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A Failed Experiment with Twilight profic: Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

Published October 28, 2014 by Shannon

Gabriel's Inferno (Gabriel's Inferno, #1)

My first experiment to see if Twilight pulled-to-publish stories actually worked as original fiction failed. Not because the story doesn’t–I think it probably does–but it was so far from being my cup of tea that I gave up around the chapter 11 mark. I refer, of course, to Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard.

The Premise: Gabriel is a sinful, sinful man who sins a lot. He is also a Dante scholar who for some reason has more money than God. Julia is one of his students. They have a past connection that he doesn’t remember. He is rude and boorish, even while he decides that Julia is a delicate little wilting flower who blooms under kindness. The Jacob character is a perfectly nice guy named Paul who deserves to be in a story where he will not be the third wheel of this creepy, creepy love triangle.

At first I rather enjoyed this book. It was over the top and full of ridiculous amounts of cheese. If I stopped thinking of these people as even remotely realistic and started thinking of them as archetypes who lived on some other planet, I could get through it. Also there were manly tears in the first few chapters, and overwrought prose, and I felt a little like I was reading a bodice ripper of yore.

Then the Dante stuff started getting dropped in, and it’s not subtle at all. I read The Inferno once in high school and again in college. It was fairly easy to see where Reynard’s parallels were coming from, because a master of subtlety he is not. Clearly Julia/Bella was an analog for Beatrice, Gabriel/Edward was the Dante analog, and Paul/Jacob was the Virgil. And once we had our Beatrice, Reynard never failed to bring up how pure she was. Julia is a virgin. For some reason, this matters to everyone much more than I think it would in the real world. To put it another way, Julia is the very definition of a purity sue. And to no one’s surprise, along with that, there’s a whole host of slut-shaming.

Ultimately, it was the weird virgin/whore dichotomy that made this book unreadable. I could deal with over the top earnest crack. I was made uncomfortable for Julia, though, whose purity caused literally every man she encounters, up to and including the waiter at a restaurant, to put her on a pedestal. When I stepped away from the book, I found myself wondering what Gabriel would do after they inevitably got together and he discovered that pure, innocent and perfect Julia poops like everyone else.

Maybe it’s unfair to say this, but I was even more bothered by the benevolent sexism on display here because Reynard is a man. I think I could have put up a bit more with the purity nonsense if the book had been written by a woman. Then I could take it as female fantasy. But since the writer is male, it made the white knight in tarnished armor thing creepy rather than hot.

So yeah. I know this trilogy did well enough for itself, and I might see what Reynard is capable of if he ever gets ahold of a better editor, but I think I need to read a book where the heroine is allowed to get down and dirty without needing to put up with a guy who runs hot and cold and also puts her up on a pedestal.

Grade: DNF

An overly long justification of some questionable library purchases

Published October 23, 2014 by Shannon

Of all the things I imagined writing about when I first started seriously book blogging back in 2007, defending the Twilight franchise was not one of them. I think I’ve told the story of how I discovered Twilight before, but I’ll share it again. My sister cornered me and read the first three chapters aloud to me.

“Neato,” I said to myself, because that’s how nobody talked in 2006. “I can’t wait to go back and finish this excellent coming-of-age story about a young girl who has to adjust to living in darkest Washington and dealing with her prickly dad. It’ll be like all those YA books I read as a kid, only updated for modern readers.”

When Edward was introduced, and continued to dominate Bella’s every waking thought, my interest in the book dissipated. I mean, if I wanted to read paranormal romance, even back in 2006, I could find a lot more stuff out there, most of which contained appropriate amounts of smut. Twilight didn’t even work for me as crack, because sparkly vampires aside, it was mostly just boring.
Skip to several years later. When 50 Shades of Grey was published, I dismissed it out of hand. After all, I could go read some Harlequin Presents if I really wanted to read about alpha-hole heroes and terrible relationship dynamics. I could find badly written BDSM on Literotica for free, even. I did read all of the recaps Jenny Trout wrote of the series, and that convinced me they were really not for me. But I couldn’t seem to stop reading the criticism of both Twilight and 50 Shades.

I really liked Jenny’s take on 50 Shades, because I thought it was pretty ballsy of her to snark like that about another author’s books. Plus, the recaps were funny, and they came from a romance writer, so there wasn’t any of the subtle condescension I’d encountered in a lot of the 50 Shades material I’d seen online.

Since my abortive attempt to read Twilight, I have successfully read a lot of feminist theory as well. One of the things I’ve taken away from what I’ve read is that sexism isn’t always horrible and flashy and obvious. Often it’s quieter and more insidious. It’s finding myself on one of my favorite communities online having to read yet another screed by some know-it-all nerdy dude in his early twenties who used “Twilight” as shorthand for “awful writing.” It’s listening to other women say things like, “I mean, I like romance, but ugh, Twilight, amirite?” It’s being one of those women myself. It’s realizing that Twilight and to some extent 50 Shades can be the shorthand for “stupid romance that girls like.”

Lately I’ve been reading Anne Jamison’s excellent Fic, which is a brief overview of a few moments in fannish history. Jamison is a literature professor who’s taught courses on fanfic, and she devotes a lot of time to the Twilight fandom, including the pull-to-publish phenomenon, and what she’s written has really intrigued me. Some of the fics she used to teach actually have been pulled to publish, but she points out that they were doing interesting things with the source material that made them worthy of analysis.

Which is why I checked out several of them from the library: Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Bastard, Sylvain Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno, and I shelled out money for Shay Savage’s Transcendence.. I’m curious if I’ll find any of these works derivative or transformative. (I’m particularly excited about the Reynard piece because he’s a man and I’ve been promised actual Dante and fewer marriage contracts. Also, the Savage is about a cave man who can’t speak and the time traveler who loves him. Sounds delicious.)

Jamison’s book has made me think a bit more on my position about fanfic with the serial numbers filed off. It’s not quite as easy as changing some names to make a buck, and it’s not as if alternative universe fanfic didn’t exist before Twilight. (Hello, Uber Xena… which provided a struggling bisexual wee Shannon with her first taste of healthy and sexy lesbian relationships.) So I can’t entirely say it’s always wrong. I can be dismayed that 50 Shades entered the cultural zeitgeist instead of something I find less problematic, but, I mean, Twilight didn’t give me well-rounded characters. Maybe these ficcers turned pro writers can at least improve on that score.

I don’t know how this will go. Or even if I’ll end up reading any of these books. But I’m kind of excited to see what happens.

Review: Into the Arms of Morpheus by Jessica Nichols

Published October 3, 2014 by Shannon

So yes. I do exist. And my good intentions about writing a blog post explaining about how this summer the inspiration to blog wasn’t there went out the window.

I did, however, agree to participate in a blog tour. They will probably never ask me again, but hey, I’m posting!

Just a caveat: The editor of this book is actually a friend. In case that makes a difference. She does know I’m writing an honest review, though.

Into the Arms of Morpheus

I’m not sure that I would have picked up Into the Arms of Morpheus by Jessica Nichols on my own. After having read it, I’m still not entirely sure how I’d classify the experience.

Here’s the blurb:

Sylvia has always harboured a solitary obsession with Morpheus, the Greek God of Dreams. She’s brought it with her from her adolescence in a village of Northern England where she grew up, to the university in Manchester where she now studies.
Nyx is the Goddess of Night, and has spent the centuries stewing in an ancient, unrequited love. Not easily pleased, her attention is drawn to a voice chanting its devotion and desire for her, and she seeks the source of it.
She is not the only god playing in the realms of men, however. When the God of Death and Morpheus himself become aware of this new devotee, the stage is set for the gods to secure their worship, or for a mortal to become one of them.

The Good: If Jessica Nichols hasn’t spent quite a bit of time in Manchester, I certainly wouldn’t know it. I found the description of the setting evocative. This isn’t the sort of story that you could transplant to somewhere else and have it work out. It’s always refreshing to read a book that is so centered in its sense of place.

The plot also goes in a direction I didn’t expect. I really thought, based on the blurb, that I had the book pegged. Sylvia would be our good-girl heroine, and Nyx, being a female with power and also the goddess of night, would be a slutty bitch. We would be supposed to root for Sylvia’s sweet, angelic purity to triumph over Nyx’s slutty girl with power. That’s not what happens. In fact, Nyx is easily the most fascinating character in the book, and I admit to waiting eagerly for her POV. I also thought there was genuine chemistry between Nyx and Sylvia, and I was really hoping something would come of it.
The writing style also works well for the book. It’s dreamlike, and I felt as if I was glimpsing images rather than really understanding what was going on. At first, this bothered me. (Ask me my thoughts on the virtues of linear storytelling… I’ll tell you at great length.) But as I read further, I’m not entirely sure she could have told the story any other way.

The Not so good:

I never got a sense of the characters, and particularly Sylvia. As I’d feared, she comes across as something of a Mary Sue, and people are drawn to her because of her incorruptible pure pureness. In fact, cleansing and purity are always associated with her. This makes her, quite frankly, a little boring. Also, being mortal, she’s not very proactive. Everything that happens to Sylvia is a direct result of someone else’s actions. Plus, she’s devoted to Morpheus because… I was never clear on that, but my impression was that she thought he was cool. Of course, Morpheus being the god of dreams, she practices her devotion by… sleeping a lot. Which is exactly as exciting as you think it is.

Naturally, though the slut-shaming didn’t take the form I expected it to, it was still somewhat pervasive. Nyx and Sylvia are forgiven much by the text, but every other woman is shown to be weak. The one male POV we get regularly is quite the misogynist asshole, although of course Sylvia’s pure pureness is totally different from all those other slutty whores. Honestly, seeing this sort of thing written by a female author makes me incredibly sad. Why must we denigrate all other women who aren’t the designated protagonist? What did those other women do to deserve that?

My other major quibble with the book is that there is dreamlike and then there’s simply unclear. I’m still not sure, as I said, that I could tell you exactly what happens in the course of the novel. I know it basically ends happily, with Sylvia being less bisexual than I would have liked, but if I were to write a book report for a grade in which I summarized the whole story, I’m not sure I could. Which is troubling, because it’s not that long.

I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to. It’s a fairly short read, though I’d argue it’s not all that quick. It’s a different take on dark fantasy than I’ve encountered before. I’d probably read something else from this author. (Preferably something with more smut, because I bet her erotica is awesome.) This book isn’t to my particular taste, but it might appeal to a reader willing to delve deeper into the text than I was, and whose inner feminist is less loud than mine.

My grade: A C.