Cut for length.
(Edited to add summaries, which I forgot before.)
Angels’ Blood, Nalini Singh
Sexy angels rule the earth, and they turn willing humans into immortal sexy vampires, for the price of becoming the angels’ indentured servants. Elena is a human bounty hunter with superhuman strength who brings vampires who try to go back on their deals back to their masters. Raphael, one of the world’s ten archangels, hires her to take down an archangel who’s turned into a vampire.
I am not the intended audience for this book! I like angst-ridden romances and horrible power dynamics and stuff involving angels and vampires and heavily-armed women, but I am still not the intended audience for this book! That’s just how it is. It’s that I have trouble with a book that makes me think fondly of Jean Claude from Anita Blake. “Jean Claude never threatened to kill Anita’s best friend’s baby.”
And Jean Claude canonically likes chocolate cheesecake. This is an endearing trait. I don’t think Raphael likes anything. Raphael is just Alpha Guy. He has a crazy-expensive house and it exists entirely to intimidate Elena. He doesn’t have any hobbies. He just dominates women and rules North America with an iron fist.
I guess basically I’m saying that I feel I could go along with this if Raphael just canonically liked chocolate cheesecake. I’m not proud of this.
All the female characters who are not Elena are 1) evil and crazy, 2) raped or traumatized, or 3) clearly intended to be the protagonist of a later book in the series. And there’s only two women who are clearly intended to be the protagonists of later books, and one of them actually is raped and traumatized – the other doesn’t do anything on-screen.
But there are five or six potential-protagonist-type guys, and the guys all do stuff, and most of them sexually harass the heroine. Also, one of the guys is named “Venom.” Go away, Venom.
Powers That Be, Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
An ex-soldier is sent on medical discharge to the frozen planet Petaybee, where she is asked to take on the assignment of spying on the inhabitants to discover if illegal genetic engineering is being done. The inhabitants seem to have a special form of communion with their animals and the planet itself, but when outsiders try to pry into their secrets, they seem to go mad. Simultaneously, a boy comes to Petaybee with his geologist father to search for a valuable mineral deposit seen from orbit. He and his father find something that seems to age his father thirty years in one night.
Somehow I failed to notice Scarborough’s name on there until I was half-way through, so I was thinking excitedly, “Wow, maybe McCaffrey isn’t a crazy jerk after all!” There are women who have relationships with other women, and they’re presented as important! There’s no evil whore! The love interest isn’t a rape-y alpha male! And there’s this Hispanic gay couple raising a kid in there, and they’re presented sympathetically slightly more than half the time!
I’m pretty sure that slightly-over-half is Scarborough. I swear you can literally feel Scarborough putting the brakes on McCaffrey’s meanness in here, and McCaffrey ramping it back up when she’s not looking. I feel like this must have been a pretty stressful collaboration. McCaffrey is the master of Inhumane Wish Fulfillment Fantasies. She makes the heroes and they’re really, really good, and smart, and pretty, and everyone loves them. And then she makes a bad guy and she makes him really, really bad. He says horrible things, he does horrible things, there’s weird sexual stuff, he’s bad at his job (whatever it is), he’s ugly. It’s all designed to make you go “I hate this person so much! I hope he dies horribly!” And then he does! It’s usually his own fault somehow. And then the heroes have a party, where they say, “Yup. I knew it.”
I worry I may have developed anger management issues due to prolonged exposure to this woman at a vulnerable age.
Anyone who ever causes even a little bit of trouble for McCaffrey’s heroes has to either be proved to be completely crazy-evil, and thus die horribly, or has to completely abase himself to the heroes. You can really feel the book struggling against itself here. There’s a sorta-bad-guy McCaffrey clearly wants to make into a McCaffrey Bad Guy – she just wants to cream the bastard. But then this guy’s dad’s spaceship crashes. I’m imagining Scarborough desperately sneaking in the spaceship crash scene while McCaffrey’s on the phone with her horse. McCaffrey Bad Guys don’t love their dads! But Scarborough apparently isn’t into that, so after the spaceship crashes scene we’ve constantly got the heroine trying to decide if the guy really loves his dad or if he’s just looking for his dad’s crashed spaceship for self-serving career-related reasons. (You know, I don’t like you right now, heroine.) You can feel McCaffrey and Scarborough switching off in which way the heroine’s judgment of the guy is hanging.
There’s also the McCaffreyan desire to make gay guys neurotic and messed up and morally weak, pitted against Scarborough’s desire to put in this nice gay couple raising a kid. So there’s this back-and-forth about whether the gay couple are actually in love and whether they’re actually nice. Similar stuff happens with everyone who causes trouble for the heroes. In the end, McCaffrey only gets to brutalize one guy in the manner to which she is accustomed. I’m betting it was hard for her.
Basically, I have no earthly idea whether I think this is a good book, simply because my youthful obsession with Anne McCaffrey renders it impossible for me to read this as anything but a kind of psychoanalytical artifact. It’s got some cute stuff, particularly in a very sweet relationship between the ex-soldier heroine and a sheltered teenaged taxi-driver girl (I said more about the plot in that one sentence than in the past six paragraphs), but I feel the climax was kind of a mess because of the tension between a Classic McCaffreyan Catharsis and whatever it is Scarborough goes in for. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of her stuff; the main effect this book had on me was to make me want to find some.
Crystal Singer, Anne McCaffrey
The egotistical Killashandra Ree has trained for years to be an orchestral singer, only to be told that a flaw in her voice makes her unsuitable for leading roles. Furious with the mentor she feels misled her, she meets a man who calls himself a Crystal Singer – an elite group of singers and craftsmen, all with perfect pitch, who are the only ones who can mine a certain class of valuable gems. But Crystal Singers are also vulnerable to a specific kind of brain damage that causes amnesia, and to become a singer, one must allow oneself to be infected with a symbiote that kills many, and cripples others. Killashandra, lured by the Specialness of the Singers, decides to risk it.
This book is Anne McCaffrey operating at her most unpleasant. Her villain-manufacturing equipment seems to have developed a slight defect here – the people she beats up on include 1) a woman with serious post-traumatic stress from being stranded in space for too long, 2) a lonely guy with a stutter, and 3) a group of seriously brain-damaged people (the other Singers), some of whom have to make audio recordings to remember who they are for more than an hour. There’s an alpha male and the climax doesn’t work. I think the climax’s problem is that she belatedly realized how gross it was going to look if the heroine’s Cathartic Revenge was on the brain-damaged people, so she shoved in some completely new characters to bully the heroine for the last quarter of the book.