Author’s note: this post will touch on some topics people might find disturbing such as rape, sexual assault, beastiality, and other assorted topics (but will be discussed in a very general, non-detailed manner). If such topics could be upsetting to you in a personally unhealthy way, please skip this post and return in a few days for my review of Bitter Seeds, an alternate history novel featuring super-powered Nazis and demonologist Brits during WWII, you’ll probably like that one more.
Let me tell you a little story about high school.
As with many high school English class experiences, I was often forced to read books I didn’t want to by way of class assignments and such was the case of the summer before my Junior year. My Junior year I would be in the honors English class and, because we were supposedly so advanced, we had summer reading, Gone with the Wind.
I hate, hate, Gone with the Wind.
Partially I hate it because we were given the reading assignment late in the summer and I had to spend a part of my swim team’s trip to Hawaii reading the stupid book, but mostly I hate Scarlet. I hate just about everything regarding her. I hate her spoiled, entitled self. I hate how she continuously denies the reality of her situation. I hate how, if I remember correctly, she doesn’t really care about anyone except for herself and when she finally wakes up and realizes that there’s someone who’s been trying to care for her for an entire novel, she’s too late because she’s an idiot.
I would rather re-read all of the Twilight saga, the stupid Bree Tanner sparklepire novella, and the leaked Edward story that was never published before I’ll read Gone with the Wind ever again. In fact, I’d do all of that twice.
Tyler said last night that he’d rather have a stranger use a power tool on his genitals rather than read this book again.
I think I hated Zarq, the main character of Touched by Venom, almost that much.
Touched by Venom (TbV) by Janine Cross was Tyler’s and my pick to read for April for Your Book is Why Daddy Drinks. Well, to be perfectly honest, the blame for this book rests solely on my shoulders because I wanted to see what his reaction would be to dragon beastiality.
Oh, yeah, that. But we’ll get to that.
TbV is a fantasy story told from the first person perspective of Zarq, a young girl who is part of a clan of slaves and follows her life. Zarq goes through a number of pretty messed up experiences as the unwilling victim of her mother’s bad decisions, dragged along behind her as her mother, who essentially goes crazy when her eldest daughter is sold into sexual slavery to another clan, tries to reclaim her first daughter. Her mother’s actions lead to the brutal death of Zarq’s father (torn apart by a dragon), their exile, and Zarq eventually being sold into religious slavery when she’s more or less forced to join a convent that cares for old, male dragons. Joining the convent requires her to go through female circumcision that, while not explicitly graphic, was graphic enough to make me uncomfortable. Zarq’s mother then dies, leaving her daughter alone.
After this point Zarq takes over her mother’s job of screwing everything up by meddling in and ruining everything she touches. When one of her fellow nuns is raped and becomes pregnant with twins, Zarq screws up the plan to give away the children to nearby natives, thus denying the children a potentially positive life with the natives and dooming them to a lifestyle a hair’s breadth from starvation and genital mutilation at the convent (as the children would have to be rendered “clean” in order to live at the convent). When Zarq and the twin’s mother leave the convent, Zarq, who has become addicted to dragon venom (which isn’t lethal when it comes from older dragons), almost kills the baby when she doesn’t adequately tie it to its mother’s back and she tries to climb down from a tower via rope ladder. When Zarq tries to, in the most lamest fashion possible, assassinate the eldest son of the warlord of her old town she instead brings about the destruction of untold innocents as the warlord razes the district Zarq had been living in as retribution.
All the while Zarq blames other people for these screw ups. Her mother receives a fair amount of the blame for what happens to her, and in some ways rightly so, but later Zarq, during one of her drug-addled states, fixes her attention on the warlord’s son and decides he’s to blame for everything because he killed her father and it was her father’s death that finally got her mother exiled (and Zarq along with her), never mind the fact that he was killed because of things her mother did which were in turn brought about by the actions of a childhood friend of Zarq’s. She never really lays all the blame where it truly belongs and that really, really pissed me off.
Beyond my issues with the main character, I have a lot of issues with what is put forward in this book.
For instance, women are the lowest of the low in this book. The only thing lower than a leper is a woman, because a woman is fundamentally unclean in a spiritual sense according to their church and a leper is just sick. Unless it’s a female leper in which case they’re the only ones lower than healthy women. They are so low that they are required by temple law to sleep in a house on stilts lest any of their “unclean secretions” (anything from tears to menstrual blood) defile the holy earth. There are only two things women are really good for in this book and both involve sex: either they are meant for pleasure or for babies (the term for “wife” translates to “garden of children”). Women are essentially treated as property; they are traded for marriage contracts, goods and services; they are used a sexual objects (sometimes without their consent as what happens when Zarq’s older sister is sold to a neighboring clan for food); and then there’s the whole “garden of children” thing. A woman in this novel doesn’t even own her own name; when they are “claimed”, a woman’s name changes to add her husband’s name in the possessive sense before it. So Sally, after being claimed by Bob, becomes Bob’s Sally; a woman doesn’t even own herself.
This novel also has other, unsavory aspects. There’s religious/political oppression, religious zealotry, rampant misogyny, slavery, sexual abuse, rape, forced genital mutilation of various kinds, torture, murder, and incest. And bestiality with dragons. Can’t forget that.
I don’t really know what Janine Cross intended when she wrote this book. She puts Zarq through any number of horrible, horrible situations, often brought about by Zarq’s own doing. She has this wretchedly oppressive world and no real, clear message about it; she doesn’t have any real commentary on the nature of the world and doesn’t seem to be using what happens to Zarq to say anything of note. The book doesn’t have an over-arching plot that is resolved in the course of this book, which to me feels sloppy, like she couldn’t write the entire story in one novel. The ending is so bland and anti-climactic that I can’t imagine why anyone would read the second novel in the series except maybe to see just how bad the train wreck can be.
Do yourself a favor and skip this book. If possible, forget it even exists.