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10/30/2005 Entry: "Janine Cross - TOUCHED BY VENOM - Ugh (Preeti)"

Touched by Venom

I hated TOUCHED BY VENOM, written by an apparently new fantasy author, Janine Cross. It was a relentlessly depressing, strange book. Here's what I remember from reading it two weeks ago: young peasant girl in brutal ancient land has her situation go from bad to worse to awful over the course of several years. And then the book ends. I don't care to read any more in the saga and have never been more grateful for my poor long-term memory.


Zarq is the daughter of peasant potters. Her mother is descended from the reviled green-mottled aboriginal people who have been conquered by the invaders who now rule the land. The little I remember is that the land is politically organized around lords who own dragons. Women have few rights. I can't even remember why the dragons are a big deal, but they are. A brutal, patriarchal religious and political system revolves around these dragons (presented for most of the book as non-sentient.)

Zarq's father ends up being killed by aristocrats, her elder sister ends up a slave, and her mother slowly goes mad over the loss of her eldest daughter. She becomes obsessed with finding her, leading to more tragedy for Zarq, as she is driven from place to place, eventually ending up at a poor convent where old bull dragons are taken to live out the ends of their lives.

The injustice of the world Zarq lives in was just too maddening. In stories set in oppressive societies, heroes are usually underdogs for a little while and then they begin to triumph over evil, you know? Zarq pretty much stays oppressed and powerless throughout this novel. Any triumphing is being saved for sequels.

In fact the litany of bad things happening to Zarq was such that I laughed--laughter was surprised out of me--when the heroine's genitals are circumcised at the end of chapter 14. I had been thinking we'd already reached the nadir, you see, but no.

And this was before the scene when we discover the nuns at this convent mystically tripping on having the old bull dragons tongue-fuck them. No joke. This is the key to the future no less.

All this might have been palatable if the story was more...I don't know...Mary Sue-ish, in the way that Jacqueline Carey's (who gave a cover quote) or most fantasy novels are. But, no, this was a really earnest, depressing look at a repressive, unjust society where a litany of ugly things happen to people.

As I was reading TOUCHED BY VENOM, I kept being reminded of Jane Gaskell's trash-tastic Atlan saga that I read when I was a teen. That was a great series! I mean, that had incest, bestiality, corrupt priests, slavery, Atlantis, and only a million other crazy plot elements, but it was total guilty fun. TOUCHED BY VENOM, not so much. There are too many other good, escapist novels out there just waiting for me to read them to bother with more of this.--Preeti

--TOUCHED BY VENOM at Amazon (trade pb, Book 1 of the Dragon Temple Saga)

Replies: 2 Comments

I'm curious to read it, now, even though it sounds depressing and disturbing.

I love, love, love Jane Gaskell! Did Cija actually do it with her giant demonic Patagonian riding ostrich? Or did they just have kind of a Thing for each other? I can't remember.

Posted by Liz @ 11/12/2005 07:20 PM ET

I can't believe how much I must have forgotten about these books--ostriches, for example. They were wild, eye-opening books. Scenes with various bodily fluids are the ones that have stayed with me longest. You can do that with breast milk?, I remember pondering. OK, I must re-read these sometime soon.

Posted by Preeti @ 11/14/2005 03:38 PM ET

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