***Warning: Rape Reference***
I’m calling it quits on The Guardsman by P.J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton. There’s some reticence in this decision. I’m curious about where the story will go, but then again, I’m almost compulsively curious. I’ve read enough to know that if I keep reading, I’ll quickly reach the point where any enjoyment is gone; I’m merely reading to satisfy my curiosity. As I just went through that with Demon Drums, it’s time to move on.
As far as I can tell in my 75 pages, The Guardsman is about a imperial guard—and, essentially, godfather of an imperial child—being torn between his duty to an emperor and his realization that the growing rebellion is kind of right about the fact that the emperor is the worst. I’m sure the goddaughter comes in to play in this plot somehow. I didn’t make it that far.
The premise is meaty enough, but almost from the beginning the authors pushed me away. The first spice of tension in The Guardsman is the emperor arriving to the birth of his first-born and being outspokenly disappointed in his wife bearing him a daughter.
- This is the future. Presumably men in the future—much like men today—understand that women have no control over the sex of their children.
- The tragic birth of a daughter instead of a son thing is so lame, so over-done, even by the standards of 1988. This is sci-fi! If, for some reason, the emperor must be disappointed in his child, let it be for something unique. The possibilities are endless—a mutation, an ability, a lack of an imperial trait; why fall back on the boring trope of the spurned daughter?
It was a bad introduction. Then, before I could steady my thoughts and try to push on through, the empress spends a good paragraph—right after both giving birth and having her husband yell at her for squeezing out a baby of the wrong sex—contemplating how her Lionman Guard is still pretty damn attractive.
That’s a lot to swallow in the first three pages. Were it not for my desire to at leave give a serious try at reading 50 pages before conceding defeat, I’d have quit then.
My vain hope that perhaps The Guardsman would move past the lazy sexism of its opening premise was beyond naïve. Instead, there’s an implied rape scene between the emperor and a sentient collection of minerals and gemstones in the perfectly sensuous form of a humanoid woman, and then this gem:
[An attendant] rushed in, panting and perspiring heavily, extremely unpleasant on a girl of her tender age.
Let’s ignore the fact that the above sentence is woefully and obviously grammatically incorrect. In this scene, a low-level servant in the imperial household has lost someone, and will surely get beaten unless they can find their lost ward. Our protagonist, who knows this, is coolly, casually contemplating how unattractive this girl and/or young woman is because she’s sweating. And he’s not even human.
What the fuck?
To me, this is a bigger sin than the implied rape scene. We’re supposed to read into the rape scene that the emperor is bad. Our dashing, oh-so-muscley Lionman protagonist is benevolent and wise, and so focused on doing the right thing. His casual sexism will almost certainly go unchallenged by the narrative and most readers. He’s godfather to the emperor’s daughter! Unlike that mean old emperor, he nurtures her. He’s a Nice Lion™.
And, who knows, maybe he is. But he’s a Nice Lion™ with casually sexist thoughts, and just because he’s nice to some young women doesn’t mean that his occasional sexism gets a pass.
Strangely, strangely, oh-so strangely, I was still reading after all of this. While our Lionman Guard is the protagonist, there are several other POV characters, and I kind of wanted to see the intersection of rebellion and emperor.
I ploughed through the info-dump not-so carefully concealed as a puppet-show. I kept reading as our muscle-bound, muscular, hunk of a Lionman’s body was described repeatedly.
I choked a bit on all the lion references. I mean, they’re aliens, not actually lions. So even if humans dubbed them “Lionmen,” why would they refer to themselves by that name? Why does their language revolve around ‘meow’-like sounds? Why are their tribes called ‘prides,’ their hair ‘manes,’ their children ‘cubs?’
Whatever. I kept reading until not one, but two characters regarded themselves in a mirror, thus describing to the reader—in far too much detail—their physical appearance. In the 80s, perhaps that was a clever way to get a description across. But there’s no excuse for doing it twice. And the second time, the description was three-lines shy of filling an entire page. It’s page 75—I couldn’t care less about the physical appearance of this character.
I procrastinated for days on that one stupid paragraph. And then, when I finally psyched myself up to get it over with and move on, I had an epiphany. I might get another page or two of decent-enough story and writing, but it’d be followed by another thing that I’d need days to work myself up to read. And that pattern would continue, the hit-to-miss ratio slowly skewing towards ‘miss,’ until the end.
For once, I'll let my curiosity suffer and just call it quits.