A pentacle of urban fantasy reviews (IV of IV)
I loved the basic premise of this story, which was that the Amazons of myth and legend still exist, hidden within our modern-day culture. Unfortunately, past that initial premise I found myself asking a ton of anthropologically based questions which were never answered — I think it was a case of me knowing too much. For example, why would a matriarchy (where traditionally the hearth is considered sacred) despise hearth-women — isn’t that more a projection of how we today see stay-at-home wives? Further, why would all the mystical totem animals of a matriarchy be considered male? Why would a matriarchy — which came into existence before the Greeks — worship a Greek goddess?
These questions arise from the reading I’ve done on the Scythian / Sarmatian / Saka nomadic equestrians. The grave goods of their women clearly demonstrate both that female predators were considered fiercely dangerous hunters and protectors of cubs, and often associated with the goddesses — and that women themselves were highly revered, regardless of whether they were hearthwomen, priestesses, warriors, or priestess-warriors. Further, the archaeologists were able to figure out the name of the primary deity: a goddess of fire, hearth, and family named Tabiti — not a Greek goddess!
I consider this relevant information because our heroine’s last name is Saka (thereby establishing at least some theoretical connection), and also because the Amazons of this story live a very long time. The heroine’s grandmother, for example, is over 500 years old — and there’s no indication that she’s the oldest woman alive. Since the nomadic equestrians I mention above existed between the 6th or 5th centuries BCE to the second to fourth centuries CE (depending on who you ask), surely that would mean there might well be Amazons in the story whose mothers or grandmothers still retained and remembered the old ways — because they lived them?
Archaeological questions aside, I found myself wondering how the warriors could remain so arrogant yet unnoticed by modern society. True, there are priestesses in the story who can do actual magic, but they don’t travel around with the various families. So if a cop stops one of their cars, who’s hiding the warriors? They’re clearly shown as being utterly unaware of the courtesy and humility necessary to deal with modern bureaucracy, after all.
For that matter, how does the magic work? As a good friend of mine noted when we were discussing the book, the magic is really nicely depicted, in a very tactile manner. It’s not just all “glowies” and being tossed around by wind — our heroine actually walks a spiderweb of interlocking and dangerous magical threads at one point, and at another she mentally crafts and then silently exhales her magical effect from within herself, to counter someone else’s. Consequently, I find I rather like the (apparent) sympathetic magic the women do — but then we’re suddenly hit with not one but two brand new forms of magic — with no explanation! Further, in some ways one of the new forms of magic was simply gratuitous, as my friend noted. Also, the abrupt emergence of previously absolutely unknown new magic rather perplexed me, in that the heroine discovers someone doing both these types of new magic — and yet never bothers asking how it was done, where it came from, why it worked, or anything!
Frankly, I felt the poor heroine was overall a bit of a fool. She’s so fixated on the person she (incorrectly) blames for all her ills that she misses both the little mystery right under her very nose at the story’s beginning… and who the killer is — until it’s almost too late. She did not make much sense to me, as a character. Why would an Amazon allow a man to push kisses on her? For that matter, when she’s surrounded by several other beautiful women, and she keeps making foolish and incorrect accusations, why is it she whom the cop (whom she earlier knees in the groin!) and the “prodigal son” fixate on romantically? I found her rather sad: even though she saves her daughter, everything else she’s tried to do is revealed to be pretty much wrong — from who she thought the killer was, to who was responsible for the loss of her son, to isolating her daughter from the Amazons.
Ultimately I found there to be too many unanswered questions at story’s end to be happy with it as a stand-alone book. It was conceptually interesting, and I liked the background’s concepts — heck, I wish the background had gotten more attention than the protagonist did! I guess what I want is both the neat background, and a smart heroine.
Ask and ye shall receive: a smart heroine! :)
Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, Book 1)
Okay, this story was just plain fun — and it pushed all my happy buttons in regards to the protagonist as well. My sole irritation with the story was the truly dreadful version of werewolve society again: as the females being rare because they’re less able to endure pain than males, and consequently being absolutely submissive to all males (regardless of how powerful they may be individually) until they’re mated off — at which point they gain only the status of their mates.
Despite this, I was quite pleased to see throughout the story that the heroine, while both tough and resilient, was also mischievously clever — and a generous individual who genuinely cared about people and brought folks together as allies. True, she was a bit mouthy initially, but much to my relief she was not at all like the protagonist of the “Magic” series: she learned quickly you do not taunt lunatics! A clever heroine who depends on her brains and quickness more than just beating everything up, who is determinedly independent in a world where power and dominance seems to be the only way to go, who knows what it’s like to be alone due to difference but who still cares deeply about her friends, who is not a moron depending on script immunity and whose romantic subplot isn’t with creepy stalkers… what’s not to like? ;-)
The story contained a viably interesting background world as well as a plethora of characters which I want to know more about. The subplots (happily including a potential romantic one!) wove smoothly through the main story-thread, and the main story itself was not paper-thin — a problem I find far too often in fiction. I was both surprised and pleased to see the werewolves actually had some wolf-like, as well as human-like, thinking, leading to complex and nuanced plotting which in the end took me by surprise. I enjoyed the story’s unexpected and engrossing twists, and I found the heroine quite engaging; I’ll definitely read more of this series.
We both already know how much I heart Mercy Thompson, so let me instead turn my attention to the other book in this particular post.
First of all, it sadly does not particularly strike me at all that very little research is done into the actual nature of the Amazons. So much fictional literature out there these days is all about the gimmick, and less about the historical or academic reality. Sure, vampires and werewolves are still very big out there, so there are authors that are turning in other directions, trying to look for the Next Big Thing. For a couple authors, it’s dopplegangers/shapechangers. For some, it’s superheroes, and as recently as a post ago, it was valkyries in Norse Code. This author chose Amazons. And in her story, it’s not about who they actually were, it’s just a mythological buzzword. Kickass female warriors that have mythological basis: very apropros for the times, in a post-Buffy world. Print it!
I’m not saying Amazons couldn’t be done right. I’m just saying that from how you describe it, it doesn’t seem she did that. Especially what with the disparaging of hearth-women, which sounds far more a modern critique of the house-wife stereotype, than it is of any reality (as you yourself said).
So, yeah. It sounds like she did a very little research, thought the idea was cool, and usurped the Amazons for her own literary use. This sort of thing can be very frustrating. I mean, if you’re going to do your own spin on Amazons (as many people have done their own spin on vampires… rassafrackatwinkletwinklelittlevamp) why not just call them something else, and make them wholely yours, and however you want them to be? but that doesn’t work, does it? No, need the buzzword. Otherwise, it’s not a selling point.
So Amazons get watered down, because someone wants to sell books. Typical.