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better and better (with just a few reservations)
on 24 February 2010
I am unabashedly giving this one five stars, which is strange, as there is a lot that raises my hackles in it. It's just that I don't care. My enjoyment runs completely roughshod over my poor hackles! It's dark, and fun, and fast-paced, and fun, and the stakes are higher than ever, and man, it's just so much *fun*.
I'm not sure that access to Niko as a point-of-view character does anything much to broaden or give us more insight into him. It's jarring ("whoa, wait, who's talking now? HE'S talking now?") and felt somewhat like a gimmick -- a necessary and effective one, as it turned out to be crucial to the plot that at some points the brothers do not each know what the other one is up to. But I would have liked a better glimpse into Niko's inner workings, his drives -- he's scrupulously noble, terribly deadly, and devoted to Cal above all else, but we already knew all that when Cal told us about it in the last few books, and Cal is funnier.
Still! Five stars!
Sophia is still cartoonish, however. The Auphe being unmitigated evil works fine; they are monsters, that's their job, and that's a perfectly valid plot function in fantasy. But Sophia...okay. People can be evil. People can be downright marred and sociopathic. Sometimes there's not even a reason for it -- it's like an illness, and they don't even have the excuse of delusion, of thinking that they're on the "right" side. But even the worst villainous people are human beings. They crave SOMETHING, comfort, attention, safety. They justify themselves to themselves. They create scenarios in which they are the righteous ones, or if not that, then at least the *smart* ones. So what made Sophia into Sophia? How did she justify that cr*p to herself? What made her hate her own kids, even the fully-human one? (I'm not saying it can't happen, and frankly it's quite easy to imagine her resentment at being the mom of a half-monster child *and* being left to raise the thing after all the imposition of such a pregnancy. But...that's not canon; don't make me tell *myself* that part of the story!)
(Did I mention, five stars?)
I realize we only get Cal's (and now Niko's) point of view, and theirs is not necessarily going to bridge us to hers; we're limited by their lack of knowledge. But that brings me to another point. Their *surety* strikes me as strange. They have no problems calling her a "b----." Not even out of anger or emotion -- it is simply an accepted fact of life that she is a "b----," completely free of any good or competent deeds whatsoever, and worthy of contempt and hate. Almost like a creature whose evil is indeed supernatural, and part and parcel of their nature. There's no uncertainty in the boys? Not a single instance of wondering "Why doesn't mom love me? Was it my fault?" She never once in all those years confused them, or even scared them, by a weirdly gentle gesture -- making them a large meal one day (even if the meal was cold or nasty) or bringing home a toy (even if defective or inappropriate) or patting them on the head (even if just because Cal's hair was messy and annoyed her)? Cal, and even Niko, are not that old -- Cal's barely 20 and Niko is 24 -- that sort of uncertainty can last until old old age. I'm not looking for whininess or them leaping to defend her, just some indication of mixed, complicated, realistic feelings. I can't believe that Sophia, if human, just spontaneously became gross one day. (It's not like breeding with an Auphe has been presented as fun times, either. Sounds pretty painful and horrible, and even normal surrogacy isn't EASY. How desperate was that woman? My god. I would love some indication of what made her DO that, and then refrain from leaving Cal by the roadside when it was all done and/or killing herself. They drove Cal *catatonic* and he has half their DNA.)
Unlike even Thurman's trolls, demons, and bridge monsters, who fight for their young, or enjoy riddle games, or are curious about the minds of the victims they absorb, Sophia is completely ruled by her villainy, or shown to us only through a prism of her villainy. She never has a lapse or a motive. The downright inhuman bad guys get to be more "human" than the bad girl, more complex, and ultimately more interesting.
I am less bothered by Sophia in this book because at least the other female characters have acquired a few layers. Georgia and Promise didn't really have any, before; all the intricate characterization went to men (mainly Goodfellow and Cal). The girls were both invariably wonderful -- Georgia being wonderful and precociously wise, Promise being wonderful and mysteriously sexy and reservedly dangerous -- but essentially "love interest" placeholders. (Werewolf Girl, however, has always been great.) There is more to the pair of them in this book, and I'm glad, so perhaps there will be more to Sophia in later volumes as well. I look forward to that.
All that said, I love this book. There is such an exuberant quality to the writing, a sense that the author is having a blast writing it and enjoys spending time in her characters' company. Therefore, I enjoy spending time in their company. It's hard work to make it look so easy, so kudos to Rob Thurman and I hope to see a lot more.