.
“Thank you.” Penya preened. “You’ll do just fine, Tiana. Just fine."
Night Storm is confusing.  From the very beginning of this series, it is strongly suggested that Ilif is not to be liked or tolerated, largely based on his rampant sexism.  Ilif is dismissive of Evy instantly and is quick to point out that before her, there had never been another female lightening rider.  Then when we have Penya, who actively works through history to improve the lives of women and it is heavily implied that her passion is weird and manic.  Every gain women have made throughout history has had to be fought for and therefore I don't see her passion as out of place at all.  For her trouble, she is murdered by Constantine and slut shamed by Iliaf.  Thanks for that Greyson.

Then there is our protagonist Evy, who is just one mass confusion. In Lightening Rider, the first book in this series, Evy is tough and jaded from having to constantly negotiate sexism but she has changed so much that I barely recognize her. On one hand she tells Constantine not to fight her battles for her after her argument with Ilif but just moments later is swearing to obey Constantine.
“Though we are in a time closer to yours, one I know nothing about, I need to know that you’ll obey me. I cannot keep you safe otherwise.”
I close my eyes and relax into the solidity of him. My fingers drop to his wrist and encircle his forearm. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“And the rest?”
“I’ll do what you say.”It’s not difficult to submit to him, to what he needs to hear from me. I’ve had enough of being on my own and being in danger. I don’t like it. Not at these stakes…and now that I’ve endangered Tiana, I’m more willing to follow his lead in this. I’ve tried battling Penya on my own and managed to blow up my own apartment in the process.
 His arm tightens. “Unless nothing, understand? There is no condition to that request. I do not care what situation we encounter, I am here to keep you safe.”
“What if—”
“No. No ifs. You know that I will let no harm come to you, correct?”
I nod, wanting to ask him what he’d do if the choice was saving me or Tiana, but I know the answer, so I press my lips together and swallow. I asked him to come protect me, to come help me, to be my other half on this wild rider trip and I have to let him do it. Even when it threatens to destroy me."
Evy is woman who has a history of bristling under patriarchal control and yet she suddenly agrees to obey because she loves Constantine? It makes absolutely no sense.  Constantine who is from Ancient times, has even less idea how the 18th century functions than Evy.  Why would it make sense for her to obey him, rather than for him to follow her lead? Yes, he is a great fighter but one does not run around brandishing swords in the the 18th century or wear sandals. Constantine doesn't even understand the social niceties of the era that they are exploring. But yeah, Evy has to obey though Constantine is the equivalent of a fish out of water.

If that were not enough, the purpose of this book is for Evy to find and save her sister Tiana and if at all possible put a stop to Penya. To accomplish this, she has to go back in time and meet a younger version of Constantine and somehow convince him to help her. I understand that Evy and Constantine are soulmates but Evy cannot stop thinking about having sex with him for five minutes. Evy knows that Constantine is engaged and has to marry his wife in order from him to produce a child which will then go on to be the fore-mother of a great scientist, but Evy is jealous.  If Evy is so worried about Tiana, how come she can barely stop thinking with her vagina for even five minutes? A woman comfortable with her sexuality and her body is a good thing but thinking about sex when someone you supposedly love is in life or death situation just makes you a horrible person.

Constantine is definitely a man of his times. He is arrogant, sure of abilities and certain that his role is to protect Evy, even when he's in a situation clearly beyond his understanding.  He apparently is bright enough to understand scientific principles way beyond his time period to which I call bullshit. Constantine has not even seen electricity, yet he somehow understands the basics of Tesla's work when explained to him by Ilif? I call epic bullshit.  Then there's this:
"Constantine’s honor might prevent them from raping me, but I’m an idiot for walking into a tavern. Also, it’s highly unlikely that I swiped these clothes from a high-born woman’s house, so I’m probably wearing the exact wrong thing. That’s what I get for trying to plan instead of rushing in like a barbarian and making my plea."
Okay, Constantine is so exceptional that he understands difficult scientific principles but only refrains from raping Evy because of honour?  Greyson cannot have it both ways. Constantine is either a man of his times or he is exceptional all the way around.  Not raping a woman should be the default position and not something that should be seen as honorable.  Now, if he is a man of his times, rape would be no big deal for him at all.  This is yet another example of the ways in which Greyson has become inconsistent with her characters.

One of the things I originally liked about this series was the strong female characters but now they seem to have completely disappeared.  Evy's mother wrings her hands and can only threaten not to cook for Ilif anymore if he fails to return her missing daughter.  Evy promises to obey Constantine and Penya is constructed as evil for her desire to change history so that women oppressed by patriarchy have a chance to reach their full potential.  Every positive gender aspect of this story that I liked so much in Lightning Rider has completely disappeared.

It's also worth noting that this is book 3 in the Alterations series and Greyson has yet to introduce an LGBT character or a disabled character.  Yes, the protagonist and the antagonist are both women of colour but beyond a scant few words in Spanish, Greyson has largely dropped her efforts to have Evy embrace her culture.  Now, everything is about her love/obsession with Constantine and saving Tiana, that is when she can take her eyes off of Constantine's ever so hot body.

I think it's fair to say that Greyson has just given up on this series altogether which is sad because it had a promising start.  Her characters are pretty much unrecognizable and inconsistent at this point. Even if I could get past that, Night Storm is only 178 pages long and 37% of that is spent on a deleted scene and promotion for Greyson's new series.  This is absolutely disrespectful to anyone who has paid for this pamphlet/advertising masquerading as a book.  At this point, I think it's fair to say that there's not much redeemable left in the Alterations series making it one of the fastest declining series I have ever come across.