Book Review: Etched in Bone
I have been reading this series – The Others – since early 2015 (the first book was published in 2013 and I picked up the first three when #3 was released). This is the fifth in the series, and there will be at least one more (“Lake Silence” is scheduled for a 2018 release).
I have loved this series. I pre-ordered “Etched in Bone” as soon as it was available for pre-order. I scheduled this review. And then a few days ago, I got this text:
I’ll admit to feeling trepidatious when I started reading. As I have probably mentioned before (here and here, for starters), I have very little patience for sexual assault in my books. It’s disheartening to go back over books I’d rated highly and see how much non-consensual sexual content there is.
For a while, before Cat & I got too depressed, we were tracking the incidences of sexual assault (including mate rape, which just stop!) in romance novels. Urban fantasy and PNR (paranormal romance) have an exponentially higher rate of sexual assault than any other romance genre.
The above information will definitely color my review. Going forward, any book that has sexual assault that doesn’t drive the storyline (and I am extremely particular about what I will allow for “storyline driving”) will automatically get a 3-star rating. It’s no longer me deducting one sexual assault star from an otherwise 5-star book. This is crap and needs to stop.
After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…
As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.
With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.
I love the main characters in this story – the are well-crafted and well-developed and the way they grow and change with the series is fantastic. Meg Corbyn, the main character, has grown up so much over the series. She’s still skittish (as would you be, had you been a virtual slave pimped out so people could cut you up and get prophecies), but is developing into a strong young woman who is getting much better at asking for help and channeling her gift through her prophecy cards instead of through cuts in her skin.
Twyla Montgomery is my favorite human character and this book really showcased her strength. Having to watch her three adult children screw things up so badly (at least 2/3 of them) and to stand firm so that they have to stand on their own two feet (or not) had to have been painful (especially since there are grandchildren involved).
Simon and Tess are my favorite non-humans, and I kinda want to be Tess when I grow up. (Mostly for the hair, but a little bit for the “harvesting of human lives with her brain” thing she’s got going on.)
The bad guy – Cyrus James (Jimmy, or “that Cyrus”) – is bad. He is lazy, petty, manipulative, and cruel. The way he treats his younger sister (who was adopted, as we are reminded frequently by him) is abhorrent. He is physically, mentally, and verbally abusive to her, to his own wife, and to his children. There is no doubt what-so-ever that he is a bad, bad man. Also not in doubt? That his son Clarence is fixing to grow up just like daddy.
This is well-established by the way they treat people they perceive as weaker and less-powerful. Their lack of perception is showcased by who they perceive to be weaker and less-powerful (small doesn’t mean weak, especially when you’re dealing with Others).
At no point did I say to myself, “Hey, self! That Cyrus seems kinda bad, but I’m conflicted as to whether or not he deserves the kind of punishment that the Others mete out.”
Nor did I say, “I wonder if that shoplifting kid who is mean to his sister and who wears child-sized brass knuckles before beating up (or at least attempting to) smaller children is growing up just like daddy?”
The characters of both Cyrus and Clarence were carefully built and they both made me very uncomfortable with their slimy, greedy, stupid cruelty. (Anne Bishop’s character crafting is amazing. It’s a testament to her skills as a writer that she can cause me to have a visceral reaction to Cyrus with just a few strokes of her pen…errr…keyboard. Which is why what follows is even more upsetting and unnecessary.)
And then it was revealed that Clarence was offering his younger sister money to kiss his friend’s bums and had been offered money for young Frances to do more than that. As if the exposition that Clarence was considering “trying to pimp his younger sister” (direct quote from the book) wasn’t enough, later, in an effort to provide a distraction for his father, Clarence pulled down the pants of another little girl (Sarah), held her, and yelled out “Show ’em your bald pussy, bitch!”
Neither of the items mentioned in the previous paragraph were necessary. Clarence was already well on the road to Reprehensible Town, and making the child a sexual predator (which is never really addressed, other than Monty asking his sister-in-law – the mother of Clarence and Frances – if she knew Clarence was starting to pimp his sister and finding out that she was) is not only unnecessary, but lazy and gross. The fact that Sarah’s public assault is mentioned again only in passing (therapy was recommended, but Clarence wasn’t sent to sex-offender juvie, just “boys ranch in the woods” juvie) is even worse. If you’re going to make a child a sex offender, then it needs to be addressed because that is some serious shit and not just a kid going down a dark path.
To me, that was almost worse than the way That Cyrus behaved. It is well-established that he sees everyone, but particularly women, as objects to be used. He steals or coerces food from his sister and leaves barely enough for his children and wife. His mother’s purpose is to be manipulated by either him or his children so that she can also be a source of food and money (Twyla is not having it, though. I love me some Twyla). He helps some guy sneak into Lakeside for money without caring what exactly that man wants (answer: to either retrieve or render useless something that’s his and is beyond his reach). (Further answer: that “thing” is his ex-, a person, and I’m pretty sure we all know what’s meant by “…if I can’t take it with me, I’m going to make sure it’s of no use to anyone.”)
That Cyrus facilitates other crimes as well, and then uses his own son as a distraction when he (that Cyrus) actually does his own crime. (Such initiative!)
This crime (SPOILER) is the kidnapping, physical assault, and sexual assault of Meg. (Forced sexual contact is still assault, even if the penis doesn’t go in the vagina.)
I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the correlation between the cutting visions and sexual arousal, because it equates pain and pleasure in a non-consensual way, ensures that sexual pleasure for the blood prophets is morally questionable, and takes sexual agency away from the cassandra sangues.
There was absolutely no reason for that Cyrus to sexually violate Meg. He was already bad. That was established. She was already in a world of hurt – kidnapped, locked in a trunk where she received various bumps, bruises, and accidental cuts, and then cut and forced to prophesy against her will by someone who was unskilled and didn’t know how to properly administer the cuts.
Sexual assault wasn’t necessary to establish either her dire straights or his reprehensible character.
This was a very good story marred by laziness. The story-line was well crafted, the characters well developed, the world is still fascinating, and the overall series moved forward with this character-heavy novel.
Authors, if you can’t think of a better way for men to be awful and women to be hurt, please let me know. (A short list follows to get you started.)
The only thing worse than sexual assault to hurt a woman is sexual assault to hurt “her man.” And by worse, I mean awful and lazy on the author’s part.
I’m tired of wading through sexual assault in books. Urban fantasy and PNR are my favorite genres to read and to write, and it’s awful that they’re the rapiest genres.
AUTHORS OF THE WORLD – get it together. There is a 99.8% chance that the assault you wrote into your book was completely unnecessary.
READERS/REVIEWERS OF THE WORLD – pay attention to this and start calling authors on it.
Yes, rape and sexual assault are realities.
One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. That’s 17.7 million women.
IN addition, 3% of American men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime – that’s 2.78 million men. (https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims).
That doesn’t mean you have to assault your characters every time you want to establish a bad guy or a hurt woman. THIS IS FANTASY! (And a woman killing her rapist doesn’t make it okay. She can also kill the man who was pulling out her toenails, tying her up and giving her cardboard cuts and pouring lemon juice on her, or making her listen to that “Friday” song on repeat which is how my ex- used to torture me every Friday morning.)
Read the series. It’s magnificent (particularly book 3, which was fan-fucking-tastic). But don’t let rape and sexual assault slide by when you’re reading. Note it. Call it out. And stop writing it.
(I bought this book with my own money.)