Autistic Book Party, Episode 16: Hawk

Today’s Autistic Book Party was made possible by Rose Lemberg, who generously donated a review copy of the book because she was interested in knowing specifically what I thought of this one. YES, this DOES work as a method of getting reviews out faster. 😛

Today’s Book: “Hawk” by Steven Brust.

The Plot: Vlad Taltos, an assassin / witch / general-purpose organized criminal, comes up with a cunning plan to get the other organized criminals who are hunting him off of his back.

(This is book #14 of a series that will eventually have 17 parts.)

Autistic Character(s): Daymar, a Hawklord and powerful psychic.

We’ve met Daymar before, when I reviewed “Dragon“, an earlier book in the series. Daymar seemed cool but didn’t appear in very much of that book. Everyone’s been telling me that there is more Daymar in this one. And there is. Sort of.

Vlad’s cunning plan in this particular book involves a lot of psychic stuff, so he naturally calls on Daymar to assist him. Daymar is as friendly, helpful, polite and cool as ever. The problem is… Well, you can go back and read that previous review. Don’t worry, it’s short. You know the part where I said that Daymar is cool because he asks polite questions when he is confused about things, instead of making rude and arrogant assumptions as so many fictional Aspies do? Yet, despite this, Vlad for some unknown reason finds him really annoying?

Yeah, there’s… a lot of that going on here. And it’s more noticeable here than in the previous book. Maybe just because Daymar shows up more, but for whatever reason, even Daymar’s most helpful and considerate attributes seem to drive Vlad off the deep end. Here is a fairly representative quote:

“It’s good to see you, Vlad.”
“You, too,” I lied.
“When I saw Loiosh, I concluded that you wanted to see me.”
“Good thinking.”
“He let me get the location from his mind, so I teleported.”
“Yes,” I said.
“So I was right?”
I nodded.
He sat back, tilted his head, and waited.
“I wanted to ask you about something,” I said.
He nodded. “All right. I’m listening.”
“You wish me to ask you, then?” I said, keeping my face straight.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s up to you. I wasn’t doing anything important. And I’m not in a hurry. So, take as much time as you want.”
Explaining the joke to Daymar seemed like a poor use of my time, so I said, “It goes back to a remark you made some years ago. We were sitting around Castle Black, and you mentioned a Hawk rite of passage you’d undergone.”

It’s not that any specific exchange of this nature is particularly awful, it’s just that they never really stop being like this. Daymar never stops trying very hard to be helpful and considerate, and Vlad never stops quietly mocking him and being annoyed.

Part of this, of course, is that Vlad is an ornery antihero. I mean, he used to kill people for money a lot, among other evil deeds. So it’s not very reasonable to expect Vlad to be the model of understanding and politeness, whether towards people on the spectrum or just towards people in general. In fact, Vlad is usually pretty snarky to everybody; his snarkiness and cleverness is part of what makes him a good narrator. There are many scenes in the book of Vlad hanging out with people whom he genuinely likes, and who are very important to him, and these scenes largely consist of snarky banter and friendly insults going back and forth. So if it was just the fact that Vlad got annoyed and was snarky with Daymar and Daymar didn’t get it, I’d just chalk it up to Vlad being Vlad.

In fact, I have a suspicion that the reason Vlad gets so annoyed by Daymar is precisely because Vlad likes to be snarky to everyone. Daymar likes to be open, honest, and considerate, and Vlad’s usual communication style goes completely over his head. I think that Vlad doesn’t know what to do with a clash of communication styles of this magnitude, so he defaults to being frustrated and annoyed.

The trouble is that Vlad’s annoyance towards Daymar seems to go beyond his usual rudeness and snarkiness to everyone else. For instance, he talks with annoyance about Daymar to other people:

“I’d ask Daymar.”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to avoid that.”
He chuckled. “I can understand that. I could look for someone else-“
“No, no. We’ll go with Daymar. I told him I’d be needing his help again.”
“That makes me feel better. If I have to deal with you, you have to deal with Daymar. More klava?”

Vlad doesn’t talk like this to other people about any other character, and he does this repeatedly. Even more troublingly, absolutely everyone Vlad talks like this to about Daymar seems to be as annoyed by Daymar as he is. Even when they are ostensibly also in a circle of friends that involves Daymar.

I can’t figure out where this level of animosity comes from, because Daymar is always helpful and cool. He is oblivious to a few things that seem obvious to Vlad and the other organized criminals, but then, he knows a lot of things about psychic communication that Vlad is oblivious to, so that ought to put them on equal footing.

A final problem is that Daymar’s role in the plot is pretty well limited to letting Vlad consult with him about certain matters, finding rare and expensive items for him, and otherwise helping out when requested. He asks for literally nothing in return for this help; he appears to be doing so because Vlad is his friend. (Vlad does thank him, once, briefly, but only near the end of the book.) Meanwhile it is painfully obvious to any reader that Vlad is not his friend and would much rather not be around him.

I can’t explain why this bothers me more than, say, Vlad killing people. Mainly I think that Brust likely does not understand what real-world narratives he is upholding. We all know that being an assassin is not a good thing in real life. But it is so common for autistic people in real life to fall into this pattern, where they believe someone to be their friend and try very hard to help and be nice to that person, but that person turns out to be a bully who is mocking and complaining about them behind their back, or who simply uses them for the one thing they’re especially good at, while actually wanting nothing else to do with them. Considering how common this is, and how common it is for autistic people to be portrayed as annoying enough to merit such treatment, I can’t really sit back and enjoy watching Daymar go through it. I can’t really treat it as funny escapism the way I can when the characters are killing each other. I don’t know.

And we don’t even really get much character development out of Daymar. There’s a little bit – a really interesting couple of paragraphs or so that happen when Vlad asks him about what he’s interested in – but mostly he just shows up when Vlad asks, does what Vlad asks him to, gets made fun of, and goes away again. So while he does show up more often than in previous books, it’s not really a win for readers who happen to be Daymar fans.

I usually really enjoy the Vlad books, so this was kind of a downer.

The Verdict: Not Recommended

For a list of other past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.

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