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Survival Rout (Earthside) (Volume 2) Paperback – December 13, 2016
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About the Author
Ana Mardoll is a writer and activist who lives in the dusty Texas wilderness with two spoiled cats. Her favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. She is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and several short stories. After coming out as genderqueer in 2015, Ana answers to both xie/xer and she/her pronouns.
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The first book, Poison Kiss, only dwelt briefly on the character's actual time in captivity; the bulk of the book was about adjusting to freedom, overcoming the trauma, finding a place for themselves in the world, and avoiding recapture. In Survival Rout we get a much clearer picture of the cruelties of Faerie, including how the fae lords kidnap and change people to begin with, and an intimate look at one tiny corner of this otherland.
We have two main characters in this one, Aniyah and Keoki (and a third, Miyuki, who isn't a viewpoint character but whose story we still follow pretty closely.) First of all, I was delighted at the craftsmanship of alternating between them; through subtle choices of language and diction and through what they notice and don't notice, these two very different personalities come to life. (I'll admit I'm biased; Keoki is my favorite. His relentless cheerful optimism could have been grating, but instead it came across as hopeful and comforting, adding an element of "find fun where you can" into an otherwise bleak situation.) All three are kidnapped in an incredibly creepy scene (more on this later) and taken to Faerie, where their memories are stripped...
...and here's where it gets interesting. In the beginning of Poison Kiss, Rose seemed to have given up hope. Even the idea of any level of camaraderie with her fellow captives was foreign to her, until Lavender spoke up. Here, though, the girls - and to a lesser extent the boys - actively help each other, finding ways to save any memories they can and working together to keep each other alive. It's a very different dynamic, and fun to read.
And it's necessary, because the situation really is bleak. In this corner of Faerie, boys are forced to fight for their lives against other captives, some of whom have some nasty abilities; girls are kept as "Prizes," sexual toys that are given as rewards to fighters who both survive and put on a good show. (Note: although this set-up is ripe for abuse and rape, it only happens once in the book, and the bulk of it is off-screen. I liked the fact that most of the boys weren't monsters; they wanted sex with a pretty girl, sure, but they didn't want to hurt anyone. When it's revealed that one of their number apparently does, the appalled reaction feels appropriate. I like that it's not normalized or explained away.) Both roles are horrific in their own way; the trapped helplessness comes across loud and clear without making the book depressing. Without giving away spoilers, the cooperation and trust within each group and, to a lesser extent, between the two groups eventually makes something possible that otherwise wouldn't have been.
A major theme of the book is power and how it's abused; many of the situations are disturbingly close to real-world scenarios, with an extra helping of fantasy horror on top. The creepy kidnapping scene, for example, looks like date rape at first - or something even darker. (Kidnapping girls as sex slaves, maybe?) The reveal that the kidnappers aren't human under their illusions just makes it more unsettling. In Faerie, the dehumanizing nightmare of being held captive, your name and memories taken, valued only for whatever entertainment you might provide, and forced into dangerous situations is an obvious example; less obvious is the more subtle horror of being assigned a role based solely on your (perceived) gender, whether you're suited for it or not. (One of the boys, for instance, is not actually good at fighting at all, whereas one of the girls is asexual but excellent at physical combat.) Add to that the fact that two characters are not actually the gender they're assumed to be, and... well. Again, it's a decent metaphor for certain real-world problems, taken to the next level by the supernatural elements. Differing power dynamics is also a good example. The Master has power over all his captives; they live or die at his whim. Within that system, though, the boys have power over the girls. Again, most of them choose not to abuse that power, but the fact remains that it's a choice. They could choose differently at any time. And when one does, it becomes apparent that not only will the master not punish him, but there's not a whole lot anyone else can do about it either. (What CAN you do, when someone you considered a friend does something awful? When words don't work? Beat him up, knowing that it'll only start a feud, that he'll come after you later - or worse, take it out on someone else? Commit cold-blooded murder?) It echoes scenarios ranging from abusive relationships to overlapping systems of oppression, without ever getting preachy about it.
Diversity-wise, the ensemble cast is amazing. Both main characters are POC - always nice to see in fantasy - as well as bisexual and polyamorous,and one is disabled, as is one of the minor characters. There's a wide range of races, sexualities, and gender identities on display. There's a fat girl (I LOVE HER) who is beautiful, sexy, and powerful. There are characters who fulfill one stereotype while defying many more, just like people in real life. They feel like groups I've actually been part of, and it's so refreshing to read.
A final note: this novel is a sequel; it takes place chronologically after Poison Kiss and (spoiler!) we eventually see a couple familiar faces. However, it is a standalone story with mostly new characters. You do not need to have read the first book to enjoy this one (although we're starting to see hints of an overarching plot that may be developed further in future books!)
And for those of us on the raggedy edge, it's darkly familiar, especially currently, but counters that dark familiarity with hope, created family, and the absolutely most adorable couples and thruples you could hope for creating shared family in the darkness.
Sitting around feeling terrified of recent events and what it means for me and mine, thus was exactly what I needed.
Additionally, I love how aware and inclusive the novel is. The whole work drips with an intimate understanding of gender and sexuality issues and a deep understanding of the tropes, xie (Ana Mardoll) uses and what feminist issues they bring up. And unlike a lot of works that play with similar tropes, I could trust xer to fully dive into them and deconstruct their full weight in a meaningful way which was glorious to experience.
Additionally, I love the representation. The demigirl character is amazing and has made me seriously consider whether to use the label for myself (I'm an agender trans woman). Additionally as an asexual, I'm absolutely in love with the bad ass aro ace character in this book (except for during one scene in which she broke my damned heart). And there's also a trans woman supporting character who has a truly memorable moment of awesome.
Overall, if you're looking for great queer literature with a smart edge and an amazing gift for world-building and amazing marginalized identity representation, this is the work for you. You will not be sorry.
Though to end, I want to note one small nitpick, which is that the author included an amazing content note section for xer book (which is beautiful and I wish more books did that). However, on the Kindle book, that warning appears at the very end of the book, which sort of defeats its purpose.
And that warning is super important because there's a very intense plot-point halfway through the book involving abuse that gets resolved beautifully later in the story, but was very intense at first reading and required a short break.
So critique mostly at Kindle's decisions with regards to the sections in formatting as it undercut the clear intentions of the author.
But yeah, highly recommend the work overall!
Most recent customer reviews
This one might be tough for survivors of sexual assault because it involves sex slavery, but with a big exception toward...Read more
Survival Rout is a great read that benefits from some inspired...Read more