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Book Review: The Department of Magic by Rod Kierkegaard, Jr.

June 30, 2012 4 comments

Image of woman holding a cross-bow.Summary:
Di Angelo and Farah thought they were getting a typical, boring DC government job.  But it turns out they have been assigned to the Department of Magic, and whether they like it or not, their horogaunt boss is having them face down demons, shifters, and more in repeated robberies to gather the pieces of George Washington in the hopes to bring him back to life to fight off the ancient Mexican gods who were stirred out of slumber by all the talk of the ancient Mayan prophecy of the end of the world in 2012.

Review:
I have not hated a book this much since finishing Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift in February (review).  On the plus side, this means you all get to enjoy an angry Amanda take-down style review.  On the minus side, I had to suffer through this horrible thing.  But this is what book reviewers do.  We suffer through things and tell you about them so you don’t have to.

This book has a triple-whammy of awful.  It has so many grammar and spelling mistakes that I can’t believe it ever made it through an editor (oh but it did!).  The plot is confusing and ill-paced.  Finally, and most importantly, it is so prejudiced I had to double-check that this wasn’t a pen-name for Ann Coulter.  Too often I’ve made these assertions in the past but been unable to truly show them to you since it was a library book or some such.  Enter: the kindle.  But first let me quickly explain the plot/structure/pacing issues.

So Farah and Di Angelo aka Rocky are hired by this mysterious department in the US government.  There is a lot that makes zero sense about the department.  First, it appears to only consist of Rocky, Farah, and their boss Crawley (a horogaunt).  Anyone who has worked in the US government *raises hand* knows that they do not underhire. They overhire.  So this just makes the author look like he knows nothing about government.

Throughout the book, Farah and Rocky have this problem of carrying out covert operations for the department and almost getting arrested and wanted for murder and blah blah blah.  Um, excuse me. This is the motherfuckin government.  If they want George Washington’s sword they “borrow” it.  If they can’t “borrow” it, they send in government agents and protect them from prosecution because, I reiterate, this is the motherfuckin government.  A department that supposedly exists to keep America aligned with the goddess America and protected from demons and vampires and what-have-you that no one else knows about would probably be a Big Deal on the inside. So this plot point makes no sense.

Then there’s the pacing issues.  The pacing goes up and down and up and down and the reader keeps prepping for a climax only to get none.  I think you see the analogy I am going for here. And it sucks.

Moving right along, let’s get to just a few of the more egregious grammar, spelling, and other writing I caught in this *laughs hysterically* edited book.

rung off. (location 385)

Americans hang up. No one in this book is British. The narrator is not British. This is stupid.

He could feel her hot breath, fetid as a zoo animal’s gorged on fresh meat. (location 752)

This is a bad analogy, as any high school student can tell you, because the vast majority of people don’t KNOW what a zoo animal’s breath smells like.  An analogy is supposed to help a reader connect an unknown thing to a known thing.

Kabbala (location 858)

This is not how you spell Kabbalah.

Then she pulled both of their caps off and bit him on the mouth. (location 1889)

No, this is not a scene between one of our heroes and a demon. This is supposed to be Farah romantically kissing Rocky. Was that the image you got from that? Didn’t think so.

The most terrifying form devils or demons can take.  No one has lived to describe them. (location 1889)

This comes from the federal book on beasts and demons that our heroes read and start every chapter with an excerpt from. Question. If no one has ever lived to describe these demons then a) how do you know they exist and b) how the hell are you describing them in this book?!

Her face was beautiful, appearing radiantly soft-cheeked and virginal in one instant, a rotting grinning skull, a death-mask in the next. (location 3922)

If you are writing a sentence comparing something from one instant to the next, you can’t compare three things! Two. Two is your limit.

Ok, but obviously I wouldn’t hate a book this hard for bad plot and some (ok a lot of) writing problems.  I’d give advice and encouragement. The hating on the book comes from the prejudice hitting me left and right. It was like running the obstacle course in Wipe-Out!  I can’t and won’t support or recommend a book to someone else as not for me but maybe for them when it’s this painfully prejudiced throughout.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Look, hon, you know you’ve got zero will-power.  Honestly you’re like a lesbian.  You go out with this guy a couple times, you’ll move in together on your third date.  I see him all day, every day.  I don’t want him underfoot when I come home too.  Plus he’s too poor for you. (location 741)

Oh look! Homophobia!  The sad part is you can tell that Kierkegaard thinks he’s being funny when he’s just flat-out offensive.  To top off this delightful bit of dialogue, we’ve got classism.  And I feel I should mention the man they are talking about is an Iraq War vet.  But he’s poor. And clearly that is what matters in dating.  Homophobia is not quite this blatant throughout the rest of the book, although we do have a *delightful* scene in which Bobbi (a girl) shows up to seduce Rocky, who she thinks is gay, since Farah spread a rumor that Rocky is gay to keep her fiancee from being upset that she’s working with a man. Yeah. That happened.

There is more blatant classism, though.

Baltimore is the blue-collar ugly step-sister of the white-collar Washington DC metropolitan area. (location 1250)

Noooo, comparing hardworking people with blue collar jobs to the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella is not offensive at all.

*sighs*

Also, pretty much every demon “disguises” themself as a homeless person. This means almost every homeless person our heroes run into is a demon. Seriously.

And what about women?

The reason I’m so into Nineteenth Century romantic literature, I guess, is because I love anything that reminds me of growing up with my mom and my sisters and gets me inside women’s heads. (location 1214)

Yes! Let’s just go ahead and say that Jane fucking Austen represents every woman’s head everywhere in the 21st century. That’s just awesome.

Speaking of women, I will say this. Farah is the more talented of the duo in climbing, which is nice.  However, she and every other woman are presented as shallow and obsessed with fashion.  Also, a baby is born, and Farah turns overnight into a doting mother-figure when she was a sorority-sister type girl mere hours before.  Meanwhile, the actual mother fails at parenting, and the only explanation for this utter lack of ability with babies is that she is a vampire.

I’m not sure what the precise word is for it….xenophobia perhaps?  But Kierkegaard makes it abundantly clear that only Protestants have the whole religion thing right.

White or “good” magic, he told her, already had a name.  It was called “prayer.” And even prayer, unless directly addressed to God the Creator, is in essence a Luciferian transaction, because it relies on the intercession of intermediaries, such as saints or boddhis, and inevitably involved some sort of quid pro quo. (location 1545)

Speaking of religion, no hateful book would be complete without some anti-semitism tossed in there, would it?

Freemasons–A Lucifer-worshipping conspiracy cult dedicated to Zionist one-world government, heirs of the Christ-murdering Pharisees and the Knights Templar. (location 1596)

Christ. Murdering. Pharisees. He actually went there. And not only are they the Christ killers but! They also secretly run the world through a Satan-worshipping secret organization!

I would have thrown the book across the room at this point, but it was on my kindle, and I love my kindle.

And finally. To round it all out. We’ve got some good, old-fashioned American racism.

First we have the black man who spoke entirely normally until this sentence:

You got any questions you need to axe me, you know where I live. (location 1193)

Then we have the Asian-American man who can’t pronounce his own name:

There they consecutively picked up a squat red-faced Asian named Robert, which he pronounced as “Robot,” and a noisy and vituperative older black man in a water-sodden daishiki named Walkie-Talkie. (location 3225)

Beyond these blatant examples there’s the fact that every person of color is either actually a demon in disguise or working for the seedy underground of some sort of organization.  The exception to this is Farah, who is Lebanese-American, but Kierkegaard takes extreme care to point out that she is NOT Muslim. She’s one of the Christian Lebanese-Americans.  She also basically acts just like a white sorority girl but with an exotic look!!

See? See? I just. *sighs*  The only people who might not be horribly offended by this book are the type of people I don’t really want to recommend books to anyway, except to be like “Here, read this book that might make you realize what a douchebag you are being, like say some classics of black literature or books on how hard it is to be gay in an evangelical family or maybe read about the real history of the Bible.”  You see my point.

The only people who would enjoy this book are people who have this same prejudiced world-view against basically everyone who isn’t a white, straight, Protestant, American male. So, I guess, if that’s you, have at it?  But it’s riddled with spelling, grammar, and plot problems, so you won’t enjoy it anyway. So hah.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel (Series, #6)

Woman standing in cave looking out at scenery.Summary:
All of Ayla’s unique life situations–from being adopted by the Clan to living in a valley by herself to her long Journey with Jondalar–have been combining to make her into a great, powerful woman.  In this final entry in the Earth’s Children series we witness her transformation from Ayla to Zelandoni shaman of the Zelandonii.

Review:
As a fan of the Earth’s Children series since the age of 15, there is just no way I can review this epically disappointing, long-awaited finale to the series without spoilers.  So, be warned, this whole post is going to contain spoilers, because there is just no way I can possibly not talk about  everything that went horribly awry here.

First there is the incredibly huge issue of plot.  The book is divided into three sections.  The first section is entirely Ayla wandering around looking at caves with Zelandoni.  Which would be fine.  If the caves had anything particularly unique about them or anything exciting happened in the caves or if we weren’t told repeatedly “here’s a horse painting, here’s a cave lion painting, here are dots that mean something to the Zelandoni but I won’t ever tell you what they mean because where would the fun in that be?”  Oh sure, there are hints that something more exciting might happen, but nothing ever does.  It’s like Auel thought about putting action in, but then decided it’d be way easier to talk more about the badly painted and scratched in horses in these caves that for some reason the Zelandonii think are so incredibly sacred.  Oh yeah.  I remember why.  Because they’re supposedly the vagina of the Earth Mother.  Think about that for a second.  These people are worshiping in sacred vaginas.

Then we have the second section which mysteriously jumps forward four years in Ayla’s acolyte training because for some reason we couldn’t possibly be interested in that, oh no, there’s nothing interesting about ceremonies or studies.  Instead, we get to jump ahead four years and go on Ayla’s Donier tour.  Do you know what Ayla’s Donier tour is?  Going around Zelandonii territory to look at MORE CAVES.  This traveling could possibly be interesting.  We have foreshadowing multiple times that something bad is going to happen to Ayla, particularly that a band of evil bad rapist men are going to kidnap her and drag her off.  But no.  They grab her and Jondalar somehow miraculously goes from in front of the evil band of rapist men to behind them, breaks the leather-thong assisted choke-hold the dude has on Ayla, and saves her from them.  Then the Zelandoni beat them to death in an instance of mob justice.  Well.  At least something sort of happened?

The third section jumps ahead two more years (skipping almost all the rest of Ayla’s acolyte training) to yet another summer meeting, which Ayla has to come to part-way through because she had to stay back to complete her final assignment of training.  Ayla has a vision in a cave (oh, we’ll get to that in a minute) and then goes to the summer meeting where she walks in on Jondalar getting naked sexy head from the one woman in the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii immune to liking Ayla.  No, I am not joking.  Jondalar, the oh I am Ayla’s soulmate and we will be together forever and I love her so much has totally been cheating on her for almost the entire last two years of her acolyte training.  Because she was busy.  Because a man has needs.  Because the ho offered herself to him and why on earth would Jondalar say no?  I am not joking, that is the tone of the book in the whole revelation of cheating thing.  PLUS, the whole cave knew about it and hid it from Ayla to protect her feelings.  Ayla, naturally, knows jealousy is taboo in Zelandonii society, so instead of confronting the cheating bastard she first has sex at a Mother Ceremony (ahem, orgy) with the dude Jondalar hates most in the Ninth Cave, and then she decides life isn’t worth living and tries to kill herself with the Clan root.  This from a woman who has three horses, a wolf, and a freaking 6 year old daughter to look after.  The only thing that saves her, naturally, is Jondalar’s undying love.  It took all of my self-control not to throw my kindle across the room.  Well, and also my intense love for my kindle.

So for two-thirds of the book nothing really happens, and then in the last third our two heroes both turn into loathsome people.  Good. Times.

Ok, so, the plot takes a complete nose-dive off Niagara Falls without a barrel while holding your beloved kitten.  What about the supposedly key element of the book and series?  What world-changing thing does this special woman, this powerful shaman, bring about?  Allow me to quote the new verse of the Earth Mother’s Song that is revealed to Ayla at the climax:

Her last Gift, the Knowledge that man has his part.
His need must be spent before new life can start.
It honors the Mother when the couple is paired,
Because woman conceives when Pleasures are shared.
Earth’s Children were blessed.
The Mother could rest. (page 540)

Yes. That is right, people.  The reason for this woman existing is to reveal to these dim-wits that sex, not the Earth Mother mixing spirits, causes babies.  Allow me to repeat that.  Ayla’s big contribution to pre-historic society is to teach these people the birds and the bees.

I wish I could say it gets better from there, but it doesn’t.  First Ayla has to convince the other shamans (Zelandoni) that this is true.  They, naturally, don’t want to believe it.  The lead Zelandoni convinces them that they must tell the people in a huge ceremony, because this will be life-changing.  Then we have, quite possibly, the most eyeball-widening, face-palming, head:desk inducing passage I have ever read.  The ceremony, meetings, and Mother’s Celebration that go along with it.  I won’t put you through the pain of all of it, but allow me to show you a good sample.  The passage in which the lead Zelandoni explains what to call the men who are also parents:

He is a far-mother, a fa-ther. It was also chosen to indicate that while women are the Blessed of Doni, men may now think of themselves as the Favored of Doni. It is similar to ‘mother,’ but the fa sound was chosen to make it clear that it is a name for a man, just as ‘fa’lodge’ is the name for the men’s place. (page 676-7)

I just…..there are no words for the inanity of it all.

Then, of course, all the men overnight turn into possessive, abusive, over-aggressive douchebags since now they know that their sperm has magical powers.  The book ends with the very heavy-handed suggestion that this revelation is what caused the move from matriarchy to patriarchy.

Oh, but it gets better.  To put one final touch of absurdity on the whole thing, we also finally get to find out what happened to the Neanderthals (Clan).  Ayla still has the black stone that contains a piece of every Clan member’s spirit in it from when she was a medicine woman for them.  A vision reveals to her that when Broud cast her out with the death curse, she forgot to leave the stone behind and thus caused the death of the entire Clan.  Yeah. Really. That’s what happens.  All of this build-up, and we find out that Ayla reveals the birds and the bees, kills matriarchy, and kills the Neanderthals.  What. The. Fuck.

As if the meandering plot and completely inane and horrifying huge reveals weren’t bad enough, something happened to Auel’s writing style.  I like to call it “let me give everything really long names and repeat myself a lot”  Just one example of the plethora of overly long names is “Zelandoni Who Was First Among Those Who Served The Great Earth Mother.”  That would be less painful, maybe, if Auel didn’t also repeat herself all the time.  Almost every time the lead Zelandoni shows up, we are reminded that she is a very large woman.  Almost every time Ayla speaks, someone notices her foreign accent.  Almost every time someone sees Jonayla (kill me now with that name), someone notices that she has Jondalar’s eyes.  Enough already!  We know! Stop telling us!

Between the meandering plot, completely what the fuck ending, and simply bad writing, I can’t recommend this book to anyone.  My best advice to fans of the series, or those interested in it, is to pretend that it ends with The Mammoth Hunters and Jondalar riding off into the sunset with Ayla.  Just pretend it stops there.  Ignore his people.  Ignore Ayla’s calling.  Ignore the Journey.  Just ignore the whole thing.  Take the characters and world back from Auel who completely mistreated them and let them exist in your mind the way they were at the end of The Mammoth Hunters.  Do not waste your time or hurt your brain reading this book. Just…..don’t.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of the Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone