livii: (magic box)
As noted in my userinfo, I'm going to use this journal as a place to cross-post some of my fannish content, unlocked, as an effort to engage further with fandom. I intend to focus on Doctor Who content though may branch out from time-to-time, and will put fic here too.

For my first post, a review (of sorts; it will become apparent that my style of reviewing can be eccentric); I finally finished The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, only, like, nearly three weeks later, or something? It was, um. A hard slog. The following is a long, spoilery discussion of certain elements of the novel, and in particular thoughts on women and race.

The style really didn't work for me on the whole; it was engaging in parts and clever in others, but overall felt forced and left the story very flat, with its highly detached style. He also either was playing with us or made mistakes a few times (for example, before Scarlette's death an account by her is mentioned, so it seemed obvious to me that she wasn't actually dead). Style isn't everything, of course, but in such a highly stylistic, mannered book it's hard to disengage the substance from the format. I certainly like books that challenge me, but I found this one patronized me more than anything.

The other problem, of course, is that the substance itself was not very great at all, so it's not like it was even worth looking behind the style. I admit that perhaps I am a traditionalist, but even though I'm not a prude I was incredibly shocked by the however-many-pages (no page numbers on the ebook reader) narrated during a sex scene that started the book. My brain kept alternating between "I didn't pick up this book to read Lawrence Miles' thoughts on exotic sex which I find both dull and off-putting" and "children's show, CHILDREN'S SHOW!!!"

That ties in with, in a way, my feelings on characterization; the Doctor, in a great many ways, was not the Doctor we know, and neither was he the interesting not-Doctor I have read in other EDAs; he wasn't searching for that core of himself, the way he has been in others of the books, instead he was savagely cutting off the heads of great apes, and ignoring his companions almost completely in favour of the OC of the day, Scarlette.

I think the companions deserve their own paragraph, here. Because, my god, I had been warned on that point, that Fitz and Anji in particular were sidelined/mistreated, but oh my god, when I'm reading the next book in Fitz and Anji's series of adventures I might expect the two of them to actually be in it, and if they're going to be tiny cameos, at least get them right. I recognized nothing of Anji in here, merely a rough sketch of a woman without compassion or honesty or bravery, all of her best traits. And har-har-har Fitz loves the ladies, amirite, but come on, this was so paint-by-the-numbers and just...I'm not even Fitz's biggest fan, which I know is heresy among EDA fans, but he just...I honestly like the companions best in DW. I missed Donna in Midnight but barely even noticed the Doctor wasn't in Turn Left. So this was an aspect that really hurt the book for me.

Talking about Anji helps highlight what really pushed the book into actively bad, in my view, rather than just not to my taste. It was a weird book, but that's okay; it was a flat book, but I could forgive some of that; but it was also, frankly, a sexist and racist book that left me deeply unhappy. I commented to [personal profile] lizbee that one of the only things I had to say about the book was that "it was weird, and I think Lawrence Miles hates women." Clearly I did have a few more things to say as seen above, but I stand by my latter assertion as well. I think, not to play amateur psychologist, but at the same time, why not - I think Miles would feel that he portrayed women as powerful and magical in this book. But the problem is that came across, to me, as intense objectification of the feminine and the exotic, and in a way that made me think Miles may like some women, the right women, but certainly not all of them, as most of them are not in touch with their true sexual natures (though those who are must be careful with it, or they will bring down the whole of creation) or with the necessity of loyalty (usually, to men). Because honestly, that's what the "good women" in this book were - all of them were either enlightened whores (sex is totally, 100% awesome, even when you're a prostitute!) or delicate virgins (who, through the implication they dabble in sexual sorcery, fall from grace), and all of the "good" women valued fealty and loyalty even where it was not deserved, and what reinstates Juliette, to a certain extent, is the fact she becomes Sabbath's aide de camp - she becomes the right-hand-woman of a powerful man, she aligns herself in a somewhat-correct fashion.

This played out even more clearly in the portrayal of any non-white people in the story; I know, I know that this was written as if a history, a narration of the times and place, but that doesn't excuse, for me, the fact that all of the characters of colour were hugely exoticized (even Anji has the term 'exotic' applied directly to her), and all the characters of colour (except Anji here, possibly because she was being ignored) are given romanticized, mystical powers and strengths, and all of their actions are symbolic and often highly savage, and they all have true natures and understand the earth and I could go on and on but you get my point. It was, frankly, appalling. And the fact of the matter is, this exoticization, this othering, like with the women, it doesn't make them look good; it makes them look like stereotypes, it makes them look like lesser beings striving to have qualities of worth next to the default white man that is always the comparison throughout the work.

I'm talking in circles here, I think, but the more I reflect on it the more unhappy I get. One passage in particular really stood out for me to articulate why I would say "I think Lawrence Miles hates women" since I know that may seem like a stretch from what I wrote above (though to me it's intrinsic; one does not write women in that horrible dichotomy, one does not so clearly delineate which women are awesome (to be perfectly mean about it, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the ones that might have sex with him, I know that's a trollish thing to say but I believe it here) and those which aren't without an internalized if not outwardly self-recognized loathing). Lisa-Beth and Rebecca return to London from the island, not being caught up in the Kingdom's thrall, and the narrator dispassionately states that raising the money for the passage would have been hard, and one can only imagine what services they would have had to perform for the crew. It's said in passing, and without censure for the women selling their bodies - prostitution is a-ok, remember - but I did imagine what the women would have had to do, and I did recoil in horror at thinking what these two women, at the mercy of a crew full of sailors who were probably stuffed with disgusting diseases, would have gone through, enlightened about selling their bodies or not, strong or not. And I know the narration is meant to be dispassionate in a lot of ways, but there are so many other times that real feeling seeps through, so for it to be brushed aside here really hurts, and really makes me think that, yes, Miles does not actually know thing one about women, and women and sex, and their bodies, and who they are as actual, individual human beings.

Because, let's face it, when essentially the thrust of the novel boils down to "women's sexuality almost brings about the end of the world", you realize you're just reading a version of the story of Adam and Eve, and all the brave Scarlettes in hunting boots with guns at the ready and strong, mysterious Katyas and practical, resourceful Lisa-Beths and purportedly progressive portrayals of women running their own brothels are really worth nothing when what happens is a (white) man ties himself to the earth by taking a woman as a bride (any woman, doesn't matter which, really) and saves the world through an orgy of blood and application of sheer strength (even when said man is usually a man of words, not violence).

Um, I did like the Master's cameo as the man with the rosette? And Sabbath could be quite an interesting villain, not your typical one at all. Rah rah rah?

In sum, I feel confident in saying that as this is my leisure reading, I have given Lawrence Miles a fair and unbiased going in chance, and have no need to read anything else he has done. :/

This is a slightly odd first public post, as it's far more detailed on issues than I usually get, but that's life.


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