This is the third book I am reviewing for my Asexual Fiction from Smashwords Month.
What is this novel about?
The story is set in Parole, which seemed to be a fenced in quarantine zone / concentration camp where nobody is allowed to leave, and there is a lake of fire which threatens to eventually engulf everybody. Meanwhile, SkEye watches and polices everybody.
Regan has amnesia, so he remembers very little and needs explanations such as what the heck is this place. A family of three wives (poly same-sex marriage) takes him under their wing, and and the story progresses, it becomes clearer that Regan is involved in something which concerns the fate of all who live in Parole.
What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?
As far as I can recall, there is practically no sexual content. Violence – well, there is attempted murder and attempted suicide (revealing whether the attempts result in death would be spoilerful), physical combat, and psychological combat.
Tell me more about this novel.
I like the setting, especially its imagery, such as the lake of fire, and the turret house (which seems to have been inspired by the Winchester Mystery House). I also noticed the parallels between this setting and the setting of Candy Land – it’s set in a future vaguely dystopian post-USA, there was an epidemic which was induced by scientific research which kills lots of people but also left a lot of people with superpowers, etc. Of course, there are stark differences too (Chameleon has way more female character and way less sex than Candy Land).
The writer describes herself as writing “oddly optimistic dystopia books” which is an apt description of this story. ‘Oddly optimistic’ is certainly a refreshing twist on the ‘dystopia’ genre, and I felt, while reading this novel, the potential for how good that kind of fiction could be.
However, this novel specifically did not work so well for me. Why not? The short answer is that I did not care for the characters or the plot. A more detailed answer is that I did not feel the characters were sufficiently developed. For example, the female triad (Evelyn, Rose, Danae) felt too idealized and not sufficiently realized. It’s not the first example I’ve seen in fiction of a queer-poly triad, and frankly, it’s not one of the better-written ones. They have a seemingly perfect relationship in which they never seem to have any interpersonal problems, which is okay since this is not a story about interpersonal marriage problems and allows the story to focus on something else. However, even though the reader keeps on being told that they live in such despair, and that so many people in Parole have PTSD, etc … the ‘show’ does not match the ‘tell’. Showing how personal relationships give people the strength to thrive in the midst of adversity can be a wonderful thing in fiction, but in order for it to work for me, a lot more of the adversity has to be shown, whether it’s caused by external or internal factors, and how the personal relationships actually give characters strength.
As far as the plot … well, I lost track of what was going on plotwise somewhere in the middle of the novel. And because I lost the plot, the second half of the novel was much less interesting to me than the first half.
On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I rate this story as a 2.
Regan, the protagonist, is asexual. It only comes up in one scene in Chapter 6. It’s a bit too long for me to quote the whole thing in this review, so I am just going to pick out two snippets, one from the beginning of the scene, and one from the end of the scene.
“Um,” his expression shifted to a near-perfect blank, though his eyes slowly widened. “I…really… this is gonna sound weird, and I swear I’m not messing with you… but… I don’t think I’m attracted to anyone. Not in the way you’re thinking.”
“Not weird,” she assured him. “Not weird at all.”
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he mumbled. “I mean, I’ve wondered, but like just in a vague ‘who am I, what was my life’ way. I haven’t really… felt anything about…Anyone.” He scowled for a moment, then let out a frustrated noise, neck frill flaring out. “But that’s not right either, because I know I have, all this means is that I don’t look at someone I don’t know or trust, like a stranger, and think they’re hot—I don’t think anyone’s hot when I first meet them! No offense,” he said hurriedly.
“I’m a freaking paradox.”
“If it helps,” she said, tone tentative but casual. “I don’t think you’re a paradox. But you might be asexual.”
Regan’s mouth fell open. He looked up with wide eyes again but for a much different, much better different reason. Slowly, the tension melted out of his shoulders and his frill dropped back down to hang loose. When he looked at her now she saw something else in his eyes. One of her favorite things to see. Hope.
“I can’t say for sure, obviously, but it might explain a few things,” she said, voice calm but with an undertone of restrained optimism. “I’m not, myself, but I’ve known a lot of wonderful ace—asexual—people in my life, and you’re saying a lot of the same things they do.”
“Tell me.” He was still looking at her, but with a different kind of intensity now. It was the same look he’d had when he was listening to the familiar song, trying to remember where he’d heard the words he knew by heart but couldn’t place. “I think it’s important.”
“Me too. And from what you’re saying—never experiencing sexual attraction, or maybe only sometimes, or only for someone you really trust?”
“Yeah. It fits.”
“Then try it on.” She smiled. “There’s no one size. And your words exist for you. As long as they help you instead of making you feel trapped, everything’s… aces.” A ghost of a smile appeared on his face, and she encouraged it with one of her own.
So, how relevant is this to the overall story or Regan’s character development? Well, one way to interpret this is that it’s not relevant because the novel wouldn’t really be much different if this scene were removed, and that this is just an excuse to insert the ace explanation and tick off the ‘asexual representation’ box. Another way to interpret it is that it is consistent with the novel’s theme of accepting people as they are, especially queer people. I favor the second interpretation, but I have to admit that the ‘asexual’ aspect of this story is not as smoothly integrated as it is in some other works of fiction.
Was this written by an ace?
Hey Sara, do you like this novel?
No, I don’t. I seriously considered not finishing it, and I only decided to go ahead and finish it because I planned to write this review.