But I have been reading! Lots of things, in fact, and maybe someday I’ll finish a mini-review dump (tl;dr version: Sorcerer to the Crown is the best, and Borderline was really good, and you should all read them both), but today, I want to talk about this piece of shit!
There are only eight breeding female werecats left…I’ve had Stray on my shelf for like half a goddamn decade waiting to be read, but I still knew almost nothing about the series going in except that it had pretty covers, and was apparently popular enough to spawn like a bajillion sequels. Now, having given up exactly 163 pages in to the first book, I can’t help but wonder why NOBODY HAS EVER WARNED ME ABOUT HOW FUCK-OFF AWFUL THIS SERIES IS.
And I’m one of them.
I look like an all-American grad student. But I am a werecat, a shape-shifter, and I live in two worlds.
Despite reservations from my family and my Pride, I escaped the pressure to continue my species and carved out a normal life for myself. Until the night a Stray attacked.
I’d been warned about Strays — werecats without a Pride, constantly on the lookout for someone like me: attractive, female, and fertile. I fought him off, but then learned two of my fellow tabbies had disappeared.
This brush with danger was all my Pride needed to summon me back… for my own protection. Yeah, right. But I’m no meek kitty. I’ll take on whatever — and whoever — I have to in order to find my friends. Watch out, Strays — ’cause I got claws, and I’m not afraid to use them…
SERIOUSLY. HOW IS THIS BOOK NOT, LIKE, SAVE THE PEARLS-ESQUE INFAMOUS? This is some of the most racist-ass worldbuilding I’ve ever read!
I mean, okay, I didn’t think it was going to be great going in, cuz jfc look at that blurb, right? It’s like that one shitty Mercy Thompson plot thread turned into a series. And it doesn’t help that the book kicks off with your standard UF misogyny, with its Exceptional Female Protagonist who looks down on all things feminine/any other women who’re into that, and exerts her Keille Independence by just hitting all the people and things that make her angry, because that’s what Strong Female Characters do, I guess.
But I mean, it’s late ’00s werewolf crap, misogyny is basically a requirement. It’s obnoxious, but not much of a surprise. Although, I have seen this series being touted as ‘feminist’, and like, uhhhh no?
Ostensibly, Stray is ‘feminist’ because our lead, Faythe, lives and rebels against the most laughable and cartoonish of all werewolf – I mean wearcat – patriarchies, in which female werecats – called, I shit you not, fucking tabbies – are not only SUPER RARE, but also VITAL to the stability of werecat society…in that the men they choose as mates are the ones who become the Alphas and lead the Prides, make all the decisions, uphold the werecat Masquerade, etc, etc.
So you know, they’re a PRECIOUS COMMODITY, MAN, and tradition has kept them home, barefoot and pregnant, under the guise of keeping them safe from all those dirty “strays”, or Pride-less werecats who lurk in cities, looking for women-cats to rape.
Man, I thought I knew Cartoonishly Extreme World Rules Set Up to Make Bare-Minimum Female Agency Seem Revolutionary, but I did not truly know that thing I just said until I knew Stray.
Anyway, our protagonist Faythe – presumably pronounced “faith” and not rhymes-with-lathe – doesn’t want to deal with any of that shit. She, quite understandably, wants to live her own life and do her own thing and not spend all day every day locked away on a ranch, so she talks her father into letting her go to college, and then grad school, where she’s getting along fine until the plot sucks her back into Werecat Shenanigans.
So here’s the thing: the premise is utterly stacked in Lathe’s favor, in terms of reader sympathy. Her father, her love interests, her society, they are all just hands-down, balls-to-the-wall awful. They ignore her will and deny her agency, up to and including literally locking her up “for her own protection”, and it should be the easiest thing in the world for the book to make us sympathize with Faythe and want her to triumph.
The problem is that Faythe is just literally the worst. The worst. Look at this shit:
A step behind me, my roommate, Sammi, was ranting about the guest lecturer’s discriminatory view of women’s contributions to nineteenth-century literature. I’d been about to play devil’s advocate, just for the hell of it, when a shift in the evening breeze stopped me where I stood…
To think, my mother said I’d never find use for an English degree. Ha! I’d like to see her knock someone silly with an apron and a cookie press.
I frowned at him, picturing a throng of girls in matching pink T-shirts giggling as they vied for his attention. I could have told them they were wasting their time. Marc had no use for human women, especially silly, flirtatious trophy wives-in-training.
…Sammi was back from the library. She dumped her books on the counter in our tiny galley-style kitchen, already chattering about her latest misogynistic conspiracy theory. She hesitated when she saw Marc, and her words sputtered to a stop. It was kind of funny; I’d finally found something to shut her up. Too bad I couldn’t stick around and enjoy the silence.
She hugged me, her embrace bringing with it the scent of homemade cookies, with cinnamon and nutmeg. Who cooks with nutmeg in the middle of the summer? Only my pretty-kitty version of a mother, a remnant of the June Cleaver days of intact families and repressed emotions.
The queen was my favorite chess piece. Unlike the women I knew in real life, she was powerful.Ugh. No thanks.
Faythe is snotty and obnoxious, but she also gets hella gaslit by the people around her, especially her Obviously Endgame Love Interest/Alphadouche Sexual Assaulter Marc, so it just becomes this running contest of Who Do I Want to Die Least This Paragraph.
Anyway, feminism, right. It’s not like there isn’t potential – I mean, obviously, the world is literally set-up for it – but as executed, Stray has got the most Zach-Snyder’s-Suckerpunch-level misunderstanding of ‘feminism’. I mean for Jesus fucking Christs’ sake, you can’t exalt one kind of womanhood while you actively shit on all the others and call it “FEMINIST!!!”. This is BASIC SHIT, come on, people. And you ESPECIALLY can’t do that when that womanhood is being exalted specifically because it spurns all things ‘girly’ and classifies anything even remotely useful as ‘masculine’ things that men do, not girls, just men and one woman who is Not Like Other Them Other Women.
Exceptional Women, and female protagonists who insist they’re ‘just one of the guys’ – that shit isn’t feminist. It’s just internalized misogyny masquerading as empowerment.
And that’s ignoring the queer erasure built into the women-legitimize-Alphas system (never mentioned: even the possibility of lesbian werecats), and OH YEAH DID I MENTION THE RACISM?
So I thought it was weird when Faythe’s first-chapter attacker spoke to her exclusively in Spanish. And I thought it was gross when it was revealed that Obvious Endgame Love Interest Marc’s mother had been attacked, raped, and killed by a Hispanic werecat. But I thought, no way, that couldn’t possibly be, like, an intentional thing.
And then I read this:
Marc shook his head. “Danny knows all the other south-central Pride cats, if not by name, then by scent. He said this one had a foreign smell to him. Central, or maybe South American.” His eyes held mine captive, waiting for his meaning to sink in.There are no words for the fuckery that that excerpt contains, but a few thoughts:
My heart leapt from fear bordering on terror, as I thought of the stray on campus. He’s a jungle cat. And he’s collecting tabbies, but killing humans.
South American cats were an entirely different kind of animal. They formed no councils, acknowledged no political borders, and suffered no negotiations. With the Amazon rain forest at their disposal, the Prides in most of the southern hemisphere indulged their feline instinct at the expense of their humanity, meaning they lived more like actual jungle cats than like people, as if over the past few hundred years, the world had moved on without them. Their territorial boundaries were in a constant state of flux, swelling and shrinking with the slaughter of each Alpha and the rise of his successor.
The only rules jungle cats submitted to were the laws of nature, namely that you claim only that which you can defend. They fought to the death on a regular basis for the two things that mattered most to them: the right to control a territory and the right to sire another generation of savage monsters. It was a violent and chaotic existence, defined by a lack of stability and a short life expectancy.
Jungle cats were my secret fear, my version of the bogeyman in the closet. But unlike the bogeyman, they were very, very real.
– I love how thinly, but carefully coded that exposition is. “South American”, grouping by continent rather than nationality, race, or skin color. South American vs. North American, because it’s just a matter of continent, you know, definitely nothing to do with skin color or race. LOOK WE HAVE A BROWN MAN IN OUR PRIDE, HE’S EVEN THE LOVE INTEREST! WE ARE DEFINITELY NOT RACIST YOU GUYS.
– Look at how on the nose those descriptions are. Lathe is describing an entire content of people as animalistic, uncivilized, “savage monsters”, inherently less than their North American (white) counterparts. Those are shitty racist stereotypes used for hundreds of years to justify discrimination and actual real-world violence against people of color, and this series makes it CANON WORLD LORE.
– Like I can’t emphasize that enough, this is CANON WORLD LORE. In this world it is CANON that all South American werecats are “savage monsters”. That was a creative decision that somebody made, writing this book. And then somebody edited this book, and thought “Ah, cool, South American werecat rapists, sweet, looks like the only thing we need to change on this page is that misspelt word!” And then somebody published this book, in which all South American werecats are uncivilized jungle rapists. And then the series ran for FIVE MORE BOOKS, and apparently nobody gave two shits that this was a world in which all South American werecats are “savage monster” bogeyman rapists, because when I Googled “Stray Rachel Vincent “racist”” LITERALLY ALL I GOT WAS THE ONE STATUS UPDATE THAT I WROTE LIKE A WEEK AGO. WHAT THE FUCK? THIS BOOK HAS BEEN OUT FOR NINE YEARS, WHY HAS NOBODY TALKED ABOUT THIS???
– But hey, look at u, Shifters series, calling up that centuries-old “savage brown men gonna rape our pure white women” white paranoia to propel the plot in the very first book. I appreciate up-front racism, because at least this means that I don’t have to suffer through even one of pieces of shit before I get some SURPRISE! BROWN TERROR. Thank you, Stray, for wearing your shitty racism on your sleeve.
Kill it with fucking fire.
I was ready to DNF even before I hit the racism part, because it’s all just so fucking trite, you know? The rebel princess, the Alphadouche love interests (plural), the murder-of-the-week plot, the werewolf crap (search-and-replace “wolf” with “cat” and you have literally any other werewolf UF book), the pack politics, even the internalized misogyny is so goddamn been-there-done-that. There was no reason to keep going. I’ve read this book before, you’ve read my review of this book before, why draw it out, you know?
But after reading that? Not only am I done, I am fucking done. I don’t need this. You don’t need this. Literally nobody needs this. Fuck this series, fuck this book, it’s going in the garbage where it belongs.
ETA: I may have jumped ship, but you know who’s going down with it, completely of their own volition? Fangs for the Fantasy. Check out their review of Stray, and keep an eye on that space, because they’re in it for the long haul.