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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 01:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi to you - and thanks to [ profile] diceytillerman for sending you here! I do get exactly what you're saying in all of the above, and I appreciate your taking the time to explain it. Don't know if you'll have seen Melissa's comment, which posted shortly after yours, but it's well worth reading if you haven't. I've been thinking about what you both said - which is very similar - and why I wasn't able to see Irial the same way while reading. Part of it is just, obviously, that we see from his perspective such a lot of the time - and it's never nice or anything other than toxic, but I was forced to accept that he does really care about Leslie, though the shape of that caring changes and shifts and we get yet more shifting perspective through Niall's view of him... And it's never enough caring to change his nature, of course. I think it was that combination - being made to see him as more than merely the darkest of dark to be resisted or escaped and the knowledge - which Leslie eventually shared - of what he did to others through her that made her caring for him so disturbing to me.

I'm still pondering my different response to The Perilous Gard, in which the Lady offers a drugged escape to Kate, and there's also a very complex view of her presented at the end.

And I totally agree - talking about a book that fascinated you with reading friends is one of life's great joys!

Date: 2009-03-10 02:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have been meaning to reread The Perilous Gard for years -- I may have to go do that now!

Thanks for your post :o)


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