Monday, May 25, 2015

THOUGHTS on Thea Harrison's "Midnight's Kiss"

Thea Harrison's "Elder Races" series is one of my favourites - the heroines and heroes are diverse personalities, and the world-building is interesting. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the latest book, "Midnight's Kiss" nearly as much as some of the other books in the series. The heroine of "Midnight's Kiss" is Melisande (Melly), actress and heir to the Southern Californian Light Fae Demesne. The hero is Julian, the King of the Nightkind/Vampyres. Many years ago Melly and Julian were in a relationship, but the relationship ended badly, with both parties nursing unresolved emotional issues. The culmination of the previous book, "Night's Honor," however, yields consequences that throw Julian and Melisande back together; Justine, the villain (of this and the previous book), kidnaps Melisande in an attempt to manipulate Julian and take control of the Nightkind Demesne. "Midnight's Kiss" is about Julian and Melisande reacting to and surviving Justine's machinations, while dealing with their emotional issues.

In this post, I evaluate whether "Midnight's Kiss" passes three well-known tests for female presence in media: the Bechdel Test, the Mako Mori Test, and the Sexy Lamp Test. In doing so, I attempt to determine whether my lack of enthusiasm can be attributed to the book's failure to pass some of these tests.

1.0 Melly and the Sexy Lamp Test

Melly passes the Sexy Lamp Test - when she and Julian are being held captive, it is her innovation and lock-picking that allows her to kill the vampire guarding her and Julian. These actions allow her and Julian to escape. Melly also procures that motorcycle that allows her and Julian to make it back to a safe place. Melly thus makes plans, implements them, and the results of her actions directly affect the plot of "Midnight's Kiss." A sexy lamp could have achieved none of these things. Unfortunately, this is the only one of the tests that "Midnight's Kiss" passes - it fails both the Mako Mori Test and the Bechdel Test.[1]

The Sexy Lamp Test: 

  Melly

2.0 Melly, Justine, and the Mako Mori Test

Although Melly has a life independent of the heroes, having her own career and role in the political landscape of the Elder Races universe, as far as I can tell, she does not have a narrative arc that is independent from Julian's (the main) narrative arc. All of the examples of Melly's agency mentioned above are actions that trigger plot movement in Julian's narrative arc - i.e., the quelling of the uprising by the murderous and rebellious vampyre Justine. The other narrative arc that can be attributed to Melly is her goal to resolve the mystery of what actually happened to cause her and Julian to break up many years ago. Again, this narrative arc is not independent of Julian's - Melly thus does not pass the Mako Mori test, given the criteria below:

Mako Mori Criteria
(i) has a female character ( Melly)(ii) who has her own narrative arc  and (iii) that narrative arc is not about supporting a man's narrative arc 

The failure of the Mako Mori test, I think, is a major reason why I found "Midnight's Kiss" somewhat unsatisfying. While I liked Melly, I didn't find her to be a particularly interesting heroine. This can be at least partially attributed to the fact that, in failing the Mako Mori test, Melly isn't as complex a character as I prefer.

As a note, I think that if any of the narrative of "Midnight's Kiss" had been following Justine, she plausibly could have passed the Mako Mori test - after all, she sets the entire plot in motion by aiming to assassinate Xavier in the previous book, and by kidnapping Melly in this book. Her actions thus provoke, as opposed to support, Julian's narrative arc. However, we don't get any narrative that follows Justine, or her point of view, so it is difficult to attribute a "narrative arc" to her.

Mako Mori:

3.0 "Midnight's Kiss" and the Bechdel Test

"Midnight's Kiss" just barely passes the Bechdel test. While Melly has conversations with other female characters - such as her mother, and twin sister - the content of these conversations, is for the most part, about men. The longest conversation that Melly has with another woman is the one with her mother, Tatiana. They discuss how Melly's mother figured out how to contact her, but this leads almost directly into a discussion about Keenan O'Sullivan, the biker who Melly bought a motorcycle from. Although Keenan O'Sullivan is not a main character, he is, technically, a man. Then Melly tells her mother about how Justine kidnapped her as a way to gain leverage over Julian. This part of conversation is thus also, in a way, about a man. Finally, however, the discussion turns to what sort of resources Tatiana can send to help Melly - i.e., cash, weaponed troops. This part of the conversation is not about a man, so "Midnight's Kiss" does pass the Bechdel Test, as it

(i) has at least two women in it, (ii) shows those women having a conversation, where (iii) the aforementioned conversation is about something other than a man.   

4.0 Other Issues

As I mentioned, I did not enjoy "Midnight's Kiss" as much as others in the series (like "Kinked,"  "Lord's Fall," Serpent's Kiss" and "Dragon Bound"). This was at least partially due to the fact that Melly failed the Mako Mori test, and consequently, I didn't find Melly to be a very interesting heroine. [2] The results of evaluating whether "Midnight's Kiss" pass the selected three tests for feminism are summarized below.

Mako Mori:
Melly:   

Sexy Lamp:

Bechdel:    


[1] Although "Midnight's Kiss" only passes 1/3 of the selected tests for feminism, there are many, many, many books outside of the genre that fail all three of the tests.

[2] There were other little things that bothered me about the book. Such as the "You don't need a helmet, I won't let us crash" bit at the end. I understand that the main emotional issues that Julian and Melly have is trust, but I would have preferred that the resolution of their trust issues be exemplified in a way that seems...a little less irresponsible. Also, I didn't find the plot device used to break up Melly and Julian in the first place to be very original at all. But I did still enjoy reading the book! Thea Harrison is definitely an author that I trust and I auto-buy the books in the "Elder Races" series.

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