Impossible, Nancy Werlin
It’s difficult to say how I feel about this book. There are a lot of things I liked: the supportiveness of Lucy’s adoptive family, the relatively sex-positive attitudes and the emphasis on women’s autonomy and right to choose what’s right for them, the very fact that it’s built on a folk song (there are so many stories in those). The part that worried me somewhat was the fluctuating attitude to abortion: at times it’s suggested as a natural solution (which it is in the situation described here), and at others there’s very much a “no, every life is sacred” thing. There’s a risk of glorifying teen pregnancy, and glorifying martyrdom-by-having-your-rapist’s-baby which I’m very uncomfortable with.
And yet, as I said, free choice is emphasised so often; several positively portrayed characters express their support for abortion… I think it’s just a factor of the story’s set-up: if Lucy has an abortion, there’s no story, and there’s hints that the adversary in the story is manipulating things.
One thing it does glorify that I’m not sure about is very hasty marriage. The characters don’t seem mature enough for it, and it’s so immediate upon their realisation. She’s having a baby -> we must get married. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the whole plot of the story hinges upon centuries of rapes.
I’m not entirely sure what that comes to, overall. The writing is fairly simple and functional, though once or twice it does capture some moments perfectly — particularly Zach and Lucy’s relationship, and Lucy and Sarah’s friendship. I did feel a push to finish the book; I had to know how the mystery/riddle/curse worked out. I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but I found it interesting.
The Errant Prince, Sasha L. Miller
Received to review via Netgalley
The Errant Prince is a fantasy novella, with an LGBT romance at the heart. It’s set in the kind of world that I love in fantasy, where we haven’t automatically copied over the things we’re bigoted about. Even the fact that Myron is trans doesn’t get as much attention as it might in our world, and as we would assume it would’ve done in medieval-esque societies. It’s also awesome that the issues in this story are not to do with the sexuality or gender of the characters.
It’s also nice that this is a romance story in which there aren’t Terrible Misunderstandings. There’s one, but it doesn’t really count, because they actually communicate about it and sort themselves out before it escalates.
The fantasy aspect isn’t just backdrop, either. There’s some worldbuilding, though I’d welcome more; there’s a lot of information on magic and how it works; there’s a fair idea of the politics and society surrounding the story. It’s not as immersive as I like my secondary worlds to be, but it isn’t two dimensional. Overall, it’s a sweet and enjoyable story — and wonder of wonders, there’s no sex shoehorned in, despite the delicate balance of tension between the two main characters.
The Gabriel Hounds, Mary Stewart
Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense/mystery type novels have been my go-to comfort reading for a while. Unfortunately, now I’ve finished them all and I’m back to the beginning. I mostly grabbed this from my community library to demonstrate that we should totally keep Mary Stewart on the shelves because people want to read ’em, but I’m pretty sure this was the first of her books I read (other than The Crystal Cave), so it makes sense to start over with it!
I think I appreciated it more, this time. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it before, and I was still in a fairly snobby stage about anything with romance in it, but now I’m happy to sink into Stewart’s romances and enjoy the atmosphere, the way she establishes a sense of place. The landscape is as much a part of this as anything else: dusty, hot, romanticised.
I still stick by the judgement that it’s basically Famous Five for adults, in terms of the mystery. Replace drugs with treasure and you’ve got Five on Treasure Island, basically, apart from the fact that then George marries one of her cousins at the end. There are a couple of reasons why the cousin relationship is creepier than normal here: they were brought up practically as siblings, called “the Twins” by their family; their fathers are identical twins. So in terms of DNA, they’re half-siblings, pretty much, bar any epigenetic modifications. I know that maybe it wouldn’t have been viewed that way then, but it still skeeves me out a little.
Still, for drama and adventure and a glorious atmosphere, plus the fact that at least Charles and Christy don’t have a weird power imbalance to their relationship, I have to give this a higher rating than I did before. The other bad point is, of course, the treatment of one of the only other “on-screen” female characters, Halide: a bigger stereotype of the scheming simple Arab servant, I’m not sure you could have. So not 5/5, even if I do really appreciate some aspects.
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
I didn’t have to read much of this to realise that Susanna Kearsley’s work is going to be the perfect replacement for the comfort reading I got all the way through in the last two or three years (Mary Stewart’s romance/adventures). It has the same sense of place, the beautiful descriptions of landscape, and the same sort of heroine: female, curious, about to be swept up in bigger events than she’d ever have expected. And better: this is explicitly fantastical, where most of Mary Stewart’s books were more mysteries, sometimes with hints at fantasy.
And better again, whew, we don’t have first cousins getting married at the end.
It does start off with kind of a slow pace, and Eva is only rarely involved in actual action, despite the backdrop of free trading and other such types of derring-do. And it is indeed a romance, so the ending is a happy one for most of the characters (though there’s a sadder note, too, with Eva’s sister’s husband; I was glad there was some closure at the end of story with him as well, even if it was a sadder story), and there’s plenty of romance going on — not just for Eva, but in the background. And yeah, I think Fergal and Daniel take the time travelling woman a little too lightly. They’re curious, but not curious enough to feel realistic. They both just decide to protect her right away.
But I enjoyed it anyway: it has a great atmosphere, and the writing flows well. It’s a bit like The Time Traveler’s Wife, I guess, in that I wouldn’t want to examine how the timeline works too closely lest it fall apart, but it was the ideal fluff, and it had enough substance that I cared about the characters.
Soulless, Gail Carriger
I originally read Soulless a while ago, and I didn’t know much about it — just that people found it a lot of fun. And I think I was still being snobby about overt romance in fiction, before embracing my love of Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart (not that this is solely romantic fiction in that way, though it does share some of the features, like a plucky single heroine who is a spinster, etc, etc). Anyway, I thought it was kind of fun, but I wasn’t really prepared to enjoy it for what it was.
This time, I knew it was often ridiculous, would make me laugh, included a rather shocking amount of bodice ripping detail, etc. And I was prepared to enjoy it for that — and somehow that made it easier to focus on the bits of world-building around that: hive politics, pack politics, human politics, the changes Carriger’s made to history to fit in vampires and other supernatural creatures. I guess in a way it stays disturbingly imperialistic and so on — Victoria is queen, it’s a golden age, silly America is kind of backwards, etc. But really we don’t see much of the rest of the empire; it stays pretty parochial. Maybe the word should be territorial?
The mystery is terribly easy, though, especially the second time around. That’s not so much any actual clues as the fact that the author slaps a certain element into every couple of scenes. It’s not exactly subtle as a Chekhov’s gun.
Still, I’m happy to read this as light fun; as a friend said before, it’s a cream puff of a book. And that’s fine. And hey, the positivity of the sexuality between Conall and Alexia is actually pretty positive, and it’s nice that Carriger doesn’t milk angst out of it with too much obsessing over Alexia’s reputation, etc.