Author: Sandra Ulbrich Almazan
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Warning: Parental Abuse, Transphobia, Homophobia, Bad Flirting
This is a continuation of the story featuring the newest incarnation of the avatars of the seasonal gods and their never-ending quest to counter the devastating Chaos Seasons and protect the land of Challen. I hadn't read the previous books in the series but this one picks up after the next avatars had struggled to find each other and were now finally able to get down to the momentous task of taking over as Season Avatars from their predecessors, this time with a time traveler who remembers the villain who created the Chaos Season from personal experience.
I want to say I thought this was an okay book story-wise, but I would not recommend it. My opinion isn't because of the premise, which as listed above is appropriately epic. It's not so much because of the characterization of the four main characters and their interactions, which was reasonably good, especially considering I had missed at least one book of backstory. It wasn't even because of the main character, who I could not find a way to like. I will admit to finding the iterations between men and women incredibly hard to follow, but that is unrelated to the majority of my rant.
Reading this book was like pulling fucking teeth for me because of the gender and sex politics implicit throughout it. The book was set in a Victorian Era analog with magic, but the politics were kind of a mash-up of then and some of the crappiest stuff from modern times. I could not handle
that there was very little evidence of overt discrimination, but all of the society was still clearly structured in an extremely sexist, homophobic way. More than that, the existence of trans people was just disappeared. It felt like the worst example of political correctness, like if maybe we didn't talk about bad things happening they don't count.
Rant to follow below the break.
As far as overt acts of sexism, there is not reference to gendered slurs in this book, and no one assumes the main characters can't be effective avatars explicitly because they are women. However the only people who we meet with jobs are highly gendered: Kay is a seamstress, her boyfriend is a railway conductor (59). Although it doesn't happen during the book, Jenna was clearly pressured into getting married so she doesn't become an unwed mother, which is pretty typical slut shaming (65). It's also implied that Yasabel's family was abused by her father, which is also a gendered form of violence. Jenna clearly states that breastfeeding is extremely shameful to do in polite company, which is not the sign of a progressive and gender-equal society. Jenna also suggests repeatedly that marriage men is her only hope for her sister avatars, even when she knows some of them are ambivalent (59). Just because no one calls anyone else a bitch or a slut does not, in fact, mean that this society is some post-sexist utopia.
One of the basic parts of the premise is that the Seasonal Gods picked three sets of four humans to be their avatars, gave them some of their powers and have been reincarnating them since the first book, 800ish years prior. The avatars have memories of their prior lives, regularly get reincarnated as different genders, and often intermarry (33). Yet this book goes out of its way to dismiss trans and homosexual people as not natural. Seriously, two of the main characters literally remember a previous life where they were same sex and were married, but having that relationship (or getting married) isn't seen as impossible because of their current sexual orientation (150, 70). Jenna clearly has sexual feelings for Gwen but its dismissed… because they are both women (68, 151). In fact, Gwen asked to make it so that they could never get married and the gods grant her a wish by making them both the same sex (226). The implication being that people can't have relationships if there's no chance of marriage happening, erasing literally all of queer history prior to 2001. Sure, the author mentions "Fallswoman" concept, which is apparently a sort of Gods-approved nunnery were women go to be gay. I would probably have enjoyed the concept, except that it was introduced as the only alternative to being flamingly heterosexual, there's no equivalent for queer men, and since Fallswomen are women who are uninterested in marriage and don't "...fit in the natural order of things" (150). I can't get over how shitty this book is to queer audiences.
What's bothers me even more is how easily the author erases trans people. As mentioned above, all of the main characters (except for Ysabel) remember previous lives as someone of a different gender. In fact it's implied that all the people in Challen have been reincarnated, they just aren't as likely to remember their previous lives. What are the odds that no one experiences any gender dysphoria? Trans people exist in our world without reincarnated memories, so how can a setting where people literally remember having been assigned other genders have no fucking mention of them?
Almazan, Sandra Ulbrich. Chaos Season. N.p.: Solar Unicorn, 2016. Web.