and made me uncomfortable at several points.
THERE MAY BE SPOILERS - WORSE THERE MAY BE THINGS SAID WHICH SPOIL THE STORY - I WOULD SUGGEST READING IT FIRST AT
BUT BE AWARE IT INVOLVES PROBLEMATIC DEPICTION OF STATUTORY RAPE
Blood on Beacon Hill by Russell Nichols
The story opens in a court, with the son of a wealthy politically connected family on trial for statutory rape of the daughter of a wealthy politically connected family - the boy is black and the girl is white. Oh and the boy is a vampire born in 1899.
The problem with immortals sitting at the back of things, like the court, is that it's difficult to see why you'd want the potentially dangerous monster sitting behind you where you can't see it--
Sorry, I want to be detached and write a reasonable review and move on... but mostly I'm thinking that I really didn't need a black boy rapes white girl story in this SFF anthology.
This is what the story tries really hard to skirt and justify. A guy who may look 15 but is a hundred years older than that has sex with a 15 year old girl, and he knows that she is 15. He is powerless to resist her 15 year old self, even though he's a vampire, and can even fly, because of his teenage hormones and because he doesn't get sex very often being trapped in a 15 year old boy's body (are there no other vampires his age? or is there another reason he can't get a date? the prosecutor and I are both curious) The girl loses her virginity to him, possibly as part of a plot, but at the very least she is a cold calculating little underage betrayer who ends up getting him into court on rape charges for... telling the truth. Because he did the crime. He also serves her carnivorous plants that don't sound like they belong on the underage menu either but that's kind of beside the point... I have a privileged black youth in court who has committed statutory rape -- I don't care how inviting or forceful or drunk or flirty or privileged or whatever she was... his defence in the trial is that because he can't get regular sex he should somehow be forgiven statutory rape. The story goes to great lengths to make the teenage girl despicable, part of a plot, a temptress who forces herself on him...
But the guy only had to wait a couple of days, a week at most, and she'd have been legal (well possibly legal, I'm assuming, if the age of consent there is 18 he's definitely fu-- so maybe she wouldn't have waited but that's what men really need to learn -- don't rape, even if it's the only way you get/want sex, you don't rape)
He lives forever, and needs to move somewhere with a lower age of consent if he wants to drink hymens more often. It's not like he could have got away with this behaviour when he *was* 15.
I'm just not comfortable with a story that seems to want me to sympathise with the 115 year old protagonist's lack of self-control and has to make so much of an only nearly just 16yr old girl being a scheming honey trap. She's a teenager, with a father who clearly doesn't give any thought to her welfare -- because this rape case is not going to make her life particularly pleasant long after he's, maybe, won the election (lots of people judge the girl more harshly than the boy in a rape case) -- and can really claim to be young and led astray.
How do you avoid being on trial for rape? Rule number one - don't knowingly commit statutory rape. I feel like I have to keep saying this because... this story got published.
Why on earth would anyone write this around the statutory rape of a minor, when he could surely have been seduced by an 18 year old girl with very few changes - or is a story woven round a true accusation of statutory rape less problematic than one with a false rape accusation, in our current topsy turvey internet morality?
Or, just as a crazy womanish idea -- how about accusing him of assault/attempted murder for non-consensual theft of her blood rather than rape?
That, at least, would have helped with the first problem.
I found it hard to read beyond or around that, but then the ending, where he lets himself be killed by the mob (or flies away), only high-lighted that none of this mattered. And yes, that's where the second problem comes, because Teddy is black.
I have no idea what the comparison is for conviction and sentence length of rich white rapists versus rich black rapists. Rich white versus middle class or lower black... or middle class white versus middle class black... easier odds to calculate.
How much do dying folk hate immortals? Where do dying folk get their blood, or where did they get their blood? Do they drink human blood now, did they once drink human blood? Has Teddy killed a few dying folk back in the old days? I don't know, so honestly I can't tell how innocent he is.
The strongest argument that can be used against racial prejudice in the justice system is that the colour of a person's skin doesn't predispose them to commit crimes against others -- if, however, you're faced with an immortal teenager who may or may not drink human blood from the vein and has self-control issues that have resulted in his raping a 15 yr old girl... is it wrong to feel threatened (whatever the colour of his skin)?
I know the blackness of Teddy's skin is meant to be big-time meaningful to the story. But combining two potential bigotries, and having one not unreasonable, blurs any point about the other. Is Teddy being treated more harshly than a white vampire would be? I haven't actually seen many depictions of white teen vampires having underage sex the same day they meet to be able to judge if a black teen vampire would be condemned for doing the same things story has a point. ('True Blood' is the only set of vampires I know where there's the possibility of a trial and I stopped watching somewhere in the second season? Other than that all the teen vampires I know would just be killed, whatever their colour)]
Teddy's defence is pretty much that he will never grow up -- and since there's no reason to believe he'll get any better at finding sexual partners given he's had 100 years of increasingly available options... Who's to say he won't move from statutory rape to just plain rape? Or serial statutory rape? Who can say that this isn't just the first time he's been charged? (because he didn't know his victim's family was as prominent and powerful as his own *and* willing to throw their daughter under the campaign bus)
“These fucking mortals, they’re scared of our power: We’re stronger, faster, smarter. We can fly, goddammit!
If you make a reasonable case for people to be wary it isn't entirely prejudice. Rabbits do not, in general, mix socially with foxes. Rabbits are not prejudiced... or perhaps they are but if so it's a survival trait.
Or I'll put my head on the block and point out that if an African American considers calling the police to be a potentially dangerous action, they may be prejudging perfectly honest, calm, and sensible people in uniform, but I couldn't say they were wrong to believe as they do.
Oddly enough, Teddy thinks that if the crowd kills him his father will get sympathy votes enough to win the election. So not that much prejudice against black vampires then, if a mob murdering one makes a rape charge go away. (We're not led to believe that immortals outnumber the dying folk)
Anyhow, Teddy commits statutory rape. He takes the girl home, at her insistence, so we can see his heartily dysfunctional family -- his sister has committed at least one murder and his mother rapes corpses so... yeah -- and since US politics is dirty top to bottom (maybe that's also a trope fiction writers should use less if they don't want people voting to drain the swamp) the dying girl turns out to be her father's tool in discrediting his father. He is upset because she 'betrays' him. Court case rumbles on. Teddy is upset because his father thinks not being in court will help and so decides not to wait for the bizarre venus fly trap test (which I'm pretty sure could be appealed), or to go to prison for twenty years, but commits suicide by mob.
If the mob kills him -- I'm a little hazy on how you kill him and if the mob know either.
It might be easier to read it as him flying away, because he can fly, and a rapist flying away from any responsibility is not an uncommon thing outside this story universe.
Well enough written story. But to what end?