~by Janine Cross
2005 James Tiptree, Jr. Award Nominee
Okay, I'll admit it. Part of the reason I chose this book was because of the cover. Even though I knew it was inaccurate. (And it is quite, other than the fact that there are dragons and the protagonist is a woman. But she certainly doesn't look anything like that!). Touched by Venom is the first book of the three books in the Dragon Temple Saga. I enjoy reading about the tension between religion and sexuality, and the addition of dragons was a definite bonus, so I figured I might as well pick it up.
The story follows the life of Zarq, a nine-year old girl with a boy's name, and how she survives the horrible fate that befalls her pottery clan. A fate that was partly caused because of her own actions. Things go from bad to worse for Zarq when she and her mother are forced to flee, and then from worse to...well, whatever is worse than worse. Her life is certainly not a happy one.
Janine Cross has created a fascinating world. An extraordinarily misogynistic wold, but a fascinating one. Sexism, racism, and classism are all used to create a complex culture. However, it's almost unrelentingly bleak with little hope or opportunity for things to ever change. Even the relationships between individuals seem hopeless, filled with manipulation, selfishness, and unhappiness. Is this really realistic? Probably, even if it comes across rather heavy handed.
Overall, I guess I enjoyed the concept of the book more than I enjoyed the book itself. Although I originally didn't think I would bother with the next two books, the ending caught my interest and I'd like to know how things turn out. And for those who are wary, there is bestiality, and it's not just hinted at.