My relationship with this series had a good run of five books, but it seemingly ended and we went our separate ways. Now, it promises it has changed with a new perspective, so I was curious and checked the new installments out. I’m not really sure I’m feeling it, but I keep giving the new books the benefit of the doubt. There aren’t any red flags and they’re not irredeemable, so there must be no harm in continuing the series, but I still feel a little uncertain of why revisiting it at all was necessary. If it sounds like I’m talking about a boomerang relationship with an ex, well, that’s because that’s exactly what this is.
Less obliquely, I read Fever #6, 7, and 8 (that’s Iced, Burned, and this book, Feverborn) and I’m going to read #s 9 and 10 when they are eventually released. But while author Karen Marie Moning hasn’t lost her ability to tell an engaging story, the newer books are coming up waaaaay short when it comes to delivering on consistent characterization. For me as a fan, that is a huge sticking point, because a bit part of what made the original five books so engaging and rewarding was the noticeable, logical arc that protagonist MacKayla Lane fulfilled. The later three have had her regress, act out of character, and undermined the respect she had earned from the supporting cast, including paramour Jericho Barrons.
Mac is no longer the main protagonist, a decision that I was initially uneasy with but that I have grown to accept. This shift started out rocky, by handing over the reigns of this very steamy adult UF/PNR series to a 14-year old girl who wouldn’t know agency if it charged at her with a sword. That character has, since, grown in complexity and maturity and is now a very strong narrator in her sections, but at first I had the impression that KMM was sacrificing the strength of her first protagonist to make the second look better by comparison. I’ll allow that Feverborn course-corrects a bit in that aspect, at least with regards to their capabilities and the extent to which they drive the story instead of being passive players. But there is still a marked difference in intention between Mac’s sections and Jada’s. Mac’s chapters include much caterwauling about her sister (who died at the outset of the very first book, so this is amply covered territory) and anxiety about the Sinsar Dubh. This latter train of thought proves to be a very important one, and indeed it is the through-line from the first half of the series that was the most worth continual exploration on Mac’s part, so it was the strongest part of her story for me.
As a continually relapsing fangirl, I cannot easily ignore reviews and comments from other fans on these books. One point that seems to be continually coming up is how sick people are of Mac and Barrons. Harsh as this may be, I have to lay that complaint completely at the feet of the author. After all, these two characters were the backbone of the books that got us all so invested in the first place, and there is no reason their story HAD to be over. Ilona Andrews has a main pairing that is going strong after the same number of books with no signs of fatigue. As I mentioned above, there is the whole issue of Mac sharing a body with the evil Sinsar Dubh, which was tucked away at the end of book five but in no way resolved. That KMM is just getting around to addressing that in book eight, after having Mac dither around for two previous books, speaks to a lack of care and planning on her part, and I don’t blame the fangirls for being frustrated. That said, I do get annoyed when female fans so quickly do a 180 on a female protagonist they’ve loved before, berating her for seemingly no other reason than they are no longer interested in her sex life. Have a little loyalty, would you?
Jada is becoming a really deep, moving character, after being introduced as a prototypical Ice Queen. KMM is doing great work with her, and it makes sense why the fans would want more of her at this point: she’s getting more meat to work with. The dissociation in her personality after her time in the Silvers is being slowly examined and adjusted as her experience is revealed and the other characters grow to accept her choices. I have an idea, but can’t be too sure, where this storyline is going, and I’m looking forward to it.
And. Now that I’ve gotten substantive commentary on the book out of the way, I want to address the elephant in the room, which is KMM’s PR fracas over her initial support of audiobook collaborator Phil Gigante, who pled guilty and was sentenced on charges of “accosting a child for immoral purposes and possession of sexually abusive images of a child.” KMM has since recinded her support, claiming she didn’t have all of the facts, but that seems at odds with her prior statements in his defense, claiming that we, the public, didn’t have all the facts. So, I am very skeptical of the motivation behind Moning publicly changing her mind, and between that and some of the more objectionable parts of Iced involving three men lusting after the rather oblivious 14-year-old Dani, I have to admit that I look retroactively at all of her work through a different lens. Moning has always been very defensive about readers questioning the age of her young character. She was constantly admonishing readers to not have preconceptions and to trust her while she pushed boundaries. She also insinuated that readers who had issues with certain scenes in Iced were reading too much into it and seeing things that weren’t there. And… I kind of feel like those are the exact kind of statements that men make when they get called out for being inappropriate. I see this as a problem because Moning lives in the same world we all do, that frequently sexualizes teen girls, and we have a responsibility to those girls to stop exploiting their budding sexuality for adult titillation. It’s one thing to portray a young woman on the verge of womanhood, as Moning clearly wanted to do, and it’s another thing to do that while having grown men standing about, at the ready for the moment she “grows up.” This is predatory behavior, and it devalues her agency while excusing the men because technically, they’re only looking but not touching until she’s old enough. That and the situation with Gigante just makes me think that, overall, KMM doesn’t understand how consent, grooming, and sexual abuse of minors works.
So, with all of that in mind, I made two choices as a reader. As I said above, I will continue to read this series until it is done (because I am weak), but I will
1) Not give it a star rating. This seems arbitrary when I’ve read and reviewed it, but I feel that a rating without the context of a review explaining my feelings in more detail gives tacit approval of the actions of this author.
2) Not purchase any more of her books; rather I will check them out when available from the library.
I have a very hard time with everything that has happened with this series because it used to be so good, and then very much less so; while I truly feel this book is a step back in the right direction, I now have a much more critical eye in some areas that makes the books less of an escapist experience.