Friday, December 25, 2015

The Machine by E.C Jarvis

This is a unique review for me, because normally on my blog I review well known books from well known publishers. However, The Machine is a book that was published by my friend's new publishing company, Rambunctious Ramblings Publishing Incorporated.  What is even more unique about this book and this review is that had I actually briefly worked with RRPI over the summer when I had off from work.  I had the opportunity to read, edit and offer comments on the first 10 chapters of her book.

Here is my full disclosure.  I received the book for free to read and review. All of my opinions are my own. I am not a professional editor and finally.... I do not like reading Steampunk.

Why is that a disclosure, you ask? I think Steampunk is incredibly overrated, and majority of the fans have ruined the punk form for me. I like some of the fashion, but when it comes to written materials, I cringe. When I heard about RRPI's first book was going to be Steampunk, I visibly rolled my eyes. It's some people's jam, but it's not my own.

Now, I read the first 10 chapters of the book, and gave some suggestions on the relationship between Larissa and The Professor. When there was much more insight given on the whirlwind romance between the two, and how Larissa continually kicked herself throughout the book for being a silly girl for her infatuation, I related to her. We've all done it; fall head over heels for someone who is glamorous and attractive, without taking a moment to see the full picture.

However, I didn't read the entire book until now. A part of me wished I did. As media, literature and entertainment progresses over the years, I find it unacceptable and disappointing when there is a movie or a book that actively ignores diversity. It's not OK in 2015 to write stories where there are less women than men when there is no need for it. It's not OK in stories to have a lack of different ethnicities and races when there is no need for it. It's one thing if it's a historical drama of the Zulu Nation, where obviously, there would be not many, if any, white people. It's understandable if there were no women in a civil war drama on Andersonville POW camp. The story doesn't call for it.

The Machine has 2 women in it. Or well, 3 if you counted Larissa's mother, who died a few years before the book took place and is practically painted as a harlot who abandoned her daughter in her time of need. There are 10+ men in it. Larissa starts out as a lowly retail worker and ends up being a captain of a ship. I am all for characters discovering their weight in salt, and in fact, many books are much more compelling for following this character arc, but it's another thing that not only does she not have a female friend in the book or even a female ally, her actions and progression of character building is built around men. She is constantly validated by men and it's only at the end of the book that she decides that she can't go back to her quiet life as a retail worker. However, I'm not sure if Larissa would have come to this conclusion if it wasn't for the men in her new life constantly telling her she has potential and that she's smarter than she gives herself credit for. Larissa is unsure of herself and falters, like a human being does, but at one point, shouldn't she accept that she settled for most of her life and what she's doing now is much better, or even just more exciting? Shouldn't she have recognized that way before her beloved Professor dies so soon after she rescued him?

The only other woman in the book, Serenia, is an assassin, and not only is she a one dimensional character, she is brutally murdered for doing what mercenaries for hire do. I wouldn't have a problem with this if there were more female characters, but there isn't. It would have probably been written the same way if the mercenary was a male... but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Why did the only other female character in the book have to be tortured to death? Reading the scene leading up to her death, I was hoping that the book would surprise me with Larissa saving Serenia, leading her to become that female ally that the protagonist do desperately needed. Nevertheless, no. The scene ended in the way that was expected and the only other woman, who also could have taught Larissa a thing or two, or could have been a recurring characters in the later novels, died in pain and alone.

Finally, I have issues with the character of Holt and the relationship between Holt and Larissa. Holt is the stereotypical mysterious man who teaches her how to fight and they fuck on the Captain's table before they go rescue The Professor, the man that Larissa supposedly likes as well. I'm not slut shaming Larissa, who deserved a bit of something before risking her life and almost dying for a guy that used her. However... haven't we read this before? Hasn't this trope, and the tropes of the protagonist and the dangerous man been done over and over? Hasn't this love triangle in various forms been done over and over?

I would have loved to have Holt be female. Larissa could have been bisexual, or the pair would have become friends (or allies), and Larissa could not have been with anyone, or just hoped that her relationship with The Professor worked out. If the character of Holt had to be male and there is a budding romance between the two, couldn't either Cid or The Friar be female? A kick ass nun instead of a priest or an older female engineer that cares about Larissa like the daughter she never had? I know a lot of School Sisters of Notre Dame that would have fit easily as the Friar.

Now, you may ask yourself, or ask me, 'But Jordan, the author is a woman.' Yes, yes she is. This was something I discussed with my husband, who has a degree in English and admittedly, is a much better writer than me. E.C Jarvis, like many authors, seems to writes within the confines of the patriarchy. Women are only validated through the viewpoint of men. Larissa, though a captain of the airship by the end of the novel, is only a captain because men truly believed in her. Her shipmates, all men, all chose to believe in her along with Cid and Holt. Which on it's own, it's not a big deal. Men should believe in women, and vice versa. People should support people in the same cause. However, a captain of a ship isn't equal. It's the exception. She's practically placed on a pedestal as the captain of a ship she didn't earn. It would have made sense to make Holt the Captain and Larissa the first mate. At least Holt knew what he was doing. He is military trained.

I reviewed the book through the feminist lens and I made suggestions throughout the review to make the story different by changing the dynamics of certain characters in hopes that their gender would change some of the plot. But if I'm being completely honest with myself, I've read this type of book before. Now it's just dressed up in steampunk with airships. It could have 10 women in it, and it could still be a lackluster book with a boring plot. It's just that the lack of women is much more noticeable and outrageous than a plot about an unambitious woman stepping out of her boring life to go rescue a man that she at least is lusting after.

There is a sequel to the book, The Machine, titled The Pirate. After this negative review, I am sure I won't get a free copy of the book to review. However, I hope that E.C Jarvis takes a few moments to consider how characters relate to each other, and raise her awareness, or lack thereof, of diversity in her books. It would help her make the leap from an amateur author to a professional one. Her writing has such potential, and whereas there are some books I cannot finished, I actually finished this one in a few days. If one is going to use Steampunk as the basis for their worldbuilding, the story should be compelling and engaging not because of it, but in spite of it.

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