FROM THE POLICE BLOTTER
Subject: Benedict Jacka
Alias: Alex Versus
Date: Published 2012, ongoing issues.
–Multiple counts of misdemeanor littering explano-dumps.
–One felony charge of plot deus ex machina.
–Multiple felonies committed against women characters, including Class 1 felony of all females equaling damsel-in-distress category, and additional multiple Class 1 felonies of Classic Female Stereotypes.
Consider charging in supernatural courts for crimes against love.
Warning: Has priors for for multiple copyright violations. Repeat offenses in the book include Light/Dark mage councils, “mystery-man-power-behind-the-bad-guy” plot line, and “magic store” setting.
Incident report: See officer’s summary.
Here’s the deal. I read fantasy because I want a world that isn’t like my own. As a nurse and a human being that participates in society, I’m immersed enough in current-world angst and drama. I read urban fantasy because I like the idea of mystery and magic behind the everyday, and I’d like a new twist on familiar stories.
Alex Jacka is far, far too every day for me to enjoy. He is the sexism that I grew up with. He is the male gaze that evaluates women by their ‘fuckability’ (, you are awesome-sauce). He is the establishment that say women need to be rescued by men. He is the world where men have conversations, make decisions, analyze the future and act upon it. He is the world where women are limited to role of emotional impetus–as helpmeet, as love interest, as protectorate in need of rescuing.
The bones of the story? A dreary copy-cat Dresden-‘verse set in modern London, only without the detailed setting or local idioms that come through in more sophisticated series (hello, Aaronovich).
It begins with the hero Alex, doing a favor for a major player on the Light Mage Council by hunting down a lethal magic creature. They find it dead. It seques into a windy explanation of how Alex makes his living with his magic shop, and the inane customers and their requests. Is he trying to be disdainful of his readers, or just trying to create inside jokes? It was set off in dialogue snippets and didn’t flow well, either emotionally or in the storyline. Wasted space.
Alex introduces us to Luna, his sort-of apprentice who carries a family curse that protects her so fiercely, everyone around her that she comes into certain physical range will have terrible luck, perhaps even lethal. Luna has found a special man and wants to bring him round the shop to meet Alex. Alex meets with spider Arachne to discuss Luna, her boyfriend, and to examine the implications of the magic creature being drained of magic. The next day, Luna’s boyfriend takes ownership of a disastrous magical object and in general, acts like a jerk. Alex warns Luna of the danger, and she flounces off. Alex would be worried, except he just met Meredith, a beautiful woman on the run. It turns out she is an enchantress capable of manipulating emotion in others. Not too much later, bad guys kidnap some ladies to accomplish Evil Ends (see Dresden #12). You can about guess where it goes from there.
That’s about as far as I was able to go reading closely before my self-defense mechanism set in and I was forced to skim. A relatively ordinary, but vaguely interesting plot, several transparent double-agents and an alliance with supposed-enemies (used in the last book) means nothing about this book was surprising except Jacka’s audacity.
As a side note, for those that are interested in romantic development, Jacka’s view on the topic seems very cynical; romantic entanglements all seem to be based on dysfunction and/or outright deception. Normally not something that I would care overmuch about, it was troubling here because it dovetailed too well with his anti-female characterization.
Please tell me, younger readers, that you are alert to this and think it reprehensible? Is it actually satisfying to read something that is such a pale-watered-down version of quality, that participates in adding nothing new to the literary conversation except it’s own commercialization? This isn’t just a flabby, re-treaded story; it’s a lifeless story that propagates everything that is wrong with the genre. It is a MUF indeed, the evil male doppelganger to the F(l)UF that focuses only on female clothes and her next love interest.
Spare yourself; there’s much better out there. If you want Dresden-esque, try the very well written The Markhat Files. London detective MUF–Ben Aaronovitch. Women as People in UF, try Ilona Andrews or Wool Omnibus.
For more on the conversation about women and urban fantasy (from Carrie Vaughn, author and another former Occidental-ian–what can I say, socio-political analysis was beat into us):