Weddings. You’d think we would’ve had enough of those in Mags’ story already, but nope, we still have to have his in Closer to the Heart. And, because of the bride, it’s to be another big Occasion for the capital and Crown. But how could we possibly have a simple story with a wedding and Mags? Intead it’s an on-again off-again threat to the entire country thing. So you can see why I’m starting to wonder if it’s really feasible to expect so many things to happen to a small set of characters.
Back in Bastion, Herald Jakyr wonders if Mags carries a blizzard attractor with him, as that was the third major one we’d seen in the Collegium Chronicles. In Across the Wall, as a preface to the story “Lightning Bringer,” Garth Nix mentions a man who was going to mail his proof of a record-breaking number of lightning strikes on himself when he was struck yet again. So these things can happen, but there is a practical limit. Also Mags gets kidnapped a lot. And Amily, but that seems to be a feature of being close to Mags, Nikolas, and the Crown.
Also Lackey is still on her sports kick here. How very convenient that the mining town has Kirball teams! How even more convenient that one of the players is injured, creating an opening for Mags to ingratiate himself! Now, I am not against sports in general, but I chose to go to a college that had no football team. In fact, my school was so apathetic we didn’t even have a mascot at that time. There was a vote while I was there, trying to get us to pick a new one, and we voted to continue with no mascot. The only sports team that I have ever had any real interest in (aside from when I was younger and played little league) is the Cubs. And yes, it’s a great time to be a Cubs fan. So I’m paying a lot more attention to sports right now than I usually do, as I tend not to give a crap beyond the one team. (I’m not ignorant, I know most of the major teams around here; the Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Wolves, Fire, Sky, etc. I just don’t care about any of the others.)
I moved on to the new book, Closer to the Chest and suddenly I have questions. Seriously, how likely is it that I’d pick up and read Feminist Fight Club a week before the book where Lackey decided to totally shift gears and make her villain a misogynistic woman-hating bastard who acts like a Youtube comment troll? This is, for the record, most of the book. Absolutely anything else that happens in this particular volume is secondary to this plot. In fact, it makes me realize how unusual such a focus is for this series. Harassment and mental abuse is a rather heavy subject, and I desperately wanted some relief from it, or some kind of change in direction every now and then.
I suppose this is Lackey taking on Internet bullying and trolling, which is an admirable goal. And it is well-handled, as opposed to the cutting in The Invasion of the Tearling. I just wish it wasn’t women, specifically, being targeted in this case. I do understand that when you have a Medieval society there won’t be the same kind of options as we have in today’s world. Plus the fact that the Western European society that so many fantasy novels and worlds are based on was rather patriarchal, lending itself to prejudice against women and limiting females to rather specific roles. My understanding is that the gender roles would actually be less rigid depending on class, era, and maybe location, but I am no expert. The general view says Western Europe has been a society dominated by males for quite some time.
Frankly, I think Closer to the Chest comes on even stronger than the original SERRAted Edge novels, which take on child abuse and missing children rather bluntly. One of the young girls in those books has been sexually abused by her father since she was five, resulting in multiple personality disorder. That’s just one of the books. And I’m telling you that I think the focus on harassment and the mindset that brought on GamerGate is even more heavy-handed here. In fact, maybe that’s why. This is a viewpoint that women in fandom run across a lot. There is a reason for the Cosplay is Not Consent movement. There is a reason why a friend of mine won’t go to cons in a certain state anymore.
There is a reason why I do not hesitate to play my ace card. Admittedly, I am pretty bad at picking up when someone is hitting on me. But it has happened, it does happen, and it will continue to happen as long as these men feel they are entitled to force their attention on people who are uninterested and unwelcoming. Luckily, I haven’t had as many encounters as others. The one that sent up the most red flags was when I was invited to a lingerie party – not on the official Party floor – and told that I could take home anything I liked, so long as the (so obviously male) host got to see me in it first. That is incredibly disgusting and offensive. I stayed in the game room and didn’t bother going upstairs at all.
So I can understand what some of the motivations behind writing this book are, and why at this time. I would even guess that Mercedes Lackey has gotten hate mail of the sort described. After all, she’s been a very successful author for decades – the dedication in Closer to the Chest is to her editor Betsy Wollheim and 30 years at DAW – and while earlier authors like Andre Norton had already paved the way for women in fantasy and sci-fi, that doesn’t mean there’s no sexism around. Because Lackey has always written strong female characters (except for the ones who exist to be the mice and provide the contrast to the eagles) I’m pretty sure that’s why the focus here is the actual abuse and harassment instead of “women can do shit too!”
As for the book and plot…overlooking the heavy-handed message, this was an incredibly obvious plot. It’s not just that everything was set up in the beginning or anything, it was just incredibly easy to see. I knew where the villain was coming from, I knew where the motivation had to be, I could see it all, even though Lackey was dancing around in five other places. And this wasn’t “oh, that’ll be the love interest when we get around to it” kind of obvious. This was “can we please just stop the bullying and whatnot because we all know who’s at fault here” kind of obvious. Now, this won’t stop me from reading more Valdemar the way I did with Elemental Masters. And it certainly won’t stop me from reading more Lackey the way I’ve gotten so cautious about Orson Scott Card. But this might end up in the same category as “Moving Targets,” the short story written with Larry Dixon in the anthology of the same title. That story of Herald Elyn and four Trainees on Circuit is so obviously a Scooby-Doo ripoff that it is one of my least favorite stories in all the Valdemar anthologies (and we have established that there are quite a few of those to pick from). Essentially, that’s a category of “I’m probably only going to reread it when I have to, and skip it when I feel I can.”
Anyway, Closer to the Chest was not the satisfying read I’d hoped for, so I wanted something much simpler and overall happier to follow it up with. So I went with Oddly Normal #3. This is the third trade paperback of the comic series I read before. As a reminder, Oddly Normal is no longer being serialized, and so is only being released in trade from now on. At this juncture, the villain (or is this just a villain?) has been revealed! But there are still many more mysteries for Oddly and her friends to unravel. This series is surprisingly deep and intelligent for something that is super kid-friendly, and I’m enjoying myself as I read it. Again, there’s not much I can really say without spoiling anything, but there is a new twist (or two!) in this volume.