NetGalley Review: A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon

A Thousand Perfect ThingsA Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon
Read: August 11 – August 18, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Premier Digital Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley!

Goodreads Book Blurb: In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century with two warring continents on an alternate earth: the scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India). Emboldened by her grandfather’s final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman and aspiring botanist, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate. There she will face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms. 

In a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and enduring gods, as a great native mutiny sweeps up the continent, Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped and stranger than she could have dreamed.

My Opinion: Where do I even start with this book? Well, let’s go with the beginning. Everything in Anglica was really cool. I followed it, and I enjoyed it. I like steampunk alternate settings. And the bridge was a really neat idea, though I got tangled in imagining our world as it is. No bridge would connect England and India in our world, as there are continents in between. But apparently not in this world.

This was the second book I read recently that made me wonder about constructed patriarchies. This one, being alternate history, probably had a little less wiggle room, but it still had some. And why is it that every time a woman wants to be her own woman she has to not want to get married? I am married, and I am still my own woman!

However, feminism is one of the lesser things that Kenyon tackles in A Thousand Perfect Things. Once the characters find themselves in Bharata, we are confronted with the heavy subject matter of cultural appropriation, which is rampant in today’s society. While I feel like this book was a decent staging ground for the battle, I found it bogged down the prose at times.

To be completely honest, most of what happened in Bharata was completely confusing to me. I think it got to a point where it was just… silly almost. By the end of the book I was skimming.

Tori was likeable enough in that she knew what she wanted, but I really hated her club foot. It was a crutch, both to make her imperfect and to give her something that needed healing. As someone with disabilities, I found this very unnerving.

Kenyon has a gift for description, and the scenery of A Thousand Perfect Things came alive for me… but that was pretty much it.

Bottom Line: I was lost after the characters left Anglica, and Kenyon began speaking of cultural appropriation and religion. It was too much for me, and bogged down the story.

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NetGalley Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman's GuideThe Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Baker
Read: July 17 – July 25, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Penguin Group – Viking for sending me this advance review copy via NetGalley!

Release Date: August 1, 2013
ISBN:
9780670023660
Price: $27.95 USD
Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Book Blurb: Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

My Opinion: When I saw this book on NetGalley, I had to have it. Something I have been craving lately is a strong female character, particularly in a fantasy setting. I requested this book and was so excited when I was approved.

Unfortunately, my excitement only lasted about 100 pages into the book.

With a title like The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, I imagined the character to be a headstrong woman who was secure in herself and her opinions. I thought she wouldn’t take any bull from anybody, and that she would be an accomplished magician by the end of the book. Nora was none of these things.

A lot of the time, her lack of matching characterization to the promises made in the title were written off as being tied to enchantment. This didn’t fly with me. I think in the end, the title was just a really bad choice for the book.

There is another reason for this. Not only did Nora not present as a “thinking woman”, the book didn’t have much in the way of magic in it, either. For a book titled The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, this was nothing short of a tragedy.

Emily Croy Barker’s book is the first one I have read recently that features what I have dubbed the “constructed-patriarchy trope“. In writing fantasy, authors have so many options open to them. Why do they fall back on creating an oppressive patriarchy for their characters to overcome? In this instance, it may have been an effort to make Nora seem more like a “thinking woman”, but it fell flat.

Another character I had a very hard time liking was Aruendiel. He was the typical alpha male, very much a jerk, yet somehow endearing. The only difference in The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is that he is not stunningly good-looking.

Writing-wise, Emily Croy Barker is good. The prose was decent, but the storytelling was lacking. There were a lot of tangential  things brought in that did nothing for me with regards to the whole story, and instead just bogged down the book bringing it in at over 500 pages. I love long books, but this one could have easily been shorter.

Not having read any Austen myself (I know, I know, bad Erin) I found the Pride and Prejudice references overdone and tiresome by the end of the book. They also seemed really out-of-place to me, but that could also be because I haven’t actually read P&P, and don’t know the story.

Even knowing this is a part of a planned series, the ending really aggravated me, as open-ended endings tend to.

Bottom Line: The title was a bad call on this one. Inherently it is not a horrible book. The writing itself is good, and some of the imagery is wonderful. But I had such high expectations of it because of the title that it really fell flat for me. As always, I encourage my readers to make their own call. But if you decide to pick up Emily Croy Baker’s book, imagine it is titled differently, with no reference to magic or amazing female characters.

Some Musings About Feminism and Writing

In case you didn’t know, I am a feminist. The shortest possible explanation I can give of what that means is that I believe in equality for women. It doesn’t mean I don’t like men, it doesn’t mean I want to take their rights away. Feminism is so misunderstood, it is kind of sad.

Most feminists will know about the women-in-refrigerators trope. In case you aren’t familiar with it, I will give you a quick rundown. This trope indicates that a woman’s place in a narrative (literature, TV, movies) is for the sole purpose of having horrible things done to her. The other side of this is that a woman is more likely to have horrible things happen to her in a narrative simply because she is a woman. We see this with serial killer stories where the serial killer targets women. We see this with a male main character who falls in love only to have his love brutally raped and murdered, thus giving him the motive he needs to exact revenge, etc.

As I am reading the latest NetGalley selection I requested, I realized something. I am noticing a disturbing trend, especially when it comes to fantasy. If I were to name the trope, I would call it the constructed-patriarchy trope.

When you write, and especially when you write fantasy, you have the right to create whatever world you want. This is part of why I love writing, and a bigger part of why I write fantasy. I love not being constrained by the world as it is now. If you want to dispute that a patriarchy exists in the world today, I suggest you take a look around. Because it is there.

But, when you are writing, and especially when you are writing fantasy, you have the freedom to make your own rules.

So why, then, are writers pitting their female characters against a patriarchy of their own making? What is even more distressing to me, is that since I have registered that this is happening, I have noticed it is a lot of female authors that do it. Now, I am not just going to sit here and point fingers. I recognize there might be a few reasons for this… so I am willing to explore those a little more.

Reason 1: Art imitates life.
This is the simplest reason I can think of. Women are oppressed, and it comes out in their writing. They want to break free of the patriarchy, and writing is the easiest way to do that.

Reason 2: The authors want to inspire feminism.
This kind of ties into reason one. But perhaps authors are looking to inspire readers to fight their own patriarchal oppression through their characters’ actions.

Reason 3: The authors are trying to write strong female characters.
Unfortunately, with what our world looks like today, a strong female must fight against a patriarchy. This isn’t actually true, though. I have read many books where the female main character is awesome, and there is no detectable patriarchy in sight.

Reason 4: The author wants the book to be relate-able.
The author may fully recognize they are creating a patriarchy, and they may be doing it for the sake of relate-ability. There is a patriarchal problem in the world today, therefore having it reflected in literature makes the literature that much more believable.

Those are the four reasons I came up with. And honestly, while they are forgivable, none of them really justifies (in my mind, anyways) the creation of a patriarchy.

So. Is this a trend that you have noticed? Am I late to the party? What do you think about the creation of a patriarchy in fiction?

On Sexism, Misogyny, Feminism, Literature, Video Games, and Maybe More.

Trigger warning: I will be blunt in this post. I love all of my followers a lot, and I don’t want to offend any of you. I will be talking about rape culture and sexism and my own personal beliefs on them. I will be linking to other sites that talk about these things. If you might be triggered by any of this, please step away now. I will still love you even if you don’t read this post. More so, in fact, because you chose to protect yourself.

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