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This book write-up should probably come with a bit of a warning, as I think the weird part of my make-up that makes me very uncomfortable with McKinley's Beauty (almost the default book you WILL love if you're a fantasy reader) made me even more uncomfortable with this book. I'd been looking forward to reading for a while, and when reviews of the third book in the series started showing up (as on Bookshelves of Doom), I was even more anxious to read it. The thing I especially liked about Wicked Lovely was the way Marr set up a threatening, quite rigid system of rules and powers with which Faerie operated, and didn't give her heroine any easy out when she was caught up in this. However, Aislinn could accept what couldn't be changed while still retaining the power to choose for herself things that were within the rules but had never been conceived of, let alone done before in Faerie. It wasn't Fire and Hemlock (nothing is), but it does seem a similar kind of thinking outside the 'chilly logic' of a Faerie-to-be-feared, and I love that.

Everyone said Ink Exchange was darker than Wicked Lovely, and it is that. From the back cover:
After suffering a terrible trauma at the hands of her brother's dealer friends, Leslie becomes obsessed with the idea of getting a tattoo -- it's the one thing that will allow her to reclaim her body, renew her self-confidence. [...] Soon, her back is adorned with a pair of eyes, framed by black wings. Leslie feels good -- more than good. Nothing bad can touch her. But what she doesn't know is that her new tattoo binds her tightly to the faery whose symbol she chose: Irial, the exquisitely dangerous king of the Dark Court...

This wouldn't ever have been a book I enjoyed much, whatever about my queasiness about the moral ambiguity about the binding to Irial. The book is told from Leslie's perspective in part, but also in part from Irial's, and Niall's - another fey who left Irial to serve Keenan in the Summer Court centuries before. It would never be much fun to read from Leslie's POV, given that terrible trauma (being raped by her brother's drug dealer and pals as payment for one of his debts). But the reader knows from the prologue that her seemingly empowering move in getting the tattoo is actually going to be the act that allows her be violated by Irial, and this time it may well be fatal. Even Niall, who fights against his own attraction to Leslie, as he knows how dangerous it would be for her to get close to him - is watching her - desiring her - trying to protect her (from himself too) - but having the power of knowledge she lacks.

I found the passages in which Leslie repeatedly is shown to be thinking that she should be terrified and angry but isn't and realises she should be afraid that she's not afraid but isn't, got really tedious. But just now writing it down, I'm even queasier than I was about the narrative set-up, which comes perilously close to making the reader a voyeur at this how to describe it? -- it's almost an enforced strip-show, with Leslie being viewed by these two powerful fey and soon seen by them (and others) to be possessed by Irial without knowing it until very late in the story. (And of course the nature of her binding is that she can't care by the time she knows.)

The part with the spoiler coming up now.

Once the tattoo is finished, Leslie is in a terrible position - Irial can feed on the negative emotions of humans through her, and pass this nourishment on to the Dark Court. (They're essentially starving because the Summer Court is so chipper now that Keenan has Aislinn, and things are good in Faerie. A war would work, but the other courts don't want that, and the Dark Court will be increasingly vulnerable to even darker than dark fey.) But it's not enough to use the existing fear or anger or greed, so they let the nasties at humans and half-humans and fey they can catch for exceedingly ugly torture as entertainment. And Leslie is barely aware of what's going on, with horrified moments of awareness - and then everything is so appalling that only sex with Irial can allow her to endure it. The resolution and her escape is a bit rushed - even easy, though I couldn't have taken any more drawing out of things by then, admittedly.

There is one sense in which Leslie does at least participate in her own rescue (though it's only possible because of Irial's actions), but the degree of empowerment seen in that is to my mind very much taken away by the fact that she still 'cares for' Irial after all the effect of the ink exchange is gone. Now, I'm all for the moral complexity myself, but this...? Here's an indication of Irial's nature - when he sees the damage done to Leslie by her brother and his druggie 'friends', he thinks to himself that without their having raped Leslie, she wouldn't be filled with the fear and loss of sense of autonomy that allows her to be possessed by him, but still plans to destroy them for hurting 'his' mortal.

There's a lot of good stuff in here, and I may still choose to read Fragile Eternity, which returns to Aislinn and Seth (in this book, though not the main characters), but I may not too. I know many people have read this differently than I have, and not seen it as disturbingly 'but she came to care for her rapist' as I did. I'd be very interested to hear dissenting opinions, though I may not be easily persuaded out of mine...

Date: 2009-03-09 01:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi! [ profile] diceytillerman sent me here, because she knows I just finished reading this book.

I do see completely what you mean, and I had uncomfortable moments reading the book as well. However, I do have a dissenting opinion to offer, because the end turned everything around for me. I guess the big difference between my interpretation and yours and that I didn't see Irial as her rapist. To clarify, I *did* see that he raped her psychologically and emotionally, "drugging" her, so that when they did have sex, that was physical rape, too. But what I mean is, he had a different significance for me in the book. To me, he represented the numbness of addiction / denial that Leslie sought because she couldn't bear to feel the pain of having been raped by Ren's friends. He was less a character to me and more the metaphor for Leslie's need to escape; her wish to die; her choice of darkness and despair, rather than life, survival, recovery. Therefore, at the end, when she still cared for him, it didn't bother me the way I think it bothered you, because to me, her caring was less caring for a horrible person, and more a new understanding of her pain and how she'd dealt with it. Her caring was caring for her own feelings and behavior -- for emotions she had that she couldn't have helped having, and for behavior that had hurt her but that she could forgive herself for now. I don't know if I'm making any sense at all here. For me, Irial had so much metaphorical power (as a natural self-destructive step in her reaction to being raped by Ren's friends) that I was less bothered by his less metaphorical significance. And perhaps more impressed by her ability to reject feelinglessness, and choose life, even though it also meant facing her pain.

I was also icked out by the enforced strip-show with Niall and Irial, but it was powerful to me that Leslie more or less said "Go away, goodbye, I want a life without you" to both of them. "I want to build my own life, and there's no place for you in that life." At a certain point, I began to feel that all the awful, icky manipulation and so on was realistic to our world, and that's why it was in the book. It was horrible, but it was true. Leslie really was a lost soul in a horrible world.

Again, I appreciate your interpretation, and it's one of the things that fascinates me about the book -- it's complicated and tricky and can be looked at from a lot of angles. I hope I've made sense here. I came away from the book loving it and eager to talk about it -- eager for the people I trust to read it and tell me what they thought.

Date: 2009-03-09 01:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I hope it's ok for me to reply. I try to not engage as much bc I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable, but you invited dissenting opinions, so I hope that I'm allowed to be one of the responses & will not be crossing a line here. If I am, pls do tell me to go hush.

I'm not going to dissent bc that implies that there is a Correct Answer--which I think is silly. So . . . I'm intrigued by your reading--and can very much see how you arrived at it.

That said, Irial, as he's written, was not meant to be read as a rapist. (Not that your reading is without textual support--as I say, I can see the sources of this reading.) He is that which she uses to numb her emotions; he is, metaphorically, her addiction, her drug, her depression & self-destruction. Contact with him allows her to escape the feelings she wants to hide from (a typical PTSD response to rape). He is, obviously, not a healthy choice either. . . as frex, coke, smack, sexual excess are not. He is that response that I and most survivors I knew sought in whichever form (or forms) we found it.

If I had to pin a literal real world match instead of the metaphor, I'd say he is a drug dealer taking advantage of her being broken for his own gain.

He's not a "good man." He is, however, representative of the Dark Court, the shadows, the ugliness, & he is not without moments of awareness. Can "bad men" (drug dealers, et al) truly love someone enough to want them to get out of the world they are in? Yes, actually, they can. THAT realization is why Leslie cares for him.

I'm a rape survivor. I'm very open about that. I'm not going to write a text wherein the rapist is the beloved. Ever. I don't classify Irial as a rapist. He's the hell that comes after the rape, the ugly things that sometimes we fall into bc we are pretty far from ok at that point and just want the pain to be quiet for a moment or two. He's a bad man, not the protagonist, not someone we are to cheer for . . .

The empowerment issue . . . I don't agree there. Plain & simple. I get what you're saying, & it IS valid. In my read of the act of surviving, it is a choice we make over & over. It's a choice not to lift the pipe, needle, what-have-you. There are external things--people who help us or hinder us. There are moment we look back at where we were & think fond thoughts. It's not popular sentiment but being high enough not to hurt IS pleasing. We DO long for it. Leslie longs for that. She thinks fondly of the embodiment of it, and she thinks fondly of the fact that her embodiment had a voice & a volition & didn't make her running to safety harder. For that & for the numbness he gave her, she feels affection. She also knows that the drug/addiction/destruction would've killed her.

So that's what I intended.

That, of course, doesn't mean that your reader response is any LESS valid. Your reasoning, your interpretation, & your entire response to this aspect of the text (to any aspect, actually, if one buys into some schools of lit crit--which I do) are all quite valid. One doesn't only walk away from a text with what the author intended. To me, that's always the best part abt responding to text: there isn't A Right Answer, but a number of Possible Answers.

I'm glad I read your response. It was engaging & thoughtful--and supported textually.


ETA: correction of grammar error in para #1

Date: 2009-03-09 03:44 am (UTC)
ext_9393: I am a leaf on the wind.  Watch me soar. (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Though I don't remember if I thought about it consciously, I read Irial as drug/addiction too. The last part of the book felt like a chemical blur as Leslie spiraled into addiction, and it seemed to fit a world where so many were unhealthily dependent on something.

Aside from the quick ending, my nagging problem with the book - which I was never going to like like given how dark it was - was Aislinn and Seth. To me they failed Leslie on so many levels that I have a hard time seeing them ever again as hero/heroine, which the text seemed to want me to. I never really believed in any of Aislinn's human friendships in WL, though I knew I was supposed to especially with Leslie because she was clearly destined for her own novel, but after IE... NO.


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