Saturday, March 10, 2018

Assassin, By Kacey Ezell and Marisa Wolf: CHARACTERS!

I reviewed "Assassin" on Amazon, and you can read it and vote on it HERE. The same review is also on Goodreads, but Amazon reviews need votes, because books need to be sold, so authors get paid.
(In the interest of supplying all references, you can read my review of "A Fistful of Credits" HERE, and my review of "The Good, the Bad, and the Merc" HERE.)
Developing a Character

I loved "Assassin" (loved them all, really), and you really need to read the review to know why. In my review, however, there were some things I left out, or only hinted at, and I'm gonna try to make those explicit here.

And I'm ALSO going to try to avoid spoilers. However, I'm going to consider as fair game the three prequels; I'm not going to TOTALLY give away all of the plot points on purpose, but if I have to in order to get my point across, I'll let you know in advance. With respect to "Assassin," however, I will strive to keep the secrets.

Umm, I would like to point out, however, that a reasonably perceptive reading of the prequels and the book will make some non-explicit plot points REASONABLE, if not evident. And with respect to my own perceptiveness, I must appeal to the Bard: "When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw" (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2). Now, because I feared I wasn't already being pretentious enough, I just googled the phrase so I could cite the reference. I hope you appreciate the effort. 

The three prequels. You really need to get these, by the way. In order of appearance:

In the Four Horsemen Anthology, "A Fistful of Credits," we are introduced to the hopeless gutter addict, Susan; the catlike alien race known as Depik, and a particular Depik assassin. We learn she is known as Reow (best approximation), and that she has a new litter of kits: 'Gilded Cage,' by Kacey Ezell.

In the anthology "The Good, The Bad, and the Merc," we get the backstory of Reow, and it's a doozie: 'Lessons,' also by Kacey Ezell.

In the same anthology, we are introduced to another Depik clan (Whispering Fear) and assassin (Arow): 'Under the Skin,' by Marisa Wolf.

The character of Dr. Susan Aloh. I was so struck by "Gilded Cage," that I devoted an entire blog post just to this one short story. Ezell describes the depths Susan has reached as a result of her addiction with breath-taking brevity; in fact, that MAY be the reason that others seem to have missed the horror in the story, and instead remark upon the intriguing nature of the Depik. But, look at this:

"I’d lost a lot of blood there at the end, when things had gotten really wild."


"I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my wasted hands underneath my armpits, letting them hide in the nest of rags that was all Ghat’s party guests had left of my clothing."

Two sentences, about a half page apart, and both of them qualify as "Wait. What?" intrusions on your reading. When I pull them out of context, and use bold-face type to highlight the worst elements, it's evident that this person is living a horror-story kind of life. I can't think of a better word than 'brilliance' to describe Ezell's craft, in the way she makes these throw-away lines (in the acting sense) by including them, without emphasis, in her description of the character and the scene. It is PRECISELY because these things are presented so matter-of-factly, and the character ACCEPTS them matter-of-factly, that we get the full impact of what has happened to her in the course of her addiction. "Sure, they ripped my clothes to shreds, then ripped my body to shreds, but what of it? I got some Good Stuff."

We discover, a little later in the story, that this dirt-encrusted gutter bum had once been one of the Earth's foremost authorities on xenobiology. In the Four Horsemen Universe, there can hardly be a more important role. The Alpha Contracts demonstrated that our existing war technology wasn't able to get the job done. We did not know even the most basic facts about the nature of our enemies, and if we had military tools that worked on them, it was strictly by accident. Earth's continued existence, and any possible prosperity, depends on the Mercs, and the Mercs REQUIRE the intelligence provided by Dr. Aloh and her colleagues.

SO: from essential person (although perhaps this isn't fully realized at the time), to hopelessly degraded addict; that's a pretty significant amount of character movement, isn't it? People at her stage of addiction have only one priority: ensure a supply of the drug. Death is not far away, and the idea is welcomed as a release from the constant struggle to secure a fix.

Had she been given a choice between life and death at this point, she would almost certainly have chosen death. However, a much more difficult choice is imposed on her: she is given advanced medical treatment which returns her to an optimal level of heath, detoxes her from her addiction, and THEN she is given a choice. At least, that's what it looks like on the surface. In fact, she is still impaired by her long-term addiction, a fact her captor later admits. So, while she is still without the ability to choose, she if forced to do so: she can live as a pet/slave/nanny, or she can die a painless death. She chooses not to die.

NOTE: Choosing is what people do. It's one of the primary features that defines adults, the ability to make a free choice, an informed decision. We don't allow children, or those who have been adjudicated incompetent, or people who are under the influence, to enter into contracts, because they are not capable of making an informed decision.

And neither is Susan, at this point. Although the drug is not in her system, and she is not suffering withdrawal, she has the long-established habit of being driven by one desire above all else: procuring another fix. She in no way, then, establishes herself as a 'real person' by this decision. The drug made her a slave, and for years, she thought the thoughts of a person who was a slave, and the removal of the drug from her bloodstream has done nothing to change her thinking from that of a slave. (***) And so, she chooses slavery. She is renamed Susa, and is presented to the kits, wearing the sigil of the clan.

But, her story doesn't end there, and it doesn't end in slavery.

By the time of  'Assassin,'  Susan/Susa has transformed her existence.  If you hold your head right, and squint one eye, and choke off most of the oxygen going to your brain, you might believe that because her living arrangements remain the same, she, therefore, remains a slave. However, the narrative does not support that interpretation. Her service to the clan no more makes her a slave, than her devotion to a task she loved as a respected professor of exobiology on Earth,  Without making things so sweet that we want to throw up a little, Ezelle and Wolf tell the story in a way that makes it clear that she is no longer driven by fear of punishment, or by a desire to fend off withdrawal, but is drawn by her love for her new family. This isn't a creampuff concept; it is strong enough to be, literally, liberating.

(***) Three weeks have passed between the asterisks. I hit an amazing block in my ability to write, or even read. Such is life. Not to worry,  I'm reasonably healthy, and regard it as just one of those things that sometimes happens.

However, I DID have a similar analysis planned for the character of Arow, the enigmatic Whispering Fear assassin, but today, I decided that I'm much better off if I simply refer you to the source material. It's much better writing than my analysis was going to be, anyway.

Along the lines of the liberating power of love, I find that I must point you to the excellent short story by David Burkhead, "Oruk Means Hard Work." The link to the book is at the top of this post, and you can find my review HERE.

Peace be on your household.

No comments:

Post a Comment