Michele Hauf


Seraphim (2004)

Seraphim (2004)

Unfortunately, this book has annoyed me from the page one. The cover shows a woman with short cropped hair, dressed in armor. We can tell she's female, because the armor helpfully has breast bumps. The back blurb tells us that Seraphim is travelling as a man and a knight, to avenge the deaths of her family and friends. Yet the first ten pages were written with gender indeterminate language describing the dark knight. As if we'd be fooled into thinking that this knight was not female.

The problem is that first, in fantasy if you describe a character in that much detail, especially up close and personal, and don't use gender, that character is going to be a female. So, dead giveaway. Second, I found the description frustratingly clumsy. It's obvious that the author is trying to hide the gender of the character, rather than the viewer not being able to tell the gender of the main character.

The difference is that in one case the character is described from a far--you can't tell the gender of the main character, or you assume that the main character is male and are surprised (or not) to see that the character is actually a woman.

Additionally, I'm not fond of this as a plot device. If I'm going to read fantasy, then I may as well have gender equality as part of the fantasy.

Second, if you're trying to hide the gender of your character, then don't describe how the character is feeling or should be feeling. That just makes it obvious that you're hiding something. Here's the very first paragraph.

The black knight's sword-tip drags a narrow gutter in fresh-fallen snow. The tunic of mail chinks against outer protective plate armor. Footsteps are slow. It is a struggle, the short walk from horse to a wool blanket laid upon the snow.

It's the "footsteps are slow" that annoyed me the most. I really hate that sentence on so many levels.

It is difficult not to sway. The knight's legs feel cumbersome, leaden. Arms are weak from swinging the heavy battle sword. Though forged and designed especially for the bearer, the weapon had become a burden after what seemed hours of blindly swinging and connecting with steel plate armor, chain mail, and human flesh and bone. Though it could have been no more than a quarter of an hour from the time of entering the battle to the moment of success.

If we're close enough to know how the knight feels, then shouldn't we be close enough to know whether the knight is a boy or a girl?

Additionally, Seraph is described as beheading her enemy in a single stroke. With a sword. In combat. I'm sorry, but I find that really hard to believe. Maybe if it was an enchanted sword. But your average French sword--a sword that the main character is dragging in the mud and snow? No way.

And I realize that there probably wasn't a better way to do it, but "that bastard, Lucifer de Morte, the leader of the de Morte demons" made me stop cold. My high school and college French may be years behind me, but I still remember that "de" can translate as "of the" so I read "the leader of the of the Morte demons." If they were in France, wouldn't that have been simply "of the Morte demons"? But I'm willing to be proven wrong on that one.

So 45 pages in, I gave up. It will take a lot to get me to pick up this book for a second try.