Today in “things that Minty is reading”

or rather, things Minty read a while ago but can’t stop thinking about:  Shadow of the Templar and sequels by M. Chandler.

Mostly, it is an awesome, exciting series about a team of FBI agents who pursue (and eventually accept help from) a famous art thief.  The dialogue is wonderful.  There’s a lot of sharp, witty banter, and also some just comfortable silly banter among the team members.  I laughed a lot.  There are also a lot of very imaginative cunning plots, on both sides.  On the whole, I definitely recommend it.  (Yes, despite the fact that I’m about to criticize the hell out of it and accuse it of various -isms.  It depends on what you personally are willing to put up with.  I really did get a lot of enjoyment out of it despite what’s below the cut.)

There are three other things I want to tell you about it, though– one is a FEELINGS, and two are somewhat more thoughtful criticism.  I’m going to talk about the plot a bit, so if you don’t want anything spoiled, stop here.

First, because I need to get it out of the way, the FEELINGS: There’s a fairly sketchy sex scene.

It goes like this: some really scary, stressful things happen to Simon.  People die.  Simon is pretty messed-up afterwards emotionally, which is understandable.  Jeremy convinces Simon to take out his stress and anger on Jeremy– by beating Jeremy up, and then by having sex with him.  And, I mean, Jeremy explicitly, verbally, deliberately encourages Simon to do it.  And it does help Simon feel better, just as it seems Jeremy knew it would.  And Jeremy seems to be perfectly okay with it afterwards.  But the more I think about it, the more I want to grab him by the shoulders and just yell “Take care of yourself, goddamn it!  That wasn’t safe!”  Damn Jeremy and his damn stoicism and his using his body as a tool.  (I went and re-read it in order to give you a more accurate summary, and goddamn it Jeremy I know you’re fine but I just want to cry.)

Second, Thoughtful Criticism #1: There’s a character with a disability who’s a villain, and it’s handled pretty badly.

He has a stutter, and a sort of nervous tic thing– he twitches a lot, especially when he’s upset.  And he is a truly creepy, nasty person who does some awful things– horribly tortures one of the protagonists, manipulates and threatens a bunch of people– all while being insufferably smug about how little they can actually arrest him for.  But the protagonists, and the narrator, love to talk about how creepy his stutter is.  When the author wants to remind us how awful this guy is, sometimes it’s “remember what he did to our cute, innocent friend,” but most of the time it’s “ugh, he stutters and twitches and it’s creepy.”  Excuse me, no.  You don’t get to use disabilities as shorthand for “evil”.  Bad author.  You clearly know how to use actual characterization to make someone creepy, so stick to that.

Thoughtful Criticism #2: The female characters don’t get much sympathy.  Allow me to explain.

The main female character is pretty awesome.  She’s the second-in-command of the team, and has demonstrated that she can beat up any of the other team members.  She’s organized, stable, and professional when several of the others are loose cannons in different ways.  But she’s the only really important female character, and there aren’t many minor female characters (that I can remember) either, and none of them except maybe Jeremy’s friend are portrayed as decent, normal people.  We meet a couple of the women the aforementioned villain has manipulated into helping him– they go under “overemotional, unreasonable” for being manipulated and then being reluctant and weird about speaking to the FBI.  And then there’s the security employee at the company they’re trying to protect from a theft– helplessly squeakily shy, easily manipulated, exists to show that the boss of the security department isn’t taking the threat seriously.  The only other female characters, as far as I can remember, are really minor,  only in the story for a paragraph or two.  Oh, wait, no, there’s Nate’s mother.  She’s conservative and uptight and nagging.

[Edit: there’s one other significant woman character– Dorothy Langridge, the CIA agent.  She’s probably the most competent woman in the series, now that I think of it.  She doesn’t do much, but she’s an expert in her field and she doesn’t take any nonsense.]

So it’s not hugely awful, and it isn’t all the female characters, but the story gives me this feeling that the author doesn’t really understand, or doesn’t really care about, the female characters’ points of view.  We don’t really hear their side of it.  When people dismiss the female characters as silly or overemotional, it’s not them being dismissive– it’s true within the story.

And what really made me notice is that it happens to the awesome main female character too.  There’s one point in the story where she’s talking about how she really wants to have a career in the FBI, she wants to do well and be promoted, and she’s concerned that the (mostly older men) upper-level people won’t take her seriously because she’s a woman.  And (I forget who she was talking to, but I think it was Simon) thinks she’s silly and wrong for worrying about that.  He’s like “Obviously we all respect you, we know you’re awesome, none of us think any less of you because you’re a woman.  So why are you worried?”  And sure, we know you respect her.  But in general, you have to admit she’s right to be worried.  Sexism in promotions happens plenty.  Except apparently with this author you don’t have to admit that.  With this author, this is her being insecure and worrying over nothing.

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