Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Broken Blade (Colbana Files #3) by J.C. Daniels

After being tortured, marked and raped by Jude the vampire, Kit is suffering from PTSD and feels that she is broken.  Her connection with her blade no longer works and Kit can barely deal with the loss.  Kit retires to Wolf Haven and starts working at a bar.  All her friends want her to hurry up and rejoin life but Kit isn't ready to face her demons.  T.J. however will not be denied and so arranges a small job for Kit, not realising that it will lead to Kit taking on one of the oldest magical creatures and possibly her death.

In Broken Blade, Daniels widened her world by introducing Pandora/Lilith.  We learned that Pandora/Lillith is responsible for creating shifters, vampires, witches and the warrior race the Aneria. I loved the origin story and it helped explain why witches are pacifists and some of the ongoing antagonism between the various supernatural groups.  With Pandora/Lilith as an antagonist, the story should have been absolutely epic.  I thought that this is where it was going when Pandora/Lillith killed Es, the leader of a coven of witches, only to be sorely disappointed when she was easily defeated by Kit. No way should Pandora/ Lilith have been defeated by a gunshot to the head.  Clearly, Daniels didn't know what to do with this character once she added her to the story.  It made the ending seem so rushed.  It would have been better to draw this out over two books, rather than to have Pandora/Lilith so easily defeated.

Far too often, when traumatic things happen to urban fantasy protagonists, it's brushed off so that the author can tell another story.  Because of the way that Daniels dealt with Kit's traumatic childhood, I believed that this would be different and I was right.  No one just gets over being kidnapped and tortured and that really needed to be dealt with. My biggest issue is that Kit was given just four months before she was forced back out into the world.  How is that enough time to heal?  Her friends claimed to want to help her but to me, it felt very much like Kit and her new quirks were being portrayed as a burden. How is going back to work and burying the trauma the strong thing to do? To me, it just sets up the victim to have yet another massive breakdown because no one is meant to simply power on after something like that.  Since Daniels decided to go there, I couldn't help but wonder why it is that she didn't set Kit up with some counselling?  Yeah, I know that urban fantasy is supposed to be all about defeating the bad guy but if you are going to have a protagonist with serious mental health issues then it must be respected and written about appropriately.

Kit isn't the only survivor who is not fully respected. T.J., the owner of the bar where Kit works is now a wheelchair user after being paralyzed by her former Alpha. She has made a life for herself running Wolf Haven, taking in the lost and the scared.  It is T.J. who ultimately pushes Kit out into the real world, pleading for Kit not to be like her.  T.J.'s way of dealing with being viciously assaulted is painted as weakness and that is a problem. If T.J. wasn't tough, she wouldn't have survived.
"Yeah, sure. I could be like your bitch of a grandmother. I could have been born human and made a leech instead of born a weak werewolf and then tortured by the sadistic wolf who stole my legs. But he’s not the one who stole my life, Kit. I gave it up. I stay in here…and I hide. I let him ruin me. I’m letting him win…and I know it.”
 “TJ, that’s not—”
“Don’t,” she warned, and the thread of steel under her voice was enough to silence me. “I stay in there,” she murmured. “I hide. Even though that son of a bitch would never leave his mountain to find me, I stay here. And I hide. You face down everything that scares you, until now. Don’t let him win, Kitty. You didn’t let anything else take you down. Don’t let this ruin you.” (pg 22)
The idea that there's only one acceptable way to be after surviving a violent assault is harmful and further policies victims.  T.J. it seems is a beta and so Kit simply assumes that she didn't have the ability for vengeance and justice and so decides at the end of the story to go after the twisted Alpha. This was not Kit's decision to make.  What I took away from all of this is that survivors cannot be trusted to run their own lives in the wake of an assault or to heal in a way that best suits them.  This plot line very much makes self care a sign of weakness.

I wasn't really impressed when all of the cats refused to make eye contact with Kit after the attack. They made what happened to her all about them and their failure to protect her.  It did however make me happy when Kit remained consistent in her demand that people make eye contact rather than look at her feet whenever they are in her presence.  Kit however seemed to hold it against Damon for not protecting her which was a problem for me. Yes, Damon did promise that no one would ever hurt her but Kit is an assassin and a warrior and the very idea of needing a man for protection just doesn't make any sense to me.

As for Kit's relationship with Damon, I continue to find it a problem.  From the very beginning, Damon has been physically abuse, controlling and manipulative.  This is what passes for love and it's nothing more than a masquerade for intimate partner violence.  Kit hides in Wolf Haven to recover from being kidnapped and assaulted and instead of giving her the space she asks for, Damon actually forces his way into the bar where she works.  Just about every time Kit tries to put some distance between them, Damon steps into her personal space.  Even though Damon promises Kit that he will wait for her, invading on her time to heal is far from being a good friend let alone partner. If that were not enough, Damon clearly used Kit to find out more about Doyle - the child he adopted who is half Aneria like Kit. We are told repeatedly that Damon loves Kit but all I have seen him do to date is to abuse and manipulate her for his own convenience.

Despite the fact that Daniels has widened her world in terms of real world marginalised people, there's a lot of erasure going on.  Chang, Damon's second has a scant appearance in this book and there are no other people of colour to speak of.  We've not had an LGBT character in this series since the first book.  If Daniels can write tales about vampires, Pandora/Lilith, witches and shifters, there's absolutely no reason that she couldn't include more diversity.

I have to admit that I am waffling on Broken Blade. On one hand, I really appreciate the fact that Kit's PTSD was explored but on the other, the very idea that there's some time frame for healing is beyond problematic.  When this is coupled with the idea that self care is a reflection of weakness, it makes Broken Blade absolutely toxic.

I continue to dislike Damon and Kit as a couple.  The very idea that his controlling, abusive ways are fine because he is a cat is a problem.  I am further troubled by the calm and contentedness Kit experiences in his presence. Sure, abuse is all Kit has every really known but to then have those around her support this relationship makes it appear innocuous instead of dangerous.

Broken Blade could have been so much more than it was.  With Pandora/Lilith as an antagonist, I should have been racing through the pages.  In the end, I simply was bitterly disappointed with how easily Pandora/Lilith was dispatched. Yes, Kit has to be the hero because she is the protagonist but her victory needs to feel plausible and thought out, and not simply a race to wrap up a story line. I'm not sure yet where Kit's character is going and I'm not entirely sold on this series because of how trope laden and erased it is.