Monday, February 1, 2016

Shadow's Fall (Shadow World #3) by Dianne Sylvan

It's been three years since the Magnificent Bastard parade.  Miranda has managed to have a career as a Grammy winning artist.  Miranda have fought hard to have a balance but with the council of Primes being held at the Haven things are about to change.  Hart an old enemy is determined to get his vengeance.  If that were not enough forces that have been sleeping for centuries are about to awaken and with them comes a change that will rock the entire Shadow World.

Every time I pick up a book in this series, I brace myself for gratuitous rape, misogyny and homophobia.  I'm happy to report that this is much lessened in Shadow's Fall but not completely absent.  This time around Sylvan chose to largely focus on the politics of the world that she has created.  With the Primes of all the nations meeting for the first time in ten years, Miranda is under scrutiny.  For the first time we get to meet the other Queens and they really run the gamut.

Miranda has really changed since Queen of Shadows. She has no fear for her sanity, she isn't a traumatised victim and she has settled into her role as Queen.  Miranda is no longer impetuous and has learned enough about the Shadow World to be able to negotiate it like the Queen that she is.  At times, Miranda even guides David because she has learned to be patient and look at the larger picture. This is a growth I can get behind.  Though Miranda has been forced to sever her relationship with Kit, she has learned to keep her own council and take comfort in her music.

Faith, David's second is determined to win the tournament to bring pride to their area but she is about to be tested in ways she never imagined.  Faith has been in love with David for a very long time and as a result, she has stopped looking for love and happiness on her own.  Her entire life is about serving her Prime.  When she meets Hart's second, though she knows that it's not a good idea, she finds herself throwing caution to the wind and have sex with him.  This irks David to no end though he knows he has no right to be jealous or even put a stop to Faith's little affair.

Faith's character has always bothered me to some degree.  We know that like Miranda, she is a survivor of rape and that she is Japanese but beyond that we don't really know what motivates her beyond her fierce loyalty to David.  Faith's ending in this book feels very much like a punishment for choosing to have sex with Jeremy Hayes, Hart's second and secretly the Prime of Australia.  It's the first thing that we see Faith do for herself in three books and it comes back to haunt her in the worst way possible - she dies.  With Faith's death, we have now lost the most prominent person of colour in this series.  Thus far, we have yet to have a book in which a character of colour doesn't die.  It feels like characters of colour at this point are all fodder and serve the machinations of the white characters.

In this novel, we have the return of Deven and Johnathon.  Both Deven and David are concerned with seeing each other again after the events of Shadowflame.  Deven and David are guilt ridden by the fact that they gave into their passion for each other.  For Deven, it results in having sex more often with Johnathon and paying more attention to his consort and for David, it results in trying to keep as far away from Deven as possible lest he give into his love for him. David however claim that it's "demons" which bind him to Deven's which is problematic because it suggests that the love he feels for Deven is unnatural and no such assertion is mentioned about his bling love for Miranda.
It had been three years since he'd seen Deven in person.  Three years - and the last time they'd been in the same city, they'd surrendered to the demons that still bound them together.  David wouldn't allow it to happen again ... but he would never have believed it would happen in the first place. (pg 42)
Despite three years since David and Deven slept together, Deven is still the threat to  Miranda and David's relationship.

When they finally meet, the situation is tense but it's clear that the passion between them still exists.
Oh, for God’s sake,” Jonathan said. 
“You two are ridiculous. Just kiss already and let’s move on.
”“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Deven said quietly.
The Consort made an irritated noise. “If you start humping each other, I’ll turn the hose on you. Cross my heart. Now stop acting like you can ignore all of this and it’ll go away—we all know what happens when you do that.
”David couldn’t help but laugh a little. “All right, all right.” Carefully, he moved closer and leaned down to bestow a kiss on Deven’s forehead.
Dev raised an eyebrow. “Are you serious?” He put a hand around the back of David’s neck and pulled David’s lips to his.
The contact was electric … but David found it easy enough to keep the kiss brief and light, and when he drew back, they both breathed a little easier. He did, however, notice that Deven’s ears were a little pink.
“There,” Jonathan said. “See? We’re all adults here. You were perfectly able to be friends before and nothing went wrong. You’ve got to trust yourselves.” (pg 42-43)
Physically, we still have the problem of Deven being a slightly built man with both David and Johnathon towering over him.  The other issue is Deven's constant infantalisation of David. Deven learns about a plot which will disrupt how the signets works and their power and that will possibly kill David.  Instead of warning David about what is going on he decides to manipulate those around David and withhold information.  David makes it clear that Deven does not see him as an equal. So not only do we have the size differential aping heterosexual relationships we have one partner treating the other like a child.  It screams M/M and is not necessary to tell this story. It makes no sense for Deven and Johnathon to withhold information particularly given that David would not do anything to risk his territory.

For Deven, Johnathon though clearly not the love of his life, though the bling says that they are soulmates is often the voice of reason in Deven's life.  I have actually come to really like this character very much.  However, Sylvan seems determined to enforce heterosexual gender roles on Deven and Johnathon.
Jonathan went about the duties of a typical housewife, preparing a comfortable home and meal for his bread-winner, who would come home exhausted and distant, and need his helpmate to whisk away dirty boots and bring him a glass of whiskey.
Jonathan tried not to think about it in those terms. He tried instead to focus on what Deven was going to need—and better yet, what shape he would be in when he got back from tonight’s grisly errand. (pg 233-234)
Why is this passage even necessary?   It makes sense that Johnathon would be there for Deven after his grisly task of killing 28 vampires, including his sire.  It makes sense that Johnathon would want to soothe Deven's conscience and pain but how does any of this make him a housewife?  Why is this term which relates to women foisted upon a gay man taking care of his husband?  It's meant to emasculate Johnathon and once again introduce heterosexual gender roles on a same sex couple.

In many ways, Shadow's Fall is a placeholder book. It's clear that Sylvan's goal was to set up the next book in the series.  Sylvan enlarged her role by introducing witches and I am very curious to see how they are going to add to the Shadow World. Increasingly, Sylvan has suggested that there's magic behind the signets and that there's more to the world than the tech savvy David can see.  We also know that the council or Primes is going to change and Miranda is going to have a huge role to play in the future.  I am very curious to see how Sylvan is going to shape her world.