Immortal Beloved

By Cate Tiernan [LibraryThingGoodreads]

Immortal Nastasya has been a party girl for over four centuries, numbing her feelings in an effort to forget the tragedies she’s seen – and caused – in an endless lifetime. But when she realizes the shallow callousness of her friends, she turns her back on them and seeks refuge at River’s Edge, a haven for immortals seeking to turn over a new leaf. There she struggles with her own fears and dark memories – not to mention her attraction to the handsomest, jerkiest immortal she’s ever met – and comes to terms with her birthright, her power, and herself.

I couldn’t discuss the biggest problem with the book without spoiling part of the end, so be warned: uncovered spoilers lie behind the cut.

I tried really, really hard to write a fair blurb for this book, because any attempt to summarize it makes it sound a lot stupider than it is. I actually put off reading it for months because the blurb on the back is so dreadful – and yet it’s completely accurate! There is almost no way to describe this book without making it sound like some kind of awful Twilight/Gossip Girl bastard child. And it’s actually pretty good!

To be fair, there is some stupid going on that can’t be avoided. The heroine’s name really is Nastasya – “Nasty” to her friends. (At least, that’s the name she’s currently going by; immortals tend to switch it up.) Her best friend’s name is Innocencio (“Incy” for short). Really. The love interest, described snarkily by Nastasya (and completely earnestly in the blurb, which was part of what made it look so awful) as a “Viking god,” is named Reyn. It’s all kind of overwrought and silly.

Worse, the book takes an awful lot of narrative shortcuts. It begins with Incy using magic to break a cabdriver’s spine, just because the cabbie was a jerk. Nastasya is horrified and runs off to, essentially, immortal rehab. The thing is, Nastasya comes off kind of…incredibly naïve and stupid for someone who’s been around 449 years, and been friends with this guy for a large portion of that. It’s not like she just met him. Yet suddenly this one action is, as the first line of the book tells us, causing her “whole world” to come “tumbling down.” She gradually comes to realize how awful her friends have always been, but we never find out why this one event changed everything for her.

Then, once she reaches River’s Edge, the plot pretty much…stops. She just goes through the rehab program. Everything else is learned via flashback, and super-accurate dreams and visions, both of the “flashback” and “see what other characters on the other side of the world are doing” varieties. Lazy, lazy plot structure. Give us a character, show us why we should care about her, show her fall from grace, and then you can show her painstakingly putting herself back together. The truth is that a redemption arc is really hard to do with the protagonist; that’s why we get them with characters like Darth Vader and Angel from the Buffyverse, who we already care about because of how they interact with the protagonist.

In keeping with the lazy plot structure is lazy character building. Nastasya herself is fine, but River’s Edge is inhabited by a parade of racial and cultural stereotypes. The Japanese man is tidy and quiet. The Italian man is flamboyant and expressive. The black woman is a “cheetah” and “incredibly vibrant, a hot-house flower.” The gay man is always “trim and dapper.” Yes, I’m glad to see minorities and a gay character in a YA novel. But I wish they got to do more than fill up the ranks (the major characters are all originally Western European, and Nastasya and Reyn in particularly are Scandinavian and thus super Aryan), and I wish the one or two character notes they each got didn’t derive so blatantly from accepted stereotypes.

All this, however, pales in the face of the biggest element of fail in the book: the rape apologia. See, it turns out that Reyn was part of a raiding party that killed Nastasya’s family, four hundred and fifty years ago. Their two families basically slaughtered each other; though neither Reyn nor Nastasya killed anyone, they were both left with identical scars. Some years later, Reyn – who had become a legendarily evil raider, the Butcher of Winter – came through the village where Nastasya was living, slaughtered most of it, almost killed her infant child (who died a few months later of disease), and almost raped her before being called away by his men. He has killed hundreds of people, and is accused of committing many rapes, which he does not deny.

Now, of course, he’s at River’s Edge trying to turn his life around, and has spent the past couple hundred years trying to not be evil. When she realizes who he is and what he’s done, Nastasya says she will never forgive him – but there’s an enormous physical attraction between them that leads to a couple of enthusiastic make out sessions, and by the end of the book she seems pretty willing to let bygones be bygones. And River, the book’s font of wisdom, tells her “how much worse it is for the people who actually committed such atrocities…As bad as it is to be a victim, and believe me, I know how bad it can be – the inescapable truth is that it’s even worse to be the perpetrator. To have to live with that…”

No.

No, no, no.

Do not ask me to feel sorry for rapists. Do not make apologies for them. Do not tell me how hard it is to be a rapist, and feel super-guilty about all your rapey ways. This sort of “he did bad stuff but now he feels really bad about it” thing worked for, say, Angel in Buffy (forgive my using the comparison again, but it’s relevant) because a) that wasn’t really him, and b) VAMPIRES AREN’T REAL. Rapists are real, and this plea to see things from the poor misunderstood rapists’ point of view instead of the victims’ is a pervasive and disgusting element of rape culture, and unacceptable in any form of media, let alone a book aimed at teenage girls.

By all means I should have disregarded Immortal Beloved as stupid, carelessly crafted, and offensive. But as I mentioned above, it’s actually…pretty good. The writing is incredibly compelling – I didn’t want to put it down. Nastasya is a quirky narrator, but in an enjoyable way, not a trying-too-hard way – she comes across as genuinely witty. Since the comparisons to Twilight were inevitable in my head, I loved that she was allowed to be the most interesting person in the book (unlike sad sack blank slate Bella Swan); she’s led a rich life full of interesting historical fiction from all over the world, and we get to see a lot of it. I also loved that she got to own her sexuality; she feels desire and is not chided for it by herself, the other characters, or the narrative. There is some very good stuff happening in this book.

In the end, Immortal Beloved is fairly difficult to grade, because I really enjoyed it and yet I had so many problems with it. I’d rate it a respectable four cupcakes, but the rape apologia really knocks it down to two cupcakes – and yet I’ll be picking up the next book in the trilogy. Hopefully it will be just as gripping and a lot less infuriating.

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