Thursday, May 12, 2016

Stone Cold Lover (Gargoyles #2) by Christine Warren

Felicity is asked to check out a gargoyle statue by a friend.  She finds herself ridiculous drawn to the statue and even dares to break into the museum where it is being displayed in order to look at it with her second sight, certain that there must be some odd about this specific statue. What she doesn't realise is that this decision will bring her to the attention of the noctouris, a group of cultist determined to bring on the end of the world.  Fortunately, the gargoyle she was interested in comes to life and because Spar is a protector, he quickly becomes all that stands between her and destruction.

I'm going to say at the outset that I am not necessarily a fan of paranormal romance; however, there were a lot of moving parts to Stone Cold Lover that held my interest. Yes, a major part of this story is to bring together Spar and Felicity; however, it is set against a plot of trying to stop a series of murders in the Montreal area which have stymied the police.  Felicity is not trained in magic though she has the ability to sense it.  Felicity never shies away from danger and is more than willing to sacrifice herself for her friends.  It's an admirable quality in any protagonist to have.  Normally in these true love scenarios, relationships between women fall by the wayside to center the romance and I am glad to say that Warren very much avoided that.

Felicity is also very much full of snark and refuses to be controlled. At times, it veers into a bit of Kellie Independence. It has become customary for the female love interest to have a tragic backstory and in this case, Warren steps up to the line and shies away from it. Felicity's mother was a drug addict and that made her unable to raise her daughter and so, Felicity was raised by her grandparents. We learn that her grandparents raised her to be resourceful; however, since the death of her grandparents, Felicity has been on her own in the world. I very much like that while Felicity is bothered by her mother's addiction, she very clearly states that she had a happy childhood. Yeah for female love interest that aren't overly damaged and have had good childhoods.

Things have gotten really bad with the dark side because they managed to get the Wardens on the run and blow up their safe house.  This means that the guardians are frozen in stone until someone magical awakes them.  We are told that the guild of Wardens is extremely sexist and only trains perhaps one woman out of every 100 trainees.  Sexism in a very ancient order makes perfect sense to me and I like that the women in Stone Cold Lover are not shy about critiquing this.  My issue is that this line of characterisation for the Guild of Wardens sets up women as temptresses who ultimately distract men from their task.  We are told that the original Guardians had stopped caring about humanity and refused to wake until a woman approached one and it heard her call.  All nine guardians that were awoken by women eventually quit being Guardians and new ones had to be summoned. Over time, Guardians occasionally give up their immortality to mate with women.  The woman as a man stealing Jezebel trope I really could have done without it.

Where Warren did go wrong is with the overt abelism in the Stone Cold Lover. Felicity refers to members of the noctouris as: "babbling nutcase, having diarrhea of the psychosis, lunatic, and certifiable basket case". On the size differential between herself and Spar, Felicity refers to herself as a "midget".  Let's begin with the ableism directed regarding non neurotypical people. It's clear from the very beginning that the nocturnis are absolutely power hungry and evil but none of that justifies the association with mental illness. There's absolutely no action described in Stone Cold Lover that suggests that the nocturnis are actually mental ill and the descriptor seems to exist solely to reify the idea that they are evil.  The evil mentally ill person is a horrible trope that needs to disappear.

Finally, when it comes to the word, "midget", it's a slur that has no place in this story.  Warren could have said people of short stature, she could have said dwarf and these labels would have gotten her point across about the height differential between Felicity and Spar without resorting to a harmful slur.  Considering that there are no disabled characters in this story, Warren's abelism is beyond problematic and absolutely unnecessary to the telling of this story.

In terms of race and sexuality, the Gargoyles series continues to be erased.  Stone Cold Lover is set in Montreal, Quebec and it is most certainly not a haven for White, cisgendered, straight people that Warren created it to be.  It made me wonder if Warren had actually spent anytime in Montreal? A full 8% of Quebec's population is LGBT which amounts to the highest percentage in Canada. There can be no reasonable explanation for this erasure.

The purpose of Stone Cold Lover is absolutely to bring together Felicity and Spar; however, there is a strong enough meta plot floating through the story that were the romance to disappear altogether, Stone Cold Lover could well stand on its own. I am far more invested in how the gargoyles and their female companions are going to defeat the dark side than I am about the romances which occur along the way and that bodes will for this series as far as I am concerned. Stone Cold Lover isn't a page turner by any means but it holds its own and advances the meta enough for me to be interested in reading the third book in this series.