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Mélusine by Sarah Monette
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This review seems full of nothing but criticism, so I'll frame it by saying that I didn't hate it, I actually enjoyed it, though you might not figure out why. Monette's involvement in recent blog affairs, plus her online present and most peeps in my environs feeling they have to read this book, made me hesitant to list it at all.

Lots of the genre-usual invented names right from the start, perhaps not overly much compared to other fantasy books, but still more than I think necessary, ever. The split pov is always labled, which makes it feel like meant for sluggish minds. Felix is a fucking woman - if it weren't indicated that he had paid to beat up and rape child prostitutes, he'd obviously be 100 % cliché female, with the scandal from having once been a whore (in a bi society, what's the fucking big deal?) - and what with his subjecting himself to his old master again, orgasming in unwanted sex, wibbling and being caught before escaping and scorn from those he pushes away to protect them from his evil master. All of that is worst heroine crap. Similarly the story is, like all fantasy I might say, is basically historical fiction written by someone not PhDed enough to pull a Dunnett, therefor saying it's fantasy to get away with it - everyone does it, and most much less well! But with the pocket watches and wall safes and modern language, the costumes really seem nothing but cosplay, or the whole thing a boring steam punk setting. The Virtu itself is the grail. I wished the author would stop throwing all those Middle Earth names about. Often, I wish fantasy would be forbidden and people had to deal with real history. *g*

While it sounds like the worst of both worlds, it's still a good read and much preferable to Deanna Raybourne et al who claim to write proper historicals but also just transplant to get the "pretty costumes" and sexual mores she can then pretend to overthrow (gah, that whore outrage, so annoying).

At one point big bad Malkar says Felix is "as stable as aspic", and that is the truest description ever to me - he's just a wibbling weak nothing, and to have him be called "the deadliest wit of the court" a few lines later makes that all the more unbelievable. While Mildmay the Fox is described in action and capable, Felix keeps wibbling about being raped or made a catamite which makes NO SENSE AT ALL considering he also tells us he's used to it and good at dealing with it, except to make himinto the aforementioned woman, but since he isn't, I'm blissfully uncaring, I can actually enjoy the drama! It has come to this, huh. Go on, ohsotall ohsopretty crying man, make my day (no, seriously, huh).

Mildmay keeps daring-doing, interacting and rescuing, even has an appealing lady friend, while Felix keeps being stoned and tortured endlessly, until I have to say it was simply a very bad choice to interweave them so rigidly, the 120 little repetitive paragraphs of whatfreshhorror achieving the opposite to intended effect. Felix should have been SHOWN to be dangerous and beautiful and witty, the torturing then compressed, so there would have been more weight, and an equal weight to Mildmay, rather than me despising Felix - for different reasons, but just like his tormentors.

I kept not-hating it, though, I'd even say it's enjoyable, and that the annoyance of plonking some odd names into an ahistorical historical novel to make it "fantasy" is the same for most of the genre and that I'm glad there's no magic here, no matter what the blurb says. But that still leaves Felix who KEEPS FAINTING. Every bloody little segment ends with "the darkness swallowed me". Apart from the start and hints of his past - men who are ashamed of scars, both of them? in such a traditional society that whoring is frowned upon? I don't buy it! - he really is mostly just shoved around, so I feel less and less and less while we are meant to see him descend, when they don't even break or pull or do anything that humans did to each other for millenia.

While Mildmay keeps having adventures in the Dickensian setting, his Ginevra is suddenly just a gossip girl bitch instead of the interesting woman he fell for, so by the time their relationship ends one feels nothing, and his grief - doesn't work (even less in following books where it's still harped on). Also the book is nearly half done and the two (male) leads have never met, and while the pathetic Felix is seven feet tall we don't know much about Mildmay's looks objectively.

Felix then cries a lot and is actually sent to his bedroom (I am not making this up) while Millyfox has an obsession of having toenails pulled. Joking aside, at around page 300 of those 400+, they finally meet.

AND THEY SEEM TO BE BROTHERS?! For a few hours of not reading I calmly thought that they'll be revealed just to be cousins, bad cliché since Troy but still ... and then SUDDENLY I WONDERED IF I WAS SO MISLED AND THEY WEREN'T AND WOULD NEVER BE A COUPLE. And I asked a friend and she googled that "one of the heroes is gay" ... one? If this means ... I just can't ... Felix was the wussiest sissiest whimpiest dishrag imaginable and if she made him male just to not be accused of being sexist and writing the women so awfully while Mildmay is a fun antihero ... I can't believe I did this to myself, hoping that fandom antipathy would lead me to enjoyment. I daren't spoiler myself now, it still might be ... ohgahdifeelsicknow.

This would require listing and quoting, but note that the book is still set in PRE-INDUSTRIAL times, and COMPLETE UN-SENSUAL. Don't believe the blurb. :)

I already mentioned that the magic is pastede_on and that I don't care, I can do without it. To me it's obvious that it's not "decadent" magic at all (rape-sex-magic is probably the worst handled element of the author, see the atrocious Wolves book) but rather the perfect excuse to write a historical without in-depth knowledge or research. I prefer that infinitely to books where magic can solve most problems, though it seems nothing but a ploy to get fantasy readers. But the lack of description goes very bad when I think we are in wide open country and we are in fact in towns, with street lamps, and walls! That smacked me right out of it twice. I had thought the lack of description was due to the pov and them being used to whatever was around, but considering the repetitive omgdaaaarkness omganimalheads sights of Felix, maybe Monette really is much worse than I think.

At least once the two men meet, they are finally VISIBLE. I had not known for 3/4 of the book that Felix was older or that Mildmay was smaller than average. While Felix "illness" makes more sense from the outside, his supposed cutting tongue when sane is still only mentioned, not even shown now that Mildmay supposedly meets it for the first time. With 100 pages to go and I'm hoping against hope they will have sex and not be brothers. Otherwise I need psychoanalysis about why I refuse to hate this book (when I hate everything about the hero).

The story finally picked up then, even though it frustratingly kept to the pattern of the same thing repeated over and over when Mildmay was in hospital, not getting better (how many times can you get worse while staying the same?), and the various "magical cures" on Felix were as obscure ie. never shown or explained, as his curse. Both the prostitution and the rape was meant to be a huge reveal - what an anti-climax! I had hoped for 500 pages to find out something new about him or them, and then Felix just tells Mildmay what we all knew from chapter one on. But they cared about and finally for each other, and even though I had finally cracked and jumped ahead to when finally the sane Felix would come to Mildmay, I then got up in the middle of the night to read the last chapters properly. As I'll repeat over the next books, it all depends on the final outcome of the series if I've just been cheaply had or read small signs correctly.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 7, 2009 – Finished Reading
March 14, 2009 – Shelved

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message 1: by Stella (new)

Stella Drani Seldom have I so thoroughly enjoyed, and laughed out loud while, reading a review - even if I don't agree with a number of things. Thanks for making my day :D


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