I know I promised I wouldn’t review another tarot or oracle deck so soon, and I intend on waiting ’til close to the end of the month, but I just acquired the Wisdom of the House of Night oracle (by P.C. Cast and Colette Baron-Reid) because whenever my dad orders a book off of Amazon, I get to buy something so we get free shipping, because he is really nice like that.
I think if
someone were paying me to do this I had more time, I’d say that I’d review each of the books in the series every day, culminating in a review of Awakening and a review of the oracle deck, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to look at the series as a whole (up to Burned) do a review of Awakening, then review the oracle deck.
But before I do that, here’s a picture I saw on Facebook for my Pagan friends:
I have no idea who either Cupid or Zell (my bearded dragon) would worship (lots of deities like snakes, few are interested in lizards) but I’m thinking Cupid might be attracted to a goddess like Aphrodite, because I’ve never met a dog who loves grooming and pampering as much as she does (other things she likes: snow, water, treats, men, SHOES), hmm, she might like Skadi (she LOVES snow, she could spend all day playing in the snow).
Anyways, where was I? Oh, right, House of Night, okay. I’ll just cut this post so that those of you who want the funny pictures without all the homophobia masquerading as “progress” can enjoy the picture. It goes without saying that this review discusses things that might be triggery (homophobia, rape–not actually depicted in the books but referenced in a character’s back story, and slut-shaming being the major ones). er, actually, I’m probably missing a bunch (yeah, it’s that bad) but I think all the major ones are covered. Oh, and there will be SPOILERS for everything up until Burned….
Anyways, if you think you’re up for it, strap yourself in and hit the jump….
I don’t know why I keep reading this series.
I think I quoted a review of the Black Jewels Trilogy in which the reviewer said that the series was “the literary equivalent of high grade crack”, if that’s true (and it is) this is probably the closest you get to a young adult version. It’s like the YA version of the trashy romance novel, it’s junk food that you know you shouldn’t eat but it’s just soooooo good, a hot mess, if you will.
I gave a bit of a synopsis on this series in my post “Of Pleasures Guilty and Controversial Reading”, consider this the long version of that post.
You know what I think? I think this series is living proof that if you’ve created a world that’s at least somewhat interesting, I will keep reading even though your characters are annoying (the main character being especially so), your books suffer from a MAJOR case of Protagonist Centered Morality (ie. everyone the character likes is good, everyone the character dislikes is EVIL or at the very least, flawed in some way) and your attempts to be “progressive” really fall flat because your progressive characters are all stereotypes (hence the term “fauxgress” which is a social justice thing I recently picked up).
Anyways, how do I summarize this series?
Okay, for starters, vampires (here spelled with a ‘y’) have always existed alongside humanity. As a matter of fact, every famous person you can think of was probably a vampyre (Sappho, Shakespeare, Cleopatra, Scathach, Circe, every celebrity ever). Vampyres worship the goddess Nyx (and her Consort, Erebus, but no one really pays that much attention to him) with some local variations (ie. Cleopatra honors her as ‘Nyx-Sekhmet’, no I’m not kidding). The Vampyres have a matriarchal society (Amazons are involved) ruled by a council of High Priestesses. Female vampyres can become priestesses and High Priestesses, males become Warriors, whose job is to
protect teh wimmins support and protect their counterparts. To that end, Warriors are usually given more “physical” gifts by the goddess (such as the ability to always shoot straight or perfectly wield a sword), whereas women get more “magical” or “spiritual” gifts (the ability to communicate with cats or horses or control of one of the five elements). If this all sounds very gender essentialist, it’s because it kind of is, although there are a couple exceptions to the rule.
Also, fledgling vampyres are humans who are “marked” by the goddess (given the outline of a crescent moon on their foreheads). What this basically means at this point is that they either undergo the Change into an adult vampyre….or they die, and there’s no telling who lives and who dies. The only way you can possibly survive to adulthood is if you are around as many adult vampyres as possible. Oh, and if you do manage to make the change, you get additional tattoos based on the affinities (the gifts I mentioned) that Nyx gives you (ie. a person with an affinity for the element of air might have feathers surrounding their mark, which is now filled in).
Hence, the titular House of Night, basically a school for fledglings. It has all the regular boring high school classes in addition to super awesome classes like fencing and equestrian sciences.
Enter Zoey, our protagonist. You know Zoey is super speshul because she’s half-Cherokee OMFGS SO EXOTIC! No, in case you’re wondering, nobody ever comments on the fact that she’s biracial, I guess vampyres are tolerant like that. Zoey’s family is a part of the People of Faith, who are basically Christian fundies (though the Casts claim that they represent extremists of all faiths) who really don’t like vampyres (and their evil goddess-worshiping ways), but what can you do, it’s go to the House of Night or die, so Zoey leaves her family behind (except for her uber cool Cherokee grandmother, Sylvia Redbird) changes her name (you can pick your own name upon entering the House of Night) and tries to adjust to life at her new school.
BTW, did I mention Zoey like, talks like this, all the time, except she doesn’t say “shit” or any nasty swear words like that, no, she says “bullpoopie” (spelled just like that).
Zoey also, it must be said, has a terrible habit of judging people.
I don’t have time to quote all the instances here, so just head on over to You’re Killing Me’s review of “Marked” to get everything (arranged by category, no less!), for now, here’s a brief intro to the main characters:
Zoey, whom we have already met, has an affinity for all five elements, because she’s JUST SO SUPER SPESHUL.
Damien, who is gay, did I mention he’s gay? Yep, he’s gay (more on him in a bit). He has an affinity for Air (as the intellectual of the group).
Shaunee and Erin (A.K.A Twin 1 and Twin 2) who basically exist to be annoying and call each other “Twin” all the fucking time. Oh, Shaunee is also the token black member of the main posse. They have affinities for Fire and Water respectively.
Stevie Rae, Zoey’s bff, her role in the series is….complicated….to say the least. She has an affinity for Earth.
The posse shifts and changes in later books, but that’s what we have as of Marked.
As for antagonists, the first book has Aphrodite. Aphrodite is (in Zoey’s words), a ‘ho’ because in her very first scene, she’s trying to give one of the popular guys a blowjob, and everyone knows that blowjobs are EVIL. Aphrodite is head of the Dark Daughters (a very select group of vampyre fledglings), and is basically being groomed to be the next High Priestess of the House of Night. They do evil things like use pot in place of incense and use other fledglings as “refrigerators” (what it sounds like), note that fledglings are encouraged to drink from each other (feeding between adult vampyres and between vampyres and humans runs the risk a creating an imprint, which you Do Not Want) but not like this, obviously.
However, at the end of Marked, Aphrodite basically becomes human again and Neferet (the High Priestess of Tulsa’s House of Night, who up until now has been nothing but kind to everyone) is suddenly revealed to be a villain. Seriously, this is pretty much out of thin air.
And then there’s Kalona.
Kalona is, in a nutshell, a rapist. He’s a fallen angel who basically went around raping Cherokee women and siring Raven Mockers (raven mockers are a part of Cherokee myths, Kalona is not) which are hideous creatures born of rage and despair and all those fun emotions. The story goes that once upon a time, a group of women grew tired of all the rapeyness and fashioned a woman out of clay (they used all four elements) calling her A-ya. When Kalona sees her, he falls madly in lust with her and chases her into a cave. Once she’s caught, she turns back into clay and entraps Kalona (who, being a fallen angel type, is severely weakened underground) and then the wise women seal him up in a cave.
I’ll say this for that story, it’s actually much better than that bullshit misogynistic tale of the chief’s third wife from Twilight, and actually does remind me of that one tale about White Buffalo Calf Woman, you know, the one where the one guy lusts after her and instantly dies? Yeah, that one.
Unfortunately, everything goes downhill from there, because Neferet manages to free Kalona (who manages to convince everyone that he is Erebus incarnate, everyone, that is, except Zoey. Oh, and before I forget, I should mention that it turns out Zoey is actually A-ya incarnate, so yeah, Kalona has the hots for her. You almost forget that Kalona is a rapist while Zoey’s drooling over how hawt he is.
Oh, speaking of Zoey and drooling over hawt mans, did I mention at one point in the series she has three separate boyfriends (one of whom is her professor?). Suffice it to say that this does not end well (and, TBH, watching Zoey’s love life fall apart was one of my favourite moments in this entire series). Seriously, Zoey is probably the most hypocritical protagonist in fiction, ever. She harps on Aphrodite for being a ho when Aphrodite is currently in a committed relationship, meanwhile, Zoey has been in relationships with:
a) the hawt fledgling who is Aphrodite’s ex (the recipient of the near blowjob that was so disgusting and wrong)
b) her professor
c) her (human) sometimes boyfriend Heath
at the same time, but since those relationships were sunk due to character death or a major onset of jerkassedness, Zoey has a new OTP (for reals this time).
Yeah, Zoey, you aren’t exactly in a position to slut-shame anyone. BTW, vampyres do often have a vampyre (called a mate) and a human (a consort) at the same time (it’s mentioned that Shakespeare’s mark was deliberately obscured by a jealous consort) but deception is not generally a part of that relationship (and Zoey basically lied to everyone about her triple-dating), plus, there’s the imprint, a bond so strong (especially if both parties already have strong feelings for one another) that, if severed, can drive one to suicide, this is why it’s stressed that you must avoid imprinting with someone unless you really, really know what you’re doing.
So basically, imprinting is like sex. I don’t think I need to mention that Zoey repeatedly breaks this rule.
Okay, I’m tired of talking about Zoey. Let’s talk about how super progressive HoN is, say, in how it treats it’s LGBT characters. This post was actually prompted by the dedication in Awakened, which reads:
Kristin and I would like to dedicate this book to LGBT teens.
Gender preference does not define you.
Your spirit defines you.
It gets better.
We heart you.
No matter what “they” say, life is really about love, always love.
Awww, doesn’t that just fill you with the warm fuzzies? Actually no, it doesn’t, because see, I’ve read all the books up to this point. I’ve even bought the supplemental Fledgling’s Handbook and Nyx in the House of Night (a series of essays on religion and myth in HoN) and what I’ve read so far doesn’t exactly convince me that the Casts have the interests of LGBT teens at heart.
For starters, this is the only reference to lesbians in the entire series:
There’re a few girls who are lesbians and totally out, but even though a couple of them are cool and hang with the rest of us they mostly stick together. They’re way into the religious aspect of Goddess worship and spend most of their time in Nyx’s Temple.
Now, speaking as a lesbian, I would totally love to spend my days in Nyx’s Temple being all priestess-y and totally rocking my elemental affinity (which would most likely be Earth), but um….I don’t really want to hang out with just other lesbians, it would be kind of boring. Sorry, Casts, but not all lesbians are separatist goddess worshipers (naturally, this sticking togetherness doesn’t apply to gay men, as we’ll see in a moment).
I’ve already mentioned that the token gay of the group is Damien, but in later books he acquires a boyfriend, Jack Twist (yes, he picked that name). Damien is very, very gay, he’s also smart, but gay, fabulously gay.
Oh, and characters have this to say about him:
“And this is the token guy in our group, Damien Maslin. But he’s gay, so I don’t really think he counts as a guy.”
…..You know what? I’m not touching that quote. I know the characters are supposed to be teenagers, but seriously, I don’t know any teenagers who are that stupid.
Actually, You’re Killing Me puts it best, so I’m just going to quote them:
OF COURSE. There you have it, kids. This is what the book thinks of gay men in a nutshell. This pretty much encapsulates both Damian’s personality and his function in the story: he is the perfect “gay BFF”. He exists purely to serve Zoey and her friends, to be the “brains” of their operation, and the defining point of his existence is how he relates to the straight girls – he can give them boy advice without wanting their boobies! Omg you guys, he is the BEST ACCESSORY EVER!
Damian is “acceptably” gay – he doesn’t get angry when his “friends” tell him that he doesn’t count as a guy, he isn’t a “swishy girly-guy” (Zoey’s contribution), or “too weird and girly”, which is what Stevie Rae deems every other gay man that attends the school. He is just gay right.
This is why heterosexuals should never write LGBT characters, ever.
Actually, this is exactly what I (and a bunch of other writers who are far more eloquent) mean when I say that people who are in the majority have a really hard time writing characters who are a part of a minority group, because it’s so easy to fall back on stereotypes, or not realize that your attempts at being inclusive really aren’t that inclusive. While it is great that YA in general does seem to be more willing to include LGBT characters than genre fiction geared towards adults (hello, fantasy genre with some notable exceptions).
On a completely unrelated note, I found out that one of my favourite characters in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is gay, and I TOTALLY CALLED IT! Although, it did take seven books for this character to come out of the closet, which leads me to believe that there was some meddling on the publisher’s part, or maybe the fans just bugged Novik about it. Yes, I am kind of skeptical when it takes this long to out someone, but said character is, as I’ve said, one of my favourites, so it makes me especially happy that he’s been outed.
Anyways, believe me, this is but a fraction of the crazy stuff you find in this series. If it’s any consolation, I actually like the oracle they based off of it (surprisingly), full review to come, plus Awakening. Ooh, maybe I should write a HoNesque one shot fan-ficcy thing about a lesbian fledgling! Not to brag, but, I think you might find my writing is easier to stomach than anything you find in HoN, at least my character will say “shit”.