I’ve been talking to various reader friends about the id vortex and id reading/writing more generally. I keep trying to put together a coherent post, but I’m still struggling with various bits of it. Now that I’m blogging again, though, I can muse out loud across shorter, more informal posts and see if something comes together. I thought I’d start with m/m.
I wrote a while ago about reading less m/m because I was sick of running across the Evil Woman stereotype. I still am, but just as bad is the “two broken men find each other and are cured or at least stabilized by the power of love” motif. It seems as if more and more stories take this premise, i.e., you have hot men who have suffered terribly in the past, so much that they can’t or won’t take a chance on falling in love. Then, the perfect (for them) men walk into their lives and 150-200 pages later, they’ve married or at least found themselves in an HEA (more often than an HFN, in fact). Most of the time I’m rolling my eyes at this ending, having rolled my eyes as the story got there, and I don’t think that’s the response the author is aiming for.
When I was at the RT convention last spring I had drinks with a reader and an author, both of whom are thoughtful and insightful about the romance genre, and I put the question to them. Why so many broken men? I can’t be the only person who is troubled by the message that depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, PTSD, etc. etc. can be overcome or at least made manageable by the right love relationship. We all agreed that there were a LOT of broken men running around these days, and the author hypothesized that it was because broken is the more extreme version of vulnerable, and who doesn’t love a vulnerable man? I kind of get that rationale (it’s the vulnerability-trope version of One Man is Hot, Two Men Are Twice as Hot). But it’s not really a great analogy because when you’re talking about physical or cognitive difficulties, it’s not always the case that people in these situations are the best matches for each other.
I decided I really needed a reading change of pace, and I wanted something that I knew would be good. Michael Nava’s mystery series featuring California lawyer Henry Rios had been on my wish list for a long time, and the books finally showed up in ebook format this year. I climbed into bed with the dogs (TheH is away), downloaded the sample and read it, immediately bought the book, and made myself put it down a third of the way through. I finished it the next day at the first chance I had.
The Little Death introduces the reader to Henry Rios, a 33-year-old Linden Law (read: Stanford Law) grad who is working as a public defender. He’s assigned to the PD’s office in Palo Alto, which sounds like it would be interesting, right? Not in the 1980s, the era in which this book is set. Rios has been exiled to the Palo Alto branch from the central San Jose office because of fallout from a high-profile case. Palo Alto is sleepy, suburban, and generally uninteresting, and Rios has been demoted from felony trials to arraignment court.
But his boring job suddenly perks up when he represents Hugh Paris, distaff member of the wealthy and powerful family that established Linden University in Palo Alto and that still wields an enormous amount of influence in the region and the state. Paris is a drug addict who was arrested for possession and resisting arrest, but he’s also gorgeous, charismatic, and immensely appealing. He’s quickly bailed out by a “John Smith” and Rios thinks that’s the end of it, but Paris shows up on his doorstep asking for help. Rios gives him that and a bit more, and they begin a tentative affair. He knows this can’t end well, but he doesn’t realize how quickly and how badly it will end until Paris is discovered face down in a creek, apparently having committed suicide.
The relationship ends, and the investigation begins. Rios is convinced it wasn’t suicide because Paris suspected that someone was out to get him. As Rios slowly starts to unravel Paris’s history and the circumstances surrounding his death, the circle of people involved and at risk widens.
ALERT #1: SPOILERS AHOY FOR CAPTIVE PRINCE VOLS. 1 & 2. READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.
ALERT #2: THIS IS A LONG-ASS POST. GRAB A CUP OF COFFEE OR WHATEVER KEEPS YOU AWAKE.
In a previous post I discussed my discomfort with the way slavery is ever-present in Captive Prince, and especially the use of slavery as part of the Orientalist presentation of Vere. In this post I talk more about why slavery is a hot button for me, generally and in this book, as well as other things that made my reading experience less than optimal.
I want to note up front that I am talking here about the portrayal of institutional slavery and the mindset of slaves, not an individual master-slave relationship. I think a good author can make an individual relationship fascinating and avoid the traps of exploitation and stereotyping. But slavery as an institutional backdrop and an often casual treatment of how slaves think about their condition in a book that readers are asserting is “not really slavefic” is what really pisses me off. Yes, it’s an m/m romance. But it also falls within the category of slavefic, just as it falls within the category of historical fantasy.
SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT.
Posted in analysis, fan fiction, gay romance, history, not-quite-reviews, random ranting, reading
Tagged Captive Prince, hurt/comfort, Lymond Chronicles, slash, slavery