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Skye O'Malley - Bertrice Small **This review contains spoilers, but don’t let that turn you away. Really, I’m doing you a favor.**

I’ve generally thought of myself as a fan of drunk writing, but Skye O’Malley is solid proof that even the best ideas can go horribly wrong. What I’m saying is that there is no way most of this book wasn’t written in a creepy, drunk, sadistic binge. Until now, I have been reluctant to label the shelf of books I hate just "burn pile" because it seems so wrong to burn any books. This book has convinced me that burning books isn’t always so bad, so time to rename the ol’ shelf.

I’ll admit that part of my problem with this book is that I read the wrong sections. It was obvious from the start that I wasn’t going to read all of the pages of the book because no book this silly, I thought, should also be this long. I had two options: either read the dialog and rape scenes, which I believed made up the essence of the “story,” or read the detailed descriptions of every stick of furniture in every house, every stitch of clothing everyone wore, and the recipes to every item of food that everyone ate in this entire book. In retrospect, I’m not positive why reading the dialogue and rape scenes sounded like a good choice. We’ve got this whole fun, silly MST3K for books thing going on here, though, (Mystery Science GoodReads 3000?) and I thought if my only contribution was that the harshness of everyone’s black velvet bodices was softened by fragments of lace, it would take the fun out of the game. That was a major tactical blunder on my part. What I didn’t realize was that if you only read the dry clothes/furniture/food descriptions, this book would just be a fashion porno, like reading Vogue without pictures or Sophia Copella’s notes from the movie Marie Antoinette. Boring, maybe, but not rage-inducing offensive. The other road leads you to a child-rape scene that I HATE SO MUCH I can’t even find words to describe this total nausea I feel from it.

People say, you know, it doesn’t matter if authors put scenes in books that so violate the reader’s brain that the readers find it necessary to reach for bleach and a syringe. I might be paraphrasing, but I think that’s the idea. The argument goes something like, authors don’t necessarily want all the stuff they fantasize about to actually happen. I have two responses to that:

1. DUH! and

2. I don’t care if they want it to happen, I care that they want me to read about it happening. (okay, I also have a third thing:

3. I’m not talking about censorship, like there should be laws about what you can and can’t write, even though there are laws about that, and I’m basically in support of those laws. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment so far. I, too, am exercising my freedom of speech by just getting really, really angry by what I see as an author’s choice to create a totally sadistic fantasy world where she could torture women and children and then her choice to release it to the public so I would one day read it. You’d think there’d be some idiot things people wouldn’t do just because they didn’t want to do them, without even needing them to be against the law.)

There are some circumstances where I can see how it is necessary to write about really horrible things – to warn about holocausts, to show the danger of blind fear, things like that. The thing that really kills me about EVERYTHING in this book is that there is NOTHING redemptive or cautionary about the violence and disregard for humanity written in to it.

Authors are the gods of their own universes. No book represents complete reality, obviously, and so I hold authors responsible for the ways they create an altered reality. Regardless of Ms. Small’s intent, I’m going to proceed with the assumption that she’d like me to believe her characters and approach her story with a certain amount of credulousness. I’m trying to convey the thing that really gets me about this book. The woman created this little girl in order to display her in this totally inhuman way, and it served absolutely no narrative purpose other than sadistic voyeurism. As a reader, suspending my disbelief, this little girl existed to me on some level. And I contend that the worst part is that Small knew what she was doing. In this scene, as in the other scenes that she intends to be rape, she describes the victims with a cold accuracy that makes my skin crawl. Then, suddenly, back to fashion porn.

So that you don’t ever feel the need to read this book, I’m going to give you a summary of its major plot-points and overall message, and highlight a couple of moments that lived up to my MSGR3K hopes. I’ll go ahead and gloss over the more ABOMINABLE parts of the story.

This is a historical account of a legendary Irish witch who had a catfight with Queen Elizabeth I over a boy that neither of them wanted to have sex with, while Elizabeth was PMSing. The moral of the story is that the more husbands and children a woman has, the happier she will be, but the more political influence a woman has the more the entire world will suffer.

The witch carries her power in two small globes. Through these globes, she manages to destroy all men who come in contact with her. Her male counterpart is a sort of Goldilocks character, always finding women too sexy or not sexy enough, until he ultimately consolidates his power with the witch. The witch is educated in Ireland in incest and fancy clothes. She sends her first husband to an early grave by breaking his back. Then, she is able to focus her energies on the family piracy business.

Unfortunately for the witch, in a moment of plot-twisting, she is taken captive by other pirates, and winds up in Algiers with a tidy case of the amnesia. Luckily for her, the local Whoremaster falls under the spell of the small globes. After the narrator tells him that intelligent women are really rare and the witch is an intelligent woman, the Whoremaster marries her and makes her his business partner. She realizes how terrific it is to own brothels, and they walk around with some panthers on leashes. (There are so many reasons why the panthers on leashes thing is awesome, and not just because of what it says about strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities in pre-Elizabethan Algiers.) The Whoremaster, too, dies from the curse of the small globes, stabbed in the night by a catty whore who thinks he’s the witch. Oops.

The witch hightails it back to England, where the small globes bewitch her a third husband, a man with Shreck-green eyes and a phenomenally long tongue. They have some odd make-out sessions, one where they fence with their tongues (p. 203), and another where “]is mouth closed over hers, his tongue exploring the roof of her mouth, then flicking downward to tease at her sensitive breasts” (p. 291). Even this lizard man can’t escape the curse of the small globes, however. He contracts an X-Files type of illness, where they have to pull grey, alien mucus membranes out of his throat. His species could not survive on Earth for long. (Okay, I added the alien part, but only because it makes the story better.)

Then, there’s the consolidation of power with the Goldilocks dude, the catfight with Elizabeth, and an It’s-a-Wonderful-Life ending, where the witch tells us that having a bunch of men, who are totally your BFFs, is better than a bag of emeralds.

I haven’t touched on the swooning, matted chest hair, or the tear-away clothes everyone seems to be wearing throughout the book. It’s probably enough that you just know that they’re there, creating atmosphere. There’s really nothing left to say that hasn’t already been said by my esteemed MSGR3K colleagues. I’m only glad that I gave [b:Pleasuring the Pirate two stars, so that I can show that I like this book LESS. Oh, also, Historical Fiction, you and I have had a rocky past, but I didn’t expect this, even from you. Don’t try sending your spies later to talk me out of this pure hatred. You and I are through.