Tag: LGBT


Review – The Heart of Aces

Posted 7 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Heart of Aces by various authorsThe Heart of Aces, various

The Heart of Aces is a collection that’s almost more interesting/important to me because of the theme than because of anything about the actual stories within. Asexual representation is a big thing to me, because for a long time I was all kinds of confused about why I wasn’t interested in other people the way my peers were, why I didn’t want the same things in a relationship, etc. The only times I did come across it were in stories about trauma, and then it was something to be got over; not something that you can just accept. And that’s the nice things about the stories here. Each one of them accepts asexuality as a valid way of living a life that can still be whole and fulfilling, and even shared with a romantic partner. Sometimes you have to compromise or go out on a limb, sometimes things don’t match up quite as well as you’d hope, but all the same, these stories say it’s possible.

(And oh, my relief that I don’t think a single character in these stories calls not wanting sex “unnatural”, or anything like that. Look, I don’t feel naturally feel physical attraction — if anything, if I did, that would be unnatural for me, even if it might maybe be achievable with drugs or something. It’s just not the way I’m built, and that’s okay.)

The stories in the collection are a little shaky; one of them I just found plain unreadable, while others were very basic. There are a couple of sweet ones in there, though. I do wish that there was a bit more representation across the board — a cisgendered, straight, asexual couple would be great to see, or stretching the definition of ace a bit, an aromantic character — but there is one story with a trans character (albeit the POV character takes a while to switch pronouns correctly), and a realistic range of what the characters in the stories are interested in. I wouldn’t really recommend the stories, except that there’s so little out there that’s tailored for asexual people. If you feel like you really need to see something that does touch on that, you might enjoy picking up The Heart of Aces.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Drowning Eyes

Posted 24 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Drowning Eyes by Emily FosterThe Drowning Eyes, Emily Foster

There’s a lot about this novella that’s fascinating — the image of the Windspeakers having to sacrifice their eyes and receiving stones instead is just, wow; I’m pretty sure that’s going to stick with me. The crew are cool, too; crabby and sympathetic and brave and practical. A mixture, like real people, and able to really get on each other’s nerves like real people, too. There are some awesome descriptions of weather magic, too: of the way the protagonist feels it in her body.

The flipside of that is that that there feels like there’s too much going on. There’s the whole magic system, then there’s the pirate crew, and it doesn’t fit that well together, because all of a sudden the pirates are really invested in something that is, well, above their pay grade. From transporting a runaway to saving a group of people that they don’t even necessarily sympathise with… And the Dragon Ships; that whole plot thread isn’t really resolved, because it’s implied there’s a lot more going on with them and yet the story more or less ends with a minor confrontation.

It doesn’t feel complete, like there’s just too much still up in the air. It’s not bad as a story, but it feels rushed and inconclusive.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – One Ostara Sunrise

Posted 21 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Ostara Sunrise by Elora BishopOne Ostara Sunrise, Elora Bishop

This book features another holiday with Isabella and Emily, and another instance of the two of them being caught up in big events — in this case, mythical events involving nothing less important than the changing of seasons. The relationship between the two of them is sweet, as usual, but it doesn’t really expand on the world or even the backstories of the two girls.

The main attraction is the warmth of the two characters and their relationship, and their deepening harmony with the world around them. It feels less substantial than the second book, and it doesn’t further any of the plotlines, though, so it does fall a little flat for me. In the collected version, there is also a short story about Alice’s first meeting with Isabella and how they pair up, which at least answers some of my curiosity about Alice!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – One Imbolc Gloaming

Posted 14 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Imbolc Gloaming by Elora BishopOne Imbolc Gloaming, Elora Bishop

Somewhat to my disappointment, the second book of the Benevolence trilogy doesn’t expand on any of the gaps I felt in the previous book. Instead, it moves away from Benevolence for a while, as Emily and Isabella attend traditional Imbolc festivities. The world is expanded in terms of showing us more locations, more kinds of magic, and more of Isabella’s friends and family. It also gives us more time with the couple, as their relationship deepens — though it has been a bit insta-love. Still, for once it’s a lesbian couple having insta-love, and they’re cute, so why not? We can make exceptions, right?

It also features the tragic love story of a long-dead abbess and a knight, who are reunited through Isabella and Emily’s efforts. That part is a bit, well, flowery, but it works.

The scenes Bishop describes glitter with the winter cold and the warmth of friendship; that aspect is definitely done really well. I’m still curious about various aspects of the first story, and I’m also beginning to be very curious about Alice, Isabella’s cat familiar. She’s just been a sidekick so far, but there are hints at an inner life and outside personality for her, and I want it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – One Solstice Night

Posted 6 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Solstice Night by Elora BishopOne Solstice Night, Elora Bishop

For some reason, I never got round to reading the two books which follow this one, so I’ve reread this one now. It’s a very short novella — shorter, I think, than the two which follow — and so it was a very quick read. Some of the novelty has worn off from Elora Bishop’s work to me; there was a magic the first time I read this in it being some of the first unrepentant lesbian romance I read, and I think I liked it more for that. Bishop’s introduction about the lack of queer people in the books I read as a child ran true; the only ones I remember were all evil, or died.

One Solstice Night is, by contrast, a little delicate sugary confection. Isabella is a mediocre witch who has slipped up a few too many times, and has in fact been chased out of towns by a screaming mob (but this is dealt with fairly lightly). She comes to the small town of Benevolence hoping for a new start, and attracted by the fact that she only has to do one spell each year. And there she meets an outcast woman, shunned because of an ancestor’s doings, and befriends her.

Naturally, things come to a head and the spell doesn’t go right, the villagers aren’t pleased by the love fest between their witch and their outcast, but love prevails. I’m quite interested to see if the other books go into more of the background: what exactly the Wolf was, why Emily’s ancestor damaged the protective spell, etc. The lack of explanation of a motive behind that is what made this feel rather shallow on the second read.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Saints Astray

Posted 25 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Saints Astray by Jacqueline CareySaints Astray, Jacqueline Carey

Saints Astray is a fun follow-up to Santa Olivia, following Pilar and Loup as they find a way for themselves in the wider world outside their cordoned off district. Refreshingly, after the ups and downs of their relationship in Santa Olivia, the two are devoted to each other and while they do experience moments of doubt, these are quickly put to rest. Maybe the one thing that did bother me was how many people around Loup turned out to be ‘one in a hundred’s — people attracted to her despite the results of her genetic manipulation, which make her feel unattractive or strange to people. All of a sudden, in this book they’re coming out the woodwork!

Still, for the most part it’s just really fun: Loup and Pilar learn to be bodyguards, and Pilar shows that she’s far from just a pretty face — proving herself well worthy of Loup, if her love and loyalty hadn’t already proven that. They make friends and gain supporters in the outside world… and never forget their friends, whether that be Miguel (who has also escaped) or the kids from the orphanage who grew up alongside them.

The least fun part of this book is Loup’s incarceration, but at least this time she’s treated fairly, and her case triumphs in court, winning new freedoms for her and people like her, and shining a light on what was going on in her border town home. There was hope in Santa Olivia, but Saints Astray is more hopeful yet, full of a kind of optimism that love can win. Not a bad read for the present climate, I think.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Murder and Mendelssohn

Posted 11 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry GreenwoodMurder and Mendelssohn, Kerry Greenwood

The last Phryne book so far! Not quite sure what I’ll do without her; in fact, I’m vastly tempted to just pick up Cocaine Blues and begin again, the same way I do with Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter books, sometimes. Murder and Mendelssohn is a strong entry in the series because of the side characters, who no doubt most readers will recognise — the war-damaged John Wilson, and the genius investigator Rupert Sheffield.

They very much follow the BBC Sherlock interpretation of the characters, and if you know anything about the fan community surrounding that show, you can guess what Greenwood does with them. It’s a little weird at times because it feels downright voyeuristic, but of course Phryne plays Cupid and makes Sheffield realise that, in fact, he can’t live without Wilson and that — though he never realised it — he’s attracted to him, and even possessive of him. There is a very… weird scene involving Phryne and Sheffield, and really that whole side plot might not attract readers who aren’t so interested in queer love stories, but I think Phryne’s tenderness for her former lover was compelling, and their shared memories of the war likewise.

The main mystery was not so compelling, relying on Phryne’s sparkle; as usual, Greenwood’s Australia, or at least Phryne’s circle there, are full of queer people, unexpected people, big characters… and small petty killers, too, of course. I figured out the murder method very quickly — I’m trying to think if I read a similar plot somewhere else, or something like that. To me it was just way too obvious, somehow.

I’m very sad to leave Phryne behind, all the same: the mysteries might not always have enchanted, but Phryne and her found family certainly did. I’ll be first in line if there’s ever another book in the offing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Raven and the Reindeer

Posted 12 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Raven and the Reindeer by T. KingfisherThe Raven and the Reindeer, T. Kingfisher

Sometimes surprisingly sweet, sometimes surprisingly dark, this retelling of The Snow Queen turns things upside-down in quiet ways. It’s fairly traditional in the set-up, and you can recognise each incident as you go along… until you meet Mousebones, the raven. He adds a lot of life to the story with his snarky comments and unique perspective. And then there’s Janna, the robber princess, who has rather more of a role in this version than I remember from Hans Christian Anderson’s — one he probably would not have thought of, really.

This is actually, though it isn’t immediately clear, a lesbian retelling of The Snow Queen — one that isn’t too surprising when you think about the robber princess’ fondness for Gerta in the original (or at least, the version I remember reading). It works really well, and the addition of the reindeer skin magic and the… weirdness when Janna has to slit Gerta’s reindeer-throat to bring her back to normal — that little bit of darkness works really well and brings some more colour and warmth into The Snow Queen; something I think is lacking in the original, rather pious and obvious story.

I don’t love it as much as Bryony and Roses, for example, but it is a well done retelling.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Companion to Wolves

Posted 9 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of A Companion to Wolves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah MonetteA Companion to Wolves, Sarah Monette, Elizabeth Bear

I think a lot of people have read this expecting something it really is not: comfortable LGBT fantasy romance. But while there are gay characters and themes, the main character is more straight than not, and the gay sex goes toward highlighting issues which previous work like Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books ignored. Instead of telepathic dragons and euphemistic sex scenes which turn out okay for everyone because of course the green dragons choose gay men, this explores the complications for gender identity and sexuality. To that end, there’s a lot of dubious consent here: the wolf-brothers’ relationships mirror the wolves themselves. If that’s going to bother you, definitely don’t read this (or read it with caution), because it’s quite deliberately difficult for the main character to navigate and accept. If you’re reading this because you loved The Goblin Emperor — uh, don’t, at least not just for that reason.

However, since I didn’t go into this expecting sappy gay romance, since I’ve read part of Sarah Monette’s Mélusine, I was pretty prepared for this. Having noticed all those issues with the mating sequences in Pern when I reread the first book, it was interesting to see someone deal with it, and also to place it in a context that more or less forced the authors to deal with it. Of course, this is “Iskyrne”, not the Norse world, but it’s close enough, with similar gender politics and social issues to navigate.

The whole thing is an exploration of honour and how Isolfr has to adjust his ideas of honour — and how his father also has to adjust, since that theme runs from the start of the story. It’s not always comfortable and I don’t think there’s really a happy end for Isolfr. There’s just adjustment: everything is worth it for the sake of his wolf. That’s the real emotional core of the story: Isolfr’s relationship with Viradechtis.

The fantasy world is also interesting, although it’s somewhat typical: trolls and (essentially, though not described in this way) dwarves, magical wolves, etc. The set-up for the wolfhealls is essentially the same as for the Weyrs of Pern: protecting the world. The difference is essentially a) in the amount of ice, b) wolves can’t fly, and c) it actually deals with the issues of consent it raises.

I enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t always comfortable. I don’t think the brutality of parts of it are actually intended to be some kind of indictment of the lifestyle, as some reviewers have thought. There are gay couples in the story who have a meaningful and romantic relationship, just as there are characters who don’t have sex with men outside of the breeding cycles of the wolves. It reflects less of an obsession with sexuality, showing more fluidity, which is entirely possible in the society depicted in the wolfhealls.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Door into Fire

Posted 17 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Door into Fire by Diane DuaneThe Door into Fire, Diane Duane

This was a reread for me, since it’s been so long since I read it, and I want to get on and read the second and third book. (Although alas, I don’t know that the fourth book has progressed at all since I bought them.) It’s a refreshing world where, though people have a duty to provide an heir, sexuality isn’t tightly regulated and once you have provided a child, you can love whom you will — and polyamory is also an option. Despite that, it’s not idyllic: the characters don’t always accept their lovers’ choices, don’t always agree with their actions, do things to hurt one another, etc, etc. It’s not falsely optimistic: in fact, the way Herewiss and Lorn hurt each other is very real, and recognisable.

The fantasy elements are fun enough, if somewhat typical (though that might be partially familiarity with later fantasy). Herewiss has access to a power men can’t normally wield, and yet he can’t truly call it forth. Lorn is a king without a kingdom, exiled after usurpation. Segnbora is wandering with Bad Stuff in her past and an inability to use her abilities for other reasons. There’s a fire creature that might call to mind Calcifer at times for those of us who love Howl’s Moving Castle.

There’s all kinds of humanness amongst the fantasy elements, which is what makes good fantasy. I really enjoyed rereading this, because despite feeling typical in terms of the plot, it feels like a world with so much more potential than some other fantasy worlds I could name, because it allows for so much more — it isn’t bound by Christian morality or constrained by our history. It genuinely feels like a separate world with its own reality, and despite the fantasy elements, that’s partly because Herewiss and Lorn never have to worry about being hurt because they’re in love.

Rating: 4/5

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