Saturday, January 26, 2013

CBR Review #4 Highlander Most Wanted by Maya Banks

I read this a few weeks ago and I'm afraid that my recollections have faded slightly, for that I apologize.

Reading this book was a coincidence. I had just finished reading "Never Seduce A Scot" which is the first in the series. Right around that time I found out about I signed up and low and behold managed to get an e-copy of this ARC. The story picks up right after the first book with a new couple. The Montgomery Clan had raided the McHugh keep in order to rescue their laird's wife, but the McHugh's fled. Suddenly the Montgomery's have an untended keep full of women, children and the elderly to take care of. In all that mess one woman comes forward to act as their champion. Genevieve has been held captive there but for some reason decides to look out for the McHughs at least a bit. Bowen Montgomery is acting as Laird in his brother's stead and is the hero. What else, ok. Genevieve was kidnapped by the baddie of the former novel Ian McHugh. He has held her captive for the past year and has raped her repeatedly, also when she refused him he cut a huge gash into her face. Most of the conflict of the story is Bowen learning that Genevieve is a good woman, and Genevieve learning to trust a man again. Add into that that the whole McHugh keep calls Genevieve a whore for having (forced!!) sex with Ian, and that for about 70 pages Bowen things Genevieve was complicit in kidnapping his sister-in-law. That's basically the conflict.

I'm going to go off about feminism and rape for about 5 paragraphs. Just a warning before the jump.

As an ardent feminist I had quite a few conflicted feelings about this book, and I really don't think it helped that I read "Never Seduce a Scot" and "Highlander Most Wanted" in succession. Reading them together really highlighted the problems I had with the heroines. (By the by those titles are terrible. They really have nothing to do with the books except that they're Scottish and sexy) Ms. Banks really puts these two heroines through the ringer. There were some similarities that became apparent when juxtaposed that I just don't like. Both women are traumatized by Ian McHugh. The abuse to Genevieve is far worse than to Eveline we still have this sexual trauma looming in their lives. In Genevieve's case she has Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) bar none. She's been locked up and raped by Ian. I just dislike the idea the formative experience for these women is rape. It happens again and again in romance and in stories aimed at women. I'm not trying to belittle rape, or rape survivors. It is under reported and happens entirely too often to women. I speak from a story telling perspective. It seems that in many stories aimed at women rape is the evilist most awful thing that can happen to a woman. It's the thing that defines who she is and how she interacts with others (an important thing in a romance). Often the rape is what galvanizes her. I find it upsetting that repeatedly I keep seeing these women where their rape is the defining moment in their life. Even though the women rise above it, the rape is still placing the value on her sexuality and sexual history. It's taking a woman's power to define herself away and making all of her choices a reaction to the assault. I don't know. Perhaps this is just illustrating how prevalent rape is that it is such a common topic of discussion among woman and a common trope in women's literature. But it still feels belittling to me. I guess it just feels a bit like it's adding to rape culture. That rape is a woman's problem, it's something only women have to deal with. It's something that so many women have to deal with that it can be seen as normal almost. It's kind of adds to the threat of rape, that no matter what you do your agency can be taken from you. That your body is not your own and part and parcel of being a woman is the thread of violence.

Now I'm not saying that Ms. Banks is encouraging ANY of this. All she did was write a fun romance novel. I'm extrapolating from her story and this is meant as an indictment of ALL romance novels. It's just that both of the books in this series had me thinking of these kinds of issues. (Also there is an attempted rape at the beginning of the new Sword of Sorcery Amethyst Princess of Gemworld comic that I've been reading so that is in there too)

One of the other things that bothered me about this book is the female on female abuse. Both Genevieve and Eveline have a massive amount of abuse heaped on them by the women in their respective communities. Eveline because she is from the Armstrong clan who, until the marriage, were the sworn enemies of the Montgomerys and Genevieve because she is seen as whore amongst the McHugh women. Part of the conflict rises from the two women needing to work out this conflict, but I still found it jarring. One of the ways the patriarchy can control women is by turning us against each other. Women internalize sexism and then use it to against each other. I found it upsetting that these women who are already suffering from RTS then have to endure all this abuse from other women. To the point where they both have to take shelter with the Montgomery brothers. I think the author meant to use this to show how wonderful the boys are, but it still felt, to me, as if the heroines could not be with other women. It made the idea that happiness can only be found in a male/female monogamous partnership. That any other relationship can not be tolerated. I know this is a romance and there is supposed to be a HEA and it's about the couple. But I like to read romance to read about two people falling in love (hopefully boning) and having a HEA. This just felt like the only sanctuary these women could have were with their respective partners and that nothing else could exist outside of that. Even if the outsider relationships are "lesser" than the romance, it would have been nice to see a positive group of women. Although Eveline does eventually win over the women of the Montgomery Keep and Genevieve has a good friend who is a McHugh and, of course, becomes besties with Eveline when she lives at Montgomery keep. So I guess that problem was remedied in the end but I still felt like these women were just tortured by women the bulk of the novel.

The final thing I really had a problem with is the sex. Not that it was bad or anything, but Genevieve had RTS. She has some serious sex problems. There is even another attempted rape in the middle of the book the hero has to save her from. It just didn't jive for me that she'd be so willing to marvelous mind blowing magical romance novel sex with the hero based on her history. I don't remember exactly but I could have sworn that after the attempted rape the hero and heroine finally have sex THAT night! It didn't work for me on two levels. One I found it incredulous that she'd be able to have such wonderful and positive sexual experience so quickly after that incident and secondly (and more importantly as I'm probably projecting) it didn't work for me as a reader. I just couldn't enjoy a sex scene so soon after a rather visceral rape scene. I just wasn't in the mood to read it, didn't feel like it worked in the story and because of that found it unbelievable.

With all that being said. I really did like Genevieve. She's pretty badass. She stands up for the less fortunate, she is smart and she kills like four people with a bow and arrow. I really did enjoy her and I liked reading her story. I just didn't care for how she was tortured. Also I shouldn't read so many Maya Banks stories together, I think if I had read these 6+ months apart it would have been better.

Overall it gets 2 out of 5 over analyzing feminists.

You can buy the book here or from your friendly neighborhood indie

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