Queen of Shadows (Shadow World #1) by Dianne Sylvan

Queen of Shadows - Dianne Sylvan
Trigger warning for discussion of gang rape, racism, and violent homophobia.

In a city known for it's musical talent, Miranda Grey is a rising star.  Each night when she gets on stage, she somehow manages to channel the emotions of the crowd into her performance. Some songs are so moving that people end up weeping and some so euphoric that the audience leaves in a state of complete ecstasy. As much as Miranda loves her time on stage, it comes with a personal cost. Miranda is slowly losing her grip. At the beginning the emotions of others only invade her mind when she is onstage but now, the only place where she can be safe is in her apartment and only after dulling her senses with booze. Now cut off from all of her friends, Miranda cannot even bear to make eye contact with someone lest she be shown their darkest secrets.

What Miranda doesn't know is that all of her troubles are about to change and that she is going to be challenged in a way she never imagined.  One faithful night, Miranda is attacked and gang raped. After she manages to fight off her attackers, the mysterious vampire prime David Solomon arrives and whisks her away for her own safety.  When Miranda awakes, she learns that a shadow world of vampires exists and that in order to survive, she has to learn to control her gift.  The task seems insurmountable and made even more so by the prophecy of her death and a looming vampire rebellion. Can Miranda fight off her demons, her awakening attraction to David and somehow survive?

This series was recommended to us in 2014 and it is absolutely the worst book that I have read all year.  The premise of someone being able to use emotion as a weapon is certainly unique; however, at least the vampire section of the story felt too similar to Chloe Neil's Chicagoland Vampires. The vampires are organized into territories and each territory has its Prime. The vampires must go through initiation to join each each territory and swear allegiance to their Prime. There isn't a general ruling body thus far but we very strongly pick up that something far older than vampires created a ruling structure.  I can live with the similarities to Neil's series, the majority of my problem with Queen of Shadows stems from its gratuitous rape, homophobia and racism.

As  aforementioned in the description of this book, Miranda is gang raped.  Absolutely nothing is left to the imagination.  Miranda's attacker even stands above her broken and bloodied body, masturbates and then ejaculates on her face. At first Miranda does not fight back believing that if she is compliant that her attackers will just go away and finally when it's clear that they plan to kill her, Miranda uses her power to turn the emotions of their victims on them.  This is a fitting end to these rapists.  The problem however is the suggestion throughout the book that if one does not fight back during an assault then one remains a victim.  People survive rape any way they can and there's no correct reaction to being violated.

"Had the other women begged? Yes, most of them had.  They hadn't fought, but they had appealed to hearts, that were little more than lumps of rotten wood.  Women always went for emotions.  Men went for fists.  That was how the world worked."

Clearly Sylvan has an extremely dichotomous view of gender, evidenced by the position that women are always the victims and men are always the oppressors.  Such a position ignores that intimate partner violence also happens in same sex relationship.  It also ignores that while women are overwhelming in the position of victim in this situation, it is not uniform and there are women who are abusive to their male partners.  Further, the problem of continually positioning women as victims absolutely negates the strength of women and the various ways we have learned to cope with the untenable. David taunts Miranda with remaining a victim when she has trouble learning how to cope with her powers.  For Sylvan, it's not enough to survive, one must absolutely fight

Miranda is plagued by her rape throughout the story. This is not something she can just get over except of course when it comes to David. Even the flashbacks of Miranda's gang rape are graphic with her remembering the sound of her attacker's zipper being lowered and being told, "You know, baby, you've got just about the sweetest little pussy I've ever fucked."  For some reason, with David, though she is initially scared, Miranda is able to overcome her fear of intimacy.  Miranda however is the only woman David actually allows to have affirmative consent.  He uses his power on those he chooses to bite and manipulates their sexual feelings.

"He drew Maria to the corner and pressed against her, feeling her small hands and long fingernails clench his upper arms.  She had no intention of saying no, but still, he turned so that if she wanted she could still get away, even as he took firmer hold of her mind and titled her chin back. " (Page 45-46)

David tells himself that he gives these women room to reject him but this is not possible given the effect his presence has on them. How exactly is David giving women a chance to consent to his sexual overtures?  It is sickening that he even congratulates himself for feeding from a lesbian instead of having sex with her (read: raping her) because of her sexual orientation. The women David does arose with the exception of Miranda are not interested in sex because of a place of agency and desire but because of David's manipulation of their minds and the use of his powers.  He's hardly any different than a serial rapist himself.

David also considers himself a champion of women. He is astute enough to refer to high heels as "patriarchal masochism" yet, cannot see that his own violation of women.

"He also had another image of her: so drunk her eyes rolled in her head, being held down and fucked by the group of frat boys he'd seen moving in on her. Maybe she would remember, maybe it would just be a haze of booze and Rohypnol, but in the morning she would wake up hung over with the vague feeling that someone had been cruel to her, and it would never occur to a poor immigrant girl to get the police involved over being treated like a gutter whore.   
He'd seen it a thousand times. They came to Texas for something better, and perhaps they found it - but the milk of human unkindness was as bitter in Austin as it was in Mexico". (page 45) 

Even as David saves this poor hapless woman from potentially a gruesome gang rape, he cannot connect his actions to a form of violation. The fact that he manipulates her arousal and then feeds on her also does not consider his victim's agency or right to consent and yet, as a reader we are meant to see David as somehow evolved when it comes to gender. In this scene, David is meant to be viewed as a hero for intervening in a gang rape even as he violates his victim.



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Source: http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2016/01/queen-of-shadows-shadow-world-1-by.html