Claire, Cassandra: Draco Trilogy

Belated edit: for reasons set forth succinctly here, I am convinced that Claire plagiarized several other works of in fiction in this trilogy. I therefore no longer recommend that anyone read it.

A preliminary note. A while ago, I was surprised to discover that my mother was reading this book log, since Mom and I have almost no overlap in our fiction tastes. It’s not just that we don’t read the same things; except for Tolkien, the appeal of speculative fiction is mostly a mystery to Mom, and if I were in that position, I wouldn’t find most of this log very interesting. So, Mom, if you’re reading this now: you might as well go do something else, because you’re going to find this really strange . . .

On Monday, I saw that some online fiction I’d been reading was complete. After bouncing in happiness, I said, “Oh, hell, this means I have to write it up for the book log, and that means that I have to explain about how I started reading it, and I don’t have time for that.” And really, I still don’t. But I’m very happy with a big practice test we just took, so I deserve a reward (besides, after this weekend and a day next week set aside for roller coasters, this is it for free time until the end of the month).

So. I’ve been reading Harry Potter fan fiction. Some of it’s slash.

Don’t look at me like that—I’ll put the stuff I’ve been reading up against, say, John Ringo, any day . . . (Sorry, Trent.)

It’s true, I am not a tremendous Harry Potter fan—I enjoy the books, but as I mentioned when the movie came out, I don’t spend a lot of time on them. Some explanation is accordingly in order.

It starts with Cassandra Claire’s Very Secret Diaries (start with the first one on her LiveJournal and go forward), which began as a spoof of bad LoTR slash and ended up being wildly popular around the beginning of this year. They’re extremely funny and, like a number of people, I started haunting her LiveJournal to see when a new one would come out. Then, a few months ago, she mentioned that she had a separate journal for Harry Potter things, and, being curious and ever-willing to procrastinate by mucking around on the ‘net, I went and had a look. And then had a look at the “My Website” link, which led to her Draco Trilogy, Draco Dormiens, Draco Sinister, and Draco Veritas. And then I was hooked.

The Very Secret Diaries are, indeed, very funny. But they started as short spoofs and they remain that; there’s no place in the current format for much else. The Draco Trilogy is also very funny. But it’s made up of novels; the shortest, Draco Dormiens, would print out at something well over a hundred pages, and the other two are considerably longer. And they’re good.

True, the series uses some rather well-worn plot devices of fantasy and romance—it kicks off with Ye Olde Body Switch, and later on we get prophesied heirs (which confirms what we all knew, that Hermione is really a Ravenclaw), love spells, more mistaken identities, and people being Not Dead After All. But what comes out of this is worth it: fabulous dialogue, complicated characters, and tangled emotional relationships. The characters sound like, not the people in Rowling’s books, but what those might grow up to be. And Draco is made interesting, which at the time I found really impressive, even if it does take temporarily putting him in Harry’s body to manage it. (There are also a number of references to other works that indicate that the author has good taste in reading, including an extended reference to Pamela Dean’s Secret Country trilogy (I didn’t know that The Secret Country and The Hidden Land were originally one book).)

There is a fair share of angst among the silliness, particularly Draco Veritas, which promises to get even more angsty as it progresses. Tasty angst, it’s true, but it might be too much for some people. (I do admit to occasionally wanting to hand all of them copies of the alt.poly FAQ and say, here, now will you all go set up house somewhere and be quiet?) As a work in progress, I’m enjoying DV slightly less than the others: it’s a mystery and a lot of the characters are hiding things, both of which would be fine if I were reading it all at once, but when it’s spread out over months, it makes it harder to stay involved. (Also, there is a legal maneuver in that latest chapter that, well, let’s just say that the wizarding world has a really screwy legal system, to take something that would be a perfectly good default rule and make it an absolute one . . . )

At any rate, it’s been a while since I read the rest of the series, so I can’t quote pieces for you now. Well, I could, but that would mean scanning through it for good quotes, and then I’d get sucked into re-reading the whole thing, and did I mention I really don’t have any time right now? (Besides, this is turning out to be long enough as it is.) Trust me and go read it, anyway.

[continued]

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  1. Kate — thanks for the mention. 🙂 While I happen to like Draco-centric stories, there are whole fanfic archives dedicated to the proposition that Draco is Evil and Boring — since you seem to have fallen into our pro-Draco corner of the fandom, I thought I’d mention the opposition. 😀

    “Why heterosexual female fans would want canonically heterosexual male characters falling into bed with each other—nope, sorry, don’t understand. Second, I just don’t find reading about sex between men very interesting. (I also don’t understand something else I’ve encountered poking around HP fandom, which is ” ships,” or people rooting for a specific character pairing. As far as I’m concerned, there’s not enough in canon for me to have any opinion; they’re barely into puberty, after all. I’ll buy a relationship if Rowling or any other does a good job of it, and that’s all.”

    I shall now resist the urge to write a fifty-page essay on both those points — not that I could explain either of them, either.

    Cass

  2. Re: Draco–I will almost be disappointed if he stays evil and boring in canon, since so many of the adults have turned out to be more complicated than they seemed at first glance. Yes, adults are harder for kids to figure out, but still. (He’s really good at being nasty and evil in canon, though, so I would not be completely disappointed.)

    As far as ships, Teresa Nielsen Hayden makes the good point that a lot of the time, “If you tell kids that one character is in love with another, they’ll accept it as part of what they are, like their eye color, rather than something that they do.” (That’s in a comment to a post, the archived version of which doesn’t have the comments enabled for it, for some reason; it’s May 23 on the huge front page of Making Light.) Of course, we haven’t been told yet that any character is in love with anyone, not seriously (and while there must be Harry/Cho ships out there, I haven’t run across them. Then again, as you point out, I’ve been in a smallish corner of the fandom.).

    I wouldn’t be suprised if the slash impulse was unexplainable, in much the same way that, oh, liking coffee is unexplainable. “It tastes good” is no help to someone like me, who insists it doesn’t. Of course, some slash is good enough that I’ll read it anyway, and I’ve yet to find any coffee that I’ll drink. =>

  3. Damn your eyes! The bit you quoted was enough to make me interested in reading the rest of that story, and while I agree that reading Harry Potter slash is somewhat more respectable than John Ringo, it’s still not something I’d want to publicly admit to reading…

    Anyway, Draco doesn’t have to be evil and boring, or non-evil and non-boring. It’s entirely possible to be evil and interesting. I don’t have high hopes in that direction, but it’s always possible. I never would have expected that Snape would turn out to be such an interesting character.

    Re: characters in love w/ each other, we haven’t been *told* that any characters are in love with each other, but I think we’ve been *shown* that Ron’s got strong feelings for Hermione, even if he’s a dorky teenage boy, and doesn’t know how to deal with it.

    Re: the appeal of slash, (in the sense of improbable romantic pairings of male characters), I’ve been told that part of it is that readers are interested in relationships between strong, interesting characters, and often, in genre fiction, those aren’t the female characters. Similarly, there’s an appealing notion of rivalry being a front for hidden romantic feelings. It can be done with a male-female pair (e.g. Princess Leia and Han Solo), but the more intense fictional rivalries tend to be between same-gender characters. Taking a broader view (why heterosexual women like to read about homosexual male relationships), one of the key elements of a romance story is the obstacles the couple must overcome in order to realize their love. In a society which generally frowns on same-sex relationships, homosexuality provides an obstacle which isn’t found in a heterosexual romance (although differing social class often serves a similar function in historical romances).

    Anyway, that’s enough for now. I should really be working on my slides for my thesis committee meeting…

  4. Re: Slash. I read somewhere that heterosexual women wrote homosexual slash because they wanted to imagine their favorite characters in romantic relationships, but not with *women*. It’s sort of like, “if I can’t have you, only another man can.”

    I don’t know if that makes sense though. It seems like a reasonable intellectual explanation, but I don’t really grok it.

  5. Wow. Harry Potter slash, and Draco/Neville slash at that. No doubt when the mind recovers from stunned insensability, it will creep into the corner for a good boggle. I suppose I will have to take refuge in that shopworn but well-tested truism about mileage, and leave it at that (although I suppose I could go check it…nah, what am I saying).

    (And at least my guilty pleasure gets to blow stuff up with anti-matter bombs. So there.)

  6. Pam: As far as that quote and strong, interesting characters go–I stopped that quote before it got to what, precisely, Narcissa did. C’mon, you know you want to read it… (even if you are working on thesis stuff: it’s online, you can read a chapter while you take breaks…). And the other reasons you give seem sensible, but seem like a roundabout way of getting to write a good romance: if you want strong characters, rivalry, and obstacles, you can get those without having to twist well-established sexual orientations (put it in the future of the canon, give them traumatic personality-changing experiences, whatever). Also, part of it is just a YMMV thing as far as the explicit sexual elements goes.

    As far as specific characters. Yes, I didn’t mean to rule out Draco as bad and non-boring. It’s hard to do, of course–I don’t think Rowling is quite up to Tigana levels–but something along the lines of the villains in The Element of Fire would be pretty good, too. Ron is a dorky teenage boy, you’re right, but I forgot him for not encountering many Ron/Hermione fics (I’m sure they’re out there–it is a bigfandom).

    Katxena: “they wanted to imagine their favorite characters in romantic relationships, but not with *women*.” I can’t say I grok it either–not only do I find it actively distasteful, I find it odd, because I’d imagine the more usual response would be a Mary Sue where the author could put vicariously herself into the fic.

    Trent: Phbbt. At least my guilty pleasure gets great dialogue while in the midst of Evil Overlord plots… (“Is it just me,” Chris demanded plaintively. “Or have you spotted that those two seems to conduct life as though it were Greek tragedy re-scripted by Monty Python?”)

    The thing is, if you were able to get over the boggling, I bet you’d really like this. Unfortunately, it would sort of miss the point to search-and-replace all of the names. Oh well.

  7. You know, I never read fanfic reviews/recs (well, unless I solicit them) and I’ve read only the barest minimum of HP fanfic (by fearthainn, actually, stories can be found at ffnet), but I saw my handle in your entry and swooned under the desk with geeky abashed gratification and then figured the least I could do was read the fic you were reviewing.

    If the fic were a book, I’d buy it. It’s fantastic! I think I’m kind of reading it like ‘historical fiction’ – not *really* HP, but speculation using HP history and details; but it’s really wonderful that way. I rarely feel as if I need to know who these people were before they showed up in the story, because for the most part the characterization is so strong and is well-supported by refer-backs. And it’s unbelievably funny.

    Thanks for leading me to it! I’m off to read the last chapter, and then effuse obnoxiously to the author…. 🙂

  8. Oh dear; I see elsewhere that the Epilogue ended up considerably reducing your enthusiasm. I’m glad you liked the first eleven chapters, at least (I hate it when people read things on my recommendation and then don’t like them). I’d be interested to hear what quirk it was that affected you, in e-mail of course if it’s a spoiler.

  9. Yes, but is DV actually finished? Anywhere? At all? And slash is mainly just plain odd.

  10. I don’t know if that makes sense though. It seems like a reasonable intellectual explanation, but I don’t really grok it.

    It makes no sense at all to me, though it’s been the classic “explanation” for why-women-write-slash for as long as I can remember.

    I am a lesbian and a slash fan, and have been consciously aware of both these impulses in my sexuality for about the same length of time (nearly 20 years, by now). I prefer Joanna Russ’s explanation, collected in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts, if I must have just one. But on the whole I prefer Pat Califa’s attitude to the whole thing, which is: “Men don’t have to explain or excuse themselves when they find two women together sexually attractive: so why do we keep thinking we have to?” and I like Marilyn Hacker’s attitude, too: “Some people are just hardwired to find two men together, or two women together, sexually attractive: it doesn’t matter whether they’re hetero or homo.” (All of these opinions are seriously paraphrased, since I have no intention of getting up and tracking them all down at this time of night.)

    All we can honestly say about it is: Some men, mostly straight but some gay, find that imagining two women having sex is a sexual turn-on. Some women, mostly straight but some gay, find that imagining two men having sex is a sexual turn-on. As far as we can tell, this is as much a natural part of human sexuality as being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.

    And, which is my conclusion ever since I figured out that I was a lesbian who liked slash: Since it feels normal for me, I’m really not going to worry about it. I like it.

  11. Zoe: DV is still a work in progress. Schnoogle is up-to-date.

    Yonmei: in the year since writing this originally, I’ve determined: 1) people have varied motivations for writing slash, many of which are unexplainable; 2) I don’t really care what a person’s motivation was, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of a good story; 3) almost any setup can work in the hands of a good writer who pays sufficient attention to the characters; 4) there are, nevertheless, things I’m not interested in reading, but I generally try to chalk it up to YMMV and leave it at that.

    How dreadful that looks. Short version: I’ve stopped trying to figure out why, because it doesn’t really matter: all that matters is the story. =>

    What’s Joanna Russ’s explanation?

  12. ohmigosh, does anyone, na di mean ANYONE have the draco trilogyon thier computer? if so, i want it! omg, i’ve been looking for it EVERYWHERE! i wish it was available atthe bookstore-sigh-

  13. The Secret Country and The Hidden Land were not originally one book. The Draco Trilogy was not good, was not even unique (and fanfiction can only be so unique to begin with), it was all Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Crap.

  14. Mousy, thank you for reminding me that I needed to edit this entry.

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