I’m going in…

I finished the first draft of a story on new year’s eve and then metaphorically shoved it in a drawer. That draft is a mess, so I had intended to let it sit and percolate in there for several weeks and hope that I could magically work out how to fix it in the meantime.

I realized this past week, though, that the deadline for submitting it to the place I want to submit it is the beginning of February and not the end of February, so I’ve had to shuffle up the timeline a bit. In order to get a readable draft out to my first reader so that I can get notes back and still have time to revise it again, the story has to come out of the drawer today.

I printed it out this morning, and I’m about to wade in. Sharpening the red pen, as it were. Wish me luck.

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest

This book is billed on the back cover as, basically, a steampunk story with zombies, and it’s the ‘with zombies’ part that has stopped me reading it before now. Feed by Mira Grant aside, I’m not really a zombie kind of girl.

Still, the whole steampunk side of it intrigued me enough that I put it on my to-read list. And I was pleased to discover that the zombies were mostly incidental. As with Feed, the zombies rose more than a decade ago, and this is how life goes on around them. Sort of.

Rather than reinventing the wheel and summarizing the book myself, the Goodreads description (which I believe matches the back cover blurb) reads as follows:

In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

I was more than halfway through this book before it really sucked me in. I found the first half dragged quite a lot as the characters meandered through the plots and bumped up against various obstacles that didn’t seem to have much of a point. I think part of the problem is that I never understood what Ezekiel’s “secret crusade to rewrite history” actually was, what it was about. Or how and why he came up with it and what exactly it meant to him. I didn’t know what he wanted. So it felt like he just… went into the walled up city. Briar seemed to have a very firm idea of where he was going and why, but as the reader it kind of felt like she was making it up out of thin air.

In the back half of the book the threads of the plot began to interweave more smoothly and hold more tension. I finally felt engaged with the story and the characters. Zeke finally *became* a character and not just a bumbling idiot boy. And I really enjoyed the secondary characters of Swakhammer and Lucy.

I think if this book had been shorter and more tightly focused, if it had more beginning and less middle, it could have been really great. It was good enough by the end, though, that I might go on to read the next one. So that’s something.

The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley

This book, unexpectedly, inspired quite a lot of feminist rage in me. So this post is going to be me getting ranty-pants more than it’s actually a book review.

Nicola, the ‘protagonist’ (or, at least, the point of view character) for the modern half of the book, is a bundle of neuroses. Rob, the romantic interest, is practically perfect in every way. His job is perfect, his volunteer work is perfect, his family is perfect, his psychic abilities are perfect, his every reaction to every situation is perfect. Also, he’s gorgeous, of course. And his clothes are perfect. And his body is perfect.

Nicola does not do a single thing for herself for the first 400 pages of the book. She doesn’t drive the plot. She barely makes a choice. She’s too overwhelmed. All the time. By everything she’s encountering. She doesn’t drive herself anywhere, doesn’t open a door, doesn’t pay for a meal, doesn’t carry a bag. Ever. She doesn’t even have to think, really, because Perfect Rob is there to lead her around by the hand for the whole damn book.

It’s telling that, in one of the reviews on Goodreads, despite the fact that the book is narrated by Nicola in the first person, when the reviewer mentions the “hero” of the book, they mean Rob.

Why? Why do women – because this book is written by a woman – perpetuate the fiction that chivalry is romantic? What is romantic about being treated like a child who can’t take care of herself? Once in a while, as a game on a special occasion or something, fine, yes, I get it. But every day? Being infantilized every day? This book doesn’t even trust Nicola to walk along a coastal path by herself. Rob is right there to put himself in the way of danger, hovering in case she should fall. Like she’s two years old. There’s never any suggestion that Rob might fall. He couldn’t possibly. He’s perfect.

And what happens when someone treats you that way – and I know this from personal experience – is that you start to doubt yourself. If a person you respect, a person who cares about you, doesn’t believe you can take care of yourself, you stop believing it yourself. You become dependent. This is plainly apparent with Nicola, who started as a capable professional woman, but 200 pages in doesn’t believe she can do anything by herself anymore. Rob always has to be there to hold her hand. Literally! Like it’s her first day of school. And yet the book isn’t commenting on this, it’s saying, ‘Look how wonderful Rob is! Wouldn’t you love to have a Rob of your very own?’

In fact, no. I kind of wanted to punch Rob in the nose. Because I live in the 21st century, and I’m an intelligent adult who is capable of taking care of herself in most everyday situations. I’m also capable of knowing when I need help and asking for it. I would much rather have someone who trusts me, who treats me like a grown-up, who will share burdens with me, so we can take care of each other. If we’re walking down a coastal path, for example, let’s hold hands together so we can both be safe.

You know, like equals.

so many books

My to-read list has gotten out of hand recently – I’ve been picking up hours working at a bookstore over the holidays and keep coming across books that look interesting. A lot of them are by authors that are new to me, so before I start buying, I thought I’d take some of them out for a test drive.

So last week, I placed a whole stack of holds at the library. Many of the books had other holds on them ahead of mine, and what with the library closing repeatedly over the holidays, I thought it would be next week before any of them arrived, and that I’d get maybe one or two a week as books became available. Easily manageable.

Boy did I guess wrong. I got a call from the library on Saturday that there was “one or more books” waiting for me on the hold shelf. When I went on Monday to pick them up, there were four. On Tuesday I got another call from the library, and on Wednesday I picked up four more from the hold shelf.

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Oops?

I do have a lot of time on my hands at the moment, though, so it’s possible I’ll get through all eight of them in three weeks. I’ve finished two already, both of them light, quick reads. The first was A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan (not pictured above, because I took it back to the library on Wednesday when I picked up the second batch of holds), which I really enjoyed. The other was Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal, which I didn’t like at all.

I’ve just launched into The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. It’s on the borderline of being the kind of chick lit I really don’t enjoy (I threw a book called The Tenth Gift across the room once for being insipid and annoying), but so far I’m still on board.

I can’t remember how many holds I placed in total, so I’m not entirely sure how many more books (if any?) I’m expecting to receive. I could look it up, but it seems like more fun to wait and be surprised.