Review – Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Posted 15 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante WilsonSorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson

I was all braced to love this, based on the reviews that I’d read. I wanted to, especially because the world is interesting, the relationships and the fact that it features a gay love story, and because it’s written half in vernacular, half in something more formal, which keeps it very much alive.

However, I had two problems. One was with the structure of the story. The last fifty pages were frenetic and packed full, exploding with stuff. The first hundred-fifty, however… barely went anywhere, and the story itself seemed to hide all the things that would have hooked me — the aforementioned relationship, more details about Demane and where he comes from… And the other problem is just that: there seems to be fascinating background to how the world was colonised? terraformed? is it Earth? It’s so hard to tell, and I wanted to know. I get that this is a novella and thus limited, but still, I wanted more than just that tantalising sense of what was going on — I wanted it to apply to the story more, I guess.

Something about the narration just bounced off me — it reminded me of Nnedi Okorafor’s writing in Lagoon, actually. I might try rereading it and see if it makes more of an impression, but I’m not in a hurry. Still, I’d be willing to try something else by Wilson.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , ,


The lesbian dies (again)

Posted 4 March, 2016 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

This morning, I woke up at five AM because I needed a drink. I found a note on the floor from my sister, telling me how heartbroken she was about recent developments in The 100, which she’d excitedly stayed up to watch via a stream. For weeks she’s been telling me about this show: Clarke and Lexa this, Clarke and Lexa that, the team promise good queer representation, etc, etc. She was happy and hopeful and it was nice.

In last night’s show, they killed the lesbian. (And as I said on Twitter the first time, if you’re annoyed about the spoiler, cry yourself a river and use it to get in the sea.)

Me and my sister are both queer. We both attended a conservative little private school where we were, as far as I can tell, the first kids to be openly gay while at school since it was founded in the 17th century. You better believe we received threats and constant harassment, from the moment we got onto the school bus in the morning to the moment we got off it at night — and sometimes longer, since people realised it’d be fun to start calling my sister up to continue with it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, homophobia is definitely not dead. I’m 26 and my sister is 21, and mostly things have got better for us. But you can bet we haven’t forgotten it, and that every time I think I see someone from my old school, I still feel a frisson of fear.

But we’re talking about fiction, right? Doesn’t harm anything.

It used to be a rule: if you have a lesbian character, they have to either go straight or come to a tragic end. Queer Tragedy. It had to be there: queer people don’t get to be happy (because they’re deviant). The Well of Loneliness counts as great queer literature — you can tell from the title it’s not going to be happy, and I can assure you it isn’t. It ends with the queer couple breaking up, and one partner going off to be part of a straight relationship, because that’s “safer”.

So no, your decision is not “bold“, Jason Rothenberg. It’s not narratively necessary, because you write the fucking narrative. You can choose. And you chose to look at the excitement around the queer representation on your show, the whole fandom climate with people shouting that a queer character should die so they could have their straight ship, the sheer bubbling hope that maybe this time, maybe this time, people would finally have a lesbian heroine who can kick ass and save everyone and be with the person she loves.

And you chose to say no.

Let me emphasise this: it was not forced upon you. You could’ve made a whole new narrative.

Instead, you killed the lesbian and my sister cried for over an hour. Not just because it was sad, not just because she’d got invested, but because she’d hoped that this time it’d be different and she’d get a love story written for her.

Now I’ve already seen the excuses.

  • It was necessary for the narrative. Covered this one. Next?
  • Lots of characters die. And? It still means something each time. And this time it filled a shitty, shitty trope.
  • The actor had to leave anyway. And character death is the only way to leave the show?
  • It was heroic. Heroic don’t keep anyone warm at night.
  • The show never mentions discrimination by sexuality. It doesn’t have to. We live in a world where that exists, and we experience the story framed by our world.
  • You should be grateful for what you’ve got. When what we’ve got is a reaffirmation of a shitty outdated narrative, why should we be?

When you kill a queer character, you’re killing a disproportionate amount of our on-screen representation. Sure, the diversity was there for a moment, but now the list of queer characters on TV is shorter by one. And it wasn’t that long to begin with. And these are people who need to see themselves in the world, who need to be treated as if they matter. Queer youth have ridiculously high suicide rates compared to their straight peers. You’re much, much more likely to get kicked out by your parents for being gay than for being straight. Schools turn a blind eye. People actively try and tell you that you’re evil and you’ll come to a bad end.

The 100 chose the easy option. The well-trodden path. It doesn’t matter if the lesbian had a heroic end. It doesn’t matter if her death furthers the plot, or even if her partner goes on to do great things without her. The key thing is: without her. The key thing is: queer people die.

We do. Every day. And it’s high time that stopped being our only story.

Tags: ,


Review – Arrows of the Queen

Posted 8 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes LackeyArrows of the Queen, Mercedes Lackey

I’ve always vaguely known about Mercedes Lackey’s work, but rarely read any, so this was my first experience with Valdemar. I’m aware that there are tons of problematic things about Mercedes Lackey’s body of work, though I haven’t looked at details. Still, Arrows of the Queen is a book I wish I’d had when I was younger. It has a couple of queer characters, who are treated pretty much like the other characters — okay, things aren’t all rosy for them, but not for other characters, either. And the main character is a young girl who loves books, and turns out to belong to something bigger than herself — that scullery maid to (almost) princess sort of transition which can be so fun (and which so often brings forth cries of “Mary Sue” when the character is female, and yet no such complaint is made if the character is male).

It’s fun, and Talia is capable and compassionate, while also learning and growing throughout the book. There are some things which jar a little now, for example her casual use of corporal punishment with the spoilt young princess, even after coming from a rather abusive background herself. It’s pretty commonly agreed now that corporal punishment doesn’t really go any good, but here it’s treated as a valuable tool in the arsenal of unspoiling a child. I’m dubious, and I’m sure there are people who would hate that section, but at least Talia has a general common sense approach to dealing with the Brat.

On the less positive side, the writing seriously falls down in places. Large chunks of time fly by, without any real framing, so that you think she’s been at the school for a month and it turns out it’s been a year, and such things. Worse, Lackey is — at least at this point in her career — very prone to “telling, not showing”. This sometimes wrecks the pacing and makes sections seem rather dry and didactic.

Still, I read it in one go and did enjoy it, and I’m planning to read more in the Valdemar universe. And I still wish I’d actually picked this up as a kid, and given it to my sister too. It might have made us feel less alone.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,


Review – How Not To Summon Your True Love

Posted 27 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha L. MillerHow Not To Summon Your True Love, Sasha L. Miller

Received to review via Netgalley

How Not To Summon Your True Love is apparently part of a project at Less Than Three Press to include more asexual and aromantic characters, which is awesome. It is under the title “Solitary Travelers“, which does raise my eyebrow a bit — why are ace/aro people associated once more with being alone, when it looks like these stories celebrate queerplatonic and asexual relationships too, if not in all of them? But still, it’s a nice idea for a project, and I was pleased to see Sasha L. Miller’s book on Netgalley, since I’ve enjoyed her work before (The Errant Prince).

The story itself is a pretty quick read, with a fairly generic magical world set-up — territories, official relationships between those, magical politics, etc. The main character uses a “true love” spell, which summons a naked, soapy, and rather irritated young man into his dorm room. Things go downhill from there, at least from the point of view of the status quo. Suddenly Cy’s on a roadtrip to Idaho, to take Dig (the guy he summoned) back home.

The romance is fairly incidental; there’s little by way of romantic feelings, and it didn’t feel like Cy was that interested in Dig, even in the sense of having a squish. The ending feels like an epilogue, where they decide to try dating. Still, their relationship is cute, their banter along the way is fun, and it’s nice to see an ace protagonist getting the guy and finding out that hey, turns out he’s ace too.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,


Review – Santa Olivia

Posted 25 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Santa Olivia by Jacqueline CareySanta Olivia, Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia was a reread, but it’s been a while — six (what?!) years, apparently. I never read the sequel, Saints Astray, so between getting that and having bought my sister the books for Christmas, it seemed high time to reread this and get stuck into Saints Astray. It was even more readable than I remembered — I’d have read it in a day if pesky life didn’t keep getting in the way. It takes a whole bunch of ideas — a faintly post-apocalyptic No-Man’s-Land in the Outpost, genetically modified soldiers, werewolves (sort of), boxing, coming of age, vigilantism, vengeance… — and makes a fresh, fun pageturner out of it.

And in case, like my sister, this is a draw for you, the central relationship is between two girls, and they eventually have a shot at a happy ever after.

The background is fairly nondescript, because the action is all confined to the Outpost and the inhabitants know little of what happens beyond the barricades. The important aspect is the characters and the interplay between them: the “orphans”, growing up together and trying out their strength, keeping each other’s secrets and having each others’ backs, and at the same time growing apart because they’re all so different. There’s people being good and people being assholes and people being caught somewhere in between and learning, a little, slowly, how to be better. There’s people being brave and people with no fear at all, and interesting discussions of how that affects each of them. All kinds of human emotions and motivations and tangles: that’s the draw of this story, even if the boxing and vengeance leaves you cold.

My one criticism is that it takes a surprisingly long time for Loup to really become the hero of the story, and she does so for entirely predictable reasons. You can feel those beats in the story coming way in advance. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m growing to wish it wasn’t always tragedy that motivates heroes.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,


Review – The Castlemaine Murders

Posted 21 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry GreenwoodThe Castlemaine Murders, Kerry Greenwood

The Castlemaine Murders is a fairly typical outing for Phryne, featuring her usual liberal attitudes to sisters, queer people, Chinese people, marriage and danger. At various points, it felt like Lin Chung was more the protagonist than Phryne was — which wasn’t bad, as such, because I do like the character and his relationship with Phryne… but on the other hand, he is definitely not what I’ve read thirteen books and counting for. Watching him come into himself and act with responsibility is kind of cool, all the same, because we’ve seen him go from obeying everything the head of the family said to being the head of the family.

The rest of the mystery, Phryne’s half, is rather secondary. In a bit of convenience, the two mysteries end up tied together — which was far too much of a coincidence for my liking, considering the age of the crimes, the distance, the amount of chance involved…

Still. I’m only critical because of the books have been more than this, at times. It’s still fun, and especially for the way all the characters are developing, growing up, becoming more and more of a family.

But hey, no Bert and Cec?

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , , ,


Review – Young Avengers: Family Matters

Posted 15 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Young Avengers: Family MattersYoung Avengers: Family Matters, Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung
Originally reviewed 25th August, 2013

I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first TPB somehow, but it is a lot of fun. I want more of Billy and Teddy, as a couple, at the same time as I want more of the team as a whole. I think I came out of this with half a dozen new ships. These novels make me fannish more than pretty much anything else I read, just as the Marvel movies make me ridiculously excited. I love the female characters, and I want more of them — heck, I want more of all of it. I’m enjoying the various revelations of how each Young Avenger came to have powers (or not, in Kate’s case).

In fact, now I’m envisioning a Young Avengers movie. It’d be too obvious to have Jennifer Lawrence for Kate, right?

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , , ,


Review – Young Avengers: Sidekicks

Posted 8 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 10 Comments

Cover of Young Avengers: SidekicksYoung Avengers: Sidekicks, Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung
Originally reviewed 25th August, 2013

This series promises to be a lot of fun. You don’t need to know a lot about the main Marvel canon to understand this one: it’s mostly new characters, with some cameos from classics like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers (being very much ‘Superhusbands’: I mean, really, they swoop in with iron Man holding Steve by the waist, it’s practically Superman and Lois Lane). I liked the emotions flying around here: they’re teenagers dealing with superpowers, not superheroes who happen to be teenagers. They mess up and fight and they need to get to school in the morning.

I actually forgot about the gay couple in this series, but that’s one more reason to love it. You can talk all you like about the Cap/Iron Man subtext, but this is the real thing.

The adult Avengers’ roles here make sense, too. I like that they’re an obstacle to the Young Avengers that no one could call evil, in addition to the issue of super villains. I think having read some other Marvel comics would help here to understand just why the Avengers are no more, but a general knowledge is enough.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , , , ,


Review – Fingersmith

Posted 30 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fingersmith by Sarah WatersFingersmith, Sarah Waters
Originally reviewed 1st July, 2009

It’s hard to see this book as primarily a work of historical fiction when everybody considers Sarah Waters to be a lesbian writer. Have to confess, I have a tendency to turn my nose up at books that are toted as “modern feminist writing” or whatever, which is bad of me. Never judge a book by its cover, etc. But I remembered reading a few passages from it in a seminar, early in the spring semester, and wanting to see how it fit into a longer novel. Also, Sarah Waters is Welsh, which helps.

I don’t think it’s the best book that was ever written. I can’t speak for the quality of the research, but the settings are quite well described and vivid, and the language is lively enough to make my synaesthesia spark. It “tasted nice”, as I say, but at the same time, it wasn’t the best overall taste ever. There are some gorgeous passages and there are indifferent sections — I couldn’t put my finger on why, but that was my impression. It just “tasted” blander. I always wonder if maybe those points are when the writer lost focus or got bored for a moment.

The plot is twisty and turny. I actually read spoilers in advance, which was silly, because I didn’t really get the full benefit of the surprises or any moments where everything clicked into place. I think that feeling might have been nice, with this book — but at the same time I wonder if it was probably led up to… I suppose Susan does constantly drop hints that Maud is not what she seems, in the end. Sometimes I did feel that big surprises were thrown into the readers’ faces just for the shock value. I don’t really mind that so much when I’m reading, but for a book that is relatively slow paced and detailed, it seems… somehow inappropriate. Then, at the same time, how else would one keep it interesting? It felt like breaking character, though… reading actual Victorian books, like Charles Dickens, the writing is as slow — slower! — but it still keeps me interested, and even the plot twists don’t seem quite so sharp.

The format, with the Susan POV followed by the Maud POV recounting the same events, was irritating. It was nice to get both sides of the story, on the one hand, but the intricacies of the Gentleman’s plot could have come out without it, and Maud’s POV didn’t bring anything really new to it. The transition wasn’t bad — at least it didn’t say in block capitals, “You are too stupid to understand this, but there is a POV change here”! But it wasn’t great, either, it wasn’t entirely necessary, and the book could have been tighter and neater without it.

Character-wise… I don’t know. I guess nobody struck me that sharply. I ended up being in it more to see exactly how the plot unfolded, rather than for the characters, which is unusual for me. I thought some of the interactions between Maud and Sue were good, and liked the ending; I had a strange fondness for Dainty throughout. But I didn’t get wildly caught up in it as I would if I really, really cared about the characters.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,


Review – Timeless

Posted 28 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of Timeless by Gail CarrigerTimeless, Gail Carriger

If you’re enjoying the series, then this is basically more of the same sort of tone and plot, relationships, etc. There are a couple of nice developments — Biffy and Lyall’s relationship is particularly nice, and if you’re a fan of happily ever afters, then Conall and Alexia have a solution to something that was a problem, mostly unspoken, from the beginning. It ties up a lot of plot threads, including stuff about the God Breaker plague, Floote’s mysteriousness, and Alexia’s father.

Plenty of drama drama, silly nicknames and sex-positivity, and general silliness. I’m glad to have finished the series, but I’m a bit reluctant to jump into Prudence… The silliness has always been a touch beyond my interest, and I’ve heard other critical things about it. We’ll see. I do own it, so I might as well try!

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,