SPOILERS SPRAYED ALL OVER THIS POST SO DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.
Saturday morning rant time!
Honestly, Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors and The Passage were amazing. The creepy ways in which the Twelve operated and enveloped their victims was haunting. Cronin’s version of the world falling apart was far too realistic for my comfort. And his character Fanning’s backstory? To me, that was the most powerful part of the whole series. Cronin did a great job of showing us how someone like Fanning was driven to create the destruction he did. It really moved me (I ugly-cried).
I’m pretty shocked that I haven’t come across an angry article about the use of rape in The Twelve and how it affects two out of three of his main female protagonists (actually, see here – Pamela says exactly what I’m thinking). For those of you who haven’t read it, Sara, Alicia and Amy are the main female characters throughout the trilogy, with the introduction of Lila in The Twelve. Sara is captured by and taken to some sick colony where she is abused and raped regularly. Alicia is a bad ass; probably one of my favourite characters. She goes into the colony to rescue her friends (or something like that, I can’t remember all the details) and gets captured and, shocker, raped. I’ll handle both of the rapes separately, because Sara and Alicia are two very different characters in terms of personality.
Sara, who is eventually saved, gets her family back and carries on like it never happened. She is “strong” in that she moves on from the horrors of her past, focuses on her family and becomes a successful doctor. She only mentions the rape to another person once, a child who is also a victim of sexual exploitation. Otherwise, Sara is just happy she has her family and is strong woman because she pushes aside her trauma and carries on.
You could argue in a post-apocalyptic society, you don’t really have much of a choice but to bury your trauma and carry on. You could also argue that Sara chose to see the good in her life after months/year of torture. Her near-death experience was so powerful that it made her appreciate what she had, and this was enough to heal her (gag). But to me, this just seems like a failed effort to create a female character who isn’t physically powerful, but strong in an emotional sense (a way which conveniently allows her not to let her rape affect her or anyone else around her). It makes me wonder what Cronin’s idea of a tough woman is? One who casts aside her trauma like a bag of dirty laundry and uses the love of her family to make everything OK? Yeah, suffice to say this pissed me off. Why couldn’t Sara’s strength be that she acknowledged what happened to her, spoke about it with others, suffered emotionally but eventually used this to motivate and push her further? Nope, she had to bury her trauma deep down, never talk about it, and that’s STRONG.
Alicia. She’s a bad ass, she can use swords and fight really well, and saves the male character’s asses quite a few times. She’s also a pretty redhead. You know, the usual female character men write and fantasize about. That aside, Cronin did an interesting job creating a woman who, after being traumatized as a child, suffers from a lack of emotions and uses this to make her a better fighter. But then she gets raped. And low and behold, this breaks Alicia. She wanders off, gives birth to a dead baby named (second gag) Rose, and ends up succumbing to the darkness inside of her and doing Fanning’s bidding for a bit.
Of all the things that could have made Alicia break and go to Fanning, Cronin chose rape and a dead baby. Why not make it that she accidentally kills someone she cares about? Or she gets a taste of the power Fanning can give her, and wants more? Nope, it has to be about rape and a dead baby. Because that’s what would drive her to breaking point. I guess in a way, it was a juxtaposition to Sara who is much physically weaker than Alicia. Sara, who is strong, doesn’t let the rape break her, even if she can’t cut through virals with a sword. But even though Alicia is almost unbeatable in battle, big bad ol’ rape gets her. My eyes are rolling so far off into my skull I might not be able to see after writing this.
You can probably tell that I found both of these rapes highly unnecessary. To me, it’s a cheap way to push female characters and to demonstrate “strength” or even “weakness” (which really, why is Alicia being destroyed by that weak?). I’d like to see a novel where a female character is broken not by the actions of a man, but by her own mistakes or lust for power. Or, if rape absolutely has to be part of the novel, the female character doesn’t just brush it aside because that’s strong but acknowledges it, suffers through it, and gets better in doing so. Because to me, that’s real strength: facing your problems (not burying them), talking about them, and getting through them. Cronin, while his trilogy is still amazing, disappointed me in his failure to do either of these things with Alicia and Sara.