February 14th, 2010

_Shadow in Starlight_, Shannah Biondine

This is the second-read of a group of epublished books I bought to explore the non-big-6/non-HQN trashy novel space. It was published by LTD books in 2002, which year it won an Eppie for Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction Romance. Since then, LTD books has gone out of business; if you buy _Shadow in Starlight_ now, you'll see it is published by Double Dragon.

This medievaloid fantasy features a variety of races, including our heroine, who is half-Yune on her mother's side, which means she's got violet hair and skin the color of peaches. Unique to her is the arrival of dragons whenever she goes outside, who then kidnap her and treat her like a baby dragon, viz, try to get her to eat regurgitated whatever-it-is dragons eat. Moreya and her family learned this the hard way, resulting in the death of her mother and the maiming of one of their servants.

Meanwhile, our hero is a guy who no one ever sees, because he's always covered up with a cloak with a deep cowl. He's a pureblooded Waniand, and there are a lot of negative stereotypes and/or rumors circulating about what they look like in general, and what Preece, the Warmonger, in particular, looks like. The story opens with Moreya arriving at the castle of Glacia, where her father has been Ambassador for King Cronel. Until he recently died. Cronel claims the Ambassador arranged for her marriage to the Prince of Greensward just beforehand. He assigns Preece and a small group of other knights (a drunk, a young guy, and Preece's best buddy) to escort her to her new home, where her marriage will include a trek across a meadow with her new husband. Hmmm. How can that go wrong. Oh, not everyone knows all these details at the time, mind you.

The first half of the book is Moreya befriending and ultimately marrying (after she sees what's under that cowl) the extremely hunky if melanin-impaired Preece. Preece, meanwhile, is just trying to keep Moreya alive in the face of raiders, dragons, what's going to happen when they get to Greensward, etc. The middle of the book is a really unpleasant sequence in which Preece and his compatriots are severely tortured after one of their number betrays them. The magician Bourke who raised Preece and serves as deus ex machina throughout the story (and to Biondine's credit, seriously creeping out Preece and Moreya, as they question what around them is Bourke's machinations and what is the result of their more or less unimpaired free agency) arrives to spirit away Bourke and his surviving compatriot. The dragons are expected to rescue Moreya, but she is rescued by guards, imprisoned, and ultimately returned partway home to hang out at a monastery (where the guy who officiated at their marriage lives) and wonder what has happened to her husband.

The second half of the book involves Preece's recuperation from torture that included Cronel squeezing one of his balls until something inside popped, anger at Bourke and the results of that, which include Preece demanding that Bourke erase Moreya from his memory. This is problematic, because they are "lifemates" (in a ceremony involving a razor nick to the penis, natch) and this is an irrevocable commitment with biological enforcement, but Bourke does it anyway. Preece hooks up with other Waniands and they train, return to Glacia and take the throne from the guy who forged his succession to Cronel (who, if I forgot to mention, is dead as a result of a subplot involving Moreya's maid, his ex-courtesan, who apparently got clitoridectomied, because Cronel doesn't believe in his ex-s having any more fun). Obviously, news of the coup makes it to the monastery and Moreya shows up to find out if any of the Waniands involved are her husband and is quite appalled to learn he has no idea who she is. Antics ensue.

Several observations, first, as with _Too Good to Be True_, while there were occasional word-o's (none in particular spring to mind), the on-another-planet/in another time setting means that I don't get to complain about the dialog. Altho I, personally, question the use of the name Satan, but whatever. I am tempted to complain about names like Waniand and Raviner (oh, and Bearesi? Come on.), but Biondine's prose is lighthearted enough that I'm willing to allow that she actually meant some of these to get a chuckle out of the reader. They didn't interfere so much with the plot that I couldn't maintain interest in the characters.

As with _Too Good to Be True_, the structure and pacing of the book are noticeably different from what comes out of the big 6/HQN meatgrinder -- it reads more like two short books than one long one, but that turns out to work decently well as a way of developing the idea of lifemates. (Fortunately for me, this variation on Twoo Wuv doesn't involve fate or at-first-sight.) The problems I had with this book lie elsewhere.

The Prince of Greensward (Velansere? spelling?) is described as a sodomite, preferring the company of men to women. While I certainly understand that Moreya, who wants to have kids and a nice family life, doesn't want to marry a gay guy, I was creeped out by the massive negativity associated with his sexual orientation. Where negative stereotypes show up throughout the novel, they are consistently exploded/shown to be objectively wrong and objectionable. With this one exception. Velansere comes to Glacia for a period of time in the middle of the book (but has returned home before the coup occurs) and while there, his primary depicted action is to hit on the young knight who turned in Preece and company. When that young man forcefully declines, the Prince arranges him to be sent to his death in the dungeons. This really, really, really bugged me; it felt so amazingly homophobic it basically killed the book for me. I finished the book, because there was always a chance that another character would turn out to be gay and that would be okay, but in fact the idea of tolerance comes up quite explicitly later in the book and Preece and Moreya are described as founding a clan that would be notable for its tolerance of religion, race, etc. -- sexual orientation being conspicuous in its absence. That, plus the idea of lifemates, plus the Waniands being all about the procreation and ending the novel with the hero being all excited that his lifemate is going to have triplets and I just had way too much of a quiverful moment. There were other problems, but largely irrelevant in the face of this huge an issue. There are possible explanations for each of these individually, but I just don't buy coincidence on this scale. I won't be reading more by Biondine.

Honestly, I'm a little surprised it won an Eppie, given how well-represented sexual minorities are in the epublishing community. I wonder if it would win an Eppie today.