Bending the wood, she wove it into a simple circlet, chanting in a patois of Gaelic and Cherokee as she did. Magic thickened in the air around her, shimmering in a haze outside the chalk circle. The veil between the mortal world and Faerie thinned and Cennetig stepped through.
A diminutive half-breed, he was part Cherokee Fae and part Gaelic Fae. His long black hair had some of the curl of his European ancestors, but it surrounded a brown face. Antlers, still sheathed with the buff velvet of spring, grew from his forehead. His curls twined around their base like dark foam. “Well met!” Then he frowned and pointed at the bloody circlet in her hands. “Eva…what have you there?”
Say you’re a white writer. Pasty, pasty white writer. You’ve got a mixed character in your story. What should you do?
a) describe him like a person
b) describe him as a “half-breed”
c) make him the villain, who dies
If you picked everything other than a, congratulations: you are Mary Robinette Kowal.
What the fuck is a “patois of Gaelic and Cherokee” anyway? How does that work linguistically?
So this is some awful story about fae something. It’s hard to tell through the seething mess of absolutely shit prose just what it is about, so I didn’t bother trying, I think some dude gets kidnapped because a couple fae died of hotdogs (no, really) or something. Kowal is one of those authors whose greatest talent is in putting words together in grammatically correct sentences but who aren’t capable of anything beyond that–this isn’t just “workmanlike,” it’s tech-manual. Even if you don’t care about the racism–in which case eat shit–you’d still have to convince me this writing is in some remote, vague way competent, which I’m going to say is an indefensible argument:
The historian strode up the hill from their car with his gear slung over one shoulder. “You could bring them with you, you know.” His English was perfect, only the rolled R and lilt betraying his origins. Well, that and the way he moved like a runway model straight from Milan.
“It’s not like we can just go to a settlement to check.” To be more accurate, no one had been invited to a settlement and returned in a timely manner. Standard protocol was to decline an invitation, no matter how tempting. The story of Thomas the Rhymer was a hard-core cautionary tale, even in North America.
Eva had no wish to be taken under the earth for a score of years. To say nothing of the fact that she had no True Love like Janet in the story to pull her from the Faerie Queen’s hunt.
The “His English was perfect” is how you can tell the author is American.
How about this wonderful info-dump that might have come out of some White Wolf manual:
The rituals to call Fae had distinctive regional variations, and Tennessee was notably different from England. The Fae who’d come over with the European settlers had not caused a pandemic among the local Fae population of America in the same way the human settlers had. They’d intermarried with the local Native American Fae and left interesting pockets of mixed culture. Because Fae lived so much longer than humans, much of the blending was still fairly new in their terms. Only one or two generations in most places.
Sometimes, if you were really lucky, you could find a Fae who’d been alive during the colonial times. When that happened, it was a godsend to historians of human habitation, like Giancarlo. They had been coming to the hill every weekend for the last three months.
I mean, try defending that as good writing. Try it. I’ll dump a bucket of rotten fish on you. It’s so mundane I’ve seen more evocative writing from tech journalists covering an Apple keynote. What the everloving fuck are “Native American Fae” anyway? Do they even have “Fae” as part of their mythos or is this just a case of whitey imposing their shit on everything?
Her knife was on the branch to cut another, when she heard an aborted yelp from the camp. Giancarlo.
Was the yelp aborted during the second trimester?
Drinking game: take a sip every time the word “Cherokee” comes up. What’s rather amazing that Kowal manages to white-wash even despite obsessively tacking “Cherokee” onto everything (“a mud-and-daub house in the Cherokee style,” “Cherokee basketry but mixed with Celtic knot-work,” “a curious blending of Cherokee and Italian traditions”) for culturally appropriative fun and profit. Cennetig here sports an Irish name and there’s a Spanish Nita, and finally Salali, which the Internet tells me is a Cherokee name. Given how much is made of the whole “part Cherokee” thing you’d expect to have seen more of that, but nope.
“What do you have?” Nita asked.
“Um…. It’s a magic rock.”
“I believe you mean a smart phone. I was wondering what model you used.”
“I—um…. It’s a GSB Sensibility. The 900 model.”
This must’ve seemed witty and clever at some point. I’ve no idea what that point might have been.
If he killed the redbird with a steel knife, Nita’s husband would be forever dead. Nita bellowed and shifted fully into a bear. She swiped at Cennetig, paw bouncing off the protection that Eva had unthinkingly given him.
What is this, WoW fanfiction featuring a night elf druid? Presumably she’s a healer who decided to go bear for some reason and just taunted the boss while the rest of the raid erupts into screams of WHYYYY as everyone in the back is cleaved to death.
From the door of the house, Nita stepped into the clearing. She raised her hands and wove a spell, flinging it at them. The magic twisted into vines in the air, which reached toward them.
Eva flinched, unable to think of a counter-spell fast enough.
Yep, WoW fanfiction. Sorry Eva, you can’t counter root. Time to trinket!
All the years of research and working in the field of Native magic fled Eva’s understanding.
“Native magic.” My eyes kind of bugged out a bit here.
“He did not deserve you.” Cennetig trembled against Eva. “Just because he was a pureblood—”
“What do I care about blood? I did not love you.” The wind blew Nita’s hair in a gust without touching the leaves around them. “I loved Salali.” She leaned her cheek against the redbird on her shoulder and closed her eyes. “I love him still.”
So, the “half-breed” villain’s motivation to turn villainous is that he believes a woman rejected him on account of him being mixed. Oh, joy.
Swearing, Eva snatched a handful of grass. It wasn’t the best conduit, but it was what she had. Braiding it with shaking hands, she twisted it into a Celtic knot and pulled a distraction around her. Eva got to her feet and Cennetig didn’t seem to notice. He kept swiping at the redbird, which seemed determined to keep him from getting to Nita.
Just a reminder, friends. The “half-breed” part Cherokee Fae gets defeated by, essentially, white people magic.
And suppose that the shit writing (“He’d turned their contract into an insanely powerful protection for himself”) and the racism don’t bother you–in which case are you an amoeba?–what you’re left with is an insipid take on the already insipid “fae kidnap a human something true love something” idea. It’s a regurgitation done without skill, with an extra dose of racism nobody asked for.
“WTF did not even begin to cover it,” as the story’s deathless parlance would have it.