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Steelwhisper

Steelwhisper

SPOILER ALERT!

There are bodice rippers, and then there are such bodice rippers...

Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

This contains minor spoilers throughout!

Technical aspects first:

This is clearly a dated book (or else it had very lenient editors), because it contained a huge amount of surplus blather! I don't usually find it easy to skim-read because I have a near eidetic memory for things written and read slowly the first time around. But this one found me skimming right away. Masses and masses of stuffing and filling which wasn't in any way needed.

The research wasn't good. Paridae are called tits in Europe, only Northern Americans call them titmice. Porcupines are not found in Europe's North, and even if a British nurse had reason to know what their quills look like, she still wouldn't ever compare someone's hairstyle to that. She'd think "hedgehog" instead.

Public executions continued until 1868 in England, with the nominally last happening in Scotland in May of that year. Public flogging and birching went on for a far longer time, with that of adult penitents first abolished and juveniles going on well into the 1950s and 1960s. Every Scottish woman of Jamie's era living anywhere close to a settlement would have seen both, often. It was common, and regarded as entertainment. Children were brought along to executions and floggings to watch!

There's far more, in fact most of the people in this book behave in a rather modern manner. There never is a real "historical" feel. I'd have forgiven a lot if at least the era had been depicted properly and allowed readers to learn about that time and place. Alas, that wasn't the case. Instead the narrative was peppered with tidbits, which didn't add up to a healthy meal.

Content:

The basic idea is interesting enough, but I was distracted already at the beginning due Claire's curious behaviour.

I suspect the author went for "slightly eccentric, very stiff-upper lip-style British lady", though unfortunately I have to say that what she ended up with is an unemotional, nasty bitch. There's a constant undercurrent emanating from Claire which is unpleasant and mean in content and direction. Not someone I'd ever want to be around. Claire reacted to what happened to her in such an emotionally stunted (rather than understated) manner, that at times she came over as someone suffering from a curious kind of Asperger's.

All those rather droll Highlanders on the other hand appeared to having sprung from an adult version of the Disney Channel. What's worse, everyone is his or her own version of a Mary Sue or Marty Stu and so over the top that I had problems taking anyone seriously.

These problems soon ended though. I'll not be going into all that fortuitous meeting with key figures and places of her husband's past, that Claire happened upon. Or that Gabaldon couldn't resist putting Nessie of all things into this. No, I'll simply stick to the one thing which made me drop this book in a severe squick--something which apparently happened to many readers.

I do not mind realistically written former eras. I don't mind reading about rape. I don't mind reading about eras containing the formerly common misogyny and lack of agency for women either. Someone who for instance knows how to write this quite well is Ken Follett. Read the Pillars of Earth series for comparison to what good historical writing without subscribing to rape-culture is.

Unfortunately Gabaldon did the opposite here. She not only embraces rape and abuse culture in this book, she unfortunately explicitly endorses it. Which I suppose is the reason why quite a few readers, myself included, react violently to this book.

To start off, Claire is forced into marriage with Jamie. There's no chance at a "no" involved. Either these nice Highlanders hand her over to a sadistic torturer or she marries one of their men. ANY one of their men. The gaping plot holes at this point, that Dougal might simply have sent her overseas, or for that matter allowed her to vanish on her own, were left entirely unexplored. No, she had to marry. And that marriage needed to be consumed in the presence of witnesses.

Here "Outlander" sinks to lowest bodice ripper levels. No, I'm really sorry, but even if you end up enjoying it, forced sex still is rape. Selling it as nice and sexy is quite underhanded. Not that things stop there, Jamie keeps demanding his marital due whenever it pleases him, even when it does not initially please Claire. Her refusals are never accepted as what they are, she keeps having to submit to Jamie's urgent boners.

After a squirmish with raiders Jamie commits outright rape, forcing himself on Claire against her distinct and repeated negative reaction. Dear Mrs Gabaldon: forced sexual arousal does not equal valid consent. Nowhere. Not ever. Yet she writes it as if, here, and that's when I started to have a very sour and rancid taste in my mouth. Yes, in the Georgian era it wasn't counted as rape when a husband did it. But Claire is no woman of the 18th century, and she at least should have been written reacting to it as the rape it was. And Gabaldon failed to do that. Completely. Claire was nice as please about the rape a page onwards.

All that then culminated in Jamie beating up Claire, brutally, because she didn't follow an order he gave her. I've no issue with the beating. It might even be realistic for something like this to happen (though most likely in a far, far less BDSM-like style, husbands then simply bashed their wives until they ceased moving). What made this vile was that Gabaldon again writes Claire, a modern woman (way past first wave feminism), accepting the beating and coming to fawn Jamie over it.

THAT is inexcusable!

That this is sold as being quite alright, that Claire properly finds "her place", that Jamie is the perfect nice, romantic hero, who just happens to rape and brutalise his wife. And that it doesn't matter at all, because, damn, the sex is soooo hawt. At that point I squicked out of this, and have no intention finishing it.

Fuck my arse sideways!

What is wrong with women that they need to endorse rape culture and abuse in such a manner?