Going into reading The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes, I was pretty thrilled at the general premise and what it would hold for me. And I don’t know quite what it was that I expected, but the truth is that the story I got was not it. And I’ve changed my rating several times while considering this story, going lower and lower each time that I think about it. For reference, I began my review with this book as a four-star, shimmied down to a three, and then further to a two. And even now, a part of me is tempted to push it further to one.
So, what truly was the problem with The Black Coats? Well, I think my biggest gripes boil down to the unnecessary and theme ruining romance, the hypnotism, the lack of respectful vigilante justice, and the fact that this book is definitely marketed as feminist but really just isn’t. There are various other small issues I have with the novel as a whole, but really those are the ones that got to me. Especially the lack of feminism in a novel that was supposed to be all about it. Scratch my earlier comment, I really do think this is a one-star read. In so many ways, The Black Coats was not the novel that I expected it to be and that, ultimately, is hat let me down. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
I don’t even understand what the point of Drew’s existence was. For starters, he was a shitty love interest at best and a manipulatively conniving one at worst. I won’t get into details since it’s a pretty big spoiler, but I nearly screamed when I found out what he’d been doing for his father. It kind of made me want to gag. But, aside from that, he was an incredibly dull character overall who really only existed to point out problems with the main character, Thea’s, preconceived beliefs. That’s right, folks; the moral development that the main character makes has absolutely nothing to do with herself and everything to do with her boyfriend pointing it all out to her as though she were a three-year-old being naughty.
Thea is denied self-empowered character growth because the story had to include a relationship. And I could have, in a small way, respected this growth if Drew hadn’t been involved in it. I still would have found it problematic, but it would at the very least not have come across as a situation in which a feminist woman is brought down to be less feminist because her boyfriend told her to.
I mean, honestly, this plot device was just stupid. This one character was super important because she could hypnotize the people they brought to justice and attacked to not remember any of the things that happened to them. Not only am I a hard skeptic about the existence of hypnotism in the first place, but also just…why? What is the purpose of this plot device? Where was the use? And I can’t even begin with how this character became central to portraying a group of characters as evil–a decision I strongly disagree with as a whole–literally just because…well, that leads me to my final point:
Lack of Vigilante Justice and Feminism
The novel spends more time trying to humanize the problematic men that the story’s theme says deserve retribution and demonize the people who are handing out that justice than it does trying to send a feminist message. And I’m sorry, but I just expected better. I expected something along the lines of Batman, where the morals are definitely greyed but at the end of the day, the one fighting the criminals is in the right. Or at the very least I expected a novel in which justice was discussed in an innocent until proven guilty matter and addressed from there.
Instead of the novel holding to the original premise that was meant to be focused on getting retribution for the horrible ways in which sexism and patriarchal society has hurt women and denied justice, it turns its strong females into either unreasonable men hating attackers or docile and regretful “good girls” who no longer see any reason to fight against the injustices women regularly face. Instead of these powerful women using their connections and resources to work against the problems of patriarchies, to fight and change sexist systems they just randomly go around attacking men as they act as judge, jury, and executioner.
And they get away with it, naturally, but somehow they need an even better source to cover up their evildoings by…hypnotism.
Yeah, no. This book failed. It portrayed all the worst things people falsely believe about feminism and feminists. And I am very, very upset about it.