After last week’s fisk on the use of violence, I realized that the same argument I made in that post applies to what I thought of Bane’s Eyes. It’s the fourth book in the I Am Margaret book series by Corinna Turner. Remember last time, when I said I was starting to fall off the bandwagon? Well . . . I didn’t just fall off; I jumped off and went running the other direction.
If you started reading the series, you should go ahead and finish it. But those cracks in the fourth wall I mentioned in my last review widened and broke the fourth wall completely. Correction, the fourth wall didn’t just break; it was blown right into orbit. And I can’t tell you why without some major spoilers.
I’ve already mentioned that the author and I part ways in our interpretation of the appropriate means of fighting a tyrannical government in a fictional world with non-lethal weapons available. I’ve already made that argument, so I won’t re-hash it in its entirety here, but it is still relevant to the plot. It goes from being an annoying quirk in the previous books that can be excused or ignored (because it’s a dystopian novel; it’s internally consistent; the fact that the nonLees exist make it a legitimate plot point, etc.) to being a major worldbuilding problem that simply won’t go away.
You already know me and my fisks; this is not a fisk, and I’m not going to go out of my way to be snarky, but I am going to tell you my opinion of the work. If you disagree, that’s perfectly fine; after all, de gustibus non est disputandum. I’m simply going to tell you what I saw when I read it.
Our heroes are still living in Vatican City at the beginning of this book, although things are a lot more complicated for Bane and Margo. At the end of book three, Bane was captured by the Big Bad Evil Guys (aka, the BBEGs), and went through part of what they like to call “conscious dismantlement,” where they carve you up into parts to be donated and give you a paralytic, not a sedative (the punishment pretty much reserved for the really “bad guys:” mostly Christians and other “superstitious” members of society). By the time he was released, they’d already taken his eyes.
So, poor Bane spends a good deal of the book being an angst monster. He’s having trouble adjusting –even though his best friend Jon is there to help him, and he’s been blind his entire life — and starts to have a major problem with his temper. A good deal of the book is Margaret dealing with his drama. To be fair, the two of them have a good deal to be drama-ridden over, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, the longer you read it, the more you want to just smack both of them upside the head and say, “get over it, you whiners!” They do, of course; it just takes a little too long for them to accomplish it.
The author still has a very engaging style; the banter between the characters is as good as it was in the first two books, their conversations are well done, both the jokes and the drama (one advantage to the drama and angst was that it was rather well done drama and angst; there was just a bit too much of it for my personal tastes). Unfortunately, those good points can’t outweigh the worldbuilding and setup problems.
Once again, what I mentioned can’t be addressed without spoilers, so:
Other than Bane’s issues with being blinded and feeling sorry for himself, and Margaret’s resulting stress, the main driving force of the plot is the fact that the EuroBloc government is going to have a vote on whether or not to continue “sorting,” the thing comparable to the Reaping in The Hunger Games that I mentioned in my first review. If you pass, you get to live; if you don’t, you get to be sent to a “facility” to be carved up for body parts for all the other more valuable members of society. If you have a birth defect, or any kind of disability, or less-than-excellent intelligence, you fail. So, the vote is on whether or not to continue this practice, for one, and whether or not to end the suppression of religion, for another.
Let’s stop and think about that for just a minute.
This government has been portrayed as the BBEG for the last three books. They take kids and use them as body parts. They will kill you in a horrific manner for “practicing superstition.” We got to see in book one exactly what they did to a priest who had been arrested — and the reason we saw that (first-person narration again) is because the bad guys at the “facility” forced those children to watch as said priest was “dismantled.” While he was still conscious. It doesn’t get much more evil than that. This is the kind of evil that the author has spent three books establishing. Not only that, anyone who tries to protest or stand against said government is hunted down and killed. Hence the title for the second book, The Three Most Wanted. This government is the one that already tried to take over Vatican City and Malta (free states, not part of the EuroBloc). So, they’re not just tyrants in their own EuroBloc; they will take over other “free states” in order to keep themselves in power. They’re conquerors and tyrants. And murderers. And child-killers. And torturers.
What are the odds that a government like that would pay any attention whatsoever to a vote?
Here is where the worldbuilding falls apart. Sure, it’s a dystopian novel. Sure, there are some rules you can bend when writing one, because it’s not supposed to be here-and-now with the same rules. But this is just too absurd to be believed, no matter what world it’s set in. Why? Because people don’t change. Power always corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Would a government that maintains control of its population through draconian family planning, “sorting,” and religious persecution actually hold a vote that would deny them the power that they have obtained and wish to keep?
No. Never. They’d either never hold the vote at all, or they’d rig the results to say whatever they wanted them to say.
Oh, but if they really start doing anything so drastic, they’d end up with open revolt on their hands, and they don’t dare. Public opinion holds them in check.
That explanation doesn’t hold water, because they already have open revolt on their hands, just not by the mainstream. They have the Resistance blowing stuff up, and the Underground escaping and then calling them out on the internet. Of course they’d dare. They have their power and they want to keep it; that’s human nature right there. Tyrants don’t fight fair; if they did, they wouldn’t be tyrants.
If this scenario had actually occurred, the EuroBloc would go a lot farther than trying to assassinate Margaret when she makes a speech in Monaco. They wouldn’t waste their time trying to manipulate Bane with a promise to give him his eyes back if Margaret stops speaking out against them. They’d nuke freaking Vatican City, and have done with it.
The apparent restraint exercised by the tyrants is an outright contradiction, and the worldbuilding crumbles. Their little games might have worked in the previous books, when Margaret was just an annoyance trying to escape, or sway public opinion with her book or her later blog, but when it comes down to them keeping the power they’ve gained, there’s no way in hell they would resort to half-measures.
That’s one thing any dystopian novel always maintains — the circumstances might be wacky and almost fantastic, but the people are still just plain people, with all the faults and failings and temptations that regular people have. Except in this book, where they’re both tyrants and gentlemen all at the same time.
Sorry, folks. It’s broken.
There are some bright spots in this story, though. Mostly, you care about what happens to the characters. You want things to work out for Bane and Margaret, and Jon, and all their pals in the Vatican. You even care a lot about the newest character, Lucas Everington, whom you may remember as the commandant for the “facility” Margaret was in, back in book one. He walks into the middle of St. Peter’s and collapses at Margaret’s feet. A good deal of the book is about his conversion — he wanted to know if Margaret really did forgive him, and that’s why he walked all the way to Rome to find her. He’s pretty much crazy for a lot of the book, but when he comes around, he’s a good character.
The conversions, though — both Lucas’s, and eventually, Bane’s — happen just a little too conveniently for me. Lucas’s is more convincing than Bane’s, though. You actually walk with Lucas through his conversion, but Bane’s just sort of happens at the end, almost as an afterthought. Sure, he’s had enough crap happen to him to cause his conversion, but the circumstances weren’t set up in such a way that made you believe that the one led to the other.
Okay, now that I’ve been fair and talked about the good, I have to get back to the bad; unfortunately, there is quite a bit of bad.
So, Margaret and Bane are having some major problems — he actually hits her at one point, and then nearly throws himself off the roof of their building — but things start to get a little brighter for them after Bane gets some sense knocked into him (literally), and Margaret grows up a little (as a thirty-year-old reader, I had to keep reminding myself that these characters were all of nineteen years old; they don’t have a lot of life experience to draw on, so their reactions aren’t what you’d expect of older characters. Remembering that made them make a lot more sense). And then, YAY!, Margaret gets pregnant!
And doesn’t tell anyone. And then apparently has a miscarriage.
Except, wait. She doesn’t, actually.
Yeah, I was completely floored. Having never been in that particular situation myself, I wouldn’t know that there might be some other reason for experiencing a lot of pain and significant bleeding early in the first trimester. I’d do exactly what Margaret did — assume I’d lost my baby. Except I’d be smart and go to a doctor. Which she didn’t.
So then, at the end of the book, when it is revealed that she’s actually still pregnant, you’re sitting there, going
Sure, what happened may be perfectly reasonable and entirely possible from a medical standpoint. It just wasn’t set up properly. Something that significant has to have a setup before you get to the payoff. Otherwise, you do what I did, and go “where did that come from?” Not to mention the fact that she spent a good deal of the book being completely furious at the character she blamed for causing said miscarriage.
Let me backtrack a little. Father Mark didn’t actually die when he got shot in the head with a lethal weapon (not a nonLee, let’s be clear here) in book three. He comes back in book four as a sleeper programmed to kill Margaret.
Once again, I’m sure that it’s possible (remotely, at least) that getting shot in the head might not kill you. It would take a crazy unlikely shot, plus a serious case of divine intervention, but that’s not even the point here.
There was no setup for that major plot reveal. None. Even Gandalf coming back from the dead in The Two Towers had some little tiny bit of setup (he’s a wizard, for one; we didn’t actually see him die, for another; and it’s a fantasy story where that kind of thing can happen, for another). But here, Father Mark got shot in the head. The main characters saw it happen, and left him behind, completely dead, and yet he walks in alive and well in book four.
After his apparent death, he didn’t escape from the BBEGs; they actually let him go. A priest.
Which just shoots the worldbuilding right in the foot. Sure, I’ll believe that they’d capture Father Mark and turn him into a sleeper. I’ll believe that, because before his conversion experience, he was a very bad person (an assassin for the Resistance), and if I was a BBEG, I’d want to make use of that resource (not only will they trust him, he has the skills to pull off the objective I programmed into him). But if their conditioning didn’t work, why let him go? They get their kicks sending priests to be “consciously dismantled,” but for some reason, they’re just going to let this one go? And the characters believe this until he actually tries to kill Margaret?
That’s not internally consistent. Would it be reasonable for the BBEGs to make that attempt? Sure. I wouldn’t put it past them. But Eduardo at Vatican Security wouldn’t believe it for a minute. It contradicts both the worldbuilding and the character-building for them to be so easily fooled by Father Mark’s assertion that it didn’t work, and their little field-test to go ahead and “trigger” him and see what happened.
When the day of the vote approaches, though, we get a more serious problem. Bane and Margaret are better, although she’s still having trouble forgiving Father Mark, the blogging continues, and the war for public opinion keeps going. Unfortunately, Father Mark escapes after a “defector” comes in from the EuroBloc and helps him escape. That part was also very unlikely, given the paranoid state of the security men, but moving on. The BBEG’s plan is to have Father Mark — a member of the supposedly peaceful and forgiving Underground — assassinate the Chairman of the EuroBloc in Brussels two days before the vote, thinking that this will be enough to sway public opinion away from the good guys and back towards the BBEGs, keeping “sorting” and religious persecution legal.
Once again, this presumes that the tyrants in question would care about the vote at all. But things really get crazy when the Vatican Free State is invaded by EuroBloc soldiers armed only with non-lethal weapons. Bane and Jon and Lucas have to stay to retake the Vatican, while Margaret runs to Brussels to try and stop Father Mark.
This is where I had to jump off the bandwagon. There’s no way that any soldiers invading the Vatican would do so with non-lethal weapons that just knock you out. What do they do with you when you wake up? They might be able to lock up everyone in Vatican Security, but what about the civilians? Did they bring a large enough force to actually occupy Vatican City? And, the biggest problem: there is no way those highly-trained, lethal Swiss Guards would ever resort to non-lethal force to protect the Pope from an invading force. Nope. Never. There aren’t that many of them. What would they do if the bad guys woke up? Can you tell the difference between a regular rifle and a nonLee in the dark, or would you just shoot the invader and have done with it?
The attack on the Vatican is thwarted by two blind boys, a crazy guy, and a bunch of civilians armed with rolling pins, tennis rackets, and baseball bats. Meanwhile, Margaret makes it to Brussles and manages to stop Father Mark from assassinating the Chairman . . . by forgiving him. Somehow, he was choking her to death, she said, “I forgive you,” for about the tenth time since he’d tried to kill her and (supposedly) caused her to miscarry, and it snapped him out of his programming. After which, he has a heart attack and dies.
By the time Margaret gets back to Vatican City, the place has been saved from the surprisingly peaceful invaders, and the vote is in. Wait for it . . . the whole EuroBloc voted to end sorting and allow religious freedom! Hooray!
Wait . . . what? No voter fraud by the tyrannical government? No last-minute attempts to nuke Vatican City? No declaration of martial law, or something like that? No nothing? The horrible bad guys actually followed the rules of a civilized society, and not only held the vote, but did what the vote said they were going to do?
No way. We can look around the United States today, in the real world, and know that would never happen. Just look at HB2. It got passed and implemented by the state of Texas, and then overturned by the Supreme Court. Half of the provisions in ObamaCare are regularly ignored, and “you’d have to pass it in order to see what’s in it.” Hilary Clinton managed NOT to get indicted. And yet, in this fictional world, the tyrants who brutally murder priests and kill little children for their organs would actually give up their power because of a vote?
Sorry, guys. It’s broken. It doesn’t make sense. I’m not talking about a part of the story that I just didn’t care for, like the amount of drama between Bane and Margaret. I can get over that. But building a scenario like this that doesn’t make any sense ruins it for me.
The real kicker at the end was what happened to Lucas. He’s converted, mostly sane, and everything seems hunky-dory, right? Then he decides to trade himself for Bane’s eyes, which were just hanging around in a freezer somewhere in the EuroBloc. Those soldiers gave him the case with the eyes in it, he handed them to Margaret, and stepped across the white line in St. Peter’s Square. And got shot, right in front of Margaret. It’s very sad, very upsetting. He thought he’d be able to get away, but couldn’t, and died to do something nice for Margaret and her husband. Great story, right?
Margaret’s next blog post, after changing the world, ending sorting, her pen being mightier than their nonLees, is titled:
Capital Punishment in a Civilized Bloc?
I was mad enough after reading that to have to get up from my seat and get a drink before continuing. Just tea, of course, but still.
The book just changed from a dystopian novel and into an agenda-driven message fic. Capital punishment is not a sin. I direct your attention to the Catechism once again:
2266: The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.
2267: The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. “If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
“Today, in fact, given the means at the State’s disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender ‘today . . . are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
So, it might be rare, but it’s not intrinsically evil (like, oh, say, killing little children for their organs, right?). But even that’s beside the point. What does the death penalty have to do with her friend Lucas’s death? Absolutely nothing. He was a “criminal” under the laws of the EuroBloc because he allowed those reAssignees to escape (Margaret and her friends in book one). He escaped. I’m sure they would have killed him otherwise, but what happened to him wasn’t a case of “he got the death penalty.” It was a case of “he was just murdered on a public street in broad daylight by the representatives of an evil, tyrannical government.” The death penalty, in itself, has nothing to do with it. The beautiful part of the story that could have drawn attention to Lucas’s conversion, his willingness to give up his life for his new friends, and the EuroBloc’s petty, evil desire to kill Catholics was just thrown away by a pointless statement right at the end of the book. It had no bearing on the plot, as we’d reached the falling action by this point and were wrapping things up. That was pure agenda.
And then, after the funeral, the story was wrapped up, a few indications that the fight wasn’t over yet, and Margaret had to keep up her blog, but basically, Bane got his eyes back, and everyone was going to live happily ever after.
Bottom line: this is a case a lot like the movie Old Fashioned. I reviewed that on Matthew’s blog after seeing it. It started out pretty well, and went downhill. The problems with the worldbuilding make it, in my opinion, impossible to read. It lost any value it might have had in instructing and entertaining Catholics because it misrepresents Catholicism, and fails to entertain.
We’re Catholics, not Quakers. As I said in the fisk I did just a few days ago, we are allowed to use lethal force. The circumstances in the story that set up the use of non-lethal weapons and other means to fight this tyranny are unreasonable. Margaret and the others don’t win their fight using words because their words are that brilliant; they win it because the world is somehow tilted in their favor, and it doesn’t make sense.
Even dystopia. And when it doesn’t make sense, it can’t fulfill either of its stated purposes. It can’t instruct, and it can’t entertain. The root cause here seems to be the worldbuilding problems, because the plot wouldn’t have problems if the world wasn’t built in such a way to allow those plots to occur. The idea that two blind kids and a crazy convert could save the Vatican from an invading force is positively brilliant; I’d have loved to hear how they did that, but that’s not what I got. I didn’t get a fight scene, or brilliant heroism by those three characters. I got . . . something that didn’t make sense. The invaders weren’t real invaders; they were stormtroopers with laser tag guns that couldn’t really hurt me (except in a few cases, if the person hit had heart problems or something like that). The stakes have to be high enough to make the heroes look good; if they’re too high, it gets preposterous (*cough cough* Doctor Who *cough*), but if they’re too low, it’s not a satisfying story.
A tyranny that is polite enough to follow the rules of democracy can’t exist. In my opinion, portraying one that does is not only bad storytelling, it’s a disservice to any teenagers who might read the story. The secondary purpose of fiction is to instruct, right? What are you instructing them to do? To not get ready to fight.
Look around; the world is in trouble. All you have to do is read the headlines for a few days, and you’ll see it. Personally, I’d be very much surprised if we survived the next whole year, the way things are going. The persecution is coming, people. In some ways, it’s already here. If it doesn’t get here as soon as I’m afraid it will, it certainly will in the lifetimes of the people who will be reading this book. What are we teaching them, trying to tell them that tyrants follow the rules of civilized men? That is a lie, and a dangerous one. “Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword” (Luke 22:36). We’re allowed to do that; what’s more, we’re obliged to do so.
Martyrdom is only attractive when it’s somebody else’s martyrdom you’re talking about. I hope that all Catholics have the nerve to stare down the barrel of a gun and say “Credo in Unum Deum” and take whatever comes. But He never instructed us to lay down and give up. Sometimes, those killed for Christ had to do it while fighting for him. Granted, that fight can be done in different ways — certainly the battle of words and ideas is one very important one, as I’ve said before — but don’t prop up that fight at the expense of the one that involves soldiers on a battlefield, or a simple homeowner with an AR-15 standing between his family and evil.
In the realm of the battle of ideas, we have to do better than this. We have to write stories that make sense, that make people want to leave behind the modern tripe they’re filling their heads with, and come and read something good. This doesn’t do that; it can’t. It doesn’t make sense, and can only survive in the little bubble of Catholic fiction, among people who already agree with it and don’t look too hard at the worldbuilding. The story has some excellent elements, as I’ve said. The characters are interesting, the basic premise is a good one, the prose is very good, and there are some scenes that I truly love. But those more fundamental issues are a problem. I’ll give Bane’s Eyes two out of five stars, but no more.
Follow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.