Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My First Adventure into Lesbian Literature

A Review of Jane Fletcher's Shadow of the Knife

I'm not entirely sure what made me pick up this book in the first place. If memory serves me right, it was during my initiation into online dating a few years ago, when I was emailing one of numerous potential dates and complaining that I didn't know of any good fiction with lesbian protagonists. The woman heartily recommended Shadow of the Knife. To make sure I didn't forget the title, I put it on my Amazon wishlist, and a year later I ended up owning it.

I started reading Shadow early 2010, and after putting it down for several long spells, I finally managed to finish it in the beginning of December. So, in theory, I feel like this is a book I should like. There are lesbian protagonists and antagonists, action, murders, a bit of suspense, some romance, believable characters. With regard to the plot, the book is technically correct, all of the story elements fleshed out appropriately. The climax was pretty intense, and the book didn't end happily ever after. Those are all points in the book's favor, so why did I still feel so disinterested about the story in general?

**spoiler alert**
One of the immediate things you notice about the world Fletcher has created is that all the characters in this land are female. Not just female, but lesbian. Interesting. Okay, I figured, I'll play along provided you eventually explain this odd phenomenon later. And that became one of my major expectations. Women can't reproduce naturally by themselves, so it was difficult for me to suspend my disbelief and be comfortable with the fact that there are no men, and reproduction involves some type of outside intervention. Maybe this is explained in one of Fletcher's other books, for even though Shadow is marked Book 1 of the Celaeno Series and comes first on the timeline, it's not the first book published in the series, making it more of a prequel. Nonetheless, it's one of the only things I wish she could've resolved, and it doesn't get addressed.

The main conflict of the story -- stolen sheep and the murder of minor characters I don't care about -- never grabbed me that much. I even had a hard time caring a lot about the protagonist, Militia rookie Ellen Mittal. So for some reason I just couldn't get as interested in her life and drama as I should have been. I felt lukewarm about her attraction to Hal, and I had a strong suspicion right from the beginning that Hal wasn't who she claimed to be, thereby making any flirtatious scenes between the two of them a little boring and inconsequential. The sexy bits were nice, and eventually we learn that Hal does have true feelings for Ellen, despite her initial deceptions . . . but it wasn't enough to save the book overall. Things picked up a little in the end, and as twisted as this may sound, I got more interested during the torture scenes. Probably because this was the first time it felt like Ellen was in true danger, that she might not survive, and all the while Hal's betrayal was tormenting her mind.

On the writing itself: it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great, either. It's hard to put my finger on what would improve the prose, since like I said, the book is technically correct, but it seems to be missing that extra spark. Ultimately, for my own experience, I'd give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. But I also have to acknowledge that part of the reason why I didn't enjoy this book is because it wasn't quite the book I wanted to read, and to some degree I can't fault the author for that.

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