Reviews in Brief: The Strain, Mob Rules, Fierce Angels

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NEW YORK IS SO SCREWED OMG. In The Fall, the sequel to The Strain, the vampiric virus has spread across the city, and the Master is poised for full on destruction. Our intrepid band of heroes is totally screwed. The only hope for humanity lies in a mysterious book long lost to history. In the tradition of Blade and Hellboy, del Toro and Hogan combine the supernatural with the pseudo-scientific in an intriguing melange of history, mysticism, and fate. Unfortunately, there’s massive gender- and racefail all around. I actively disliked how female characters were side-lined in this second book. Nora Martinez, who I had high hopes for particularly because she suggests a safe haven at what sounds like one of the Girl Scout camps, is removed from the action early on, and explicitly asks to become a symbol to recovering alcoholic Eph. Adding insult to injury, she comments on her own elision from the story, arguing that her and Zach, Eph’s son, should not be the pairing that flees to safety and that she does not have to be sidelined because of chivalry. Of course, the next scene you see her, she’s escaping NYC with the kid and her mother. The other major female character is Kelly Goldwater, who, on top of having turned into a vampire, is also a bitch of an ex-wife and was so bitter in her marriage that she was unable/unwilling to inspire her alcoholic husband to quit drinking. Custody battle from hell, amirite? Really? REALLY? REALLY? I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. All this, on top of an overt fetishization of patriachal family structures and uneven pacing. This was such a disappointment. Regarding race, del Toro and Hogan continue to include a variety of ethnicities in their cast. Unfortunately, all the men coded as non-white find their truest purpose as killers and hunters. Sigh.

Mob Rules, by Cameron Haley, is much more refreshing. Domino Riley is the witchy protege of Shanar Rashan, an equally witchy mob boss in LA. Domino’s gang has been targeted by someone — they’re not sure who. But people are dying, and it’s Domino’s job to figure out what the shit’s going on before LA’s engulfed in a magical turf war. This is especially awkward, since the trail Domino’s following keeps coming back to her boss’ hot-as-hell son… who’s got no juice of his, has missing memories, and, incidentally, like-likes Domino. :D This was a fun, quick read, that hinted at some of the series’ larger themes (like, multiple references to America-as-dream, mafia stories as American stories, etc) without being heavy handed. I especially liked the ongoing engagement with histories of colonization, slavery, and imperialism, because that echoes the history of LA as a city. Nice use of place, there, author. I’d recommend getting this and the sequel, tho, if only because this is such a fast read that basically acts as set-up for a longer story arc.

Fierce Angels: The Strong Black Woman in American Life and Culture is the history of the use and abuse of a particular set of stereotypes idealizing the strength of black women. This deeply personal reflection on the power of myths resonates in a political climate where black women are valued for their ability to be help-meets, but not considered worthy of full political or social allegiances. Parks’ commitment to exploring multiple vantage points illustrates the myriad labors and interests associated with the maintanance of the mythology of the Sacred Dark Feminine, and the ways in which this structure of feelings can be both toxic and reifying.

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