Saturday, June 9, 2018

Sun Warrior (Tales of a New World #2) by P. C. Cast

I did it, I read Sun Warrior. It was a book I picked up with a great deal of trepidation and no small amount of dread. The House of Night Series remains one of the worst I have ever endured and Moon Chosen manages to plum still deeper depths. I did not have high expectations for Sun Warrior

Which made reading Sun Warrior, almost a pleasant surprise. Oh, not because it was good. Not because it came even close to good. Not because it could even see good on a clear day with a telescope. Because it wasn’t remotely. Nor was it not deeply problematic in many many ways (especially dwelling on a lot of rape as well as some really terrible treatment of the former slaves the Companions controlled) But it managed to avoid a whole lot of the most awful traits of the first book by… basically pretending they never happened or by retconning or by brushing over them super quickly.

Like the book tries to emphasise what a wonderful caring healer Mari is… we’re all completely avoiding the way she just abandoned her people and listened to them scream. At best we have a brief nod while everyone rallies round Mari to tell her she’s amazing and we spend the rest of this book with just about everyone treating Mari like the second coming. Or there’s the racial coding and Blackface of the last book which is just ignored in this book. The description of Earth Walkers as ugly vs the “refined” features of the Companions has been dropped entirely. The  Nightfever is there, but handwaved and we’re all far more concerned by the new plague from the Skin Stealers. She even develops a whole new load of traditions about Clan Weaver weaving - which sounds simplistic, but last book Mari didn’t think her people were capable of art.

It’s not that the book has changed, dispensed with or otherwise redeemed the badness of the last book: it’s just pretended none of it ever happened.

It does have its own problematic elements which largely stem from the writing: it’s horribly slow pace, the endless telling-with-no-showing and the Mary Sue omniscience of the main characters held together with a whole lot of magical plot glue.

This book, this oh-so-long-book, covers about a week, maybe a fortnight. And in that time Mari and Nik decide to create a whole new society called the Pack where all people come together in mutual love and tolerance. Which sounds nice - except remember like 2 days ago these Earth Walker women were imprisoned and enslaved by the Companions. They were enslaved for generations as a people and some of these women had literally spent many years in captivity. It is REASONABLE for these women to be at least a little wary of the Companions. It is reasonable for these women to be more than a little concerned when Mari decides to host several Companions in their BIRTHING BURROW. The place where pregnant women of the Clan give birth. And some of these Companions were literally among the raiding party that kidnapped several Clan women AND killed Leda, Mari’s mother and pretty much destroyed the Clan, a few weeks ago. Hey, y’know, it’s not exactly an act of vicious bigotry for the these women to think that they’d rather their enslavers not camp in the most sensitive parts of their home. But Mari treats them as grossly intolerant and drives some of the women out for not embracing them men who hunted and owned them 2 days before - and no-one challenges her on this

This follows Mari, in both books, repeatedly talking about the bigotry of her people and why she had to hide: but we never see this. Literally not one member of Clan Weaver turns on Mari for being half Companion Tree-Person. Not one. But she repeatedly tells us of the lengths she has to go to to avoid this non-existent bigotry. She continually refers to this non-existent bigotry to bludgeon the surviving Clan Weaver women to just ABANDON their society.

We have something similar with the Companions - with Nik and Mari assuming the Companions will definitely try to kill her and return to their slaving ways. Perhaps there’s more justification in assuming the slave holding Companions being regarded with more suspicion - but we don’t see it; no real wide spread rejection or hostility. The only Companion who really clings to real negativity towards the Earth Walkers is Thaddeus - who is infected by the Skin Stealer disease. But Nik decides to leave his people at a time of utter peril, taking with him Laru (his pet dog and the alpha. Which sort of makes him leader. It’s like a Canine Excalibur) when the ONLY opposition he gets is from Thaddeus the diseased one. He leaves his people literally to die for the sake of a prejudice that we never see.

And despite everyone knowing Thaddeus killed the last Sun Priest, no-one does anything about it. He just wanders around being evil, gathering followers and everyone just shrugs and moves on -not for any reason other than the author NEEDING Thaddeus to run around being super evil to advance a plot. Reasonably these characters would have killed/banished/dropped him down a hole but the plot needs him to be there

This whole lack of actual prejudice is a problem because both Nik and Mari use this supposed prejudice as an excuse to abandon the Companions completely (despite having lost over half of their population in a devastating forest fire and desperately desperately needing help, they have no healer, no home, few resources and lots of wounded) and force the Earth Walkers to completely change their way of life. This prejudice NEEDS to be real to stop Nik and Mari being completely self absorbed and utterly callous towards others and without it being depicted they still look self-absorbed and callous… but also weirdly paranoid. “Everyone hates me!” but… no-one does. I mean, ever.

This prejudice is even used as the driving force for Mari deciding the Pack needs to relocate to a whole new unknown land - this prejudice is an essential driver of the plot and it’s NOT THERE

The books also really fails to examine, well, anything in any real depth. Like Mari and Nik are building this new society and, then, deciding to move to the great unknown to live with pretty horses - but it’s ok everyone going with them choses to follow. Except the Earth Walkers will pretty much die without Mari to wash them. And the Companions are vulnerable to the death fungus which means basically half of them die if they suffer even a minor break of their skin: an ailment that Mari can cure. Oh and now we have the Skin Stealer disease which… only Mari can cure. At no point does any character even slightly hint that Mari has complete power over everyone and how little free will everyone else has because of this. Mari herself never thinks for a second about the ethics of everyone’s dependence on her - even when she threatens to leave or abandon people. Just some level of thought would be nice

Which brings me round to how Mari is just the most ridiculous Mary Sue ever. Mary Sue is a much abused term and is often used by sexist readers to dismiss any half way competent female character - but Mari is such a classic example. She has ALL THE SHINY POWERS in incredible amounts and even Thaddeus wants to capture her to use her special shininess. She is everyone’s saviour since she can heal the Skin Stealer Plague - but it’s not just her powers; it’s the way everyone treats her. Unless you’re actually designated Evil, you love Mari. Everyone loves Mari. Everyone agrees with Mari. She’s radically changing society and gets barely more than a token protest. People line up to love her. When one of the Skin Stealers is fleeing her people she prays to the Earth Goddess and MARI HEARS THE PRAYERS. She’s also getting some very House of Night-style divine guidance as well adding to her specialness. And this is why the whole prejudice themes fail - because the author just can’t bring herself to have people dislike Mari.

This book also brings some really unnecessary sexual abuse themes in: the Skin Stealers have become a terrible morass of rape and sexual assault for no other reason than to drop some “designated evil” markers on them. The leader is possessed by the god of Death and is all Evil, but why would Death rape? Why would Death be interested in sex at all? We could have had him being abusive and frightening and driving Dove away without this. It’s gratuitous. We also have a really unpleasant plot line developed between Antreas - the plot-convenient-Lynx-Companion  - and Danita, the Earth Walker girl (about 16 years old) who was abused and raped last book. She’s duly traumatised because of her terrible experiences. She takes a lot of comfort from the presence of the lynx who follows her around and helpd her and it all seems very protective and comforting. Until we learn Antreas is looking for a mate and in their culture it’s the cat that decides. It’s not even subtle, Mari and Sora joke about what a pickle Antreas is in because he doesn’t agree with his cat’s choice

Ho-ho, the lynx is trying to push this grown man to mate with an adolescent girl who has just being raped and is deeply fragile but trusts the lynx because she thinks the cat will protect her from other abusive men. How drole! How amusing!

We do have two LGBTQ characters, both of whom have their same-sex partner briefly mentioned, both of which are now horribly dead. Neither character even spends any real time mourning them

But the hardest thing to deal with in this book is the writing. As I mentioned, it is a long book that covers, at most, 2 weeks in the life of the characters. The story is split into three sections: the Companions in their ruined forest city where everything is bleak and terrible and sad and awful and rotting and dying (and generally making Mari and Nick look terribad for not giving a shit). The “Pack” are kind of just hanging around waiting to leave and declaring Mari the most amazing thing ever. Which leaves the Skin Stealers with the burden of actually DOING SOMETHING - and they do. But even then it’s slow, evil and slightly ridiculous (honestly it’s almost work reading this book just for the names: Dead Eye, Lizard, Rebel, Steel Heart, Bones, Midnight, Joker, Lily. Wait… what? Yes, Lily. We have all these names and then there’s Lily just wandering around like she’s forgotten there’s a naming convention). But most of this plot is Dead Eye just being evil between occasional bouts of plague spreading

There’s just not enough plot to fill the book. And even though it was a long long book to read it also felt weirdly short because the first 80% of this book was prologue. I kept waiting for the plot to start and it didn’t… not until the book was normall over.