The Daylight War, by Peter V. Brett

The Daylight War is the third installment in Peter V. Brett‘s slowly growing Demon Cycle.  I enjoyed it, though my reading of it was rudely interrupted by HPMoR rearing its really rather fetching head.  While not as horrifyingly addictive as its fanfic competitor, The Daylight War does offer a great deal of demon fighting, moderate doses of political intriguing, and a few dashes of vaguely awkward sex scenes.  Oh, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention when I read the first two books several years ago, but there’s a decent helping of weird cultural stuff going on too.  Maybe I’m not being fair?

Let’s back up for just a moment.  This is the third book in the series, coming after The Warded Man and The Desert Spear, and it does an excellent job of reintroducing the various characters without belaboring the point.  I’m always impressed when a series is able to bring you back into the flow of things without spending much time on redeveloping the characters.  I’m even more impressed because it seems like Peter V. Brett did that successfully without spending any time on it, just by jumping in and allowing characters’ normal interactions and memories to pull the past back into focus for the reader.  I really admire that.

Another high point?  If you like large battles, or nearly any kind of battle, this book has plenty of them just for you.  They’ve started to get a little odd around the edges (as often happens when characters become very powerful), but despite the characters having tremendous amounts of power by this point the battles still feel interesting.  Brett ups the tension as necessary, providing larger challenges for the heroes yet again; he does this both by pitting the heroes against worse foes and by having the heroes face off against each other.  This provides an excellent background for the choice bits of intrigue that Brett chooses to introduce, and because the narrator follows nearly all of the people involved you’re able to see each person maneuvering against the others.  It goes over pretty well.

Finally, Brett does a good job of building towards his climactic scene, and leaves you with a wonderfully dramatic close.  I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but the book pulls off the dismount and sticks the landing.  And, of course, it leaves you wanting to read the next book to find out what happens next.  It is maybe a little bit of a cliffhanger.

So, now I get to talk about the bits that didn’t feel right for me.  I suspect I’ve become more sensitive to this over the past few years, so maybe that’s why I’m only noticing just now, but what’s up with the depiction of a savage warrior culture (the Krasians) defined by references to Middle Eastern culture?  I feel a little conflicted about giving Brett a hard time over this; I know that I want to be able to write fictional cultures inspired by cultures which aren’t my own, but I’m not certain where to draw the line between being insensitive and being creative.  And I must admit, I might not have thought much harder about this if it weren’t for this article on Game of Thrones (a series which I quite enjoy).  Brett’s Krasians aren’t in exactly the same situation, but there are enough similarities to draw a parallel.

Part of what tipped things into the uncomfortable category for me was the increased sexualization of Krasian female characters.  I haven’t done a word count or any other more rigorous form of analysis, but Krasian sex scenes seemed to be far more elaborately depicted than non-Krasian sex scenes, with descriptions of genitalia and an erotic narration that left the more pro forma sex scenes of other characters in the dust.  This may have been heavily weighted by the presence of Inevera (a particularly sexualized character) on the Krasian side of the equation, but the observation still stands.  That, coupled with the Middle Eastern warrior culture thing, really left me wondering what exactly was going on.

I don’t have a problem with this simply because I object to sexual content in my books; I really don’t mind sexual content, and sometimes I enjoy it (though the sex/torture palace in Kushiel’s Avatar was a bit much).  What concerns me here is the combination of all these traits which are so often ascribed to “other” groups in one place, with so much attention given to violence, passion, taboo (and therefore interesting) sexual practices, and strange and rigid codes of conduct.  Why, for example, didn’t the characters from a more familiar (rural, farming, vaguely Christian-analogous) culture get their own lusciously described sex scenes, when it was clearly established that they were regularly having hot passionate sexy-times?  These discrepancies and my resulting concerns aren’t enough for me to call this a bad book, but they do make it alternate between being fun and uncomfortable.

So, this book comes with a somewhat restrained recommendation.  If you liked the previous books, you’ll probably enjoy this one.  It may offend your sensibilities.

Maybe one of you has read these books and can help me decide where to draw the line and whether or not this book crosses it?

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