This fifth book diverts most attention away from Dream himself and instead deals with the specific dreams of Barbie, a character we’d seen on the sidelines before. The story feels a lot like it’s setting up new futures, and not a lot like it’s building what happened in the past, which is sort of the opposite of what I wanted but still well written.
What interests me more is that Gaiman is doing not-great stuff with gender again. Specifically, he’s killing trans people (again), screwing lesbians (again), and making a big deal about biological sex trumping gender identity. We already had a serial killer mention that he likes killing pre-op trans people in a previous book—a moment that gets evoked with the description of a killing in this book—and now we get another pre-op trans person who, you guessed it, gets killed for no good reason. We also get an avowed lesbian in a committed, loving relationship who inexplicably has pity sex with a man, which impregnates her because apparently she has truly no idea how sex or pregnancy works. What gives?
I want more from Gaiman. We get a momentary view of our trans character (presumably) as she sees herself with Death, but she gets no lines, and before we get there we have to see her get killed because she couldn’t follow her friends along some Moon path only for women, and we have to know that she was buried under her dead name, in a suit, with her hair cut, and oh by the way her last name is Mann as if you weren’t getting the point enough. The “you’re killed because you’re not a woman” messages are coming through strong, and the glance at the character in a dress as she goes with Death just doesn’t really redeem them.
And whats up with all these bad lesbians? In the first book we got a glance at a lesbian who apparently was physically abusive, and it was insinuated that she was raped by a man through Dr. D’s torture. Now, we have a new lesbian tangentially related to that first one who, although she isn’t abusive, cheats on her long term romantic partner with a man she barely knows and doesn’t particularly like, and she does so with no understanding of sex and is therefore impregnated. She mentions several times in the ensuing chaos that she thought she couldn’t get pregnant because they had sex standing up, and she thought killing a rabbit was required for a pregnancy test.
It’s easy to quiet the queer critique part of my brain when I read most books because most authors just leave gay people out of the story, but Gaiman is SO aggressively bringing gender fluidity and sexuality into our characters, and it’s frustrating that it seems like all of his queer characters are either evil (Desire) or punished for their queerness (see above). If it was one character being hate crimed, and the book forced us to be cognizant of the fact that the murder of a pre-op trans person is a hate crime, I might give it a pass for simply being realistic (which I did in book two), but this world feels over the top with its focus on punishments of queer women, especially trans women. I want better.