Friday, August 24, 2018

Hard to Handle (Gargoyles #5) by Christine Warren

Image result for Hard to Handle  by Christine Warren

Like her brothers before her, Ash bursts to life immediately aware that something has gone terribly wrong in the world and that this is why she has been summoned. Normally, when a Guardian awakens, a Warden is present to inform of them about what the danger is and to help formulate a plan to keep the Seven in check. Like her brothers before her, Ash must deal with the fact that her newly minted Warden doesn't have the slightest clue about what is going on, or even that he is a person of power. With a threat looming, Ash barely has time to think about the ramifications that she is the first female Guardian ever and that she is developing feelings for Michael. The fate of the world is at risk and Ash and Michael are simply unprepared to meet it. 

Unlike the other books in this series, Warren tried to infuse a little more humour into the story. Anyone who has siblings and has retained a close relationship with them into adulthood should be able to see themselves reflected. Sure, Michael and his four sister are all adults now and are living active and busy lives but that doesn't mean they won't rat each other to their mother or engage in puerile games to get what they want. At times, this approach had me laughing and thinking about my own younger brothers. 

As a male love interest Michael was as crotchity as an old man. I understand that he would have been overwhelmed by a honest to goodness gargoyle coming to life and learning that the forces of evil were aligning but the way that he treated Ash throughout the novel was truly disturbing.  I don't think that Michael actually ever moved past sexualising her and so when he declared love, which is the habit in paranormal series, it didn't fit for even a moment.  Michael barely saw Ash as human let alone an individual person with feelings which could be hurt. This of course was magnified by the fact that the evolution of Michael's relationship with Ash mostly happened through internal monologue rather than shared experiences.

One of the things that I have loved about the Gargoyles series is that it felt explicitly feminist and I am sad to report, it seems that Warren decided to drop this approach in Hard to Handle. While it was funny to see Michael's interactions with his siblings and mother, it was particularly problematic the way that gender was treated. Warren actually sought to frame Michael as a oppressed by having so many women in his life. Really? Being surrounded by women is hard? If that were not enough, Michael constantly used the feminine as a pejorative. 
In the retelling, he imagined he would change the scream to a hoarse, manly shout of surprise; but in the moment, the high pitch of his girlish exclamation sounded like a harmony to the unearthly shriek that shook the air around them.  (pg 7)
He might have soiled himself, or at the very least, whimpered and cried like a little girl. Very bad for his image. (pg 15)
He screamed, a small part of his mind shaking free of the error to wonder whether or not he sounded like a little girl. (pg 95)
He opened his mouth to release another, girly wordless scream and heard instead his own voice bellow in an unfamiliar tone of command. (pg 98)
Michael's very understanding of masculinity itself is extremely problematic.
He gritted his teeth and agree, mostly because an argument seemed foolish if they needed to sneak up on something, but partly because she had a point.  He hated it, though. He had grown up as the only boy in a family of girls, and as capable as they might be, his father raised him with a wide streak of protectiveness and somewhat antiquated chivalry, Being taken care of sat uncomfortably on his shoulders; he felt much more at ease leading the charge. (pg 183-184)
Michael is absolutely out of his depth and he is surrounded by capable women who are more experienced than he is and in the case of Ash, indestructible in comparison and yet he still thinks as a man that it's his duty to lead the charge. The truth is that a strong stream of paternalism runs through Michael and it's not cute or even remotely amusing. It made it impossible not to hope that one of the demons got him.

Hard to Handle is book five in this series and Warren still hasn't given us any GLBT characters.  I know that this is a common occurrence for paranormal romance but that doesn't make it any less problematic. If that were not enough, in order to bring in a colloquialism, Warren decided to add this:
"But it will have to wait. Right now, I'm too bloody fagged to find my own arse with both my hands and GPS".
We all get that Michael is Irish and therefore should have some common phrases to better situate his character but there was no reason to use this anachronism in this fashion when all Michael really needed to say is that he is tired. It's particularly galling because there are no GLBT characters in this story. Sure, one could argue that the word itself is not being used as a slur for a person in this particular instance but surely we can all agree that another word could have been used.

Hard to Handle is the penultimate book in the Gargoyles series and to be honest, I'm pretty ready to be done.  The end of the world is feeling rather thin and I'm ready to see the Seven defeated and an end to this story. Nothing about it even feels slightly compelling or interesting anymore. Cliche commentary about the nature of love, sexism and erasure of GLBT people just don't cut it and the few redeeming aspects of this series seem lost in Hard to Handle. So in this case, I'll just say, read it if you're determined to finish this series but otherwise, just leave this one alone.