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Disgusted and horrified
on October 21, 2010
Not having read any of Mercedes Lackey's books before, and enjoying the traditional story of the Swan Princess, I recently picked this up, and was (as my title conveys) horrified by its characters. Having read and heard favorable reviews of ML's writing, particularly her female characters, I was dismayed and disgusted that she chose to patronize and insult her audience by offering us a so-called reformed rapist as her male protagonist. His revelation and seeming change read as superficial and abrupt-a transformation which Lackey clearly wants us to believe is genuine, and which is somehow supposed to make up for his inhuman crime. Never mind that his victim will never get a chance to heal and go on with her life, as the Prince's servent informs us that she has died (readers piece together that she commits suicide, we assume as a consequence of the horror of what happened to her).
To portray this rape as an accident, the rapist as simply pampered and confused, and then to neatly and cleanly offer a reformed young man who is rewarded for his deed (in the form of Odette-ideal in spite of ML attempting to create an imperfect character, beautiful, loving, loyal) was the kind of sick, juvenile romanticism that brought to my mind the Twilight series.
This book was clearly trying (and I emphasize trying) to craft a message or theme about internal change and transformation, as evident with the use (or misuse), and images of, physical change, but the author panders and falls horrifically short of anything resembling that change, or genuine remorse and accountability.
Odile's father von Rothbart is also a misogynist, and rather than becoming a foil for the Prince, he simply reads as another flat, abhorrent, and grown man with no real excuse for his mistreatment of women. The brief conversation the Prince has with a priest furthers the assertion that boys will-oh darn-unfortunately be boys. Keep in mind, however, that the Prince only condescends to feel guilty in the first place because his victim didn't pay him the courtesy of enjoying his advances, which Lackey again tries to excuse through his assumption that she was looking for it, and the priest's belief that the lower classes, especially women, are all loose anyway. This is, of course, after the Prince admits to himself that he would probably have assaulted her anyway.
If I seem a little too concerned with this part of the book, believe that it is justified. Her female protagonists cannot possible hold the book together in the face of this, especially in light of the knowledge that these problems are never addressed between them. There are no healthy, sympathetic male-female relationships here, no particularly engaging displays of female camaraderie, and I did not put the book down feeling at all attached to either Odile or Odette.
In short, anyone interested in gender studies might pick up this book, to examine it as an example of the grossly problematic attitudes our culture perpetuates about male motivation and responsibility, female complacence, and the belief that 'she was asking for it/should have known better.' Otherwise, don't waste your time. If I had the option of giving it no stars, I would have done so.