Review of Isles of the Forsaken, by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Isles of the ForsakenI borrowed Isles of the Forsaken, by Carolyn Ive Gilman from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:
The Forsaken Isles are on the brink of revolution. Three individuals are about to push it over the edge and trigger events that will lead to a final showdown between ancient forces and the new overlords of the land.

Review:
This was an interesting read with some intriguing complexity to the characters and a slow but engaging plot. I was a little uncomfortable with the Great White Savior set up though. And it is a set up, to come about in the next book, but by the end of Isles of the Forsaken I was a bit squinked out with Nathaway’s position. However, up to that point I’d found him pleasantly complex. He was naive and short sighted. He truly believed he was bringing a gift of the rule of law to the islanders and was completely blind to the destruction in his wake, because he simply couldn’t see that the cultures, beliefs and practices of peoples other than his own had value and place. He wasn’t malicious in any way, just utterly ethnocentric.

Then we have Harg, the reluctant hero. I have to admit the reluctant hero is one of my favorite tropes, which made Harg my favorite character. And he too has some complexity of character. An outsider among his own people and ready for a peaceful period in his life, he instead becomes the leader of a rebellion of the very people who largely deny him, while laying claim to his cause.

This tendency of people to greedily grasp at something that would happily be given if not demanded is a theme we see with Spaeth too. She’s desperate to give of herself for the people, but no one will stop demanding from her long enough to let her gift herself instead. It’s an interesting conundrum. The same actions make her a slave in one scenario and a savior in another. And she’s so young and innocent that she has trouble navigating this confusing terrain.

I admit I’m always sensitive to representations of women in novels. It’s hard for me to look at them as individual characters in individual novels and not as one more in a collective of female characters. But the wide-eyed, beautiful, innocent, overly sexual creature of femaleness (created for a man’s entertainment) felt very cliched to me. The impression only got worse when she was constantly protected from herself by the men around her and her will was eventually subjugated to a man while she was unconscious (which she woke up thrilled about, of course).

I’ll be reading book two to see where the rebellion goes. Honestly, there is a political rebellion underway here, but the whole book is about rebellion. Everyone is rebelling in their own way and that subtle, undercurrent of frisson is what’s kept me going even through the weird dream-like scenes and slow passages that pepper this otherwise interesting book.

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