Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Of Shadow Born (Shadow World #4) by Dianne Sylvan

The unspeakable has happened.  At the end of Shadow's Fall, Jeremy broke David's signet, killing him and separating Miranda from her soulmate. Signet bearers are not meant out live each other and the grief nearly kills Miranda.  Were it not for the intervention of Stella, a witch and long time fan of her music, Miranda might well have died.  Deven and Johnathon show up to help Miranda run Haven and keep her sanity but all feel the grief and loss of David.  Fortunately for them all, David isn't actually dead, he has become something else - Thirdborn.  It seems Persephone has plans for her children and the pieces are being shifted into place.  It's not a moment to soon because the human group Morningstar has its own set of plans for the vampire world which are guaranteed to be a game changer.

Miranda's grief was really well written and her pain was at times difficult to read.  Deven did show up to help her mourn David's loss but I felt that Miranda's pain far over shadowed his. I know that one could argue that Miranda and David were soulmates and that Deven's soulmate is Johnathon; however, Sylvan has made a repeated point of reminding us just how much Deven and David love each other and therefore I really felt like Deven's pain shouldn't have been so overshadowed.

It's a measure of exactly how much that Miranda has grown as a character that she determined to rule her area as the Queen that she is even without David at her side.  I love that she took the time to grieve but then got right back on her feet because that's what one does - one finds a way to live with the pain.  It was obvious from the ending of Shadow's Fall that we would see David again. When David and Miranda do find each other again, David has greatly changed and the bond between them still hasn't returned.  Miranda must choose if regaining her soul bond with David is worth taking a leap into the unknown and becoming an uber vampire.  I love that Of Shadow Born is filled with women having the opportunity to choose for themselves what their fate will be.  David doesn't pressure Miranda and gives her all the time she needs to make her decision.  Similarly, when Stella meets the Goddess Persephone, she gets to choose whether or not she will risk herself  to get the information that Miranda and David both need.

The addition of the witches to this story has not only been fun, it has broadened Sylvan's supernatural world. I very much like that Stella's interest in Miranda isn't about Miranda's vampire nature but her talent as an artist.  That being said, given how long Stella has known Miranda, her willingness to sacrifice has me wondering if this storyline is going to turn into a case of unrequited love between the two women  - something I could definitely do without. I highly suspect that the witches will have a larger role to play as the story goes on, particularly when it comes to the vampires learning about their own lore.  Stella also looks like she will be a replacement for Kat and Faith but it's a bit early to say at this point.

I am also interested to know where the story with Persephone the vampire Goddess and MorningStar the human group determined to eliminate the vampires are going.Persephone is the perfect Goddess in this world as she is the queen of the underworld. I wonder how much more of her we will see as the story progresses.

As with many books in this series, when it comes to GLBT people, Sylvan absolutely has a problem. When David first returns, he has trouble remembering and so Miranda describes Deven as, "Our friend. Little guy, lots of leather, the world's oldest bitch queen."(pg 109)  It's one thing for a gay man to self identify as a "queen" and another for a straight woman to label him that way. Miranda and Deven may have burried the hatchet so to speak but it still very much comes off as pejorative. When Stella sees Deven for the first time she calls him cute. Deven may be short in stature but he is one of the oldest vampires in existence and the power coming off of him is immense. If that were not enough, we learn that Deven is at least part elf. That's right, Sylvan made a gay man a fairy. Thanks for that.

Sylvan has made it clear that Deven is gay and yet in this novel, we have him expressing love for Miranda.
"Miranda," he said, a sort of gentle firmness in the word that brooked no disagreement, "I thought by now you would understand - things aren't like they were three years ago.  If I never expected to still love him, after all those years, well, let's just say I was utterly blindsided by you."
"By me?"
"Yes...I would do anything for you. Anything. Ask for the stars and I'll do what I can." (pg 162)
Here's the the thing, platonic love between Miranda and Deven I suppose I could wrap my mind around but Sylvan certainly stretches the limit on this point.

During Miranda's second transition, Deven gets into bed with her and David, after being instructed to by Johnathon to lie next to Miranda to avoid drama.  As you might imagine, things immediately get a little steamy. In her supposed need to feel close to her sire, Miranda accidentally kisses Deven.
She had no idea who I actually was. I was just there, and when she woke up she was on me like bloodstains on a white shirt.
”Jonathan stared at his Prime for a moment . . . then burst out laughing.
Deven threw up his hands, exasperated. “What the hell is so funny?”
“Sorry,” he said breathlessly. “I just . . . I would have paid to see that.”
David bit his lip, holding back a laugh of his own, but at least part of it escaped when he affirmed, “He looked like a deer in headlights.”
“Have you ever actually kissed a woman before?” Jonathan asked.
Deven looked like he wanted to stake them both. “Of course I have, he said sharply. “Granted, it was five hundred years ago.”They both laughed again. (pg 222)
Why are Jonathan, Deven's husband and David, Deven's former lover happy about Deven kissing Miranda? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Where is Jonathon's jealousy, especially given that he knows that Deven has professed his love of Miranda? This is only the beginning of Jonathan's openness when it comes to Deven and Miranda.  Deven has been sad for as long as Jonathan has known him and it all stems from his loss of faith.  How does Jonathon propose helping Deven? Why, sleeping with both Miranda and David of course.
“So,” Jonathan ventured, keeping his eyes on his book nonchalantly, “are you planning to pursue that whole thing with Miranda, or . . .”
“What thing?” Deven asked, frowning.
“Well, change or no change, she did kiss you. And you did blush when we were talking about it.”
“I don’t blush,” Deven insisted. “And by now I shouldn’t have to ask this question, but, what part of gay do you not get?”
“Oh, please. As old as you are, you know sexuality is more fluid than that for our kind. That’s how you landed David in the first place.”
“I landed David because he had suffered a tragic loss and I give amazing head.”
Jonathan snorted. “Exactly my point. He could get a shag from any woman not connected to another woman or life support machinery, but he tumbled into bed with you. Anyway, aside from the deer-in-headlights thing, what did you do when she kissed you?”
“Besides try to push her off? Well . . .” Deven crossed his arms. “I may have kissed back. Just to satisfy my curiosity.”
Grinning, Jonathan asked, “Then what?”
Deven’s eyes narrowed. “You’re getting off on this, aren’t you.”
“I’ve just never seen you do anything remotely sexual with a woman. I’m sorry I missed it. What was it like?”
“Like? It was just like kissing a man. Lips don’t really differentiate much.”
“Maybe not, but breasts sure do.”
Deven smiled a little at that. “That part was weird.”
“So what if—strictly theoretically, of course—she actually wanted to sleep with you? Or better yet, what if they asked you to join in, and fooling around with her was just part of the equation? Would you try it?”
Deven was giving him a hilariously befuddled look. “What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“I said it was theoretical.”
“What are you fishing for, Jonathan? Are you trying to plan something?”
Jonathan laughed. “Of course not.”
“Good, because nothing like that is going to happen. The whole thing was an anomaly that I’d appreciate you dropping.” (pg 225-226)
We already know that Deven has kissed a woman so why would curiosity cause him to respond to Miranda and why would Jonathon be excited about the prospect?  Deven asserts his sexuality which is a good thing but then you have Jonathon come back with the suggestion that sexuality is fluid.  Yes, there are people who according to the Kinsey Scale do experience varying attraction to both genders; however in this case, it feels like an attempt on Sylvan's part to scale back Deven's homosexuality, just as she earlier scaled back David's bisexuality. Deven has existed for centuries - centuries of battling homophobia and internalised homophobia, but now he's suddenly "curious" about women, but not in all that time? This doesn't even come close to resembling sexual fluidity or exploration - this isn't about him at all, it's all about Miranda and his sexuality conveniently being rewritten to better suite her and her story. Then there's the disembodiment part of the act.   A kiss isn't just a kiss and there's a difference between kissing a man and kissing a woman. It's as though Sylvan is trying to suggest that there's no difference between an intimate act between a man and a woman and two people of the same gender.  If that were not the case, everyone would just fuck everyone no questions asked.

Once again, Sylvan drifts into Deven's background of course it involves torture. We learn more about how Deven was abused for being different.

It irks me that Sylvan takes the time to create LGBT characters and then does the best she can to dial back their sexuality and have their supposed allies and friends use homophobic language.  For all that this series may be inclusive it is still very homophobic.

In terms of POC, we were introduced to Olivia, the second of the territory of Australia.  Because of guilt she follows Jeremy in his quest for revenge against the Primes who orchestrated the death and rape of his wife and daughter.  Though Olivia becomes the first female Prime, for much of the book she is essentially nothing more than a pawn to be moved by David and Miranda.  I have to hope that this is going to change particularly because thus far, all the people of colour have somehow been secondary and servants in one way or another to either David or Miranda.

I want so much to like this series even if it comes with protagonists gaining super duper powers when convenient which is a trope.  Of Shadow Born is beautifully written, particularly Miranda's mourning phase. The problem with Of Shadow Born as with every other book in this series, is that it is loaded with homophobia. If Sylvan could just concentrate on her world building and characterisation without descending into homophobic tropes continually, this series really could be something.