Tuesday, April 15, 2014

RELEASE: Charity Anthology 'Invisible' Is Now Live!

Invisible, as curated and edited by Jim C. Hines, is now live! An anthology about diversity in SF/F works, including an essay by me (my first published essay!) is now available for sale. All proceeds go to charity, and I'd just like to state (again, and for the sake of transparency) that I did not take my fee for this, and instead asked for it to go to the charity.

For more information and links, please see this post on Jim's blog.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

'Among Thieves' Review on SF Signal

My review of Douglas Hulick's debut, Among Thieves, went up over on SF Signal last week.
"Douglas Hulick’s debut novel, Among Thieves, is best described as a fun, exciting and compelling adventure. Taking place over the course of a couple of days in the city of Ildrecca, we follow the thief Drothe and his companion-in-arms Bronze Degan as they get drawn into the vicious maelstrom created by high-stakes gang warfare. Add into this mixture forbidden magic, being under threat from the Empire’s most powerful troops, and a careless death perpetually looming over their heads — and the main characters become the underdogs in the battle against almost-insurmountable odds."
If you haven't read it, go check it out! And once again, I'd like to just thank John over at SF Signal for both the book and the opportunity. Keep your eyes peeled closer to Sworn in Steel's release date - May 6th - for another review.

Monday, March 3, 2014

ANNOUNCEMENT: A Not-Quite Surprise!

As anyone who follows me on Twitter or who follows Jim C. Hines will be aware, I recently wrote a non-fiction post for Jim's blog about my views on transgender representation in fantasy. It went down really well and I had great feedback, and... well, that's not the end of it.

Jim is in the process of putting my essay - and others - into a collection which will be released some time in the not-too-distant future as a $2.99 ebook, with all profits going to the charity Con or Bust, which seeks to give financial aid to genre fans of colour who are financially unable to attend conventions. I also feel for the sake of transparency to mention that I have asked Jim to donate the payment for use of my essay to this organisation. The release date for Invisible is yet to be announced, and it depends on legal and production issues at the moment, but I will definitely post when it's available.

This marks my first published work, and my first time being in a book. I'm honestly still processing it and I would once again like to thank Jim Hines for giving me this opportunity, but also just say a thank you to those who read my post, commented or even just retweeted it on Twitter.

And I totally just need to use this.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

OPINION: On Ellen Page...

So, this weekend, Ellen Page purposefully outed herself at a conference for LGBT teens, and the response was generally positive but I have to admit I don't think I've seen a single person express surprise over it - less so because it's becoming normalised, and more I think it was akin to the situation with Jodie Foster, and with celebrity followers (fans, the paparazzi, etc.) hounding every single breath of famous people, a lot of people put two and two together and came out with an answer somewhere in the (now) correct region.

What I have seen a lot of, however, are comments along the lines of "Good for her but it doesn't affect me". I've gotten quite annoyed over these, even when from people I respect. Why? Because it isn't about *you*. Ellen Page did not come out for you. She came out for herself. It is something she has done, on her own terms, for her own peace of mind - something I believe was essentially stated in her talk, but I've not listened to it so I must confess I'm going off reports here. I don't think she even came out for the hundreds and thousands of QUILTBAG teens, but I'll come to that later. It's a selfish yet selfless act, yet to say "it does not affect my life" is really annoying... especially as it seems to generally come from straight people. Sorry, guys and gals, but this really isn't about you and never has been. In fact, it's that behaviour itself that is part of the problem.

See... Ellen Page has taken a huge risk here. No, that sounds stupid. She's opened herself up - by being honest - to a lot of ignorance, hatred and professional issues. She's starred in blockbusters, in highly successful indie films, she's voice acted and even had the lead role in one of the most unusual and ambitious video games of the soon-to-end current console generation, Beyond: Two Souls (by Quantic Dream). She is now not just an actress, but a gay actress. Yes, she certainly can find success and support - and considering her frequent performances in indie or less 'corporate' movies - it's likely she will continue to be a very visible, popular actress (and she IS great, too), but stand back for a moment and tell me some A-list Hollywood stars who are out. Give me a list of blockbuster, named-on-poster stars who are gay. You are really going to struggle with this, especially if we go the extra step and ignore British actors. See? This is kinda part of the problem.

The other part of the problem, as mentioned above, is the attitude towards her. It doesn't affect me. Well, not directly, no. Chances are you'll never be in the same room as her, let alone meet her. Even then her sexuality is irrelevant. But it *does* affect her, and by saying it doesn't matter, you're hand-waving it and dismissing it as a triviality. Hollywood has very little 'true' QUILTBAG representation in its top stars, and a gay actor or actress may very well be seen as less desirable to cast than a straight one - yet at the same time a gay actor or actress may very well end up as typecast. I don't think it's so much a Gay People Playing Straights or Straights Playing Gays (though the latter is something Hollywood - and the media in general - could perhaps look to address) issue, but the casting of QUILTBAG actors does seem to be limited.

Another benefit of Ellen Page's coming out is just the fact she's a visible role model now, but also a voice of QUILTBAG people in the public eye. It's important to younger people (in particular) to see people of different groups - not only to provide a good range of experiences, but it gives QUILTBAG children and teens someone to look up to, to point to and say "They're like me". It's similar to the famous quote from Whoopi Goldberg about seeing Uhura from the original Star Trek, how that single woman changed the lives of countless young black girls by showing them that they too can be intelligent, confident, etc., etc. It's hard to explain to those who are straight and/or white, because that's the overwhelming majority from the media. It's Men & Women, not Men & Men or Women & Women except for specific shows.

I guess I lost track a little bit, but what I really what to say is that Ellen Page should be applauded and supported in her coming out, and I know I have gained even more respect for her for doing so, but also that whilst it may not affect your day-to-day life specifically, it is something that *does* matter, and for many reasons. As said in a tweet that appeared in my feed whilst writing this - her coming out matters to the many QUILTBAG people who live closeted and in fear of not just what they are, but also how people - and society - will react to them.

So yes, it does matter. It matters a lot.

Friday, February 7, 2014

OPINION: On Passing The Buck (*Updated: 7/7 4:50pm*)

UPDATE: I would just like to point out that myself and the blogger in question have discussed this and I think it's - as I perhaps thought after writing this - a case of working at cross-purposes to the same end. The post in question (and my comment deleted) was edited in response to my post, and a lot of the tone/comments were made in response to something that wasn't put into context. I will still leave my post up, because whilst the context has changed, one could argue it's a piece that shows how important making sure the context is there is. I'd like to publicly offer my apologies to Sarah at Bookworm Blues if I've implied she has unsavoury beliefs or thoughts, and for assuming the worst.

Last night a post by an established and well-respected blogger, Bookworm Blues, appeared in my feed, with a topic related to the recent discussions on gender within genre works. I decided to check it out because, hey, you never know, someone might actually talk about things other than Men and Women, or at least raise awareness of other genders/trans* identities. Yeah. I was disappointed, but also outraged. And in a late-night fit of anger, I left a comment. Woke up, the comment had gone and the post had been altered. A victory? No, not really. I'd been silenced, and it left the author to essentially claim to their followers they'd been the victim of an offensive comment.

Wow. Really? Is that what we're playing at? She Said, She Said? Just because you've got a group of people who will defend you without knowing what happened, and because you can present a one-sided view of affairs that don't *at all* say what you've done - after all, you've edited the post, they probably won't have seen the original - it's easy to put the other person into the shoes of 'bad guy'. Well, hey, I'm that bad guy, and I gotta say your shoes ain't so clean either.

I'm going to start out by quoting the content written by Bookworm Blues in its entire form from a Google cache of the post, taken from around 10:30pm GMT on Thurs 6th Feb. I have provided a link, but with all such things, the links tend to be very inconsistent and may not be around for long. I've taken out the quote from Kameron Hurley's AMA, and also the picture of the blogger 'cos there's no real need for it. Without further ado, here it is.
Hey guys, I want to break some important news to you.

I am a woman.

That’s me, looking like a female because I am one.

Astounding, right?

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way books became genderfied. Or something. I’m saying this because yesterday I received an email from someone who was talking about a book and said, “but you’d probably not enjoy it because you’re a woman.” The sad thing is, this isn’t even the twentieth letter or comment I’ve read that said something like that. Not even the thirtieth.

Generally speaking I don’t think people even realize how something like that comes across, but it really rubs me the wrong way and makes me ask a few important questions. Can woman write a masculine book and can a man write a feminine book? And just what the hell is the definition of a masculine a masculine and feminine book? Are there rules in place that authors and readers need to be aware of so they write and read only books that appeal to their gender? Does a female book have female parts? I don’t get it. Honestly, I wonder what these beliefs and viewpoints automatically make people infer about my reviewing.

I enjoy books for a lot of different reasons, but one of the primary reasons is because books don’t tell me what to enjoy or how to enjoy it. I can read whatever I want, and I can enjoy it to whatever level I desire. It doesn’t matter that I’m a woman. A book doesn’t do physical exam and refuse to open if my plumbing isn’t right. It doesn’t care.

I’m not sure why people apply these gender rules to books, because they don’t make any sense to me at all. Books transcend gender. I know some male reviewers who enjoy urban fantasy (a subgenre that is often referred to as a “chick” genre by lots of people) far more than I do (and I’m a “chick”). I tend to enjoy darker, bloodier, and grittier epics than a lot of men I know whom I review with. Does that mean I need gender identification therapy? Maybe I’m the outlier, but when I talk books with people, I don’t really care what gender the person is, as long as they have something to contribute to the conversation.

The thing that really gets me about these viewpoints is how absolutely limiting they are. If I only read books that were considered “girl books” then I’d be so stunted (that’s if anyone even agreed on a definition of what a “girl book” was). It’s not just limiting reading material that bothers me, though. That sort of segregation stunts on so many levels. However, It’s the fight that so many authors have to put up just to write the stories they want to tell without any assumptions from readers that gets me. Saying things like, “you probably wouldn’t like that book because you’re a girl” just continues the trend and feeds into the stereotypes, slamming readers and careers into cookie-cutter boxes without even realizing it.

Believe it or not, women can write gritty fantasy and SciFi. Women can also write male characters, fight scenes, and cursing. And on the flip side, all you need to do is talk to this guy to know that men can write some pretty touching, emotional books featuring female characters and steamy scenes. Maybe we all need gender identification therapy.

Books don’t depend on gender, and authors don’t check the Gender Rule Book before they set down to tell a story. There aren’t “Masculine Story” rules and “Feminine Story Rules” and the fact that some authors and readers out there think that stories are “masculine” and “feminine” actually kind of insults me. That sort of lingo puts rules and stipulations on something that I enjoy purely because it has no real rules. I do not go to a separate section of the library to pick my books out. Are authors like Stina Leicht, Janny Wurts, and Teresa Frohock doing it wrong because they write vibrant, well-developed male characters? Should we send them all a letter saying, “Hey, I’m sorry but your dudes are too dude-ish and you are too woman-ish so you should probably stop now.”

My sarcasm aside, it’s rather humbling to see just how much female authors still have to battle in the genre. While it seems to me that sexism should be a nonissue – it seems so logical that gender just shouldn’t matter – it’s still very much an issue. As I touched on in Kameron Hurley’s AMA:
*Snipped Quote*
I think Hurley’s statement is probably true for a lot of women out there writing and enjoying the genre. Most women don’t dress like video game characters. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I automatically go to the romance section of the library, crave alpha males, and love to read about the woman who nurtures the lost and looks to fall in love. There’s nothing wrong with those stories, but I tend to prefer my literature a bit bloodier, and a whole lot darker. And that’s fine. Furthermore, the women authors out there can, and do, write just as well as any man – sometimes even better. The genre is alive and well purely because of diversity. Speculative fiction pushes boundaries and questions the norm. It demands that its readers do the same, so why are so many of us so hooked on these old gender ideals? And has anyone stopped and thought about the effects of these gender-centric viewpoints on authors, readers, and even society?

I want my daughter to go to the library and pick up any book she wants – a book about trucks or a book about dolls. I don’t care. I just want her to read and love reading. I never want her to read what girls are “supposed” to read. I never, ever, want that thought to enter her head. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but when I’m told that I won’t like a book because I’m a woman, or hear that women can’t write masculine stories, I start wondering if my dream of a gender-less library is too far fetched. What are we doing to ourselves?

To summarize this rambling diatribe:
  1. I can read whatever the hell I want, and I can enjoy it however I so choose.
  2. Authors can write whatever the hell they want, however the hell they want to write it.
  3. So can you.
    1. Regardless of your plumbing.
So yes. I think there are some good points there. I think it's true there's no such thing in a real sense as a Masculine or a Feminine book, because books can be read by everyone, and there's no inherent quality that defines what is or isn't one. Modesitt writes books where his protagonists fall in love - is that something feminine? Not really. I mean we do certainly segregate books in subtle ways - okay, much less subtle if we're talking about romantic or children's fiction - but largely it's a pointless way to describe the content of a book, especially when there's better ways around. We have action books, we have military books, we have cooking books, we've got romance books. Not one of those qualities belongs to Masculinity or Femininity. Women play sports and fight (action), women are in the military (uh, military), men are often the top chefs (cooking) and men try to 'woo' a romantic partner (romance). Books also don't question what you are before you open them, so there's no way to really say This Is For X or These Are For Y.

Anyway. The problems lie in the details of this post, and there's quite a few problems I had. Let's start from the top and work down. Firstly, we have the line "That’s me, looking like a female because I am one." - Well, what to say? You identify as female, therefore you must look like one? A bit nit-picky, sure, but I think this straight away gives a hint that just maybe the author doesn't understand the difference between gender and sex.

Secondly, "Does a female book have female parts?" Well, considering a book is sexless, no. But it's again a mixture of gender and sex. Feminine and Masculine are traits we attach to personalities and behaviour. You can have a masculine woman, and a feminine man. A masculine woman may have 'female parts' (i.e. a vagina), and a feminine man a penis, but their sex organs are irrelevant to the traits of their behaviour. A feminine woman might very well have a penis, okay?

Of course, so far it's taking lines and making them more abstract, but I feel there's at least some misunderstanding of the differences between gender, sex, and how masculinity/femininity tie into that. Let me just expand on that last point. Masculinity and Femininity are two words we use to group together attributes and traits we see in human behaviour, generally linked to the roles we expect men and women to play in society. We see bold, brash, aggressive, war-like, active and even scholarly interests as being terms we associate with masculinity. In the past men were expected to embody masculine traits - they were dominant, they were serious and so on. On the flip side, we see femininity as encompassing things that are more delicate or practical with relation to the house - cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, decorating (e.g. cakes), emotions (especially sadder ones). Of course there were traits that fall into neither category (such as randomness in one's behaviour), and they still largely seem to be outside of these categories. Either way it's an outdated concept, but one that still has a large part to play in our society, and yes - even in our fiction.

We then come to this: "It doesn’t matter that I’m a woman. A book doesn’t do physical exam and refuse to open if my plumbing isn’t right." and I believe it's still in the edited post. Right, so firstly we have - again - the conflation of gender and sex. There is no right plumbing for a gender except for what society defines. A woman can be a woman with a penis, a man a man with a vagina. Society tells us this is not right, but society's a bag of issues all on its own. A book doesn't care what gender you identify as, no, nor what sex you are, but your readers do care if you start implying women can only have vaginas, or if gender and sex are two inseparable ideas.

It moves on and there's a good point about books 'transcending' gender... in the sense that some men like urban fantasy more than the blogger (maybe this is because Urban Fantasy =/= Paranormal Romance, two very close and similarly-marketed genres, and UF includes popular authors like Jim Butcher and, I believe, Kevin Hearne, whereas the Harris' and the Carrigers and so-on are all more PNR), and I think it's certainly true a male-identified person could pick up a very woman-centric book as Rachel Pollack's Godmother Night and enjoy it, but I think that's less transcending gender and more... just being a good book. Transcending marketing might be a better way of putting it. But then we hit this absolute stunner. "I tend to enjoy darker, bloodier, and grittier epics than a lot of men I know whom I review with. Does that mean I need gender identification therapy?"




Just no. No. No. No. No. No. Just no. They did not need to bring trans* topics into this, and they certainly did not need to do that again later on in the post. It's not even funny. THIS is the core of what pissed me off, and caused me to leave the comment, and I'm pretty sure this is what most of the defenders did not see. Gender identity dysphoria is no laughing matter, and considering the clumsy approach to gender/sex earlier in the post, this just hit like a hammer blow. There was no need to bring it up, and it's such a trivialising point.

The blogger in question seemed to assume I was offended. I wasn't so much offended as angry. Carelessness and comments born of ignorance can be hurtful, but there was utterly no need to bring issues like gender identity dysphoria into this and then trivialise it as the butt of some terrible joke. We've had that Baen author and his friends jump on us recently, to start with, and many of these gender posts we've seen since that incident a few weeks ago have largely ignored trans* people, we've had this week Piers Morgan acting like an even bigger arsehole than usual to a transperson and then spouting transmisogynistic bullshit when called out, and in general we're spat down upon by those with identities that match their birth sexes (i.e. 'cisgendered' people), and even at times the gay and lesbian communities. 

Look. I am female but I don't look like one. I read "masculine" fiction as well as "feminine" fiction. I try to understand where these descriptions and traits come from, and I accept they're still part of daily life. They are parts of life that negatively affect trans* people every day, from being publicly outed because they might look a bit "masculine", to being abused online with numerous slurs, through to actual violence. Disproportionately so. So really, what I'm saying is fine - I agree that we need to talk about gender in fiction, but also why the feminine/masculine divide is rather stupid. But what we don't need to do is try to define what a woman is, what her genitals may or may not be, and what we certainly don't need to do is trivialise the utter lack of real, genuine help that trans* people find when trying to get support from their doctors, friends, family, etc. by turning it into a repeated punchline. It's all too real.

So, Bookworm Blues - I am not going to stand here and let you imply I'm the bad guy here because I dared say I found what you said insensitive. I'm not going to let you implicate me on Twitter without even having the decency to call me out by name or let me defend myself. You made insensitive, hurtful comments in your post - intentional or otherwise - and by deleting my comment and those aspects of your post you may have repaired that... except you went and played the victim to your followers. There's two sides to every coin. Here's mine.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

OPINION: On Reacting To Controversies, etc.

So, once again, Twitter brought word of yet another author opening their mouth (or, more accurately, vomiting onto their keyboard) to alert the world to just how much of a bigoted, opinionated pillock they are. Both Justin Landon and Jim C. Hines have done excellent deconstructions of this utter rubbish. This is, sadly, nothing new. It did give me an idea for a blog post, however, and one I think I've perhaps touched on in the past - reacting to controversies, boycotts and so on.

The manly men of genre fiction being manly in a manly way.
Personally, when an author such as the one in question makes statements like that, I put them onto a mental list of authors to not buy, or even read. Or engage with on social media. Or anything. It's not a particularly long list, and I don't generally keep it in mind until one of the members of it pops up in my feed, when I'm shopping and so on. It's also quite fun to note that it is generally white males on that list, of a right-wing persuasion, and they also tend to write science-fiction. Yes, indeed, Larry Correia, Michael Z. Williamson (after his comment in support of Correia), John Ringo and Orson Scott Card - four white males from America with right-wing leanings who write sci-fi. Well, only fair to describe them in the same way they talk about people of other political stances, no?

One thing I look forward to with such situations are the posts from other bloggers, who invariably do excellent deconstructions. Justin Landon, mentioned above, is one I find tends to be on the front line with these things, calling attention via Twitter to get it out there whilst a more constructive, well-rounded post is formed. And it's important other bloggers - and indeed other authors - do this. We need to call out authors on their behaviour and hold them accountable for what they say - that is basically the point of free speech. You can say what you want, but you're never divorced from being held accountable for it.

On the other side of this, I would love to see publishers distance themselves from this. This is not the first time a notable author from the Baen stable has been involved in online controversy (one author in particular being a kind of meme amongst genre fans), and I'd like to see publishers take a more pro-active stance against being linked to this behaviour. It does come with the potential of politicising publishing houses, but we already have that in a more general sense, and I do believe that publishers are responsible on some level for their authors - just as a business is responsible for its workers, or even its contractors (which is arguably a more accurate description of the author/publisher relationship). If publishers don't distance themselves from this, or even acknowledge it, it can be potentially taken as a sign that they either agree with it or at least condone these kinds of attacks, but also it affects their image - would you want your publisher to be thought of as the home of ultra- views? Or would you want your publisher to be thought of as the home of good books? The latter, obviously.

However, I think it's important to distinguish between authors who are utter voids and those who are just not to your taste. I would not list Gail Carriger and Philippa Ballentine alongside Orson Scott Card in any capacity except for "Authors I Will Not Buy Or Read", and this is for a good reason - my reasons for not buying their books are different. Both authors wrote things I didn't like and reacted strongly to, but I do not necessarily view them as bad people. OSC, however, probably hasn't written much I would react against (exempting Hamlet's Father, which alone gets him a boycott from me), but I do view him as a bad person, ergo he doesn't get my money either.

And then you get such brilliant things as Mike Shepherd's upcoming novel (he is also published as Mike Moscoe, and under both names is well-known for his military sci-fi relating to the Longknife family), Vicky Peterwald: Target, which has this lovely cover:

And an even lovelier blurb, with the most positive bits of it thoughtfully highlighted by yours truly:
BEAUTY AND THE BATTLEFIELD Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Victoria Maria Teresa Inez Smythe-Peterwald, daughter of wealth and power, was raised to do little except be attractive and marry well. Then everything changed--her brother, her father's favorite and the heir apparent, was killed in battle by Lieutenant Kris Longknife, daughter of the Peterwald's longtime enemies. Vicky vowed revenge, but her skill set was more suitable for seduction than assassination, and she failed. Angry and disappointed, her father decided she needed military training and forced her to join the Navy. Now Ensign Vicky Peterwald is part of a whole new world, where use of her ample charms will not lead to advancement. But her father is the Emperor, and what he wants he gets. What he wants is for Vicky to learn to be efficiently ruthless and deadly. Though the lessons are hard learned, Vicky masters them--with help from an unexpected source: Kris Longknife.
So, essentially, this book is Redhead With Giant Knockers In Space. Lovely. But how do you react to that? I enjoyed what little I've read of Kris Longknife so far, but the second one goes a bit strange, with Kris essentially dressing as a sex worker as a disguise, not to mention semi-frequent references to her breasts (or lack thereof), and an admittedly humorous (but pointless) inclusion of bulletproof knickers. How do you react to it? I think I've done all I can, and that's just walk away. It doesn't sound, to me, particularly respectful or even tasteful, and I can just about imagine how it's going to work out.

Of course, I'm just as guilty as consuming and buying content I sometimes find distasteful. I don't deny that I've found aspects of the Harry Potter books or the Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington novels to be problematic - even just wrong - yet I stick with them out of determination and frustration. Is that hypocrisy? I reckon so, but at the same time you cannot dig yourself into a hole and only read things that are - to you - saccharine and safe and clean. Whether that means you only read male-only military science fiction that's surprisingly free of homosexuality, or you read only the most diverse books, if you limit yourself then you do yourself a disservice. I don't boycott David Weber. I don't even avoid his works. Why? Because I think there's something to enjoy there, and just because he's a Christian, white, straight male, it doesn't mean I cannot enjoy his works (or L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s, for the sake of including an author I read a fair bit of). And whilst I might disagree with some things Modesitt says on his blog, I don't think he's said or done anything worthy of boycotting him (yet), which is arguably offset - in my opinion - by the content of his books.

And that's the crux of the matter, to me. Whilst it should mostly be about the books, you cannot deny that the author is a part of that, and why would you want to support or read an author who so freely attacks other people, or says representation is wrong or not important? There's a difference between supporting someone who you disagree with and supporting someone you find to be actively repulsive, who spreads hate and/or surrounds themselves by an unquestioning group of people. I support Modesitt because he tells us to think for ourselves, I don't support Card because he tells others that they should be locked up for their way of life. It's about taking the information that is publicly available and verifiable and drawing your conclusions. It's about taking that, looking at it, analysing it, comparing it to your own opinions, and deciding whether you feel you can support that or not.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Harry Potter Reading Challenge #5 - The Order of the Phoenix

And here we are. The longest of the Harry Potter books, and the book I stalled on all those years ago. It starts almost as soon as the fourth book has finished, and whilst it takes place over the same length of time as the rest of the series (i.e. a school year), it's almost four times the length of the first book, and boy - does it feel it! Of course, it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead.

It didn't take long for me to work out why I stalled on this entry. Harry Potter starts off angsty. He continues to be angsty. And then continues some more. We have pages dedicated to Harry helping clean a house. We have pages dedicated to Harry having a whinge and a shout and almost a cry. We have... Eugh. Really. It's basically Harry Has a Bad Day And Cannot Deal With It, and he has the same fault he did for a part of The Goblet of Fire in that he cannot get over his damn pride. Add into this hefty doses of jealousy, feelings of abandonment, teenage angst and so on, and you just end up with something that represents an attempt by Neville Longbottom in potions class.

The book mostly isn't that exciting, and aside from a certain new character, I find very little to like here. It's very formulaic. I felt like the same few actions were being repeated, just in different places and with slightly different outcomes. Harry becomes very insular and self-centered, and it quickly becomes insufferable. Ron also seems to lose some of his charm, and Hermione seems to do almost a three-sixty and end up as stuffy and bossy as she did in the first book. It becomes very hard to care about the main three characters - which is a major issue when they're the protagonists - because they get divided. It's kind of like Rowling took something she said from the last book (and repeats a few times in this one), and sledge-hammered it in. The personality changes are so quick it's surprising the characters don't have whiplash.

It's understandable that the characters would change after the traumatic events of the fourth book - especially Harry - but never is it said to be due to those events, more the situation after. I find this quite problematic because I think Harry should have been put in a position to deal with the events of the last book, and whilst a lot of his frustration is understandable, Rowling never really gives us any reason or way to sympathise - or even empathise - with him. This is not aided by a lot of it just not being mentioned - I found Cedric really only came up in extreme cases, whereas I - personally - think that Cedric's death would have been the most traumatic of Harry's experiences.

I'm not sure Rowling even improved that much. We see her clumsy descriptions continue, with Angelina again having her race mentioned - she's re-introduced as "a tall black girl" at one point - whilst Cho Chang (the most obvious example of a non-white character), nor most of Harry's fellow students, being described in such a manner. It seems odd that Rowling persists in pointing this out for the one or two characters she describes as black, whilst the other non-white characters aren't described in similar ways. Heck, they're not even really described. I don't know if it's just an attempt to show there is diversity at Hogwarts, but it comes across as a little odd.

And yet... the last third of the book - whilst not excellent - does finally pick up. Neville comes into his own, Ginny gets a little more agency, Ron and Hermione take less of the brunt of the story but are still important and do interesting things, and we have a new character called Luna Lovegood (she's in the book for maybe 500 pages) and I have to say she instantly became my new favourite character in the series. It really does speed up towards the end, and the last third of the book flies past, in stark contrast to the sluggish, bloated first two-thirds.

We interrupt this review for Luna's hat from the film (it's also in the book), so y'know.
I found the final talk between Dumbledore and Harry both interesting and frustrating to read, at least to start with, but it felt like a good way to transition the story into what it will become in the final two volumes, and it explains various plot points rather clearly and sensibly - although one of them (Harry not being a prefect) seemed to be more a vague attempt to reason something that didn't need reasoning. There's a hundred thousand reasons why Harry could or should not be a prefect, and the explanation we have is... a little weak. It works, but I think it was more Dumbledore trying to be nice rather than a genuine explanation.

Summary: I really don't have much love for this entry in the series. The final third is good but does not, in any way shape or form, redeem the weak showing that is the first two-thirds. I'd rather just read a bullet-point summary of the first 500 or so pages and then top it off with the rest of the book - it'd be a lot simpler and get across the vast majority of the same information without the frustration. Whilst characters like Luna are good and a refreshing addition to the cast, and although characters like Neville finally and wholly break-free of their status as comic relief, it cannot be denied that The Order of the Phoenix is almost self-indulgent, longer and more drawn-out than it ever needed to be. Gone is Rowling's short, sharp, waste-no-time prose from the first book, instead we have a focus on repetition and stating-the-obvious.
Favourite Moment: Basically any with Luna Lovegood, but I'd possibly have to go for her final moment where she's talking with Harry. Such a great look into her character, but also how others treat her.

Least Favourite Moment: Pretty much anything involving Harry shouting or Professor Umbridge.

Improvements From Earlier Book(s): Most of Neville's scenes, the fact Luna exists, more development for Ginny, and (eventually) a decent, firm set-up for the last two books.