definitely recommend Throne of Glass series

After my recent review of books 1 & 2 (Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight) of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, I’m happy to say, after finishing book 3 and starting book 4, it seems my tentative hope the series would spin that whole internalized misogyny trait into an opportunity for character growth were justified!

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Vague Spoilers

for 

Books 3 & 4

and

Continuing Plot Theories 

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Heir of Fire (Book 3) mostly had Celaena hanging out in a completely separate land, once again surrounded by dudes and once again bunking down with a completely different guy (it is crazy how every book has her developing a different intensely emotionally intimate physical yet largely non-sexual relationship with a different guy–I think she’s had 4 serious relationships at this point, and only one confirmed sexual relationship. How is she sharing a bed with but not boinking these hotties?), so no real progress on her characterization … but readers were introduced to a kickass bunch of new female characters.

These witches (seriously, they’re witches) are complex, distinct characters existing within a unique matriarchal warrior-clan social hierarchy, and if I’m reading this correctly, there are no men at all in their society. None. So far, they seem to be set up as antagonists, but Maas is spending a lot of time on their chapters for enemies, so I’m thinking they’re going to ally with Celaena at some point–Maas hasn’t given the reader time inside any other villain’s head, so I don’t know why the witches would be the exception, fascinating as they are.

I am loving them, by the way. Seriously amazing. Nictating membranes! Ah! Those would be so useful on my motorcycle! I would totally be a witch. Clan Ironteeth!

I just started Queen of Shadows (book 4) this morning, and I’m on chapter 13. There’s this whole interaction between Celaena and a courtesan who was her version of a Mean Girl antagonist growing up, and the realization their enmity was largely due to a manufactured competition for the approval of a powerful and brutal man. It’s really giving me hope overall. I’m excited!

True, the plot could develop in a direction I’d hate–where their new solidarity is splintered by betrayal in the third act, leading to Celaena’s distrust in women/ internalized misogyny being reinforced and further difficulties in book 6.

But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the third act sees Celaena questioning her trust in their friendship, then taking a leap of faith to preserve it/ redeem herself for her previous lack of faith in Nehemia, and in doing so gains a strong ally for whatever happens in book 6.

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the meme-ening

Holy shit, I’m getting tired of memes equating Secretary Clinton to Donald Trump.

One is an established politician with a  record of public service. She was born to middle class parents and attained her current wealth through the US idealized path of education, hard work, and employment. Despite decades of smear campaigns which have jump-started numerous targeted investigations, no proof of corruption has been unearthed against her. And the people who hate her have looked, really hard. These were not her friends investigating her. These were her enemies. People who wanted to take her down. People who still want to take her down.

The other is a man who has repeatedly displayed an utter lack of understanding regarding basic politics, governance, or even geopolitical boundaries. He regularly voices admiration for dictators. He shows no aptitude for the compromise necessary to politics. He was born to wealth and has mismanaged every cent since in his various attempts at businesses, yet claims to represent the interests of working class Americans. He has a proven public and legal record of language and actions which are anti-worker-rights, misogynistic, racist, tax-dodging, and just shitty business management.

Yet people act like they’re equivalent. It is madness.

Look, like a lot of people, (but not enough) I voted Bern in the primary. I complained about Hillary Clinton, a lot. I had (have?) my beef with her as a choice. Mostly, she’s too conservative for me–I lean far more left. But the situation is what it is. The Founding Fathers chose the electoral college system on purpose, and when combined with first-past-the-post voting, it prioritizes a two-party system.

That means, like it or not, voting third party means ceding my vote to the majority. The US democracy was designed it that way, on purpose. Personally, I think it’s dumb–I’m a fan of parliamentary or even sortition democracies, but it is what it is. This is where I was born, where my citizenship is, and where I live and vote. The options are pretty cut-and-dry:

1. Vote candidate A
2. Vote candidate B
3. Cede my vote to my fellow citizens by not voting OR voting third party.

I read an article recently pointing out this exact reality, and it actually convinced me away from third party voting. I was going to vote third party in “protest,” and the author of that article succinctly pointed out that a protest is only effective if someone hears the message. A protest vote is the silent message, audible only to the giver. It’s really just a salve to conscious of the individual, so they can avoid making a choice between two candidates they dislike. I know, I was there. Totally berned and hopping on the Jill Stein wagon (which is even more ridiculous, because I’m actually pro-nuclear).

Now, in some countries, a vote is invalidated if enough of the electorate stays home–for example, in Hungary, they recently voted on a referendum similar to Brexit, but over 50% of the electorate refused to vote, so the results were dismissed.

This is not the case in the US. If you don’t vote, your voice doesn’t count. The non-voting electorate isn’t even considered or reported in terms of election results. Nobody hears the no-vote “protest.” Nobody registers it. Nobody cares. All someone has chosen when  choosing not to vote is to literally abdicating their voice and representative selection to every other voter in the US.

So, protest by voting third party, right? That’s what you’re thinking. Make a choice, but flaunt the status quo! Force your voice to be heard! Right? Plus–as many argue (including, in the past, myself), voting third party is actually a means of effecting change in our democracy! It’s not wasting a vote to attempt to use it in an attempt to reform a broken system! By voting third party, we can assist party X in meeting the minimum threshold of requisite votes to qualify for federal funding/ debate participation in the next election cycle!

Wrong! On several counts, actually.

First, the spoiler effect is real, and nothing to joke about in a campaign like this. I suspect it may even be part of the reason Bernie Sanders ran as a democrat, instead of an independent like Nader–he didn’t want the spoiler effect splitting the vote and party. He chose to endorse Clinton (much to the dismay of many of his followers) because he is cognizant of the spoiler effect. When votes in a plurality voting system (first-past-the-post) are split between candidates with similar ideologies, it causes the strongest opponent to win.

It feels weird, even counterintuitive, to say that–why would voting for Jill Stein essentially count as a vote for Donald Trump? But the way it works is this: During a heated election between two candidates. One is running on a platform of chocolate, the other on a platform of alfalfa sprouts. A third, pro-carrot cake candidate presents themselves as an alternative option to both. There are 100 voters. On voting day, 85 go to the polls, and 15 decide not to vote because they’re sick of all the controversy. Of the 85 who vote, 35 vote for chocolate and 10 vote for carrot cake, which leaves alfalfa sprouts with a victory of 40 votes.

This would not happen in ranked ballot/ preferential voting system used in many parliamentary democracies, because the voters could rank their candidate choices in order of preference, eg:

  1. Chocolate Candidate
  2. Carrot Cake Candidate
  3. (write in)

But the US is not a preferential or ranked ballot, so that protection is not built into our voting system. In a sortition democracy, the names of public servants would be drawn from a lottery of registered citizens, so you might end up with the Asparagus Candidate–but you wouldn’t have a popularity-contest candidate who was actively seeking power, which I personally would argue is a key character disqualification. Those who seek positions of power rarely seem fit to wield them–but again, not a protection built into our system.

The protection the Founding Fathers saw fit to build in to our democracy was the Electoral College, which they intentionally did to limit direct democracy (ie, the popular vote), because they were concerned about what kind of person an uninformed, uneducated populace might be induced to vote into power. Looking at Trump … you can see why.

Second, with third party votes split the way they are, it minimizes the “protest” aspect of it. The majority of votes are still going to the primary candidates. It still looks, to the uninformed eye, like Chocolate’s 35 votes lost to Alfalfa Sprouts’ 40 votes. The 10 voters who “spoiled” it are barely noticed as competition by the average voter–after all, 10 is less than 35 and 40, so both Chocolate and Alfalfa easily beat Carrot Cake. It doesn’t occur to the average or downright ignorant voter to add Carrot Cake’s votes to Chocolate’s in order to see what the results would have looked like had the third candidate not entered/ spoiled the race.

In other words, voting for Carrot Cake isn’t seen by anyone else as a protest–it is seen, at best, as hopeful dreamers who wasted their vote on a no-win candidate; and at worst as spoiling the race so we all had to deal with alfalfa sprouts.

Third, as an agent to effect change, third party voting is inefficient. Even the most popular candidates aren’t polling anywhere near the requisite levels, which means a protest vote as a means of changing the system would be far less effective than, say, just hassling congressional representatives about any one of the many voting amendment legislations under consideration.

There are at least 3 major 3rd party candidates (not counting write-ins) popular enough to collectively split what seems to be about 15 percent of the electorate between them (generously)–Gary Johnson, at last polling, was said to have about 8.4 percent support, while Jill Stein polled at 3.2. I have no idea what Evan McMullin polls at, but apparently the Trump-hatred is so strong among Utah Republicans that some people are projecting a McMullin win for Utah.

I first heard of the guy from my LDS family, and honestly? If these claims are in any way accurate, I think Utah needs to check their water supply or something, because apparently most of those guys have just decided to opt out of democracy altogether in order to vote in some sort of hallucinatory parallel reality for a candidate who literally isn’t even on the ballot in most states. Like, wtf. Okay.

Even more voters have indicated they loathe both major party candidates so much they won’t vote at all. And it sucks, because at the end of the day, it’s an inescapable reality that we’re going to have either Clinton or Trump as the next President of the United States, and every voting-eligible citizen is in some way party to that choice, whether they like it or not. They can explicitly cast their vote for one of the two major-party candidates, or nope right the fuck out and abdicate their decision in some way to the same apathetic, uninformed, uninvolved electorate which landed us in this situation in the first place, but in the end it will be Clinton or Trump.

Clinton is a proven leader with a public record of service and a proven ability to compromise and work across the aisle. She’s kind of like the hard ass teacher or boss we’ve all had to deal with at least once; the one everyone complains about and hates and gossips about, but in retrospect realizes was actually pretty fair and straightforward, just a hardass with high standards who had equal expectations for everyone, and eventually you realize the only students (or employees) who actually hated them were the ones who were fucking around and making things worse for everyone else.

Trump is the American equivalent of Kim Jong Il. Irrational, egotistical, outrageous, and completely ignorant of policy or governance. Ironically, for all he’s playing on the woe-is-me of displaced white male rage, I think he’s only getting away with this shtick because he’s white and male. If an equally outrageous, unqualified, and wealthy woman, person of color, or trans* individual was in his place, they never would have gotten this level of support, or made it so far.

Go ahead, try to imagine Kanye West or Kim Kardashian running a successful outrage campaign all the way to the White House. They’ve got the same qualities Trump has brazenly staked his campaign on–wealth, bombastic personalities, outspoken opinions on matters they’re not experienced in, and apparently a larger-than-life conviction regarding their range of skills and abilities. They’re also younger, hotter, and more talented than Trump–but they wouldn’t win. Not together or separately.

Look at the amount of racism and resistance President Obama faced during his campaign(s), and he’s a light-skinned, ivy-league educated, well-spoken black man. He’s played the respectability politics game, but has still been subjected to every maligning racist slur there is, as has his family–his daughters. I mean, seriously? Wtf.

So when people insist on equating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, especially in the various memes littering my social media or (gods forbid) emailed to me, I admit to some escalating frustration. Especially since these memes implicitly promote, by their correlation of the two candidates as equivalent, a protest or opt out vote, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s basically saying, “Ack! Can you fucking believe these awful candidates!? How about, instead of making the adult decision to ensure our nation doesn’t end up with an idiot dictator with no grasp of law, order, or basic decency, we just get everyone to abdicate responsibility altogether! Yay!”

stuff I’m reading

I started reading this kinda cool fantasy series written by a female author recently, Sarah Maas, I think. Throne of Glass or Thorns or something. I came across a mention of the 6th book in one of the reading or writing subreddits, and it sounded interesting, so I went and picked it up on Monday. I’ve read the first two so far.

It’s cool–kind of predictable in terms of a high/ classic fantasy, so far as it goes. Castles, assassins, elves, suppressed magic, evil tyrant, hidden ruler. Nonetheless, it’s fun. Well paced, interesting characters. The predictability of the plot is comforting, rather than being a drawback, and it’s not so predictable that it’s boring … think of it more as familiar rhythm, a recognizable pace. Something enjoyable and relaxing, but not rolling-your-eyes/ mouthing-along-with-the-dialogue levels of predictable.

There is one tiny issue which kinda bothers me. Heh. I dunno. It’s weird–I used to read a lot of fiction featuring female protags, and I’ve never noticed this before? So I wonder if I’m only noticing it now because there was this gap where I didn’t really read fiction for a while, or if it’s always been there but it’s just more explicit … I dunno. Anyway.

Basically, the thing bothering me is that Celaena Sardothien, the protagonist, kinda exhibits some internalized misogyny/ special snowflake traits. Early on in the first book, she’s explaining why she doesn’t have female friends, and references some sort of gendered betrayals–not in depth, just super vaguely. Something about learning from experience not to develop friendships with women who had their own agendas. There are also scenes where she:

  • Does the whole, “I’m not like other girls,” shtick (cause she’s an ass-kickin’, pants-wearin’, names-takin’ assassin, get it?),
  • Sneers at other women (women of the court) who ogle handsome men (even though she frequently does it)
  • Sneers at other women (women of the court) for prioritizing frivolous/ courtly pursuits, although she also enjoys shopping/ pretty clothes/ pampering herself in a nice bath/ giggling about cute boys
  • Rolls her eyes, makes barbed comments, and in general is judgey while claiming not to care/ be judgey about the women “her” boys flirt with/ spend time around.

Basically, she reealllyy looks down on women who prioritize their safety/ goals in a patriarchal system, especially if they prioritize their own well-being at the cost of other women. At one point, she even calls them something like, “traitors to their sex,” or “traitors to their gender,” –something like that.

Of course, there’s no similarly gendered insult for men who undermine other men–or betray the women in their lives–in order to obtain wealth and power. And at one point, Celaena even pulls out the classic line of, “guys are more straightforward/ honest than girls.” This is especially darkly, tragically hilarious because the backstory trickling out about her seems to be one where it has been the actions of men seeking wealth and power which has shaped the major tragedies in her life. (More below)

The one woman Celaena does inexplicably befriend, Nehemia Ytger, is explicitly written as a non-romantic threat. She’s apparently stunningly beautiful (and a fight/ rebel leader of her own people), but due to politics/ whatnot is off-limits in terms of courting. Plus, she doesn’t flirt, and she’s a woman of color in what is (apparently) a slightly racist court. There is a scene where the prince recognizes Nehemia’s attractiveness (specifically in response to his mom acting racist about her), but it’s in an almost academic way, like you’d recognize the beauty of a painting or a rose. Not in the way you’d acknowledge finding someone genuinely attractive.

Nehemia’s plotline … well. If you haven’t read the books, but if you think you might want to and want to avoid major plot spoilers, time to back out now. I’m going to try to stay vague, but what’s coming up is definitely

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SPOILERS

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SPOILERS

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Still here? Okay.

So, Nehemia doesn’t appear to have any romantic interests, or any friends outside of Celaena, and even bonds with Celaena by specifically declaring her mutual special snowflake status/ dislike of “other girls”. For a book and 2/3, she’s a blank slate who shows up to listen to Celaena talk about boy problems, offer the occasional wise piece of advice, provide timely and enigmatic assistance, and then disappears to her own mysterious errands.

Celaena, being somewhat self-absorbed, is utterly unaware of and uninterested in whatever Nehemia is up to (except when she’s suspecting Nehemia of betrayal and evil, which she’s really quick to do), but pretty much collapses in paroxysms of grief when Nehemia is fridged.

Yup. Nehemia is killed in a particularly gruesome manner, with her violated corpse left for Celaena to find, specifically to impel the character’s plot forward/ kick them into action. There are also some disturbing hints of self-sacrifice in this plotline, with several hints that Nehemia chose to sacrifice herself/ traumatize her friend in order to impel Celaena to action, which is just … fucked up,  dude. That’s just fucked up.

Plus, honestly? Celaena’s reaction is kind of unbelievable to me as a reader. Not because Nehemia is unlikeable–because Celaena doesn’t seem, while Nehemia is alive, to particularly care about or prioritize their friendship. The majority of their interactions revolve around Celaena and her problems and injuries. There are one or two incidents when Nehemia is dealing with hurtful or bad news, and the reader knows because Celaena either runs into Nehemia or Nehemia specifically seeks Celaena out immediately afterward … but then Celaena won’t see her for weeks, and she just shrugs it off with, “Huh, I guess she wants to be alone right now.”

Plus, I’m a little bothered by the dynamics of it all. It’s weird that the only other even slightly fleshed-out female character (and the only person of color) was unnecessarily fridged just to further a plotline. I feel like everything from the warehouse reveal on could have happened without the torture+death of Nehemia. For example, as written:

  1. Warehouse reveal causing Celaena to lose trust in Chaol
  2. Celaena runs to the castle, discovers brutal murder scene
  3. Flips out, is put in dungeon
  4. Goes catatonic for a bit
  5. Recovers, goes on vengeance/ murder spree
  6. Returns to her mystery/ plot solving
  7. Confronts Blahdeblah, resolves PLOT, reveals BETRAYAL.

So, that could have been written:

  1. Warehouse reveal causing Celaena to lose trust in Chaol
  2. Celaena runs to the castle, discovers Nehemia fighting off assailant
  3. Flips out, joins Nehemia in kicking ass. Dorian and Choal arrive and intervene bc fighting in castle is a bad idea. Assailant escapes, Celaena blames Chaol.
  4. Nehemia severely injured (poison wound?) Celaena terrified
  5. Can’t handle sickroom, goes hunting the assailant
  6. Returns to her mystery/ plot solving
  7. Confronts Blahdeblah, resolves PLOT, reveals BETRAYAL.

Or,

  1. Warehouse reveal causing Celaena to lose trust in Chaol
  2. Celaena runs to the castle, discovers Nehemia’s room empty, signs of altercation. Blood everywhere. Guards and Nehemia gone.
  3. Cannot find Nehemia. Assumes the worst, flips out at Chaol, is put in dungeon.
  4. Goes catatonic for a bit
  5. Recovers, goes on vengeance/ murder spree
  6. Returns to her mystery/ plot solving
  7. Confronts Blahdeblah, resolves PLOT, reveals BETRAYAL.

Celaena’s relationships with the Prince and Chaol, on the other hand, feel much more complex and deeply explored. If one of them had died, her reaction of attacking bystanders, going into a comatose/ silent state of grief, then going on a murderous vengeance rampage would have been waaaaay more believable. But with Nehemia? It just kind of felt … overplayed. Like attention-mongery?

It frustrates me because the character development/ call to action Nehemia’s death supposedly necessitated was just … not there. It didn’t require her death. There were so many other ways to write it without fridging a decent character. Gah. And yeah, there are a few other named female characters, in super minor roles. Specifically:

  • A dead queen whose ghost appears occasionally in an advisory capacity
  • A live queen who’s pretty bland. Most of her scenes are harping on her son to get married and have babies/ being an irritant who’s company her son wants to escape.
  • An evil witch who eats children
  • One of “those girls,” a young noblewoman attempting to marry up in order to secure wealth and political power in a world that does not readily afford such to women. She’s attempting to manipulate a grotesque man in order to get closer to the prince, and her machinations turn horribly on her. Also, she’s a junkie. Don’t know why that character trait was included.

I don’t know. Like I said … enjoying the plot, mostly, but I am kinda (seriously) disappointed at the male-dominated cast and lack of well-written female relationships. Like, can we get some platonic sisterhood up in here?

But the writing is good, and I am only on the second book of what is apparently (thus far) a 5 book series, with one book published every year. So while there’s definitely room for improvement, some of the plotlines have hinted at more complex female characters showing up in the future (like warring witch clans and long-lost faerie queens!), as well as the exploration/ development of some of the ones already introduced (the junkie noblewoman). So there’s time, and I’m hoping things balance out.

I do kind of hope Celaena realizes, at some point, that guys are not more “forthright and honest,” than the women in her world. Like, the actions of men within their various realms/ levels of power seem to have uniformly been the architects of her greatest life tragedies, at least those listed in the first two books:

  1. Death of her parents (King Adarlan)
  2. A brutal upbringing at the hands of a foster father figure who ultimately demanded repayment for the debt of training her as an assassin (Arobynn Hamel)
  3. Lover murdered, betrayed as Adarlan’s Assassin, and sentenced to slavery in the salt mines (Arobynn Hamel)
  4. Being pulled from the salt mines to compete in a deadly contest for the right to champion the very King who’d murdered her family (Prince Dorian)
  5. Losing Choal because of manipulative seeds of distrust sown in an attempt to gain her trust (Archer Finn)
  6. Nehemia’s murder (Archer Finn)
  7. Being sent from Erilea “for her own good” without being consulted (Choal)

I mean, whatever the women she’d interacted with in the past have done, I find it kind of hard to believe they can reach those heights … yet somehow she says men are more honest and forthright?

Mind you, Prince Dorian, Choal, Archer, and King Adarlan spend pretty much all of books 1 and 2 stomping around being enigmas. With Archer and Adarlan, that’s expected, because they’re the villains. But with Dorian and Choal–her allies–it is kind of amusing to see Celaena run around all, “boys more honest, girls not trustworthy!” and Choal and Dorian are just lying their asses off to her and each other and everyone else about a shit-ton of stuff “for their own protection,” but she never bats an eye. Never even seems to register that (dis)honesty is not some sort of gendered trait.

I’m trying to decide if this is the unconscious bias of the author seeping into how she wrote the character, or if she’s actually really masterfully weaving this trait into the character in order to unpack it in later books. I’m hoping it’s the second one.