Tag Archives: Twilight

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Yawn

n-k-jemisins-the-hundred-thousand-kingdomsNetflix knows I’m a feminist. Untrue. Netflix knows I like movies and TV shows with “strong female protagonists.” May as well be the same thing. I should probably create that as a category on this blog, too. I do like books with women who are complicated, deep and challenging. I guess because I like reading about nuanced, complex characters and turns out, women are those, too. What I do not like reading are stock ‘strong female protagonists’ you know the sort who have ‘boy-like’ figures and unwieldy curly hair and piercing eyes (you noticed those were all descriptors of appearance, too, huh?). Who are awkward or ungainly, who aren’t supposed to succeed, but do because they are overlooked because of their previously stated ‘unconventional’ appearance. These female characters are confident, they’re independent and yet they end up relying on men (or in this case gods) (see the Divergent series for a great parallel, here, or Twilight for that matter) and don’t see it as reliance (or an abdication of their independence), but as a admission that their fierceness is all exteriority and really they do need help and someone has finally recognized their preciousness. Someone sees them for who they really are. Yawn.

It wasn’t just that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has one of these stock ‘unconventional’ strong female protagonists (who is secretly not-as-strong-as-she-looks and needs her man). Usually I can accept the character – or the text – on its terms and enjoy other elements, or enjoy the character needing others (because that can be enjoyable, too). But this book was just terrible in so many other ways, too. Woe was me that this was the only book I took on the plane with me (lesson here in packing more than one book in your carry-on. I made the same mistake in only bringing How to Be Both on the flight-there and finished it in the first half of the flight leaving me bookless and bereft – or maybe a lesson in getting an e-reader? but we all know how that ended last time: submerged in the tub).

Anyway, here are the ways it was terrible (in addition to its really sucky protagonist):

Overly and unnecessarily complex world-building: one of the reasons I love fantasy is for reading the way the worlds are constructed and imagined, the elements of magic (and where they appear) the alternate and parallel societal structures and the ways these are played with, the introduction of geography and the effort to situate the reader among these elements. One of the reasons I disliked this book was it made no effort to guide the reader in these elements. It assumed familiarity (to the point I thought maybe I was reading book two in a series) and in consequence overwhelmed this reader with detail, hierarchies, names, relationships and histories. It was too much and not enough all at once.

Inconsequential Plot: The thrust? Some gods have been made ‘slaves’ to a race of people and are being ‘held captive’ in human bodies. Our ‘daring’ female protagonist happens to have a duel soul – sharing her soul with that of one of these gods – only she didn’t know she had this duel soul until the sexy-god-man revealed it to her (yawn). With her duel soul she can emancipate the slaved gods and punish their captors. To do so she’ll be killed (or will she? or will the sexy-god-man save her? you might as well predict the outcome). This plot has potential! Make some connections to social inequality, to racial inequality, to inequality! make connections to forms of violence and oppression. Make the god characters someone I could care about by describing more than their “cavernous dark eyes”. No such luck.

Tired tropes of other characters: Evil step-sister? check. Punishing patriarch? check. Wise woman with potions and herbs? (re: witch) check. Sexy-dangerous lover? (Edward, anyone?) double check.

So yeah, this wasn’t a good book for me. But a bazillion other people seem to really love it (getting both Hugo and Nebula nominations for best book). So… tell me where I’m wrong. I’m willing to change (because, I too, am secretly not-as-confident-as-I-look). Untrue.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book I'll Forget I Read, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Worst Books

Twilight: to like, nay, to enjoy?

It is with some reluctance that I write this post about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. Reluctant because I’m all to aware that my review of the book must compare with thousands of similar entries, and reluctant because I’d rather not admit my response to the novel. But respond I must.

And so I finished reading Twilight wondering whether it might be possible to enjoy a book and at the same time not like it. My reasons for enjoying it are as simple as they are popular: a fantasy of being rescued, of being loved, and of feeling special. The reasons I did not like it were often times in direct opposition to the reasons I enjoyed it: I felt betrayed by a narrator who simultaneously claimed to want equality with her vampire partner while reveling in her dependence on him; I felt cheated that the apparently quirks of the “unique” narrator were nothing more then well entrenched stereotypes about passive women: poor coordination, fear of blood, fear of needles, poor driving, overwhelmed by emotion, and erratic and unpredictable mood swings. The supposedly mitigating factor of Bella’s apparent agency in wanting to be a vampire, too, is paltry indeed when considered as a decision undertaken with the only goal of securing – forever! – the lover/partner she unequivocally feels is too good for her.

I do find room for qualified praise on this last point: the novel’s consideration of insecurity in (teenage) relationships. Both Edward and Bella grapple with why they are the chosen love object, and both believe that the other doesn’t really “see themselves properly.” Except rather than using these scenes of self-doubt as a place to insist on reevaluations of what defines self-worth, the narrative concludes that it is only in the eyes and assurance of a lover that self-esteem and worth might ever be believed.

In terms of narrative style, the novel’s insistence on describing scenes as if in a movie annoyed me. A novel is not a screenplay. A novel does not require – nor does this reader want! – heavy handed (re: scripted) descriptions of Bella changing in and out of clothes, drying/brushing/flipping her hair. Character is not revealed, or complicated, by decisions to wear sweat pants.

So yes, I enjoyed Twilight as a pornographic fantasy of rescue from helplessness. I did not, however, like it as a novel. Like erotic literature of other, less public though no less popular kinds, it suffers from poor character development, problematic politics and explicitly filmic narration.

1 Comment

Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Fiction, Young Adult Fiction