Silver Master, by Jayne Castle

19 Jan

While I was still indulging in the great Harmony series listening glom, back in August (ye, gods, it’s been almost five full months!), I listened to the next few titles in the series, though I agree with Wendy the SuperLibrarian: there is danger in glomming. Smaller irritants can become major annoyances, and things one does not notice while breezing through one novel, can stop one dead after seeing them repeated in four or five.

Warning: evil is explicitly equated with mental illness–for both villains.

Oh, and there is sex on the page.

Silver Master, by Jayne Castle

This is the four novel in the Harmony series. It’s also the first one in the series that clearly links this world back to the Arcane Society universe, of which I am most definitely Not. A. Fan. Oh well.

We are back in Cadence, with two new characters and new dust bunnies. Here’s the blurb (from the Fantastic Fiction website):

Professional matchmaker Celinda Ingram is a psychically gifted woman with a problem. She is in desperate need of a bodyguard who can double as a date for her sister’s wedding. Davis Oakes, a member of the mysterious Ghost Hunter’s Guild, is a security expert with a most unusual paranormal talent. But Davis doesn’t trust matchmakers and Celinda doesn’t trust anyone connected to the Guild. Sparks fly immediately. Danger is closing in fast, however, and this pair has no choice but to work together to survive.

As usual, the paragraph above has nothing to do with the plot. Which I would sum up as: Davis is looking for something, Celinda has it…for a while. In order to get it, Davis must stay close to her, which lends itself to shenanigans, up to and including posing as her boyfriend at her sisters’ wedding. Hijinks, obviously, ensue.

I have to get a couple of things out of the way: Ms Castle’s writing voice is very engaging to me. It’s very rare that, once I start one of her books, I don’t find myself smiling at dialogue or characters musings. In this regard, Silver Master is no exception. However, there are plenty of problematic bits to her writing, and I’ll be touching on them later on.

First, as usual, the good bits.

Both Celinda and Davis have been burned previously, both personally and professionally, which makes watching them fight, then give in to their mutual attraction very engaging.

Davis’ previous, and very serious, relationship crashed spectacularly after a professional mishap, while Celinda is trying to rebuild her career in Cadence after a spectacular scandal basically ran her out of Frequency City. And, of course, they both have secrets, and very good reasons to keep them (and they *are* good reasons).

Davis is the odd-man out in his family, as he’s born to a family of ghost hunters, and is the one sibling who is outside, so to speak, because his ability is just different enough. He’s loyal to his family and to his friends, and I really liked his relationship with his assistant, and his interactions with other characters. While he has good reason to be leery about permanent relationships–let alone matchmakers–he’s not overly whiny about his lot, or his baggage. And he is competent, which is always, always a plus.

For her part, Celinda’s relationship with her family seems to be a bit closer, though that may be the natural consequence of the family’s…type? strand? of talents, which are more on the people (humanities? sociology?) end of the spectrum, as compared to the different kinds of ghost hunters, whose talents seem to be more focused on aggression.

I liked her resourcefulness and her resolve; she has decided that she needs to do something, and starts taking steps to accomplish it, wasting no time on ‘why me?’

I did have a problem with one aspect of her characterization where she comes close to TSTL territory as she tries to intervene in a potentially volatile situation. The first time she does it because she doesn’t yet know what Davis can do; the second time though? She knows what he can do and she knows well she’s no match for the other party, on top of having no weapon of any kind, so it makes zero sense for her to have an internal debate about protecting the big, bad, capable hunter from another hunter, particularly when her own talents are useless in this situation.

(Her internal monologue in that scene irked me no end. No. End.)

The sex is fairly explicit, and though there is a tinge of purple in the language, is not overpowering. And, as I said earlier, the push/pull between current attraction and past baggage is engaging.

I like the secondary characters very much, particularly Davis’ assistant, Trigg, and I was pleased to see a hint of romance in the future of Detective Alice Martínez, who is introduced fairly early on in After Dark. I was also happy that both of the main characters have families they love, even if they don’t live in each others’ pockets or have a lot in common–as is implied with Davis and his family.

I also enjoyed the little bits that expand on the world building; not so much on the paranormal aspects, as in the cultural implications and mores on the human colonies in Harmony, which I always find interesting. For those who have read the previous novels, specially if they’ve done so recently, there’s a bit of repetition, but I don’t think it’s excessive for a new reader.

The plotting in this novel is a bit more complex, no only because we have two villains, but because most of the characters involve have things to hide, and even when working together, the characters have different end goals and motivations. You know. Like people.

Still on the world building, I confess that I love the dust bunnies. In this one, each of our main characters are owned by one–or, I should say, Araminta has bonded with Celinda, and Max with Davis.

Whatever. I enjoy that they each have distinct personalities, despite all dust bunnies being described, essentially, as ‘large fluffy balls of lint’ when they are content or relaxed.

Now, to the things that I found problematic in this story.

The main, red-alert issue I have is the use of mental illness not just as short hand for evil, but also the making of insanity the ONLY explanation for evil–or even for extreme pettiness. Look, perfectly sane and intelligent people do the stupid and petty every single day of their lives. And there are people doing evil everywhere, while no suffering from any mental health issue, simply by rationalizing it away.

When you have a character say, and I quote, “because by definition anyone involved in a criminal enterprise has twisted (para)psych profiles?” you are excusing true evil as something beyond a person’s control, and simultaneously normalizing mental health stigma.

Equating villainy and evil with mental is harmful, period, not up for arguments on this, and I wish to all the deities that have ever been worshiped that we all stopped with this shit.

Yes, this book was published in 2007, and likely written at least one year before that, and yes, I listened to it in 2017, and yet, I’m not willing to excuse this today simply because at some point in the past people were sent to facilities ‘for the criminally insane.’ 2007 is this century, not the Dark Ages.

While not as problematic, another thing that I really wish we would do away with in romance, is the heroine who has never had an orgasm until she has sex with the hero.

I get having had a meh sexual life. I get not having orgasms with previous partners–some people simply can’t relax enough for it during intercourse, some people are shitty partners who don’t give a fuck about the other person’s pleasure. I get having a first orgasm with a partner being an amazing experience. I get having a stronger orgasm with a partner who takes the time to make sure you are participating and enjoying yourself.

But having your first orgasm ever, in your mid- to late-twenties, after having had at least one semi-serious sexual relationship, just because of the hero’s mighty wang?

Seriously, masturbation is a thing–and it’s a thing most people discover in adolescence. Unless your heroine is anorgasmic, I can’t buy that she never climaxed before. And if you have explicitly written her as anorgasmic, then have her climax as soon as the hero puts his hands (or magic wang) on her, this fantasy is likely harmful to women who are, in fact, incapable of orgasm.

Finally, there are some rather large plot holes—or perhaps is just one gigantic one in two parts.

There’s a point at the beginning where the villain looking for the missing relic loses track of it. In the next chapter, he knows that either Celinda or Davis has it, but we never learn how he came by this knowledge. Not only that, another chapter is on, and he knows everything about the secret motivations of the other villain, so he can now manipulate him for his own gain. How? Magic? Mind you, for all I know, this fell on the editing floor, but it remains unexplained, and it irks me.

(And this is nothing compared to the question: if you can make people do what you want, why would you need to negotiate with a psychopath at all?)

So how to grade this one? As a romance, I was convinced that the characters are well matched and have better than good odds of staying in love and being happy. The suspense thread was solved reasonably well, though there was little mystery to it. There were a couple of action scenes/sequences that were engaging, with decent stakes for the characters. And I liked the characters.

On those grounds alone, this easily be another 7.50 to 7.75 read.

However, I just can’t get over the harmful and explicit equating of mental illness with criminality and evil.

Which means that Silver Master is a 6.75 out of 10

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2 Responses to “Silver Master, by Jayne Castle”

  1. KeiraSoleore 19/01/2018 at 3:21 PM #

    Good review here, AL.

    One thing Jayne Ann Krentz has always said is that most writers usually (should?) have a core theme that they explore in every book. And she does that herself, so a glom is probably going to expose that sameness.

    “And there are people doing evil everywhere, while no suffering from any mental health issue, simply by rationalizing it away.
    When you have a character say, and I quote, ‘because by definition anyone involved in a criminal enterprise has twisted (para)psych profiles?’ you are excusing true evil as something beyond a person’s control, and simultaneously normalizing mental health stigma.”

    Really good point.

  2. Jules Jones 20/01/2018 at 5:06 AM #

    “The main, red-alert issue I have is the use of mental illness not just as short hand for evil, but also the making of insanity the ONLY explanation for evil–or even for extreme pettiness.”

    Home, James, and don’t spare the noptepuses!

    More seriously, thank you for flagging that up. This stuff was nasty in 1997, never mind 2007. For comparison, 2007 was when Lord and Master came out, and I wrote that as “people with mental illnesses can have normal lives and get to have their HEA without the Healing Power of the Magic Vagina/Penis, thanks”, not as “mentally ill people aren’t *all* evil”, because the Annoying Trope I was seeing too much of was that the power of true love will magically cure the mental illness (and other disabling medical conditions that will not in fact be cured by true love and wishful thinking). It’s not as if writers had the excuse that “mental illness = evil” was the only treatment of mental illness they were seeing around them in other writers’ books.

    Unfortunately even in 2017 there are still plenty of people around who use “mentally ill=evil” as an easy characterisation shorthand, or who actually believe it, so it’s helpful when a review points out that this stuff is not on.

    (Yes, there are indeed a lot of deleted expletives in the above.)

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