Monday, 30 May 2016

Review: Cursed Love by Catherine Mede

1 star

EDIT: I originally gave this 2 stars because I was trying not to be overly harsh, but bad representation is bad representation, and it was wrong of me to sugarcoat that to make myself more comfortable.

Going in, I wasn't sure where Cursed Love sat on scale from contemporary-with-mystic-elements to full-blown paranormal, given that there was only the vaguest mention of the paranormal in the blurb, but it's subtitled Aotearoa Paranormal Romance. To be honest, I still don't know how to characterise it, except to say that I wasn't a fan

The book opens in colonial New Zealand with the heroine's Pakeha ancestress, Esther, getting cursed by a Maori tohunga wahine for 'stealing' her man, so that henceforth her line will only breed females, and will never be able to hold onto love. When Esther asks her Maori husband what the hell just happened, he avoids answering by having sex with her. So, within the first few pages, we have the stereotype of the morally deficient and sexually dangerous 'Native' man, not the mention the exoticised spiritualism of the curse (which only gets worse as the book goes one, and gets weirdly mixed with Christian theology somewhere down the line). 

Anyway, forward to the present day. Jinny Richards has spent the last 18 years mourning her partner and unborn son as she built herself up from abandoned narcotic addict to successful insurance assessor. Now her company has parachuted Ethan Montgomery into town and they're meant to work together on a case of goods stolen from a company, run by her dead partner's brother. There's more there than meets the eye, and Jinny's growing feelings for Ethan has the potential to bring the curse down on them both. 

For the first third of the book, Ethan is a bit of a dick, and fully takes over the case that Jinny's meant to be leading. Then, the insta-love happens and his dickishness abates, leaving...nothing. Jinny's characterisation is slightly stronger. I liked her back story and her strength in the first half, but she too deteriorates, becoming weak and idiotic in the service of a overblown and convoluted plot. 

Jinny is one-sixteenth Maori, by my calculations, thanks to the Maori great-great-grandfather who brought about the curse. At one point, out of nowhere and vis-a-vis nothing, she proclaims:
"...yes, I can claim certain Maori rights, but I leave that for those less fortunate than myself."
Ethan praises her for her generosity, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. As much as it's extremely problematic to start making calls on who is or isn't part of a particular ethnic group, Jinny is never shown to have any connection to Maoritanga (Maori culture and tradition), to an iwi (tribe), hapu (subtribe) or whanau (extended family), although I suppose, if her ancestors also from modern-day Nelson, then her iwi would be Ngai Tahu. All she has is a pounamu necklace that holds that stupid curse. Nor is she subject to any of the discrimination or racism that comes with being identifiably Maori. Basically, her statement is the Kiwi version of "my great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess". Many fifth or sixth generation Pakeha New Zealanders have at least one Maori ancestor, usually a foremother, since there were not many Pakeha women in the days of the early colony. (It's odd - but I suppose not beyond belief - that Jinny's Pakeha great-great grandmother married a Maori man, given that there would have been many Pakeha men looking for wives, and - as always seems to be the way - intermarriage between white women and men of other races is far more frowned on than the reverse). 

Overall, I don't have much else positive to say about this book. I did like the New Zealand setting, but feel that this cannot be separated from the problematic representation. If it hadn't been for the setting, I might have given up, but, in the end, I'm just too greedy for Antipodean romances. 

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