We have struck a heat wave here. It’s blistering hot. The sky is a brassy blue, my nostrils burn as I breathe in the broiling atmosphere. The bitumen melts between the concrete pavements, leaving puddles of glistening oil slick as the only reminder of their presence.
The respite of a cool change is something only hinted at by the meteorology bureau (and I’m sure that’s just so we don’t throw ourselves off a cliff in despair of never encountering cold breeze again…)
Other countries are hot. But there is something about an Australian Summer, that is so utterly consuming, encompassing and completely debilitating, that it has to be experienced to be believed.
The lack of oxygen, in sky filled with oxygen; the feeling of lethargy, the heavy weight of your bones that pulls you down, drags at your skin, and makes you feel like there is only the thinnest layer of epidermal between you and a melting puddle of you on the ground.
The only thing you can do is haul up inside, pull the blinds, start the fans and hope that you can trap the modicum of cool air that descends during the night, in the house until nightfall again.
And what better thing to do inside, than read?
And read about places or things that are far removed and COLD.
ahh – TOTALLY…
Well, I wasn’t up for the snow filled, if rather depressing Anna Karenina, but I was up for something new. And NEW I found, in the form of Menagerie, by Rachel Vincent.
The story revolves around, and evolves around Delilah Marlow. And a world that is like ours, but not quite.
Unforunately the blurb makes it sound like a cross between Burlesque and The Black Swan – which it is completely NOT.
Menagerie is set in a slightly alternate world, where in the 1980s, a ‘REAPING’ happened. What the reaping is, is revealed in dribs and drabs throughout the book, but what is clear, is that regular life is filled with hybrid fae creatures, that have bred and inter-bred and created new species. There are shape-changers, skin walkers, werewolves and djinn; centaurs and minotaurs and . phoenixes. All hybrid fae creatures are considered illegal – or worse. They are called cryptids. They have no rights, ‘allowed to own property or enter into contracts.’
Cryptids would forever pay the price for the horror of the reaping, (whatever that was) and as such, were sub-standard citizens with less rights than animals in a zoo:
‘How could I have fewer rights under the law, than a stray dog?’
Delilah Marlow is an ordinary young women. She completed school and higher education and, always fascinated with cryptids, majored in a sort of crypto-fae biology. She returns to her small town, collects a job at a bank and a boyfriend to boot, and whilst not completely happy, seems ordinarily set up for the usual picket-fence life.
But a random visit to a touring cryptid circus changes everything. Delilah Marlow discovers a ‘fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer’. She isn’t human like she always believed, but one of the very things she studied.
Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.
None of this is a spoiler btw, it lists most of this in the highly inaccurate blurb and the first chapter.
Not content to simply be a non-human, Delilah instigates a course of action that sets the plot wheel turning for most of the story (and I am assuming the ones to come).
This was a book that was INTERESTING. It was what I had been waiting for: a good story; a unique plot and an interestingly phrased ‘what if…?’
In this case the slow building tension and the utter powerlessness of one person defined by law as a particular ‘type’ and as such, only allowed a modicum of rights was as intriguing as it was ruthlessly stressful.
‘There was no pillow and no sleeping mat, and I’d been offered neither food nor water. Inmates on death row were treated better. Of course, inmates on death row had constitutionally guaranteed rights.’
The concept of fear/loathing/discrimination of an entire species/people because of a singular event is not new, and a fairly current issue, but the way it is handled is captivating. The way classifications were made, decisions rationalised.
‘the government had begun denying citizenship and legal rights to any living being only partially human, as well as to any hybrid of two or more different biological families.
What that meant was that ligers and mules were protected by the ASPCA because they were both hybrids of two animals that share the same biological genus and family. But because the griffin is a hybrid of two different classes…it isn’t recognized as a natural animal but as a cryptid “beast.” Anything considered “unnatural” under such legislation was denied protection under U.S. law.’
The leap from legislation to the advantage people could take under the overarching protection of that legislation is a small but terrifying one.
“No.” Chills shot up my spine. Werewolves on leashes, declawed and walking around like pets. Selkies and naiads swimming in giant koi ponds. Fauns serving drinks at private events in nothing but gold chains and collars. I shook my head vehemently. “I’m nobody’s pet.”
Deliah Marlow is an compelling character. She was a so called ‘free-range freak’; she’d grown up thinking she was human, and then upon the realisation that she wasn’t, her subsequent descent into the confusion and impuissance of a cryptid’s life is mesmerising and horrifying in equal parts.
‘I get it okay? I don’t have any rights. Im just a piece of meat you’re going to lock up in a metal box. Each word killed a little more of my soul, but desperation kept me talking. ‘I can’t stop you from doing what you want with me.’
‘Damn right’ the man with the moustache said, but I only exhaled and kept my gaze on the boss of the livestock .
‘You can make me strip. But I am asking you not to. As a kindness. I have have nothing left but my dignity. Please let me keep it.’
Although Delilah does have a tendency to spout lengthy diatribes against injustice with the hefty weight of a self-satisfied college graduate. The points she brings up are perfectly valid, but the impact and horror of the actual events and actions get a little overshadowed by her debate-ery tone. (And really, as a caged animal, would you get the opportunity to expound at length to your captors about the moral and ethical dilemma of dressing or feeding fully-self-aware cryptids as opposed to animals??)
There’s a level of inaccuracy and confusion in the world building and mythology that is hard to ignore. There are so many fae creatures to keep track of, you would need an abacus and whole lot of butcher’s paper. In addition to that, the general term fae is a little misleading, as these cryptids are neither metaphysical or supernatural, but preternatural; rooted in mythology and ancient Greek/Roman/Eastern/European legends and folklore.
It’s a small quibble, but it does impact on the believability of the world as a whole. Additionally, characters even including Delilah, tend to be a bit one-note; making them easy to categorise and subsequently dismiss. Though as the first in a series, further expansion and filling in of the gaps can easily remedy that.
The most interesting thing about this book was its emotional impact. The journey you take through Delilah’s eyes is fascinating and absorbing and fairly believable in a District 9-how-would-people-and-government-contain-and-respond fashion.
I was completely caught up in the book simply through its emotional connection. But, it has been a week since I read it, and like all good fridge logic moments, I discovered the initial intense connection, had lessened, allowing all sorts of questions and disparities to emerge.
Like any big-top experience, I was razzled and I was dazzled. I was given an act with lots of flash that disguised, for the most part, the slightly shabby canvas, frayed costumes, rickety bleacher seats and sweat stains with lights, glitter, sequins and spangles.
And, as Billy Flynn would tell you: that’s not a bad thing at all – in fact that’s the sign of a pretty first class act.
I give it 3.92/5
ValancyBlu – wondering the exact germ to ice-cream ratio is, on yet another dropped choc-top…sigh. :O
Image Header: Reginald Marsh, Smoko, the Human Volcano, 1933