Kogiopsis's Reviews > The Rowan

The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey
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Look, I read a lot of McCaffrey when I was younger; I adored Pern, enjoyed Acorna, and even attempted Acorna's Children despite my deep fear of plagues and dislike of plague plots in fiction. I never got around to The Rowan, I think largely because it had Sexy Women on the front and I knew that, as a middle schooler, that was not the kind of book I should be carrying around. But nearly 10 years down the line here I am, having tracked this book down in a quest to whittle away at my To-Read shelf.

And boy, am I glad I didn't read it as a kid. Feeling this disappointed with an author I had loved* is bad enough, but if I had loved the book? This would have been devastating.

(*with full acknowledgement of all of the frankly fucked-up views Anne McCaffrey held, I still like some of her work and nearly cried when I heard she had passed away.)

This book is just... bad. There's no other word for it. As other reviewers have commented, it's interesting for about the first third, but then rapidly degenerates - as if McCaffrey forgot what a book is, or that plot and character development and conflict are key parts of a story, in the frankly incomprehensible desire to push the character of Jeff Raven to center stage.

Let's be real here: Jeff Raven ruined this entire story. You see that plot synopsis about how the Rowan was destined to be the greatest Talent? Bullshit. Jeff Raven is stronger than she is. Not only that, but he's got no weaknesses - the Rowan, in one of the few examples of conflict this book has to offer, fights to overcome a fear of space travel, but Jeff can already do it right off the bat! (As a super special bonus, he denigrates her for being afraid and struggling with that fear.) He's charming and attractive, despite being incredibly overbearing and patronizing! A single contact with his mind and the Rowan is in love, and everything interesting about her is thrown out the window. Before his arrival, she was powerful but flawed, prone to brattishness, fear, and insecurity; after she's mellowed and complacent and consistently plays second fiddle.

This could have been a character study of its titular character: McCaffrey could have explored the very real effects of the trauma Rowan suffered as a child, her effective indentured servitude to FT&T (and the limits thereof, because it was never clear how much freedom a Prime had to say 'no'), the structure of a society with all of these mental abilities... but instead there's a ham-fisted 'romance' and an even more ham-fisted alien threat, both of which are resolved quickly and without any struggle at all. If this were a debut novel I'd ask if the writer had ever heard of a try-fail cycle, but Dragonflight came out over 20 years before this.

There's no excuse. There's really not.

Some thoughts on McCaffrey's bizarre attitudes towards sex below.
(view spoiler)
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Reading Progress

September 19, 2008 – Shelved
December 2, 2015 – Started Reading
December 2, 2015 –
page 159
67.66% "Sick and tired of Jeff - though to be fair, I was sick and tired of him from the moment he showed up. What a patronizing asshole!"
December 3, 2015 –
page 168
71.49% "Wellp. I got to the memory recovery scene, and it is exactly as gross as people said. Jeff needs to GO."
December 3, 2015 –
page 173
73.62% "It's been ages since I read the prequel Talent trilogy, but I... definitely do not remember any extraterrestrial contact in it, and yet everyone is blithe about nonhumans in this book. C'mon, McCaffrey! You could have retconned this into making sense!"
December 3, 2015 –
page 235
100.0% "Well, that was cringe-worthy. I don't like feeling this down on one of my former favorite authors, but... damn was this awful."
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: inconsistent-characterization
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: needed-more-editor
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: needless-fucking-drama
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: what-the-fuck-allo-people
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: what-the-fuck-was-this-shit
December 3, 2015 – Shelved as: yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn
December 3, 2015 – Finished Reading
December 5, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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Peter Curd The Tower and the Hive is one of my favourite book series - I did read as a teenager, along with the Pern series - but it's definitely not something I would encourage younger readers to pick up. Everything you say in this review is spot on - Jeff Raven is the worst part of the book, and everything about him is rushed. If this story were written today (with today's sensitivity towards rape, equality, and good writing!) he would have been introduced slowly, with a courting period. I can see and understand why The Rowan loves him - and needs him which is more the point - but it could have been done better.

The "hey babe, I'm here, you're mine now" "Oh darling yes" approach might have been popular in the past but it's demeaning and ridiculous now.

Fortunately the series gets better!

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

GASP! I agree! Jeff just took away from the whole book, he became a saviour of someone who was well able to save herself! Ugh. I loved the first two books in this series but I do have to admit, that left a funky taste in my mental mouth!

message 3: by Dylan (new)

Dylan A good writer of feminist science fiction is Sheri S. Tepper, if you're interested.

Kogiopsis Sherri wrote: "A good writer of feminist science fiction is Sheri S. Tepper, if you're interested."

I've heard great things! She's definitely on my list.

message 5: by Amelia (new)

Amelia This was just how I felt when I most recently read a McCaffrey,The Ship Who Sang. There wasn't even any sex in that but I was still repulsed by the attitudes towards sex/women.

I read tons of her work as a kid. The librarian at my local library had put basically every book that seemed like it might be fantasy in the children's section and so I read so much stuff that probably was inappropriate, up until we moved when I was twelve. But when you're a kid this shit just passes you by. I really enjoyed Dragonflight. Reading it again as an adult - oh my god, the rape and all of that stuff... I'm reluctant to read any more McCaffrey in case it spoils any childhood memories!

Kogiopsis Amelia wrote: "This was just how I felt when I most recently read a McCaffrey,The Ship Who Sang. There wasn't even any sex in that but I was still repulsed by the attitudes towards sex/women.

I read tons of her..."

I feel exactly the same way. I own most of the Pern books - the ones written by Anne, at least - and I've been contemplating a reread as an adult, but I am scared. I'm pretty sure some of them would pass inspection (the Harper Hall books and Dolphins of Pern, both of which are pretty nonsexual) but... the entire original trilogy is dicey at best.

The problem I keep having is that Pern/McCaffrey was SUCH a dominant part of my imagination as a kid that it's hard to let go of it - I just keep wishing it had been written with a less hidebound attitude towards sexuality and gender. It's especially frustrating when you have a character like, say, Lessa, who in a lot of ways is a compelling female character, and then dragon mating comes along and... well.

And of course nobody ever deals with the trauma that can result from this in a nuanced way; the closest you get IIRC is Tai in Skies of Pern, wherein McCaffrey has started to approach consent a little more buuuuut it still just takes Sex With The Right Man to solve most of her problems. (I can't remember if she's still severely touch-averse after; it's been a while.)

I will say that of all of her works that I've read, I think The Rowan is the worst on those fronts, because whatsisface is so incredibly intrusive and controlling but still painted as a love interest.

message 7: by Amelia (new)

Amelia I'm extra glad I came across your review then. Every time a book by her comes up on Bookmooch, like this did, I think about requesting it but somehow I just can't do it. I feel like I'd be risking ruining some fond childhood memories. It's the same for Jane Yolen's Pit Dragon Chronicles. I loved those hard when I was a kid and a fourth book was released in 2009... but I've heard people talking about how sexuality is looked at in those and WHAT IF IT'S REALLY BAD?

Kogiopsis Ohhhh no, I'd never heard that about Yolen; I didn't get very far in the Pit Dragon books as a kid and now I'm wondering if I ever want to...

message 9: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Well, it's been a good twenty years since I read the books but I remember prostitution (but not how it was handled - I can't say I was concerned at the time) and I think a kind of mind-meld-y sex. I don't remember them being problematic beyond some comments about the heroine needing a strong master or some such but I didn't remember McCaffrey's being either.

I'd be gutted if they were ruined. There's this amazing scene in which the protagonists take shelter in the womb of his beloved dying dragon and it's like her last gift to them. It sounds a bit gross, I suppose but I feel emotional thinking about it even today.

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