You’ll need a bit of background before diving into this post. About a year ago, I read Libriomancer by Jim Hines. It’s a fantasy novel about a librarian who has the ability to pull things out of books: lightsabers, laser guns, the One Ring (probably not a good idea), basically anything that can fit through a book’s dimensions. You’d think I would have loved such a book? Magical librarians? How can that not be awesome?
And, well, it was awesome, for the most part. For most of the book, I was engaged and reading with the sort of hungry pace I usually reserve for Jim Butcher’s work.
However, when I got to the end of the book, there was something that didn’t sit quite well with me and made me feel sufficiently weird that I ended up knocking my review down to four stars. Still a very, very good rating, but not that that sparkling five star I was feeling for most of the book.
Why did I do this? Well, there was this character in the book: Lena. She was a dryad who was created from a book. She was depicted as intensely sexual, beautiful in a non-traditional way (much more curvy than your typical rail-thin love interest) and in the end of the book, she and the main character ended up in a three way M/F/F relationship with Lena’s previous lover serving as the second F.
I admit, that all seemed weird to me. I admit that for all of my progressive thinking, for all that I support and believe that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, should be free to love whomever they desire . . . the idea of this three person relationship felt odd to me. More than that, it felt exploitative. Everything about Lena’s character felt like it was catering to the author’s own personal kinks and tastes. This was just another fantasy author writing out his own personal fantasies. More powerful, sexy women that exist to serve male tastes. Sigh. I decided I wouldn’t read more in the series.
I was wrong. I was wrong about all of that.
Regular readers know that I’m a huge fan of John Scalzi. He’s in my personal geek pantheon; if he’s attending a convention, that’s a reason for me to want to attend that convention. I have signed copies of several of his books. I read his blog. I might have a mancrush on him. Okay, yes, I do have a mancrush on him.
He has a regular feature called The Big Idea where other authors can talk about their new books. Some of them are interesting, some of them aren’t to my taste, some of them have made me go out and get the book as quickly as possible. It’s a cool way for Scalzi to use his blog’s popularity to help other authors find an audience.
So today, a new Big Idea post goes up and it’s about the sequel to Libriomancer. Hmm, I think. Jim Hines. Oh, right, the book with the dryad and the three-way at the end.
But then I started reading. And when I was done reading, I realized that all my earlier impressions had been completely wrong. What I had taken to be more of the same fantasy exploitation of women was the complete opposite, was in fact a critique of those same exploitative depictions. I’m was like the kids in my high school lit class who were outraged when we read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal because they didn’t realize it was satire.
Hines isn’t one of those fantasy authors out there creating more fantasy women to cater to his own male gaze. He’s the opposite. He’s giving talks on sexism in fantasy and posing in sexy dresses to raise awareness for these gender issues. In short, he’s one of us. And I never even realized it.
Reading about what Hines is trying to do with his character, both in the new book and in the first one, made me go back and take a hard look at why I felt the way I did with Libriomancer. It made me wonder why the M/F/F relationship at the end bothered me. What I realized is that I’m not immune to feeling prejudice towards things I don’t understand and this was something I didn’t understand. I was reacting just as a homophobic individual would.
I’m sorry that I judged Hines and his book too quickly. I’m sorry that I didn’t think more critically about the book. But I’m glad, too, because this experience made me reconsider my own thoughts and examine a bit of prejudice I didn’t know I had.
And all of that is good, because it’s how I grow. It’s how I learn.
Jim Hines’ book made me learn and grow. It’s not his fault it took me almost a year to actually figure it all out.
I’ll definitely be picking up his new book when I get home. And I retroactively have added back Libriomancer’s long overdue fifth star.