Or, Lisa Flails About Her Messed Up Darlings. SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW FOR CHAPTERS 11 THROUGH 20.
In this part of the book, the Misbegotten and the chimaera rebel forces come together, as Karou and Akiva try to forge a semblance of peace between them. It … only goes a little bit wrong? Relatively speaking?
All that and more! Let’s discuss Dreams of Gods and Monsters.
CONTENT NOTE: Discussion of asexual coding/representation.
A Bad Beginning
So this meeting of the chimaera and the Misbegotten is the story’s elephant in the room right now. There are other things I want to talk about a bit more, but I’ll touch on this first. This is interesting to me mainly because Laini Taylor is clearly not taking the easy road. There’s no sugar-coated romanticising of the potential in this alliance, and even the need for it is questioned by many of those involved. It’s only agreed to because, as Akiva points out, they have bigger and badder enemies now and it’s better for them to be united than to continue killing each other. That said, it’s also clear that neither side is about to simply lay down their arms and hug it out any time soon. So any resolution to centuries of war remains a dubious prospect, and at this stage – given how much of this story is left – I doubt it will happen on the page. I don’t see how it could, if what we’ve seen is anything to go by. Both sides see the necessity of working together, but too many are still too ready and willing to fire the first arrow on the other side. Literally.
It’s one of those scenarios that feels too real in this absolute shitshow of a political climate, but if nothing else I can appreciate that injection of reality into such a scenario. And hey, maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong! I hope so. But… so long as my darlings get to live through it, I’d be satisfied with a hopeful ending to this part of the tale.
Now I want to talk about Eliza a little, because we find out a little more about what her deal is here. Sort of. A little. Maybe?
The Beasts are coming for you.
Ice, from the inside out. Chills and terror. The Beasts are coming. It was familiar terror.
Because it was the dream.
… My best guess here is that Eliza has some sort of a prophetic ability and she’s been dreaming about all of this happening? But do her dreams refer to the chimaera, or to the angels? To something else? *Eyes the Stelians*
I DON’T KNOW. This is gnawing at me, but in the good way, because AAAAH I’m dying to know! MORE ELIZA PLEASE, I HAVE QUESTIONS.
The Absence of Feeling
One last thing here, and this may be a bit rambly, but I want to talk about Liraz and I have some mixed feelings about her portrayal that I’m currently working through, so bear with me.
First and foremost, I like this character. Well, I like her as much as a person who is apparently determined to be unlikeable can be liked? But putting it that way is probably doing her a disservice; Liraz has feelings, even affectionate ones, and while she seems to resent the complexity that comes with having such feelings, she at least doesn’t lie to herself about them.
However, I’m becoming concerned about the way Laini Taylor writes her here, for a couple of reasons that seem connected – perhaps inextricably so. One: Liraz is apparently asexual. I don’t recall exactly if this is stated as a fact by Liraz herself, but I do recall the matter being commented upon by Akiva, either in conversation with Hazael or as part of an internal monologue (again, my memory’s not the clearest; I think it was either one or the other). And two: in one of Liraz’s own internal monologue moments, we get this line.
Her favourite feeling was the absence of feeling; anything else led to turmoil.
Now in context, we get this line while Liraz is contemplating the fact that she feels guilty for refusing Mik a harmless favour, and resenting that fact. It doesn’t, strictly speaking, have anything to do with her sexual orientation. But the coding, explicit or otherwise, of Liraz as an asexual person put together with this (most definitely explicit) portrayal of her as someone who prefers not to feel anything if she can help it? It sits uncomfortably with me.
This particular spectrum of queer identity is one I’m exploring myself – and I say it that way because it’s a relatively recent revelation for me, and one I’m still feeling my way around, unsure if it truly fits. But part of that exploration involves doing my homework, and one of the results of that is that I pay more attention when I come across literature, fictional or otherwise, that sheds light on the subject. And so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Liraz, in this light.
I don’t lack feelings, and I certainly don’t try to bottle them or erase them. For me it’s exactly the opposite. All of these feelings, and the thoughts I have about them, are confusing. They’re unnerving sometimes, and I certainly don’t have a firm handle yet on what I want to do about them. Sometimes, they scare me because I don’t know what to do with them. (So I get Liraz, a lot.) But the one thing I am absolutely sure of, and I speak from experience, is that having feelings and willingly dealing with them is a hell of a lot better than the alternative.
I’m not accusing Laini Taylor of deliberately equating asexuality with a lack of empathy, but this correlation does seem to be there, and while Liraz is assuredly more complex as a character than that, it still rankles. There’s still room for her to develop further, but as I’ve noted with other aspects of the book, there’s only so many pages remaining, and Liraz is a secondary character. So I’m skeptical about that, as well as a bit stung by this apparent handling of her.
I’ll wait and see. I do like her, and I want her to have a truly nuanced role that takes her beyond that sort of coding. But right now it feels like a misstep, and I don’t like to think that I’ll have to be more cautious about what follows.
But I want to end this on a positive note, so I’ll just remind myself that whatever else she may be, Liraz is a fucking badass and I hope she gets to be the one to finish what was begun with Jael’s face. Goodness knows Akiva is too distracted by his Karou-related angst to get it done right now. (Not a complaint, merely an observation. He is my soft angsty boy.)