The Wrath & the Dawn

These last reviews I’ve posted have been read in chronological order (I started with The Cruel Prince, went to Everless, and finished with The Wrath & the Dawn) and have increased in likability too.

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The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Published by Speak on (reprint edition) April 5th, 2016
Genres: Romance, Power, Identity, Family, Royalty, Supernatural, Feministic
Pages: 432
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review:  4.5 out of 5 ★★★★☆


I hesitate to just go ahead and give this book five out of five and I’m not really sure where the hesitation comes from. To put it plainly, I enjoyed this book much more than certain others I’ve read lately, so wouldn’t this warrant a full five stars? I’ll begin by categorizing this book–or at least attempting to.

It would be hard to say that this book is YA. It’s not not YA, but it’s also not really YA. I’ll explain. The romance aspects of it seem a little cheeky and young-ish (in the sense that sex scenes aren’t drawn out, there aren’t any blatant “adult” topics, etc.), but then at the same time, it just doesn’t seem to fit that category for me. There aren’t really any super supernatural aspects that would make me think of the common fantastical YA, but I suppose, regardless of plot, the content does sort of remind me of Sara J. Maas’ work (yet again! Why do I compare everything to her? Ugh I love you, Sara) so perhaps, after all, it does fit in a YA shelf.

The best part of this book, while obvious, is the protagonist. I know this sounds simple, but really sometimes I hate the protagonist and wish he/she were written differently. But Shahrzad (or Shazi) is exceptional.

“It’s never been a question of who is going to let me behave a certain way; it’s alwasy been a question of who is going to stop me” (page 99).

She reminds me of an Asian rendition of Juliet, of course in the way that I read Juliet. She is super strong-willed, somewhat loyal to her family, but more so loyal to herself, and ultimately is determined. Shazi has volunteered to marry the boy-king who murders his new bride every sunrise. Why would she set out for a suicide mission? Because her best friend was chosen to become a bride and then was subsequently murdered the next morning and Shazi is out for revenge. Of course, nothing in the romance world is ever that easy and what if Shazi begins to develop feelings for the boy-king, Khalid? He spares her for many mornings in a row and their relationship deepens and blooms. But if Shazi is supposed to be a flower, she is a rose with many thorns. She does not take kindly to be treated traditionally and is openly “disobedient” towards her patriarch. She shoots bow and arrow, walks through the palace where she isn’t welcomed, and makes her presence known. She is a full affront to the traditional wifely duties and I love her for it. I want to be her when I grow up.

What some people might not like is (SPOILERS!) she does fall in love with Khalid. Can this really be a feministic text if the women falls for the man? OF COURSE! Sometimes, I believe that we forget that women can be both: Strong and dissident, but also in love. Those two don’t need to be separate and just because she develops feeling for Khalid, does not mean her strong and overbearing personality disappears, in fact, this is probably why Khalid loves her right back. She is the holder of their relationship, whether Khalid believes it or not.

Furthermore, the text discusses love in such different matters than I’ve generally seen in YA. By submitting herself to the will and marriage to Khalid, Shazi leaves behind her family and childhood friend, Tariq, who loves her deeply as well (Shazi is so great, she has two awesome dudes vying for her time). But besides that, Tariq and Shazi have to deal with the different version of love that arises:

“It is not a difficult question. It is a very simple one. The difficulty lies in the answer. Why do you love her?” (page 295).

The way I love my current boyfriend is not the same as how I loved my past boyfriend or the one before that. It’s not the same as I love my best friend or the hot dude on my favorite basketball team. And instead of simplifying love into one umbrella category (romance at its finest), Ahdieh forces us to look at love at different angles and question our own definitions of love and I think that this is something special that sets this book apart.

Overall? If you want a feisty, female protagonist but also a heartfelt romance, The Wrath & the Dawn is definitely for you. I will be picking up the sequel at some point, once I finish more of my TBR pile.

Everless

This a book that, though it took me a while to actually pick up, I preordered and was gracefully reminded of its existence when Amazon sent it to me.

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Everless by Sara Holland
Published by HarperTeen on January 2nd, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Family, Identity,  Romance, Power
Pages: 368
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review:  4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


I am on the fence with Everless. Much like when I read The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, every new YA fantasy novel to come into my possession is going to be compared to Sara J Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series because I am utterly mystified by her stories. This is definitely not a good trait to have, but we love what we love when it comes to books, don’t we? Of course, I understand that Everless is both everything and nothing like A Court of Thorns and Roses or The Cruel Prince or Six of Crows or A Darker Shade of Magic–all of these books, while in the same genre, are special and exciting in their own way and Everless is no exception. To begin, I can confidently say that I enjoyed it more than The Cruel Prince so I don’t think there is going to be as scathing of a review here as there was there.

The most amazing part of this story, and it seems so simple, is the storyEverless is incredibly original and I can’t get over that. With the sheer amount of “medieval fantasy” (i.e. not common day, villages, tariffs, serfdom, etc.) hitting the shelves each season, it is wonderful to see a book that is completely original in its making. Jules (which is the name of my cat, funny enough) is a young adult, struggling to make ends meet for her and her aging father. Aging perhaps isn’t the right word because instead of aging naturally, this world deals in time, which is taken from one’s blood. Jules’ father owes many debts and they simply do not make enough, so he has to pay the monthly taxes to Everless, the kingdom and royal family overseeing their village, via his blood/time. Jules actually grew up at Everless since her father used to be employed by the family, but as events unfold in the story, you see why Jules and her father had to quickly remove themselves from the castle and assume a life of poverty. And this is what I find so fascinating; there are certainly stories that discuss one’s life expectancy, but generally, those are cyber-punk, dystopian stories, not medieval fantasy.

So if I loved the story so much, why didn’t I rate Everless a full 5 stars? Well, a few reasons. The first is that the story is a little hard to grasp. Now this sounds ridiculous because it’s a fantasy novel that has people wagering their time via their blood–nothing about this is real. And yet, to me, there has to be something that can be grasped and that shows similarities between the book’s world and the real world in order to make the connection with the reader. If it’s not easily connected, then I feel like I’m having to work really hard to make the story understandable. Without disclosing too much information, when Jules learns of her true identity, which includes a convoluted–but interesting nonetheless–story, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of description for what is really going on. She has the normal scene where she struggles to accept it, but then she does and we move forward. Perhaps there will be more explanation and set up for her true identity in the sequel, which I am most likely going to read.

Another thought hits me with brute force: maybe I am a mystery–a secret–that needs unraveling, too. (215)

I also found not having a love interest as a risky move; I both appreciated it and shrugged at it. Jules is not at Everless to marry one of the princes–yes, the relationships they had as children are mentioned and important, but throughout the majority of the book there are no stolen kisses, longing sighs, or broken hearts. Jules is there for her father and her father alone. He is ill from lending too much of his time and she’s worried he doesn’t have much left, so she gets a job at Everless which will pay handsomely to be a servant. Sure, once she’s discovered as the Jules from Prince Roan and Prince Liam’s childhood, things get complicated, but a romantic relationship is not what drives this book. And this is refreshing! I’m pretty sure having a love interest is the cornerstone of a YA novel! Don’t get me wrong, there is tension between Roan and Jules and slightly between Liam and Jules, but it is about a chapter? Maybe? Even though I think this is a good thing, I also think this is a…”meh” thing. Let’s be real for a moment: the swirling, intoxicating, whirlwind of fantasy love is addicting and I am here for it. So while I loved that Holland chose to not include this, I was also looking for this in a story. I crave a relationship that will make me blush and sigh along with the protagonist so I did feel as if that was missing from this story.

Overall? I enjoyed it. Am I in love with it? No. Will I be reading the sequel? Most likely. If you’re interested in a medieval fantasy novel that’s a little different from everything else on the market, I would definitely recommend. If you’re looking for another Rhysand and Feyre, look elsewhere. I am left wanting to know more about Liam though…

The Cruel Prince

As you’ll see if you simply scroll down, I did not love this book, and I really wanted to love this book. I picked it up at the Astoria Bookshop at the beginning of the year, close to after it was released, and was ecstatic to grab the last available copy at the store–they were running it for their February Teen Book Club and I thought, well everyone is already talking about this, let me snag it. And I was left wanting a lot more in a book that is highly rated and reviewed on multiple sites.

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Published by Little Brown Books on January 2nd, 2018
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Royalty, Power, Identity, Family, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 3 out of 5 ★★★☆☆


 

I think we should get all the things I disliked out of the way first, that way I can end on a good note.

First of all, and this is something that bothers me in any book that does it, not just The Cruel Prince, but I am absolutely irritated by any book that participates in any form of branding. The sisters, Vivienne, Taryn, and Jude, grew up in our, mortal world, even though Vivienne is half fae, so at the beginning of the novel, the scene is set that the sisters at a young age are sitting in their regular, mortal home doing regular mortal things that you and I would do. This is fine! There are plenty, plenty of YA and other books I read that are set in the real world and don’t include any supernatural elements. Of course, these books are going to have their protagonists doing “real world things” like watching TV and using the microwave, but the instance an author attaches the specific brand to these items, I turn away. For example, when the sisters sneak back into the mortal world and go to the mall, they go into actual, brand name stores like Target or Sephora. They wear Converses and have iPhones. And to me, this is all unnecessary. I am an early modern scholar and one thing that fascinates me is that more than 400 years later, we’re still reading these books, plays, poems, etc. and unfortunately for Black, by adding the Apple Store as a place of interest, she instantly dates herself–The Cruel Prince will not outlast this generation. Is this even her goal? Probably not and that’s fine! But if any writer wants to be the next JK Rowling, they should probably not include brands that potentially won’t be around in the future.

Furthermore, books are my escape, as I know they are for many people, and by having the girls shopping at Target, Black pulls me out of the story, reminding me of the shopping I need to do at my Target, instead of keeping me sucked in. I am reminded that my mortal world is not glamorous. All of this, I believe, can be achieved without the use of brands. The brands don’t actually do anything except noting to the reader that “Look! These girls also shop at Sephora! Gosh, they’re just like me!” One could simply say that the girls went and bought makeup at a high-end store–then my mind can conjure the image of a Sephora, without having the black and white stripes, annoying and sometimes terrible sales-people, unruly and dirty testers, and screaming kids blaring in my head. I wonder when authors do this if they are hoping for a pay cut from such stores just for mentioning them.

Secondly, Black switches writing styles often. I have read a lot. A lot, a lot. I have read every genre under the sun and will continue to do so. I already have one degree in reading and will soon have one more. My point is that I understand writing styles–I’ve literally had to be trained in it to pass classes before. And there are tons of writers that break these stylistic rules (Thinking of James Joyce or Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne are studied because they do break all stylistic rules), but those authors are doing it for a reason and do it, dare I say, well. Black does not. I am thinking specifically of Chapter 6, which is roughly three pages of Jude (the protagonist) stating that she has begun the story (I assume of her life?) incorrectly and then promptly lists three things that she wants the reader to know and understand before continuing forward. A bold move for sure. Black has Jude break the fourth wall (which, she was already doing by using brands but I digress…) and this is an interesting turn of events. I can work with this, I don’t mind a good fourth wall break in a YA, in fact, it’s refreshing. But what Black doesn’t do is continue this method. Jude never once points out to the reader that she’s actually telling a story rather than living one that we’re looking over like some omniscient presence. She doesn’t break the wall again and this makes Chapter 6 all but useless. The point of mentioning Joyce and Sterne is that the entirety of Ulysses or Tristam Shandy is one style breaker after the next, not just one chapter.

Okay, enough with the bad stuff, some people really loved The Cruel Prince and I will now try to convey the things that I did enjoy. I did somewhat like the characters; I saw a lot of promise in Jude and in fact, I thought there would be more twists and turns to her story than there was. I thought that the harshness of Carden’s gang was a little over the top for soon-to-be adults–it sounded more like ridiculous fourteen-year-old stunts than that of seventeen, eighteen-year-olds, but Jude standing up against Valerian (if you’ve read, then you know what I’m referring to) was a good twist and left me wanting more of that. The ending itself, and while I try to not spoil anything, is great. The ease it took to guess what was going to happen throughout the book did not prepare me for the ending and I was pleasantly surprised. Furthermore, the actual description of the secondary characters and the setting is outstanding. It is very descriptive and different from the other faerie realm stories I’ve read in the sense that the descriptions were very Grimm’s Tales-esque, meaning the faeries weren’t just handsome and airy, some were goblins and trolls, with crooked noses and beat-up faces.

Overall? I haven’t decided if I’m going to be purchasing the sequel if that gives you any indication of where I’m at. Pretty much any faerie world book I read, I always compare to Sara J Maas’ A Court of Thornes and Roses series. Is this bad? Probably, but those books are some of my favorites and while Black does interesting things with the faeries that Maas doesn’t do, she really misses the mark on keeping me invested in a contemporary yet fantastical YA.

If you really enjoyed The Cruel Prince, let me know why in the comments down below! I’m more than happy to revisit the pieces I may have overlooked.

Dangerous Lies

The Hush, Hush saga is probably one of my favorite series to ever be in books. I specifically remember the scene in the first book, Hush, Hush, when Patch comes over to Nora’s house and he lifts her onto the kitchen counter, and it’s all dark in the kitchen, and Nora turns Patch’s blue baseball cap around so she can get closer to his face and THEY DON’T EVEN KISS. But the build-up of that scene is so incredible that I can literally remember it and get flustered all over again just thinking about it. This series is the only books I have read by Fitzpatrick, so I was excited to read a different story by her.

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Dangerous Lies by Becca Fitzpatrick
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on November 10th, 2015
Genres: YA, Thriller, Family, Friendship, Romance, Fear, Identity
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 3 out of 5 ★★★☆☆


So clearly, as you can see above, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book and I truly wish I liked it more. While reading, I went back and forth between rating it a 3 or a 4 out of 5 stars; some scenes were definitely worthy of a 4 or even 5, but then other pieces of the book fell short. So I came to the 3 out of 5 because it’s just…average. The book itself isn’t bad, but it isn’t outstanding either.

I’ll start with what I didn’t enjoy first, get the hard stuff out of the way. I found some similar issues between Dangerous Lies and my recent review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, the main one being they both produced random information about the character at random times as if they didn’t have anything else to write about. For example, in Dangerous Lies, I am over 100 pages into the novel and I am just now learning that Stella was a successful basketball player on her high school team and that, upon going into witness protection, she clearly had to drop her basketball scholarships to collegiate programs and now is fearing she might never play basketball again. The only time basketball comes up again in the book is once more. To me, this is unnecessary information, seemingly added after the fact during drafts number four or five. Let’s make Stella more personable–she should play basketball! But then never talk about it again! The scene is set up because Stella is going to play informal softball with friends, which is fine enough, and she is suddenly hit with a wave of soberness as she realizes she left basketball behind in her previous life. It is just all so random to me.

Dangerous Lies also relies heavily on classic YA tropes, to the point that they don’t really add anything to the story and they’re really not that well executed. Case and point: Stella and Chet. I wanted to like Chet so badly, but to me, he’s no Patch and he’s really just…meh. I don’t not like him, the kissing and intimate scenes between Stella and Chet are Fitzpatrick’s expertise and are reminiscent of Hush, Hush (has she ever considered writing erotica? Because I think she’d be great at it). But Chet is just so cookie-cutter YA. He’s got a troubled past, lacking in a family, trying to make up for past wrongs, possibly a “bad boy” and he never redeems himself past these tropes. Perhaps Patch is portrayed the same way, but what’s different in the Hush, Hush saga is that there is the underlying current of the supernatural, which allows for some tropes to slip through the cracks. Fantasy sets up the novel to be looked at in a different light–we can’t apply the same thoughts when reading something based in reality to something that isn’t. Our expectations are different. With Dangerous Lies, Chet is just a classic example of mystery turned love interest.

That slow, liquid heat swirled faster in my belly. I felt dizzy, unsteady. I could come back from it now, I thought. It wasn’t too late. I could step outside and clear my head (258).

Moving on to the brighter stuff, truly the character I think I like the most, which might surprise most of you, is Stella herself. I was set up to not like her, not just from Fitzgerald, but from the fact that when I figured out I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book, generally it’s because of the main character. However, Stella (or Estella) is an actual good example of a character changing throughout the process of the book. Perhaps I like her because I find myself connecting more with her issues: drugs, mother troubles, identity. She gets placed in an excruciatingly rural area similar to my displacement upon my move to rural PA, and had to find a way to adjust from a city life to a farmer’s girl. She found things she liked in that tiny town and became determined to move on from her previous life, but of course, that isn’t how the plot continues.

Stella is the only character I see achieve any growth. Chet and Carmina, while great characters, I pretty much had them pegged from the get-go. Stella, on the other hand, still had some surprises up her sleeves, especially in scenes with her mother.

I didn’t want her to have this power over me…And then I’d come to Thunder Basin. The tide had receded. This summer had been a secret treasure. A guilty, selfish, gratifying escape. I’d been a fool to think it would last (343).

Would I recommend Dangerous Lies? Sure. It’s a fun, easy read that will keep you engaged. It is certainly not the worst book I have ever read by a long shot, it just did not live up to the Hush, Hush standard I had placed on it, which is, of course, not fair of me, but hey, I’m only human! And I think about Patch perhaps too much…

Call Me By Your Name

I‘m going to preface this by stating that I did the worst thing any avid, professional reader–like myself–could do: I saw the movie first. Honestly, what’s probably worse is that I didn’t even know it was a book. I just thought it was a super romantic and transgressive movie. While I’m not wrong in thinking that, the book truly adds to the feelings I experienced when watching the film adaptation.

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Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Published by Picador; Media Tie In edition on October 3rd, 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Romance, LGBTQ, Identity, Heartbreak
Pages: 256
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I almost don’t even know where to begin writing this review; it was simply soul crushing (just like the movie was, but even more so). I needed a palate cleanser after reading a few YA books one right after another–don’t get me wrong, it’s still my favorite genre to read, but I needed something deeper. After seeing the movie, and discovering that it is, in fact, a book, I knew I was going to read it. So why not choose the present? And this book seriously took my breath away.

But I think I’ll begin by stating the obvious: this book is hot. It’s definitely hot in the way a trashy erotic novel has a clutching, slow build that sets the reader up with pure arousal before finally allowing the release when the two main characters meet together, but also in the way that Aciman creates the most romantic relationship I have ever read. Ever. And I’ve read plenty of books that contain relationships forming, breaking apart, re-creating, dying, flourishing, etc. And nothing has compared–to this day–to the beauty and rawness that Elio shows to us as the narrator.

What never crossed my mind was that someone else…in my immediate world might like what I liked, want what I wanted, be who I was (25).

The book is told by Elio years after his life with Oliver in the small Italian town, which is not how the movie portrays their meetings–it showcases it as it’s happening, not told years later. But this doesn’t lessen the romanticism of it all as fifty or so year old Elio reminisces, albeit painfully, on his seventeenth year at his home when Oliver, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, came to work with Elio’s professor father and their relationship blossoms. That’s, of course, the horribly watered down version of this tale, so I apologize for my poor summarizing skills. But what’s important is that Elio is seventeen, living in a wistful little beach town where the heat is tremendous and he doesn’t know who or what he is yet. He’s seventeen and we’ve all been there–unsure of ourselves, unsure of others, unsure of almost everything, but more importantly his sexuality. And what he finds in Oliver is what he didn’t even know he was looking for.

“Do you like being alone?” he asked.

“No. No one likes being alone. But I’ve learned how to live with it.” (76).

Like my previous reviews, I always want to include some critical analysis and literary tools to my thoughts on the book. In order to successfully show his readers the conflicting relationship between Elio and Oliver, Aciman’s writing style is extremely important–he couldn’t just throw together their dialogue and scenes, and he triumphs in showing us so much with so little. If you’ve ever read some of Hemingway’s short stories (particularly Hills Like White Elephants), then you might be familiar with his diction and dialogue choices. Specifically, the lack of flashy word choices and obvious sentences–Hemingway does away with those and makes his readers think about what he’s really trying to say. This is, whether consciously or not, what Aciman implores with his writing. Obviously, we know that this story is about a steamy romance, full of sex and heartbreak, between two men, but this is never explicitly stated (of course, regardless of the sexual scenes). The 21st-century terminology for LGBTQ love is endless, but Aciman doesn’t implore any of these. There is a special subtly to Aciman’s writing that allows for anybody to fill Elio and Oliver’s relationship. Since this story is about Elio finding his own path, coming to accept himself and what he desires in life, and needing to acknowledge and move on from the changes he cannot control, but this story could really be applied to anyone’s romantic life, which is definitely why the story is so deeply moving to anyone who reads or watches.

Another stylistic choice Aciman implores is that, in the movie, we don’t see Elio’s slight stream of consciousness that showcases his seventeen-year-old rambling brain, full of emotions and thoughts and desires and hatred towards himself, his family, Oliver. Being seventeen and unsure of your own identity isn’t a clean process; by having Elio go back and forth in the same sentence (that could be eight or more lines long) Aciman forces the reader into the messy brain of a young, confused man.

This book is a must for anyone who a) saw the movie (and if you did, then seriously, you need to read this because you are missing out on so much more background and future between the two) or b) anyone who wants to feel the heartbreaking whirlwind of a romance between Oliver and Elio because Aciman doesn’t just tell you about their flourishing love, but makes you feel it in your own soul, you feel the crushingness of Oliver leaving to return to the states that summer and then you feel their aging as the years pass for Elio without seeing Oliver, but never forgetting. We all have our own Oliver–that person who will haunt and materialize throughout our lives, both in good and bad shapes. He or she is the person we can never forget, nor want to because they made us who we are. We couldn’t be in our current or future relationships without having their love at the beginning of our life; without learning who we are through them. And Aciman gives us this story to reminisce through so thank you, Mr. Aciman.

I’m going to leave you with the most beautiful part of the whole book:

“You are the only person I’d like to say goodbye to when I die, because only then will this thing I call my life make any sense. And if I should hear that you died, my life as I know it, the me who is speaking with you now, will cease to exist. Sometimes I have this awful picture of waking up in our house in B. and, looking out othe sea, hearing the news from the waves themselves, He died last night. We missed out on so much. It was a coma. Tomorrow I go back to my coma, and you to yours.” (240-41).

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Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

14 May 2016

Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Welcome to the Victorian era: there are horse drawn carriages, exponential growth in industry and science, and, most importantly, men continue to rank as the superior gender simply because of women lacking a certain genital. Being oppressed as ever, women were not only still inferior in more ways than one, but were absent from the pages of literary texts and bookshelves among all classes. Perhaps this is because women had a larger societal role to play besides spending their leisure time writing–in fact, women did not have leisure time even in the upper class. Either way, many of the famous stories to come out of this period did not feature women and were written by men for men. One example would be Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886.

The lack of women within this text is evident–the role of women is to simply be a maid of Dr. Jekyll, a prostitute outside on the streets, or the maid that witnesses Mr. Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Other than these few characters, women do not grace the novella with much of a presence. Because of this, the story is commonly read as misogynistic and takes on a feminist lens when discussed. Taking a feministic read of the novella to argue about the lack of women, and therefore what Stevenson was thinking when writing, is not necessarily incorrect. However, in this essay, I aim to discuss that though there is a lack of biological women in the text, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inhabit the characteristics of females, therefore, rendering any additional female characters as unnecessary.

Firstly, women are not completely void from the text. In a way, in regards to the maid that watches Hyde’s gruesome murder, they do play a small role. Without that maid watching, the hunt for Hyde would not have begun, or would Dr. Jekyll be forced into choosing between his two sides. As Charles Campbell says, women are the “key to a reading of the novel as it concerns the suppression of sexuality” (310). He suggests that: “The men of the novel are the city incorporated as lawyers, doctors, scientists, and sadists; they are associated with fog, lights and interiors. The women are the city as sexuality, innocence, sentiment, and victims; they are associated with street life, the outside of buildings and doors” (316) and this critic is not incorrect, but he misses a bigger point throughout the text. The maid did not necessarily have to be a maid. It really could have been any passerby, male or female, but more likely male since the women were constantly off performing their duties. This shows that women in the text, though seeming to have a role, are still unnecessary.

The Victorian period was the starting point for many new discussions regarding sex, as showcased by Antonio Sanna’s work: “The late nineteenth century saw an explosion of discourses on sex and sexuality” (Sanna 21). Sex became a part of a conversation; it was not totally accepted, but it was a curious subject and earned its place in discussion. Furthermore, “the attacks and campaigns against sexual excesses such as masturbation and coitus interruptus, which had lasted for the whole nineteenth century and were commonplace in medical literature, now focused on homosexuality” (22). Perhaps sex became a familiar subject because homosexuality became a more familiar action, which is why many critics see “The all-male pattern [in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde]…[suggests] a twist of thought that Jekyll’s secret adventures were homosexual practices so common in London behind the Victorian veil” (Nabokov 187) and these critics are not incorrect. They see Jekyll’s “secret pleasures” as a “strong argument” for the exclusion of women in the text (Linhan). Suppose that Jekyll’s secret pleasures and need for Hyde is because of his undisclosed homosexuality, this is a further point that women are unnecessary. Men are able to find love and release from their needs with other men, therefore taking on a “feminine” role as the second partner in certain erotic escapades.

Continuing with the erotic, as discussed by Parker in How to Interpret Literature chapter on Feminism, the term “the gaze” is used when talking about women’s role in literature and movies. “The masculine subject gazes, and the feminine object is gazed at” (170); the only use of women in a text, and also on screen, is to be looked at, to be gazed at. Their sole purpose is to serve as an idealistic image for the protagonist, generally a man, to physically look at and that is that. This then turns erotic when: “Written literature often lingers over a narrator’s or a focalizer’s erotic gaze at a focalized character and often at a focalized woman” (172). Since the feminine object, a female character, is constantly being looked at and described, the gaze of the narrator can seem erotic and obsessed to some extent. And this is probably why scholar Laura Mulvey claims that “This is what men do: they look, and they look in abusive ways; and this is what women do: they are looked at, and they remain passive” (173). Perhaps this is why there is a large push for female protagonist novels, especially in the young adult genre of fiction to be written, since women generally did not have much a part to play in literary scenes. Stevenson’s novella then could be seen as a fantastic example of not objectifying women to the gaze, seeing as women do not play a large part in this novella. However the gaze is still present, it just is not directed at women.

The reader is constantly drawn to Hyde’s physical appearance. Mr. Enfield attempts to describe Hyde to Mr. Utterson in the first chapter: “There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable…He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity…He’s an extraordinary looking man” (Stevenson 11-12). Immediately the reader, alongside Utterson, contemplates how atrocious this man must be, therefore transforming Hyde into the “looked at” and the reader into the “gazer”. The descriptions continue: “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to [Utterson] with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice” (17). I understand men to lack such eloquent vocabulary especially when describing another man, at least today, but the speaker spends ample time lingering and reporting on what Hyde looks like more than once. The speaker goes into such detail, narrowing down to the way he talks and smiles, not just his physical stature–crossing the line to the erotic and forcing the reader to tag along. This further exemplifies Hyde as the feminine object, and the speaker–and therefore the reader too–as the looker, willingly crossing the line into eroticizing Hyde.

Though the descriptions of Hyde are not as pleasing as a woman would be described, when contrasted with Dr. Jekyll, the gaze turns even more erotic. Jekyll is described as “handsome” whereas Hyde is distasteful (20). The speaker enjoys focusing on the hands of both men, showcasing Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde through his hands. Jekyll recounts a morning when we woke up to realize he was actually Hyde:

My eye fell upon my hand. Now the hand of Henry Jekyll (as you have often remarked) was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bedclothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde. (54)

The reader is led through this long-winded description of the difference in hands; Jekyll’s hand being attractive, masculine, whereas Hyde’s hand is baser and off-colored. Once again, even though Hyde is not represented as attractive and feminine per se, the notion of spending time to describe and stare at the men’s features connotes the gaze as previously mentioned. Forcing the reader through this descriptive session, submits him to perform the gaze as well as sealing the image of the men’s physical features for the reader to revert back to when thinking about the two characters later. Furthermore, by setting up Jekyll and Hyde to be described so specifically and so often, renders the description of women useless, since the gaze is forced in a different direction, this time towards men instead of women.

More so, the few female characters are the ones performing the gazing and looking, as exampled by the maidservant who witnesses the gruesome murder of Sir Danvers Carew: “It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box, which stood immediately under the window, and fell into a dream of musing” (21). The maidservant happened to sit down next to her window and watched as an older man, Carew, approach Hyde to inquire about something, but instead of answering, Hyde simply beats Carew to death with his cane before running away–all witnessed by the maid. While she watched Carew down on the ground, she contemplates his appearance: “the girl was pleased to watch [his face], it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content” (21). This is an obvious example of a woman taking on the role of the gazer, and the object of the gaze is a well-off gentleman. This maid servant’s only scene in the novella is this one, where she slightly objectifies Carew and serves as witness to Hyde’s murder. After this scene, she is never brought up or mentioned again. She lacks any purpose outside of this one task, which is sure to anger some female readers, forcing them to take a feminist approach when analyzing this text.

When using a feminist lens to interpret literature, the scholar must ask what type of agency do the women in the story get? In the case of this novella, the women, much like all women in the Victorian period, lack agency completely. Not only is the reader introduced to the women who are of the lower class, maids or prostitutes, therefore suggesting that they have no outside agency other than the orders they get from their masters or what they must do to obtain money, but the reader comes to the realization that the women lack agency because the men of the text have taken over their agency. Jekyll’s main servant, Mr. Poole, takes charge of delegating the housekeeping and performing any acts Jekyll insists. Not only this, but Poole is the one who confronts Utterson about Jekyll’s state of mind, proving the man has worrisome tendencies like a woman might: “Mr. Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner, when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole. ‘Bless me, Poole, what brings you here?’ he cried; and then taking a second look at him, ‘What ails you?’ he added, ‘is the doctor ill?’ ‘Mr. Utterson,’ said the man, ‘there is something wrong.’” (32). Poole, though being the head of Jekyll’s servants, goes out of his way to contact Utterson out of fear for his master, which even as Utterson believes to be quite out of the ordinary. Poole treats the ever-changing Jekyll delicately, feminizing a man with multiple accolades. The men perform tasks commonly suited towards women: Poole rushes over Utterson’s home instead of sending a female servant over, therefore giving her some agency; Utterson and Poole are the only who tend to Jekyll/Hyde, never letting any of the female staff near him.

Continuing with women’s lack of agency, Jekyll himself embodies the characteristics of a female by, in a way, giving birth to Hyde. By finding a way around traditional birth, Dr. Jekyll proves that women are unnecessary to the final extent–now men can create a different life without the use of a woman. Obviously, Jekyll does not physically go through pregnancy, but he does bring life to a different form from his own body, much like how a woman gives life to something created by her body. In fact, the first transformation into Hyde resembles that of labor: “The most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death” (50). Though I have never given birth, from other descriptions and images, the process seems horribly painful and not too dissimilar to Jekyll’s transformation. Additionally, in a way, when a person has a child, they are no longer a singular person but instead two: constantly watching out for another human being, feeding, caring, and loving a small person. Jekyll has created, to some extent, another person to now watch out for and care for, and when he realizes that Hyde became too much for him to handle, and he tries to subdue Hyde’s power, Hyde only forces himself farther into Jekyll’s life.

A man has taken over not only the basic tasks like running errands and caring for a household, but now reproduction as well, showcasing that women are completely unnecessary. Many “[Suspect] that Hyde is Jekyll’s illegitimate son” (Nabokov 187), but he is much more than that. Jekyll disavows what he has done by taking on the role of a father figure of Mr. Hyde: “[I] had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference” (Stevenson 55). Hyde certainly is a son, a teenager even, but in reality, Jekyll has taken on the motherly role by creating and caring for this extra being. Mothers are the caregivers of their children, rearing them while the father attends to the other more masculine tasks, and in some scenes, Jekyll deals with an unruly teenager and has to raise him a certain way–therefore taking on both roles of the mother and father. Even further, “Hyde was ‘knit’ to him, he writes ‘closer than a wife,’” (Linehan 204). Jekyll does not want to admit that his creation forces him to a maternal role, however, the evidence is apparent–a mother to child bond is certainly closer than that of a wife and husband, nothing can oppose the link between the mother and her newborn baby. Therefore, nothing can oppose the bond between Jekyll and his Hyde.

The lack of biological women in the text is apparent, however Stevenson makes up for that lack by creating the men to take on women’s roles. The main question, however, remains: why does Stevenson create his male characters to perform feminine duties? During this time in Great Britain, women’s suffrage movements were taking on the streets and government. There were seventeen different societies created, all devoted to women’s suffrage, in the span of a few years that then created the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Myers). This article featured on UK’s International magazine notes that: “Britain did not leap from no voting rights at all to full suffrage, but that there were many bills taken to parliament and many small gains ahead of the 1918 declaration of suffrage for women, and then the declaration of full suffrage for women in 1928” (Myers). Some of these smaller bills included rights to hold property, agricultural rights, and more. Women rose more and more out of the dirt that their male oppressors shoveled over them, and perhaps this novella is a conversation at that. The women advocated for more rights, as they should be, but throughout this time, some men were left behind. Most men were likely to disagree with their wives and sisters, people they have had innumerable control over for the better part of their lives, suddenly rising to challenge their government; and these men were left to tend to things some of those fighting women may have left behind. In a way, gender roles flipped with women taking on government and men left to take care of the house. Perhaps this is the conversation Stevenson implements in his novella–the gender rolls overturned forcing the men to take on the feminine roles.

Stevenson has been called many things–misogynistic comes to mind–but what about feminist? I am not suggesting that by showcasing women as lacking is in any way feminist, but perhaps this lack shows that women are off fighting the battle for equal rights. They aren’t on the streets toiling around, performing meaningless tasks, but instead, they are at parliament arguing for their societal freedom. This, then, forces the men to take on those female roles because their wives, sisters, suitors are battling for their rights, which leaves the men to take care of the children, the home, and ultimately to their own devices. Therefore, instead of looking at Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Stevenson as anti-women, one should read the novella through a lense of women’s empowerment.

The claim that women are unnecessary may not seem that empowering for women, but in this tale perhaps it can be seen as such. Instead of viewing women as a threat against the male dominance as they attempt to counteract the ardent dominance, which would have been considered the reason for the lack, Stevenson renders women as unnecessary. Women are unneeded in this text because the men have taken over the mundane and everyday tasks that a woman would normally be forced to perform. By depicting them as nonessential, Stevenson showcases that women do not need to be the only humans undergoing the stressful tasks of the everyday world–like housekeeping, running errands, and birthing children. Women should welcome this notion of being unnecessary because for once they will have a break from stereotypical womanhood. Men are obliged to finally cover their wive’s tasks, no longer portraying women completely and utterly necessary in order for life to continue.

Stevenson, whether conscious or unconscious, has created immense dialogue for women for centuries to come. Most of this conversation will revolve around the lack of women in his most known text, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but as I have attempted to point out in this essay that there is a concrete reason for the absence–the women are off, battling the British government and the men are finding ways to cope with their loss, learning to take on the mundane and feminine tasks that they never would have thought to cover, but end up enjoying those duties. Poole takes pleasure in running errands for Jekyll and Jekyll takes pleasure from “birthing” Hyde and creating his dual-personalities. In the end, men actually enjoy, to some extent, performing feminine tasks; this shows women as unnecessary, not because of misogynistic tendencies, but instead puts women in a place of equality.

 

 

Works Cited

Campbell, Charles. “Women And Sadism In Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde: ‘City In A Nightmare’.” English Literature In Transition 1880-1920 3 (2014): 309. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Closer than a Wife’: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll’s Significant Other.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism 292 (2014): n. pag. Gale. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Sex, Secrecy, and Self-Alienation in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 204-13. Print.

Myers, Rebecca. “General History of Women’s Suffrage in Britain.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 27 May 2013. Web. 10 May 2016.

Nabokov, Vladimir. “A Phenomenon of Style.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.184-88. Print.

Parker, Robert Dale. “Feminism.” How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 148-84. Print.

Sanna, Antonio. “Silent Homosexuality in Oscar Wilde’s Teleny and The Picture of Dorian Gray and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” Law and Literature 24.1, Silence (2012): 21-39. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2016.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 7-62. Print.

A Darker Shade of Magic

When I picked up V.E. Schwab’s, A Darker Shade of Magic, I had also picked up the beginning of her other series, This Savage Song and when I began reading ADSOM, I knew I would love it so much that I actually put it down in favor of trying to read This Savage Song first. Not that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, because as you can see from my previous review, I actually loved it quite much, but something about ADSOM that just captivated me. Perhaps because it is so well talked about, and I owned both the regular and collector’s edition before even opening either cover, but I knew I would fall in love, and fall in love I did.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Magic, Family, Friendship, Sacrifice, Power, Royalty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I pretty sure I fell in love with ADSOM more so than This Savage Song because it fits in to what I believe is an uptick in “adult” fantastical epics, and I’m obsessed. I use the word “adult,” in quotes of course, because technically–legally–I am an adult a few years over. I am not a “young adult” any more and teens these days, thirteen, fourteen year olds, are more “young adult” than I ever was at their age. To me, there is a rise in actual adult fantasy books–those that yes, include romance, but isn’t cheesy (and I hate to use that word because not only am I a big fan of really any dairy by-product, I also adore cheesy books); the romance generally includes more adult overtones, i.e. sex and adult relationship problems. The characters are not in high school, or if they are of that age technically, they are far more advanced due to circumstances. Smaller so, but still important, there are more swear words and the diction itself is mature, as if each writer sat with a thesaurus attached to their keyboard. Some examples that, not only do I love also, but would include in this strange hybrid category are Sarah J. Maas’ series’ (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses series simply because I enjoyed it better than A Throne of Glass) as well as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and A Crooked Kingdom. These novels, and including Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, are modern-day fantasy epics–encroaching on the classics of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings where the worlds are vast, the characters are multifaceted and there are tougher subjects being covered.

Though I was trying to meet my deadline of finishing ADSOM before the 14th (which I did!), I only put it down because I had to (family dinners, going through security, sleeping, etc.). Schwab truly has something special in her writing and I got a taste of it with This Savage Song and then a whole mouthful with this.

What I’m trying to do in my reviews, something I haven’t done in the past but I believe is extremely important now, is to connect the novel / book to any modern-day events or problems or happenings that I see manifest themselves through the author’s writing. As we continue the use of the hashtag #TimesUp, it only seems fitting that I begin my discussion of Schwab’s book with the woman in black, Lila.

Lila, Lila, Lila–what can I say about you? Honestly, dear reader, I hated her when I was first introduced. She just seemed so…stubborn and stupid and was probably going to get Kell killed (spoiler, it almost happens more than once no thanks to her) and she just all around annoyed me. It felt like Schwab was trying to make her too aggressive, to fit into that typecast of “I don’t need no man” womanhood, but little did I forget that I am reading a modern adult fantasy, where the characters grow and evolve much more subtly than that of regular YA novels and, at the end, Lila grew and evolved on me.

Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well… Why anyone would ever pretend to be weak as beyond her (66).

As someone writing my own strong, lead female character, I grapple with my creation. How strong do I want to make her? Even though I’m a millennial feminist in my own ways, I also do love a good trashy romance beach read where the female lead gets swept off her feet and falls in love–and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why can’t us women, in the 21st century, have both? Once again, I’m drawn to Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series lead, Feyre. She gets both–a life-altering romance that sweeps her not only off her feet, but changes her whole mindset, as well as has the strength to sacrifice herself for her kingdom. And though we don’t see any blatant romantic scenes between Kell and Lila, I believe that perhaps, if she graces the second or third books with her presence, perhaps there can be something between them and I would love it.

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Another connection I make between our modern world and the four Londons is the use of language. If you own the exclusive collector’s edition, then you know that there is an appendix consisting of a dictionary of words used by the Antari and Arnesian, but even without the appendix, the reader knows that language is important to the story. Kell needs his Antari tongue in order to travel between Londons, where he brings correspondences to and fro between the kings and royals–the only way the royals have access to each other is through Kell and Holland and these scarce formality letters. Furthermore, there are two different versions of speech: English and Arnesian. In Gray London, where Lila is from, everyone speaks English, but in Red London, where Kell is from, only the royals and wealthy speak English and even then, the accents are heavy.

The queen spoke in English. Kell knew that she hadn’t studied the language, that she–like Athos–relied on spellwork instead. So where under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin. Unlike the desperate tattoos made by the power hungry, the language rune was a soldier’s response to a politician’s problem. Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it (94).

What I want to focus on here is how Schwab notes that Red London treats the English language as a mark of high society–how true is this? Red London is the most decadent, but also the most pleasant London of the four. There are, naturally, unhappy people, as in any kingdom, but for the most part, the people are happy and they love their king and queen, and yet they have two different languages spoken: the common tongue, and English. There is a stigma, I believe, hovering around people like myself, who continue our eduction in a dying field: English. I have my Bachelor’s in English Literature, am currently getting my Master’s in it as well, and will hopefully add a PhD soon. I have a high vocabulary and read voraciously (if I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t make much sense would it?). I do remember during my undergrad, when I was still a dual major student in both literature and the art of teaching (as in I was going to be trained to become a high school or lower English teacher) and terms like code-switching and Ebonics came into my vernacular. I have studied the English language very, very little, but I do feel like I know some about it! I love reading about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary and just how language changes. Starting not even with the beginning, we have Old English that barely looks or sounds like English, then we move onto the Early Modern era (aka Shakespeare’s time) where “thee” and “thou” was prevalent, and we can fast forward even more so to somewhat modern, where words like “groovy” and “dude” come and go and the word “like” and “literally” and “can’t even” make an appearance. So while our language is constantly evolving, there are people who still believe English is the “true” and “right” tongue. Yes, perhaps English is technically the universal language, but that’s only according to some stuffy men at the UN. Even within the United States, where English is the native language, there are dialects: words that are said and used regularly on the east coast rarely pop off the tongues of those on the west, and don’t even get me started on the grammatical errors in the south. Will there be a time when my own country finds little use for English? Probably not, but will it continue changing? Of course.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Maas or Bardugo, to anyone who enjoys fantastical epics loaded with adventure, and to anyone who was impressed with This Savage Song and wants to see Schwab take it to the next level. To wrap up, I want to leave you all with a quote from Lila that some of us, including myself, need to think more about in today’s world:

“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love… Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing” (235).