All the Plagues of Hell, by Flint and Freer

AllThePlaguesOfHell

A little context: I’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the Heirs of Alexandria series, and I read All the Plagues of Hell right after reading a much worse book in a different series (which shall remain unnamed).

I thought All the Plagues of Hell was quite good.

There were a few elements to it that frustrated me, which I’ll detail later, but for the most part I had a great time with it. Better yet, it provided an exceptionally good counterpoint to some of the issues that I’d had with that much worse book I mentioned above.

The worse book never felt like it landed a natural conversation; early scenes in the book, and indeed most conversations, felt like they’d only been included because they had to establish important plot beats. The story’s requisite elements were established, but the artifice involved was still obvious and nothing felt like it was an effortless extension of the characters involved. It read like a story that badly needed another draft.

All the Plagues of Hell felt like a breath of fresh air.

I’ve read a lot of long series genre fiction. I know that catching the reader up with where the story is now can be a difficult task. There are certain ways of addressing this that I have come to expect from different authors, and sometimes they almost remind me of the endless recaps of a Naruto episode. This was one of the few times when I felt a deep appreciation for the approach and technique. I knew what was happening, but at no point did it feel effortful or forced.

There were many early scenes that didn’t follow the characters central to later sections of the story, and I could see how those scenes were regurgitating old plot elements and refreshing my perspective of the series’ story—but each of those scenes felt natural and correct for the characters involved. Unlike the nameless comparison book, I never felt the scenes had been written around a plot’s skeleton with a specific conclusion in mind, without consideration for the characters or who they were or what they might want.

In short, All the Plagues of Hell did right everything that the previous book I’d read did wrong. And yes, with the caveat that it’s been a while since I read the first books, I would recommend the Heirs of Alexandria series along with All the Plagues of Hell.

Now, about those points of frustration. It has to do with how Flint and Freer write women and write about women. It’s not glaringly bad and I’m not going to set anyone on fire because of it, but it did give me an “oh come on guys” moment or three. There are minor *SPOILERS* here, so if that’s a big deal for you I suggest you look elsewhere.

I wish Flint and Freer hadn’t tried to add any psychologizing around a female character’s fatness. The psychologizing happens on the part of other characters in the story, so it’s not like the narrator is stepping in and telling us that it’s correct, but it’s grating all the same. It’s especially grating because it shows up after Flint and Freer had included the character’s fatness as a matter-of-fact element that (initially) didn’t feel like a toxic source of fixation for others. I’d hoped that this easy-feeling inclusion would simply exist, without getting more of the kinds of attention that are so frequently aggravating in other stories.

Honestly, I’m not super impressed with Flint and Freer’s writing of women. I am generally tolerant of their attempts because it doesn’t seem like they’re trying to be butts about it, and sometimes it seems like they do well—though maybe that’s through Mercedes Lackey’s influence on the series. I admit that my tolerance may be due to my relative lack of skin in the game.

I’d hoped to see something different with a fat woman character, and I was a bit disappointed.

Also, the writing about nixes (riverine spirits who enjoy drowning people) was very male gaze-y, and I don’t remember it showing up in that way in previous books in the series. Maybe I’m just forgetful (it’s been a while), but while I loved the nixes I wasn’t so sold on how they were written.

*END SPOILERS*

Despite those reservations, I still enjoyed the book overall. It helped, no doubt, that I read it so soon after a book I disliked. But I think I’d still have enjoyed it a great deal in other contexts, regardless of my frustrations with the text.

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