A review by Nalini Haynes
Mina needs a job DESPERATELY. She was a successful student then an intern for a famous fashion designer, destined to secure the one paid job available to one of the interns. Then her eyes caused problems, she literally couldn’t see when she should have been able to. A trip to the ophthalmologist later, she has a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa. She’s going blind. But that was before the dark and stormy night!
Her best friend, upon hearing the news, tells Mina’s boss. Mina loses her job. And the internship. As well as any hope of any future in the fashion industry.
Mina heads home with her tail between her legs (figuratively), and applies for a job in a bookshop.
This bookshop is owned by Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Yes, THAT Heathcliff. He emerged from a book one day. And his flatmates are Moriarty from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and Quoth. I guessed who Quoth was and I bet any literature-obsessed geek will guess too.
From the time Mina enters the bookshop, even before the big identity reveals, she’s sexually attracted to the men. All of them. She struggles with her feelings. And with their brokenness versus her own.
Representation of disability
Steffanie Holmes, the author, is legally blind. She knows the grief of visual impairment and subsequent bigotry, which she writes well. When Mina reveals her lost career, I wept. I stopped reading for the night. While eating dinner, tears continually flowed.
The bigotry is real. Ask me how I know.
Mina’s story is different to mine only in the details. The bigotry is the same. Like when I was at RMIT studying writing and editing, I fought for and – after a horrendous semester – secured disability access. But then staff wanted revenge so began the process of stripping away the gains that I fought so hard for. One staff member actually told me that the publishing industry would refuse me disability access therefore she, as a lecturer, intended to refuse disability access. She told me I should not be studying that course.
I applied for an internship for disabled people. A Random Penguin House publisher ASKED to mentor in this program. Then, while I was in the boardroom at Penguin’s offices in Melbourne, she tore strips off me for daring to think I might work in the publishing industry. I cried nearly the whole hour I was there and left with tears pouring down my face.
I complained. She was outraged, expecting she’d get away with that abuse and bigotry. Penguin acknowledged the issue in email – I’d been sitting in the boardroom with an entire wall of glass exposing my grief – but they did nothing about replacing my mentor.
And that is just one example of how bigots ruined my life. I identify very strongly with Mina in that way.
Mina is grieving. Grieving the gradual loss of her eyesight. And living in fear of going completely blind. Her grief and fear felt real. Even for someone born with poor vision, like Steffanie, there is grief. Grief caused by difference, bigotry, alienation, and so on.
The bookshop men are attracted to Mina. I wondered how much of a “Mary Sue” a Dead and Stormy Night was. We have the grieving disabled woman who has ALL THE MENZ attracted to her. Unlike the charismatic-less male lead in Degrees of Freedom by Simon Morden, Mina is a likeable character. She dresses in chic punk (or, as I used to call it, “pseudo-trendy-punk”). Loving, caring, intelligent and broken are characteristics that draw “her” men to her.
A “Mary Sue” is a flawless unrealistic character. Wikipedia says
A Mary Sue is a character archetype in fiction, usually a young woman, who is often portrayed as inexplicably competent across all domains, gifted with unique talents or powers, liked or respected by most other characters, unrealistically free of weaknesses, extremely attractive, innately virtuous, and/or generally lacking meaningful character flaws. Usually female and almost always the main character, a Mary Sue is often an author’s idealized self-insertion, and may serve as a form of wish fulfillment.
There is a bit of wish fulfilment of a sort happening. Sexy brooding gorgeous characters from books wandering around in various states of undress while Mina is tempted by one in particular. As the advertising says, A Dead and Stormy Night is a reverse-harem story. Perhaps a teeny bit of wish fulfillment?
Male author? Not a Mary Sue. Nooo…
To be honest, many authors write themselves in their books. Many write wish-fulfillment fantasies. Look at the Kingkiller Chronicles. And all the male-author harem fantasies, especially the “all the women love my unloving, unlovable male character” so often written by men. I could make quite the list of examples.
“Mary Sue” is a derogatory term like “chick lit” is a derogatory term. And it’s always aimed at women authors and women characters.
Mina’s reverse harem may be a form of wish-fulfillment but, a disabled woman character having friends, found family, and agency is my kind of wish-fulfillment. And she is NOT perfect. She’s working through her grief and brokenness still, in book 3. And fighting with her mum after one of Mina’s boyfriends told Mina to contact her mum.
A Dead and Stormy Night is a cosy murder fantasy reverse harem story with explicit sex scenes and excellent representation of disability. I kind of love this book although I’m a teeny bit embarrassed to admit to it! Mina is an adorable disabled protagonist without any super powers and in the throes of losing her vision. I live in the space Mina inhabits. And I love her for feeling my fears, legitimizing my tears.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars because Holmes achieves what she sets out to achieve. I will fight you on this point!
Imprint: Bacchanalia House
Format: I read the ebook and want the shiny special edition. 302 pages.
Category: fantasy, adventure, disability, disabled protagonist, reverse harem, explicit sex scenes