Lord of the White Hell (book 1), by Ginn Hale (25/107)

The plot: Kiram is a young man with a talent for mechanics, just starting his first year at the prestigious Sagrada academy. As a member of a racial/cultural minority that hasn’t always been on the best terms with the dominant group, he is out of his element at the academy and has a lot to prove. Javier is the scion of wealth and privilege… and a nasty curse that is systematically wiping out his bloodline. They get assigned to be roommates because nobody else wants to sleep near either of them, and sexual tension ensues.

Lord of the White Hell has its flaws, but it has its charms as well and on the whole I enjoyed it. Hale does good world-building — all fantasy worlds have their own history, of course, but a lot of books don’t show why it’s important, whereas the present-day of Hale’s world is built firmly on the foundations of its past.

There are interesting race relations in her book, which I enjoy in fantasy when it’s more nuanced than “people who are stupid irredeemable racists.” Which, yeah, some people are, but there’s a lot more grey area. Kiram’s people are a sort-of-gypsy, sort-of-arabic melange that have been actively persecuted in the past, and even now that everyone’s getting along in peace and prosperity, they keep their own customs and resist assimilation into the mainstream culture. Simple ignorance is as much an obstacle as outright hostility and a lot of people, Kiram’s friends included, have the best of intentions but don’t know what to do with the culture gap between them and wind up saying some pretty clueless and offensive things.

Aaaand the downside: this book reads like yaoi.

I can say this with authority because I spent years translating the stuff, I know all the tropes, and this book hits a lot of them. I never got turned off the story entirely, but Javier is a bit too much the dangerous-asshole-bad-boy-with-the-heart-of-gold, and Kiram veers perilously toward virginal blushing uke. The sexual tension is there because of course it’s there, and I found the progression of their relationship rather contrived.

It has a very distinct flavor, yaoi, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not simply a matter of M-M romance written by women, because there are plenty of female authors who write excellent men and excellent gay romances. So what makes something read like yaoi? Is it men behaving like middle school girls? Men behaving like stereotypes? All that overwrought emo drama? Complete absence of and hostility towards women?

(It was 230 pages, by the way, before a female character spoke a single line in this book. And yeah, it’s a gay romance set at an all-boys school, but a quote from Joanna Russ comes to mind: Literature which can ignore the private lives of half the human race is not “incomplete”; it is distorted through and through.)

Also, it is not a standalone book. It does not end, but stops, and if you want the rest of the story you have to read book 2.

4 thoughts on “Lord of the White Hell (book 1), by Ginn Hale (25/107)

  1. “So what makes something read like yaoi? Is it men behaving like middle school girls? Men behaving like stereotypes? All that overwrought emo drama? Complete absence of and hostility towards women?”

    Hm, good question, actually. I think my vote would be for stereotypes and plot cliches. Anything where you can practically see a margin note from the author saying, “Yes, I know this plot choice has no plausibility or creativity, but I really want it to be like this and I’m just gonna go for it.”

  2. Which is basically the same complaint that people have about porn vids written by and for straight men where a woman orders a pizza, the delivery guy makes some corny joke about sausage, and then they strip and have sex. The difference is that the scripts for movies by and for men are full of sex for no reason, and the texts by and for women are full of intense emotions for no reason.

    Although, the real actual lives of cute young gay men often kind of *are* full of sex for no reason, except “they felt like it, so they did”.

    Maybe the real actual lives of lesbians often are full of intense emotional conflicts and resolutions for no reason except “they felt like it, so they did”?

    Maybe pizza guy porn is just an attempt to project this mindless insatiable male appetite for sex onto women, and the women in such a porn are really gay men in beautiful female bodies?

    Maybe yaoi is just an attempt to project this mindless insatiable female appetite for emotion onto men, and the men in such a porn are really lesbians in beautiful male bodies?

    That analysis is probably all too gender essentialist and heavy on the stereotypes to really be true, though, and it may be so stereotype heavy that it doesn’t really have any validity or use at all.

  3. full of intense emotions for no reason.

    By god, I think you nailed it! o_O !! Not necessarily in terms of stories for men vs. stories for women, because as I said, not all M-M fiction written by women goes that route, but in terms of what makes something read like yaoi. ~Drama~ for no good reason.

  4. Yeah, I wasn’t keen on the lack of female characters either. Wicked Gentlemen only had the one, but at least she had her own motivations. And yes, it’s a gay romance, but a very plot-driven one, with plenty of room for other proper (important, fleshed-out) characters, some of whom could have been female. Alizadeh and Rafie could easily have been female; it would have been interesting to explore the parallels/differences between lesbian and gay male couples in Haldiim culture.

    I did like the exploration of different cultures in the Lord of the White Hell, especially Haldiim culture. I did like that there was more about the relationship than in Wicked Gentlemen (which was very lightly drawn – not badly, by any means, but lightly), without ever dropping the plot, but… I wouldn’t have said yaoi-like. I would have said teenagery. As in, very dramatic and utterly convinced that this is your one true love forever and ever because he is so sexy and mysterious and and the adults who think otherwise are just WRONG and DON’T UNDERSTAND YOUR LOVE and now you must RUN AWAY FROM HOME.

    Another main flaw is being unbearably obvious. Spoiler: Onoes, it was Donamillo all along! I am shocked and surprised by the information I have been yelling at you since a quarter of the way into the first book.

    When discussing a piece of fiction I always find it easier to talk about what I disliked than what I liked. I must have enjoyed this immensely, because I read both books in two days. Nevertheless, it is not without its flaws.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>