There is a test or technique Holly Lisle writes about in the HtTS course. Essentially it helps you determine if you’re being biased-whether it’s against a woman, a race, a religion or against a middle aged white guy. It was an eye opening lesson and boy did it come in handy when I was trying to pinpoint what I was feeling when reading L.J. McDonald’s new books.
Just before Easter when I took that heart stopping leap off the cliff by quitting my job I was reading a book by L.J. McDonald called The Battle Sylph. It was well reviewed on some blogs and in The Romantic Times Book Club. There were some good reviews who raved about the book and how wonderful it was. There were some that said the book was average. Some of the average reviews hit close to what the problem was with this book and the sequel, The Shattered Sylph. By the end of the first book I thought I knew what was bothering me and by the end of the second I was positive about it.
I am so conflicted about these books because I did enjoy them but they are just wrong. Wrong. A guilty pleasure, maybe?
Here are the book covers:
Great covers, right? The problem is not the cover. Here’s a blurb from L.J. McDonald’s website describing her world:
The World of the Sylphs
For years without count, the kingdom of Eferem has made sylphs into slaves, all bound into silent obedience. From another dimension, they are brought into this world through a magical gate and tied to human masters they must obey. The sylphs’ masters use their own life force to both feed the creatures and keep them in a world they would otherwise be banished from. Empathic, the sylphs can feel the emotions of everyone around them while their masters also gain that ability but only towards their sylphs. Even with this unique connection, sylphs are seen as no more than clever animals, happy and eager to obey.
The sylphs are also beings of immense power that Eferem feels must be kept under control. They are spirit creatures formed from pure energy, empaths who are able to change their shape and who use their energy in different ways, depending upon their type. Five of the breeds are female and easy to control. Earth, air, water, fire, and healing sylphs are peaceful, docile beings, able to control their respective element or to heal, who grow in power as they grow in age and are passed down through generations of families to keep them tied firmly to the world
There is a sixth type of sylph though, one very different from their gentle sisters. These are the battle sylphs, the lethally aggressive males of their species, all capable of immense levels of destruction and death. A single battle sylph could destroy an army or devastate a city, and where the elemental sylphs are content with their role of slave, the battlers chafe at it, looking constantly for a way to escape but bound to obey as surely as their sisters.
Where earth, air, water, fire, and healing sylphs are lured through the gate by gifts, art, music, or other quiet things, the battle sylphs are tempted by murder. To draw them through, they are presented with the offering of a virgin girl who is sacrificed at the instant of the battler’s arrival in order to bind them to her killer. Her blood ties them together, leaving the battle sylph master the only one who can control the monster.
Unlike the other sylphs, this control is absolutely necessary and the battlers are bound to only the strongest and hardest of men, for they’re always looking for a chance to break that control. They broadcast their hatred in an aura around them that is unrelenting. Only the strongest of men would be able to stand up to it, for to be near a battle sylph is to feel their loathing and need to kill, to know that they would slaughter even their own masters if given the slightest chance. They are evil, people whisper, for a battle sylph left uncontained will do nothing except destroy and a battle sylph has the power to destroy anything. They’re nothing more than killing machines, waiting only for the rare moments when their masters set them loose to murder. But they are also necessary. A kingdom without battlers would soon fall to those in possession of them, and an unexpected peace has risen from the existence of these beings who only want to kill.
But humans don’t know as much as they think they do about battle sylphs.
Battlers are indeed capable of a tremendous amount of destruction, though few men have ever thought to wonder just what it is about the world battlers came from that makes such destructive power necessary. Hatched into hives that could have from hundreds to many thousands of sylphs, their purpose is two-fold. To protect the hive with a protective instinct that is so strong they hate any male not of their own hive line and war against them constantly, and to love the queen of the hive. Strong as their fighting instincts are, their need to be the lover of the queen is even stronger. There lies the greatest tragedy of the battle sylph, for no matter whether the hive has a hundred battlers or a thousand, it only has one queen and most of the battlers that protect her will never get the chance to touch her.
The battle sylphs don’t come through the gate because they see a girl about to be killed or a man waiting to take control of them. They come through because they see a woman they could love as dearly as they would a queen. A woman they wouldn’t have to compete against a thousand other battlers to get to or ever fear would cast them away for the next conquest. A queen they could give themselves to without reservation, for it’s more than just the giving of a master and a name to a sylph that binds them to obey. That instinct is as inherent in the battler as it is in all sylphs. They are born to do whatever their queen asks without hesitation, and the bindings that men put on them are merely a mockery of that. It is a perversion of what they are and everything they’d hoped to gain.
The battle sylphs bound in Eferem radiate their hatred of that truth and use it to hide the pain of their loss. Their hive, their queen, the woman they left it all for…all stolen from them, and if they didn’t hide their agony with their hate, their masters would know and that would be even more unbearable.
The greatest wish of a battler is to belong to a woman who would recognize her power over him and not hurt him with it. Born a shape-shifter who won’t die of old age, instead just growing bigger and more powerful, he doesn’t care what she looks like. He doesn’t care how old she is or how lovely or how flawed. His empathy lets him look straight into her soul and once a battle sylph gives his love and his obedience, it is for forever. All she has to do is love him back and he would destroy the world if that was what it took to keep her safe.
In Eferem, no one understands this, for even if a battle sylph was allowed to speak to his master, what master could be trusted to understand? They’re just clever animals, hating everyone and everything equally and trying to break free. Everyone knows that, for that’s the way it’s always been, and no battle sylph has ever managed to escape.
Sounds great, right? Something a little different from the plethora of vampire and tough chick books and who doesn’t dream about a guy who doesn’t care what you look like or how old you are and worships the ground you walk on? What L.J. doesn’t say in here is when the battle sylphs come through the gate whatever is said to them is the name they take. So in the first book, Solie the female protagonist manages to kill the guy who intends to sacrifice her and says, “Hey, you” to the battle sylph and that is the name of the male protaganist for the rest of the book, Heyou. The second book one of the virgin sacrifices is rescued and her rescuers whisper to her to name him and she says What? and that’s the sylph’s name, Wat. Cute, right?
Not so fast. Those names are a sympton of the problem I have with the male characters in these books. Maybe they’re meant to be humorous but in context with the rest of the book? No, they’re not.
What L.J. also doesn’t say is these battle sylphs only have one brain cell between them. That’s right-they’re dumber than a box of rocks. Their only reason for being is fighting to protect their queen/hive and having sex. Oh, there’s a couple of nominal male characters who do have more than one brain cell and some decency plus it did seem the older the sylph the bigger their portion of brain cell was but that’s it. The rest of the male characters are brainless, brutal, or bigoted. Sometimes all three.
This is where the sexism comes in. Take the dumber than a box of rocks with one brain cell and the three b’s and change the characters from men to women. See what my problem is?
I would resent the hell out of any book featuring female characters the way male characters are written in these books. In fact I have boycotted Michael Crichton books because of his portrayal of women in the majority of his books. As far as I was concerned he was a misogynist and I wasn’t going to help support him. I’m almost of the opinion L.J. is his female counterpart-a misandrist.
But I kinda really liked the books. I’m whining here. I’ll probably do the same thing I did with Crichton. I read more than one or two of his books before making the decision to boycott him and I’ll do the same for L.J. Maybe I’m just being over critical?
Do I recommend these books? Hmmmn. I’m a believer in reading or watching and deciding for myself. So if you’re intrigued by what I’ve put up here I say go for it. The books overall are entertaining inspite of the one dimensional male characters. Ril, in Shattered Slyph, being sort of an exception. Maybe Mace too. Oh, heck they’re all so sexy and helpless in everything but sex and war you can’t help but love ’em. In a book of course, kinda of like alphas in real life (unless we’re talking about a Lori Foster or Linda Howard alpha). Fun to read about but do you really want to live with one?
Make up your mind and decide what you think. Let me know. I’m interested.