Review: Autumn Bones (Agent of Hel #2)

[rape tw, racism tw]

Hey remember what I said last review about how it can be difficult to read an author’s other books when you’ve grown so attached to a certain book or series? Here’s another example!

Daisy Johanssen pulled the resort town of Pemkowet through a tragedy that befell the town that summer, and now she’s gained respect as Hel’s enforcer and she’s dating normal guy Sinclair Palmer, a refreshing change from ghouls and unattainable werewolves, but Sinclair has a secret of his own–he’s descended from Obeah practitioners, and they want him back in the family business. If he refuses, they’ll unleash powerful magic upon the town which could spell its end if Daisy doesn’t do something–and fast!

If there’s one thing Carey has a talent for, it’s interweaving the fantastical with the mundane in such a way that you can readily accept that supernatural tourism is a thing and those quirky neighbours next door are actually otherworldly beings. The series has a very Southern Vampire vibe. Pemkowet feels believable in ways that few urban fantasy settings have felt to me. It feels like a typical small town where everyone knows everyone and supernatural tours are a thing, oh, and the supernatural sometimes shows up for a photo op. I also liked the fact that Daisy, unlike so many other urban fantasy protagonists, actually has female friends and a loving, supportive relationship with her mother. (As explained in the last book, her father is a demon from Hell and him crossing over would mean Armageddon, so there’s a good reason why he’s absent).

That said, the talents of such a good writer are wasted on such a formulaic series. Did you think the love triangle was resolved in the last book? Oh hell no, it’s back. It’s very much back, and you get to listen to Daisy whinge about how sexy and unattainable boring werewolf cop Cody Fairfax is in between her telling you about vocabulary words she’s learned from her teacher. To be fair, however, she does spend a fair amount of time with Stefan, who I find much more interesting even though you could replace his craving for emotions with a taste for blood and end up with a vampire love interest. Speaking of vampires, one thing that really surprised me was Jen’s sister, Bethany, who Daisy constantly refers to as a “blood slut” actually getting a bit of character development. What really annoyed me, though, was that Carey had an opportunity to portray a main character in an urban fantasy with a “normal” relationship that’s also an interracial relationship, and she decided to pull the old “you’re normal and we’re better as friends” thing, not surprising but disappointing. Speaking of things that annoyed me, Daisy herself really started to get on my nerves with the way she kept talking about the vocabulary words she learned from her teacher or the way she kept exclaiming “Gah!” like a young teenager.

This book, like the last one, suffers from rapeyness and consent issues. The first case that Daisy investigates is at a gay nightclub where an orgy is in progress, where the participants are in thrall by a satyr in rut. Now, Daisy mentions that eldritch woo can’t compel true desire, but the fact that a couple characters who are freed from the satyr’s influence clearly didn’t want what happened to them inside the club is disconcerting. I also don’t like how Daisy can’t seem to let Cody go when he has repeatedly told her that things won’t work between them because he needs to have kids with another werewolf.

My other issue with the book is the way Carey uses Obeah as the “Monster of the Week” which seems like it does a disservice to the tradition if it’s not outright appropriative. The villain in this case is a judge who is rumored to have used her powers to influence people and get what she wants, you know how it is. As one reviewer put it, it’s a variant on “the Voodoo episode” (only with Obeah in place of Vodou) as in, every show or book needs to eventually use Vodou as a plot point.

In short, I feel like this series had so much potential, especially since urban fantasy is very erased. Carey could have given us a queer-friendly universe like she did in the Kushiel books, but instead she chose to do a paint-by-numbers trope-riddled mess, and it saddens me because I know she can do better. The Sundering was better than this, Kushiel’s Legacy was better than this. As much as I don’t like to leave a series unfinished, i don’t think I’ll be picking up Poison Fruit. This series, to me, represents a whole lot of wasted potential, and I would absolutely recommend The Sundering or Kushiel’s Legacy over this any day of the week.

Review: Initiate: A Witch’s Circle of Water by Thuri Calafia

I picked this up about a year ago because a friend was reading it and I thought maybe I could adapt some of the material in it to suit my own practice. It’s been sitting on my desk with part of my to-read pile, but since it’s warm enough to read outside now (Happy Solstice!) I’ve been spending a lot of time working on it. Unfortunately, I have long suspected my books are reproducing.

Initiate might seem like an odd choice of book for a Vanatruar, and it is, it’s meant to be a year and a day course of study in solitary eclectic Wicca, specifically the rough equivalent of second degree material (although each tradition has their own take on degrees). In short, this book is meant to be Wicca 201, the sort of book that isn’t geared towards beginners that folks are constantly asking for, or at least they were when I identified as Wiccan.

Initiate is divided up into three main sections: a lunar year that includes inner work and exercises over thirteen moons, a solar year which focuses on holidays and more outward expressions of the religion, and the adept initiation itself. Students are meant to use the lunar and solar lessons in tandem to get the full year and a day study experience. Much of the book is focused on energy work, chasing one’s shadows, and preparing for the service and community oriented adept path. Some topics covered in the book include examining your attitude towards money (including whether or not to charge for services), sexuality, devotion, health and healing. and more.

As someone who has read a lot of Wicca 101 books, this book is definitely one I could have used back then. It assumes you’ve read Dedicant, the author’s first book, or at least that you already know the stuff outlined in typical 191 books. This book is meant to address what comes next after initiation. This is something that is sorely lacking in the market these days. There are lots of books that tell you how to cast a circle, but few that tell you what to do when you’ve taken that big step and been initiated or dedicated yourself to a Wiccan tradition, and there is definitely some food for thought here. I think it’s important to examine one’s attitudes towards money, for instance, especially since I’ve seen some very unhealthy attitudes towards money since becoming a Pagan.

Unfortunately I felt that the book would have been way more enjoyable if the author’s voice wasn’t so prominent throughout. That sounds like a strange thing to say, but she comes across as somewhat condescending, referring to readers as “dear initiate” more than a hundred times in the book, and in some places becomes almost preachy (particularly in the section on health and healing. Other things I felt could have been worded better, such as the statement that we need to look after the mentally ill, as if everyone with a mental illness is incapable of caring for themselves. Other issues I had with the book can be chalked up to my issues with Wicca as a whole, namely gender essentialism (in particular, stating that “by nature and nurture” men naturally project energy, women naturally receive energy). I also found her “look up community things on the internet!” advice to be pretty unhelpful, as not everyone knows how to search for reliable information on the internet. This is purely my personal preference, but i think I would have preferred it if the solar and lunar years were together in one section since they relate to each other anyways, and I can see a student getting annoyed with having to constantly flip back and forth between them. The stories at the beginning of each chapter did well highlighting the major theme in that chapter but I found them to be a bit corny. The glossary at the back is a godsend because the author uses some different words for common Wiccan concepts that you might not see in other books, but I take issue with some of the entries, particularly the one for “matron” goddesses, as the author does not seem to understand why using “matron” to refer to patron deities is incorrect and potentially insulting to said deities.

Initiate is not a book that I need at this time, but it was a book that I would have loved in the past. i do think it asks some interesting questions, and for a solitary Wiccan looking for ways to deepen their practice, you could certainly do worse than this book. Unfortunately, I ultimately felt that any good advice this book had to offer was drowned out by the author’s voice. Still, if you know someone who is looking for a Wicca 201 book, they might want to check it out, and in case you’re worried that this is going to be a regular thing, don’t worry, I have a more tradition appropriate book coming up soon (it’s Norse Goddess Magic A.K.A. Magic of the Norse Goddesses by Alice Karlsdottir).