Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Etched in Bone (The Others #5) by Anne Bishop

Humanity has been firmly rebuked by the Others. Towns have been depopulated, bodies have piled up, communication is splintered.

Humanity tries to rebuild in the aftermath and to face the new reality they live in, under new rules and under new restrictions.

And none more so than Lakeside – Meg, Simon et al have built a whole different way for humans and Others to interact and the Elders are curious. What they learn in Lakeside may decide the fate of all humanity.

And the appearance of Cyrus, Monty’s criminal, shiftless brother, risks upending all of that.

The Meg, The Meg is back! We love the Meg. We adore the Meg. This is known!

After last book, the whole land has been mauled by the Others. Humanity has been slaughtered and the conflict that has pretty much defined the last few books has been dramatically changed. The whole Humans First and Last movement is no longer a force to be reckoned with. The Others have revealed their claws and the whole idea of humans rising up and taking the land is now well and truly gone.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of humans who hate the Others – of course there is – but the whole idea of them as an institutional powerful force has slipped. Even the position of local government et al has slipped considerably towards appeasing the Others. Humanity is on survival mode now which makes for a very different tone overall for the books and characters specifically.

This book also carries on the tone of the Others being dangerous. That was always on the cards but as we saw more and more of the Others playing with the Exploding Fluffballs of the female pack, of the crows being endearing and curious – and even, in this book, Meg scolding the Elders for being insufficiently polite (and it’s moments of humour like this that really adds the peak to this book series). But this book not only presents the threat but reminds us that even the friendly, happy Others like Simon and the Crowguard are still vicious, dangerous and willing to eat humans who break the rules. The teeth is back in the series with this book.

The ongoing conflict is how the humans exist in this new Thasia. A world with more shortages, less communication, less trade and generally everything being so much more isolated than it was. It’s interesting how it touches on things like shortages – because that means “famine” or “starvation” to the Terra Indigene, but means “lack of options” to many of the humans. Obviously, The Others are less inclined to be sympathetic towards the idea of a monotonous diet being a terrible hardship (most of them are carnivores with a relative narrow prey selections) while at the same time being indulgent of the Female Pack

And, yes I love the women of the Courtyard. Because though Meg earned her respect and position among the Others with her unique abilities and nature first of all, the other women earned their place through personality, strength, capacity, courage and compassion (and attacking enemies with a teakettle). We also have some really excellent depiction of abusive relationships – but violent and non-physically violent relationships, how words have power and how people can be beaten down so completely in these relationships (and how domestic violence isn’t always between partners). It’s a meaningful and powerful storyline with some excellent characters. I’m also hoping for other women, including the women of the new frontier town, one of which is a police office resisting the sexist assumptions of humanity with the sheer bemusement of the others.

Twyla. Twyla gives me complex feelings. On the one side, she is the quintessential mother figure and no-one messes with her. The Others respect (and slightly fear) her, absolutely everyone obeys her. Everyone was wary of her and no-one argued with her because she was right and wise and excellent. She was loving and caring and patient but also stern and unyielding and wise and uncompromising and experienced and beloved, adored, respected by all. She was awesome with Simon, she was awesome with the young wolves. She was awesome in recognising both the strengths and weaknesses of her own children and really just being perfect in every way. No-one was better than her in making Simon forget who was the boss in his town.

I loved Twyla. I adored Twyla. I cheered every time Twyla appeared.

Buuuut… strong, wise, tough Black lady who acts as mother to everyone around her? Yeaaah that’s kind of central casting for a Mamy right there. Especially with book having one of her sons basically facing terrible circumstances and her daughter leaving while she acts as mother forgive for the whole district. Even her refusing to choose between her children’s “packs” and instead choosing Simon’s felt less, as it was explained, of Twyla asserting her own identity in the face of her family so much as Twyla deciding to become ur-parent of the whole of Lakeside. This includes her choice of where to live: ostensibly so she can have her own life and not just be a grandparent/childminder. All well and good and an excellent idea – but then she becomes mother figure to everyone.

This is an example of a character both being awesome… but kind of a stereotype as well.

Cyrus/Jimmy. I’m kind of torn on his character. On some level there is something passionately wonderful about having a complete arsehole character get his righteous comeuppance. So I revelled in how awful he is. I loved how terrible he was. I was properly HUNGRY for the terrible fate we knew was heading for him with joyous awfulness. I was viciously looking forward to it

But… he was also something of a caricature. I mean the whole idea that the elders needed to keep him around to study a terrible human? They learned everything the need to know within 5 minutes. He was made of awful. He was a caricature of awful. I was amazed he lived to adulthood, how did Twyla resist drowning him as a child? Again, it was satisfying, but subtle villainy it wasn’t.

I also somewhat wonder if some of the messages Cyrus/Jimmy could have taught the Others and made a great point of was missed. I mean, the Elders ended up admitting their mistakes but I feel the Others in general, including Tess, Simon et al, kind of missed one of the most important issues: The humans all saw it coming. The underlying motives for keeping Jimmy around was allowing the Others’ to identify a subtle trouble maker amongst the human Pack and the trouble he could cause among them. But the main thing to learn from this would be a clear “the humans can clearly identify an arsehole” and “they would have kicked him out long since if you didn’t insist he stay”. For all the humans are fearful of the fallout, ultimately they did everything they could to deal with their own trouble maker. I think some acknowledgement that humans can actually handle their own shit, if you let them would have been nice. Especially since it meant Monty and Twyla were quite willing to turn on their own family for the sake of The Others. That deserved a nod.

In this book we finally moved into the area we’ve been circling for so long. Meg and Simon are now heading towards a relationship. I quite like how it works in part of this story since the central conflict for Simon is how human he is becoming – reflecting how human the Terra Indigene are – and the central conflict for Meg this episode is how much like a “normal” human she can actually become with her Blood Prophet powers. As she looks at the lives of the other humans around her and begins to envy elements of their lives and begins to wonder if she can have the same (this comes with some absolutely awesome lessons from Jester about being whole you are and the strengths you have - it’s excellent). So it’s a romance that fits very much into the ongoing story of Simon and Meg…. Yet at the same time I don’t know if this is necessary since their interactions are already so awesome with the wonderful games (the Pester Game is definitely fun)? Yes, I’m the guy in the corner muttering “change, I don’t like change”.

Diversitywise, we have Monty’s family who are Black and definitely the most prominent humans by far. We also have the new mayor is an Asian man and the new police commissioner is a latino man, both promising to be powerful and prominent characters. There’s some good diversity there despite what I mentioned above. We continue to have no LGBT characters

I love this series, we both love this series. There are some problems as mentioned as above. And there remains the underlying awful issue of the entire series in that the Namid is clearly an Earth parallel which, as we’ve mentioned repeatedly before, completely removes Native Americans and creates a continent of wild monsters instead to replace them. This can never not be a problem, you cannot create such an obvious Earth parallel and remove an entire racial group, especially with the context of colonisation as well – which would make the removal of Native people very much a genocidal “convenience” for the colonisers – or the story

It’s one of the constant things we have to remember as social justice readers – and decent people. Love your books, adore them, revel in your favourite series and everything that makes them so very awesome – but never overlook their problems in doing so