A Shiver of Light – Laurell K Hamilton

Posted on June 8, 2014

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Remember how I said that I rage quit Anita Blake? I really should have said that I rage quit Laurell K Hamilton.

I have just finished reading A Shiver of Light, the most recent of the Merry Gentry books, and I was left feeling vastly dissatisfied and a little bored.  That’s a particularly uncool response to have considering I’ve been waiting five long damned years for this book. Admittedly I wasn’t left a bundle of seething hatred as I was when I read Shutdown but that’s mostly because Merry Gentry is still a reasonably pleasant character – even if LKH has turned her into a hysterical version of Bella Swan (and yes I’m well aware that Bella’s name has become a byword for hysteria but let me assure you even Ms Swan was not ever this bad).

So I figure I start this review with the things LKH did well. Be warned: here be spoilers (because rather unusually LKH came up with a number of interesting plot points for the series).

  1. I liked that Merry seems to have become a goddess (small g necessary) for the soldiers she saved at the end of Divine Misdemeanours. They’re able to pray to her and bring her through time and space and dreamland to help them heal. It’s an interesting twist, particularly because the sidhe are banned from being worshipped as gods in the US, and I’m almost excited to pick up the next book on the basis of this plot alone. Almost but not quite.
  2. Another interesting plot point is the power level of Merry’s children. They’re very powerful and trying to curb the power of babies that aren’t aware (and probably wouldn’t care anyway) of the difference between right and wrong is going to prove difficult. Props to LKH for using the term “beautiful little sociopath” to describe a baby.
  3. Merry’s men are becoming mortal. They have no idea how or why. Damned interesting plot point to bring in this late in the series.
  4. Aisling is going to become King of the Seelie Court.

With plot points 3 and 4 I’m really interested in how this will change the dynamics between her lovers, between the courts and how this will effect Merry’s alliances. HOWEVER based on LKH’s writing these plots will be severely mishandled – or forgotten about.

And in four points I’ve managed to sum up all the good things that happen in A Shiver of Light. You would think that there would be enough there to fill an entire book and then some but here’s where LKH starts to fail. Everything to do with those plot points happens in the first and last quarters of the book.

So much of the action actually happens off page. We don’t see Taranis being deposed, Maeve and Merry’s friendship has drastically progressed but we’ve never seen it build, we don’t see the birth, we don’t see the conflict happening in any of the courts. In fact the entire middle part of the book is Merry moving from one room to another thinking/talking about random stuff* and then crying and crying some more. I’m not joking.

Guys she cries because she’s a cray cray pregnant lady.

On pg 15 of the kindle version we have:

“I started to cry. I don’t know why… everyone ran around trying to calm the crazy pregnant woman when my water broke.”

On pg 45:

“My eyes felt hot, my throat tight; was I going to cry ? … Or maybe I was going to cry about it all, about both, about all three, or maybe baby hormones made you more emotional…”

On pg 46

“DOYLE CAME BACK in while I was still crying”

On pg 240

“I realized I was crying, and wasn’t sure why; maybe it was postbaby hormones, or maybe the thought that my wonderful babies, my children, might have frightening magic hadn’t occurred to me.”

On pg 252

“And just like that, I started to cry again; stupid baby hormones.”

On pg 284

“For some reason that made me cry harder”

I’m almost fucking certain that pregnant ladies and new mums don’t actually cry this much. I’ve never been pregnant but I know people that have been and they didn’t seem to endlessly water the plants. This feels like the whole female menstruation thing where people blame responses on periods regardless of whether it’s actually a valid thing or not and where pop culture makes period pain/period hormones have this overblown effect because think of all the jokes.**

BTW I haven’t even pulled out all the instances where she bursts into tears for no fucking reason.

I don’t understand why Merry has become the snivelling mess of a character. This is poor characterisation and writing.

So Merry crying can pretty much sum up the middle of the book – along with the usual LKH trademarks of rehashing old ground (Rhys and Galen do the whole [but you don’t love us as much as you love Doyle and Frost] and we discover every characters’ backstories once again) and endless descriptions of clothing.

The effect of Merry’s “pregnancy hormones” isn’t the only egregious thing to happen around the pregnancy plot point. Somehow LKH manages to lose a baby between the last book and the start of this one – and then she finds it again.

At the end of Divine Misdemeanours she had triplets with six fathers and knew who each of the fathers were thanks to the actual Goddess. In the start of this book she thinks she has twins, has narrowed down the “baby daddies” to six men and then discovers that she has a third baby and she has no idea who fathered that one (she does work it out eventually). As continuity errors go this is a huge whopper. Did LKH not read the last couple of pages of her last book? HOW DO YOU LOSE AN ENTIRE CHILD?? Woman needs an editor.

LKH also watches way too much porn. It pains me to say it but the sex scenes in this book are ridiculous (like more so than her usual offerings).

Firstly there’s a scene with Sholoto that I’m reasonably certain isn’t a thing. I like to consider myself to be fairly on the ball as far as knowing about sex acts goes and I’ve never seen or had this happen outside of porn. You know that thing in gonzo porn where the guy sticks his hand in the girl’s mouth for no apparent reason? Yeah that happens.

“He folded his thumb in with his fingers and shoved all of it into my mouth. I opened as wide as I could, and still he could only push in to the second knuckle of his hand; there was just no way to go deeper when he was that wide. He started to back out, but I grabbed his wrist and urged him to push in farther. His eyes widened, but he didn’t argue, just kept pushing his hand into my mouth, pushed, pushed, until my mouth was impossibly wide and it was uncomfortable, but there was something about that discomfort that I enjoyed. He finally shoved his hand as hard and far into my mouth as he’d ever gotten it, and I finally had to tap his arm and let him know that I was done, I could take no more.”

WHAT THE HELL? This is possibly as un-erotic as it gets – unless you have an out and out fetish for mouth fisting (in which case YKINMK). Amazingly this is even less erotic then the visual porn version.

Well have you?

Secondly Merry can orgasm by giving head. Which is great I guess (and LKH does give a semi-plausible reason for this) but for the life of me it’s so unrealistic that it drags me out of the story. Since this is also the sole basis of most of those sex scenes (because Merry is banned from having sex for 6 weeks) it makes the sex scenes kinda not work for me.

Add into that Merry and her men’s continual whining about how being pregnant has mean no sex for any of them, it comes up just about any time she gets a tingly feeling somewhere, and this book is the least erotic of all of LKH’s books (incl. the Anita Blake series).

Speaking of un-erotic things I feel like I need to bring up LKH’s treatment of rape. Mostly her treatment of rape falls into the trap of the ‘using rape as shorthand for emotional growth’ trope. As a general rule I find that this is terribly lazy writing and a little disrespectful, especially as most books tend to gloss over how traumatic it can be. There have been a couple of instances where LKH takes this trope into offensive territory***.

The first and most obvious one is in Anita Blake series: Micah rapes Anita the first time they have sex and she enjoys it. She then enters a relationship with this guy acting as if nothing is wrong. In Skin Trade Anita is forced to perform sexually to save people and LKH writes it as if it’s the sexiest thing on earth. In A Shiver of Light Merry goes from musing about how she was raped by Taranis and feeling rather traumatised to wanting to bang Frost and Doyle in the same paragraph (they were standing by the bed half naked so she gets distracted). Call me a prude or overly PC if you will but I don’t think rape works that way. I don’t think it should be portrayed as a sexy thing. I do not think LKH handles the subject well at all and it actually made me feel sick in this book. I could put this down to bad writing but I also don’t think she necessarily understands the subject.

Bad things in this book that also deserve an honourable mention:

There’s a cool bit of world building* where we find out that the ravens in the London of tower actually refer to members of the raven guard who are in an enchanted sleep until England is imperilled. However I’m not sure why this is included in book at all. It’s kind of dropped into the middle of a conversation that has nothing to do with anything and its inclusion could be interpreted as a symptom of LKH’s propensity to waffle on endlessly about nothing.

Referring to Merry’s breasts as “mounding creamy goodness”. LOL for the purple prose.

She changes a baby name in the last few pages of the book. It’s not a drastic change but the first name becomes a middle name after they’ve called her by it for the entire damned book. It’s a little jarring and unnecessary.

Merry keeps referring to herself as pregnant after she’s given birth. It’s terribly annoying because at that point she is no longer pregnant and is in fact a new mother. LKH needs to use a dictionary.

She uses the term ‘friend zone’ un-ironically.

They seriously consider having a reality tv show. Much trashy, so lol.

Maeve wears one of those chain belts. Also un-ironically. Bad fashion, so much awful.

This line: “the IV in her little leg didn’t look like birth, it looked more like death.” I’m not sure what this means except that I’m pretty sure IVs just look like IVs.

Oh and everyone and the dog is in therapy. I’m sensing some preaching on LKH’s part here.

All up this book was bland. In the hands of a better writer this would have been a book worth reading. The ideas are there but the execution fails. Just to quote Whedon, ‘I think this line is mostly filler.’

** That’s not to dismiss the debilitating effects these things can have – I’m just trying to point out how badly the issue is dealt with by the media we consume.

*** Or more than a couple. See this review.

 

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Posted in: Review