Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book Review: Silverblind

I probably should have mentioned it was unlikely I was going to have a post on Christmas day, I did actually intend to have one up but then I was hit by the headache monster again (and this one is late because of attack of the insane work schedule, I don't recall agreeing to 10 hour shifts when I signed my work agreement!). And next week's movie/comic review is going to be pre-empted by my end-of-year post but that has lists in it and everyone likes lists so I think this is an acceptable compromise.

Well I did it, I got a review of Silverblind out in 2014 even though I wasn't sure it was going to happen! I would like to thank the DC library system and the Montgomery County library system for making this happen (even if both of you have accused me of not returning books this year, took the DC system about 3 months to find one of them!) and again I received this book from as part of a contest. It is an ARC so somethings may be different from the final version but I am assuming that no major plot points were changed between this version and the final printing.

Silverblind by Tina Connolly

Dorie Rochart, the only half-human, half-fey person in existence, is now a college graduate and looking for work in the male-dominated field of zoology. Her experience, skills, and looks are of no use to her but perhaps her magic, magic that no one would expect she would have, much less use to turn into a boy, will be the key to letting her pursue her dreams of studying wyvrens.

This wasn't the book I was expecting based on the excerpt I read on Tor's blog and that did make me a bit disappointed. Over the past few months I've been listening to the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class and I've really enjoyed their episodes on lesser known female scientists and I had hoped this story would be in the same vein with Dorie working hard and both failing and succeeding in a very male dominated field. But instead Dorie spends most of the novel shape-changed into a man and while it's clear that this sudden acceptance of "Dorian" is constantly on her mind and frustrating I did feel like the story also managed to skirt the entire issue since Dorie never has a moment of reckoning where she has to come clean about this, outside of some personal moments with a few friends. The story tries to alleviate this by giving her a female foil, a young woman who has partially caved by agreeing to be the "face" of the lab, but I felt like the story wrote a "strong female character" instead because this girl is more perfect in a false kind of way; she was able to bully the lab because she has a secret chemical formula and no other girl was smart enough to do that! She's smart but didn't just rely on her credentials like Dorie and others did! (never mind that all of their male colleagues would have gotten their positions simply because of their degrees) Oh and Tam likes her despite her coldness that felt more like a very bad Eastern-European stereotype than an aspect of a real person, I think that Connolly was trying to create a morally gray character (there are even passages where Dorie laments that she's not fully human so she clearly can't feel a kinship with this woman that she should, one that the readers also aren't feeling) and just did not succeed.

Dorie's actual friends are much more interesting and I was happy that the story also gave Jack, and to a lesser extent Stella, quite a bit of page time as well. I really enjoyed seeing Jack's struggles play out in the background of Dorie's, a young artist trying to make ends meet instead of going working a (perfectly fine but boring) regular job and seeing both of them succeed and fail together felt pretty true to life. Actually, Stella makes an off-hand reference to their "high school" days and in some ways I feel like that might have made a more interesting books, just silly school romps with mischief and magic in it (which may have been why I liked the first two Finishing School books but not Waistcoats & Weaponry honestly). Sadly however, I did find Tam (who is a more important character than Jack or Stella) to be much more boring, his main fault seems to be holding a grudge against Dorie and since Silverblind tries to make the reader question if this grudge was even deserved or not that makes this attempt at characterization feel even flatter. I will give credit where it's due however, "Tam" (as a reference to Tam Lin) and "Dorian" (as a reference to Dorian Gray) are very inspired name choices and I'm kicking myself for not picking up on them sooner.

Finally, to quickly touch on the actual plot of the story, much like in Cooperhead this book is so unconnected from the previous books that it's hard to call part of a series in several ways. Yet again the story has found a way to write out the previous protagonists (both Jane and Helen this time) which is a contrivance I've never liked and this book is connected to the other two only by setting, not through plot or theme. Yes at the heart of it there is a plot connection, the fey are still around and people are still cautious/murderous towards them 20 years after their great war, but that almost felt like a subplot at this point. I truly don't know how I would have reordered this series to make it flow better but I do think that it was missing something in order to make the books feel cohesive as a whole, not just cohesive by themselves. In fact, you probably could read this book as a standalone and follow the story just fine, Jane and Helen's previous adventures are only briefly mentioned after all, but I think you would miss the point behind the climax of the story. It's simply a bit of an awkward book, the plot seems unsure of it's own goals, the story indulges and has all of these excerpts from Tam's other writings at the beginning of each chapter, and I felt like it really missed a chance to do something more complicated with Dorie's character in regards to her shapeshifting. I actually misread a few passages at first and thought Dorie said she was comfortable being both male and female (nope!) and that she had never loved anyone (ohhhh?), except Tam of course (goddammit "if it's you it's okay" trope please go out of style). For the moment, I think I'll simply stick with reading about real female scientists instead.

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