Jennifer's Journal


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dear Author Review - Spoil of War

I’ve seen negative reviews before, but the comments posted on the Dear Author site for SPOIL OF WAR BY Phoenix Sullivan go well beyond normal literary criticism. Reviewer DA_January didn’t care for the book. Fine; that’s her privilege. But to use her position as a reviewer to attack the work of a beginning writer, holding it up to extended personal ridicule, is both unbecoming and unfair. Added to that, the reviewer must surely have known that concentrating on the sexual assault in the story, without regard for obvious historical precedent or the book's theme, would inflame her audience; the word “rape” has always been highly reliable for that kind of response. I can only suppose that was the purpose.

One of her most blatant acts was taking sentences from the book out of context in the attempt to prove her point. In one example the female protagonist, Elsbeth, overhears a young girl being assaulted in the room next to the one where she is held prisoner. In Elsbeth’s isolation and extremity after watching everyone she knew and loved killed before her eyes, she feels the fleeting need to be touched, the recognition in her despair that any physical contact might be better than the essential loneliness of her existence. At least this was my reading of the scene. DA_January, by contrast, seemed certain it meant nothing more than that Elsbeth was inappropriately turned on by the sounds she heard. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone so unaware of the nuances of human reaction—or the concept of showing those reactions instead of explaining them in words of one syllable—should be allowed to act as a filter for what others read.

For myself, I stand by the cover quote given my niece for this book about a woman who, rather like a male protagonist after a bloody defeat, accepts her fate with stoic endurance and uses her silent rage to best her enemies. While considering it, I did not make the mistake of applying romance novel criteria to a story that was obviously not a romance, nor did I credit the male lead with being heroic in any sense of the term. The book was evaluated on its own merit, not in comparison with my reading preferences or my work. Due warning was given for its depiction of the horrors of warfare in a brutal era. Enough said.

But I would suggest that DA_January’s comments are actually a testament to the writing ability of Phoenix Sullivan. The reviewer would not have been so affected by SPOIL OF WAR, for good or ill, had the author not fully engaged her attention and her emotions.

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Anonymous DM said...

I read the book, and tried to give it a fair shake, but I just can't agree with you here. January didn't take anything out of context. There is a scene in the book in which the heroine is physically aroused by hearing an eleven year old girl raped.

If Elsbeth feels, as you say, " that any physical contact might be better than the essential loneliness of her existence," and that includes the rape of a child, then Elsbeth is one dumb bunny, and a character few readers will empathize with. And it doesn't matter if we're talking about romance, literary fiction, or westerns. Empathy forms the essential bond between reader and character.

I'm not sure how a heroine who, "accepts her fate with stoic endurance and uses her silent rage to best her enemies," is different from a passive protagonist. The bald truth is that the author could have chosen any form of suffering for this heroine. She could have endured terrible illness, the loss of a child, the loss of a limb, the loss of her sight, the loss of her faith. Any or all of these things, if the point was to tell a story about stoic endurance. Instead, the author made a choice to tell a story in which the heroine is raped by every male character in the book, save the one male character who prefers to rape children.

You question whether January, "should be allowed to act as a filter for what others read." That is a question only readers can decide.

7:56 PM  
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