107 – Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland

Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. Yeah, that’s right–the zombie mafia.

Throw in a secret lab and a lot of conspiracy, and Angel’s going to need all of her brainpower–and maybe a brain smoothie as well–in order to get through it without falling apart.
Oh my god you guys this was suuuuuuch a disappointment.

In case you weren’t aware, I loved the first book in this series, My Life as a White Trash Zombie. LOVED. It was my go-to recommendation; when anyone asked “Hey, know any good urban fantasy series?”, I immediately thrust this book into their hands and shouted “YES, WHITE TRASH ZOMBIE, I LOVE IT AND IT IS GOOD YOU SHOULD READ IT NOW AND THEN TELL ME WHEN YOU’RE DONE SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT IT.”

I started reading Even WTZ Get the Blues almost two years ago, but for some reason or another – scheduling, I think – I stopped like fifty pages. But last week, I had time to kill between reads and read-alongs, so I thought “FUCK IT, IMMA READ SOMETHING I KNOW’LL BE GOOD.”
Some of it might be me. My tastes have changed, clearly. I vaguely remember being unenthused by the writing last time around, but going back in this time I found it nearly unbearable. It’s written in that conversational style that operates linguistically like the narrator is aware of you, the reader, and is telling you the story, which I find disconcerting under the best of circumstances, but especially when it’s used in conjunction with a lot of general “telling”. There is a 100% absence of subtlety here, is what I’m saying. In almost every respect.

The book has Angel hand-holding the reader’s way through all sorts of basic-sounding concepts. More interactions than I can count go like this:

Other Character: Basic new concept/plot point/world-building idea.
Angel: Oh, so you mean – (repeats the exact same thing but in different colloquial terms)
YES THANK YOU ANGEL WE’VE GOT IT.

This happens in almost every conversation that introduces any kind of new idea, and I get it from the perspective of “Angel is supposed to be uneducated, to feel like she’s intellectually inferior, and everyone else is supposed to judge and underestimate her for this, so yeah, it has to seem like she’s not getting these explanations on the first go.” And that’s all good character stuff. But in practice, it feels less like it’s being done for Angel’s benefit, and more like it’s being done for ours. You know, in case the incredibly scientific explanations or the incredibly complicated plot points or the incredibly subtle social messages didn’t penetrate our thick skulls the first time someone explains them. That sort of thing gets old, fast.

I don’t know if this is a new thing for Blues, or if I just didn’t notice or care about it the first time, but either way, the result is that I’m just not as fond of Angel’s voice as I was in the first book. I still like her as a character, and I like a lot of what she does, and some of the things she says, but the overall tone of the book – the writing style, the humor, oh god, the humor – just didn’t work for me all that well.

Similarly, the plotting didn’t seem as tight this time around, either. Lots of disparate subplots that just happen to…come up at about the same time, and then prove integral to the back story of the main plot, which you find out across a handful of “AHA! I’ve put some of the pieces together, let me explain them” moments. I’m also starting to wonder about the limitations of involving Angel in these police-related mysteries when she’s not any sort of official investigator, because it’s only the second book, and the means by which Angel stayed involved with the investigation before the plot swung back around to pick her up are already starting to feel a little contrived.

So I mean, those are all things that anchored my squee balloon this time around, but they’re obviously incredibly subjective, and I’m willing to cop to some “It’s not you, it’s me” in that regard, because obviously my tastes have changed, right?

What I’m not willing to chalk up to “taste” is all of the goddamn girl hate in this book. What the hell, man? I come to WTZ to get my socially-aware UF fix, so why, oh why, is this book so hard on the bitches?

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT, YO


So aside from a few one-scene extras, we get two new, important female characters in this book. Both of them are Science Ladies (and those are my bro Shiori’s favs, so shame on you even more, Blues), and neither are given the opportunity to establish any kind of meaningful relationship with Angel. One of them – Doctor Charish – is a straight-up series villain, and the other – Sofia – has the misfortune to be Designated Love Interest Marcus’ close friend, which triggers Angel’s jealousy, and prevents them from making any kind of friendly connection before she’s fucking murdered.

I get Angel’s issues with Sofia, and I appreciate that the book isn’t completely harsh in its portrayal of her. It at least let Angel acknowledge that her perception of Sofia was skewed by jealousy and insecurity, and ultimately, Sofia shook out to be a really good fucking person. The problem is that by the time this shit is made clear to Angel, Sofia is dead and has been for days!

This whole plotline shits me for a couple of reasons, the first being that it’s such a waste of a potentially great character and relationship that Angel is sorely lacking. Her support system in the series so far is almost entirely male. Aside from that one character who gave her the “not every rape is physical” speech at the end of the last book (who is conspicuously absent here???) all of the characters who help and stand by Angel are dudes: Marcus, her father, Darryl, Ben, Ed, Nick, Dr. Leblanc, all bros. Where are all the ladies? Angel’s issues with Sofia wouldn’t stand out that much if she were one of like, seven other supportive women in her network, but she’s not, so the subplot is even more glaring.

Second, I hate that the tension between Sofia and Angel was at least 50% Marcus-related. It’s not enough that they couldn’t get along, they had to not get along over a dude. Why couldn’t we have just had the snobbery? Or if we had to do the jealousy over Marcus thing too, why couldn’t it just have been part of an arc where they both, y’know, SURVIVE and get over it and grow as characters and become BFFs so that we can get a Science Lady on the team and have ONE DECENT FEMALE RELATIONSHIP HERE???
brovaries And holy christ, Charish. Doctor Kristi Charish, Evil Science Lady MD, is a walking mishmash of terrible female villain stereotypes perpetuated uncritically. She’s ~cold~ and ~amoral~ and ~ambitious~ and ~manipulative~ and uses her ~sexuality~ to get what she wants, and you know what? I could be so in love with a character who had all of those traits and wasn’t shamed for it, but that is NOT what WTZ is about, thank you very much. According to WTZ, Charish is just an evil cold bitch bitchy bitch bitch and did I mention a bitch?

I’m not saying that Charish isn’t justifiably the bad guy here, or that she didn’t do evil things, but what I AM saying is that the animosity between Angel and Charish feels very gendered. It’s mostly the “bitch”es – Angel can’t bear to refer to Charish without mentioning bitch-something – but Cherish also needles Angel about her relationship with Marcus, and talks about wanting Angel to rot until her “tits fall off”, and it all feels very…”catty”. And you know what I could fuckin’ do without in female hero vs a female villain interactions? Cattiness. The sense that even if they weren’t enemies, they wouldn’t get along anyway, because women, amirite?

And again, this wouldn’t be AS big an issue if Charish were one of seven other women, some of whom were, say, also ambitious and/or sexual and/or cold, and still portrayed as awesome. But she’s not. Charish is one of two prominent female characters in this book, and both are handled poorly.

So yeah, there’s a bit of a women problem in WTZ, but it’s not just them. I ran in to a similar issue with the fates of the very limited number of PoC in this installment as well.

On the bright side – I guess? – there is one regular person of color in the cast: Angel’s boss, Darryl, who is a black man. But aside from him, there were three explicit men of color (zero women) in this installment: one (unnamed) villain, one young soldier (dead), and Angel’s parole officer, Garza (alive and generally decent). It’s a slightly better ratio than the (white) women have, but I was bothered by the scarcity of people of color in general, especially given such a large cast. Also, the soldier situation was straight-up fucked.

Basically, towards the end of the novel, Angel is held captive and ordered to create new zombies. She’s able to turn the first volunteer, a young white guy, with no problem, but the very next day, when they send in a sweet-faced young black kid? Guess who can’t get it up in time to save him.

There’s stuff about population control and how Angel’s zombie “parasite” knows not to make too many new zombies at once, but it really bugged me that she was able to save the white guy, who apparently goes on to be an important recurring character later, but the specifically-described-as-black guy who comes in like two seconds later gets one scene and then dies. Oh yeah, and then Angel smashes his skull up and eats his brains so that she can escape, LITERALLY using his body as a resource.

The whole ordeal felt weird and skeevy – I mean, why mention the soldiers’ races at all? – and was exacerbated by the sheer whiteness of the series so far. This is Louisiana! Where are all the PoC?

So yeah, Even WTZ Get the Blues wasn’t the 100% amazing home-run I remember the first book being. Even as far as like 3/4 of the way through, I was pretty down about the whole thing. BUT there are still things in there that I liked, and I did end up finishing the book with a smile, entirely because of Angel.

I do like Angel as a character. I love that she is allowed to be messy and graceless and occasionally awkward. Her reactions feel authentic, and she reads like a real person, with real flaws and feelings. I love that the entire motivation for her involvement in this book’s mystery wasn’t altruism or fate or romance, but professional and personal pride. I love that Angel’s number one motivation for most things in this series so far is taking care of and doing better for herself. The GED subplot in this book was A+, and I’d love to see Angel do more things like that.

Plot-wise, I love that even though almost nobody believed Angel when she told them about her experiences or hunches, she didn’t get down on herself or let anyone sideline her. It only motivated her to prove that she wasn’t lying. I think a lot of the reason the ending was so fun to read was because Angel was quite spectacularly vindicated, particularly with Marcus, who’d been a condescending, high-handed dick the whole book. I also love that she made it through the entire bloody, action-packed climax without relying on, or even anticipating, any dudes coming to her rescue. She was able to stay defiantly active in the plot, keep her pride intact, and come out on top, with a bunch of wonderfully cinematic “badass” moments under her belt.

Speaking of Marcus, I even enjoyed the romantic subplot. Well, “romantic” in quotation marks, because the “romance” here was essentially a (perfect) series of reality checks. Not only did Angel call out all of Marcus’ efforts to be a protective, for-your-own-good alpha-male asshole, but she also admitted that their relationship was mostly “like”, not “love”, yet. Ultimately it came back to Angel prioritizing her own self-development over her romantic development, and I have never wanted anything more from an urban fantasy heroine than that.
Marcus is still an undeserving tool, though, and I get the sense – though it may be wishful thinking – that he’s intentionally written as one so that Angel can justifiably break up with him later on.

Here’s hoping.
TL;DR: this book hit quite a few of my sweet spots, and I really wanted to love it as enthusiastically as I did the first one, but there were some mountainous obstacles in the way of that. Even putting writing issues aside, I’m really disappointed by the treatment of women, PoC, and the near-complete absence of LGBT characters, especially in a series that’s supposed to be on-mark, socially. Intersectionality! The WTZ series needs it, desperately.

three stars


 

8 Responses

  1. robinconnelly

    July 24, 2015 5:59 am, Reply

    I read all three books–I think there are more now–right after the other. The first book was fantastic. The second mediocre. The third….RUN. They get worse. So much randomness happens in book three. The main goal is to get her a better life, which, as you mentioned isn’t a bad thing. But almost everything that happens in the third book to get that better life is contrived. If you value your sanity, do not read book 3.

    • Cyna Cyna

      July 24, 2015 10:07 pm, Reply

      Yeahhhh that’s what Shiori tells me about book three. But I bought two and three together, so I’m sure I’ll read it at some point.

  2. Eliane

    July 24, 2015 1:59 pm, Reply

    I understand your point, and agree to some extent (English is not my first language, so style is unfortunately a bit lost on me). However, I would add only a small quote to the mix – because that’s actually those kind of lines that got me recommending these books around anyway. So SPOILER (I guess?) – from page 93, Angel talking to Marcus :« Just because my last relationship was shit doesn’t mean I don’t know what a good one should be like. » and so on…
    The series picks up a bit in the next book only to go down the drain in book #4 with the addition of an ever-annoying-super-rich-friend that for some reason buys her designer clothes (that’s super important for the plot, you see, and we so do want to read the description of them in every details because this is a gurl book rite? (not)).
    BUT! I would say the last two pages of book #4 just made it worth it – Angel’s character stays human, and retains the need to cope with the (increasingly) traumatic events she goes through.

    Don’t hope for too much diversity or female friendship though. Have a (semi and thankfully only implied and not acted upon) love triangle instead! Aren’t you happy?

    • Cyna Cyna

      July 24, 2015 10:10 pm, Reply

      Yeah I enjoyed the way that Angel handled Marcus and stands up for herself. That’s definitely the series’ strongest selling point.

      Oh no, now I’m getting mixed opinions about book three! So far it’s 2 to 1 worse to better. I’ll probably read it either way, lol

      Really disappointed to hear about the lack of women/poc/lgbt characters though. What a huge missed opportunity all over the place.

      I heard about the love triangle. Hrrrrrrrrrrrf.

      • Eliane

        July 25, 2015 1:51 am, Reply

        I guess my standards are really low when it comes to UF – and the fact that these book approach sexual violence, relationships and sex in a realistic and overall healthy way just earned them all the points they could get.

  3. Shiori

    July 26, 2015 11:31 am, Reply

    Listen to Robin’s wisdom, the third book is a POS (and the 4th continues in a similar fashion). The plot in #3 is borderline nonsensical and the only positive development is an improvement in the relationship Angel has with her father. The rest is an utter mess that does not improve on the series’ lack of diversity with regard to female, black or queer representation at all. And Marcus is still around. FUCK YOU, MARCUS. I loved the quote that Elaine mentioned above, where Angel solidly puts Marcus in his place — but she backtracks and still defends his fuckery in book 3 because reasons.

    Angel’s BITCH BITCH BITCH talk re: Charish continues in #3 btw. The Charish character really stopped by love affair with Rowland’s books because it was just so poisonous and negative. That and the consistent lack of key POC being anything other than the white girl’s cheer squad (or food supply) in the fucking south. Hahaha noooooope.

    Did I mention Angel is SPESHUL, Cyna? ARGH ROBIN NOW I WANT TO SPOIL HER TOO. SAVE HER FROM GOING DOWN THIS ROAD. THIS TERRIBLE ROAD. UGH. WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALL, ROWLAND. 🙁

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