Tag: queer fiction

Review – Burning Roses

Posted September 15, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Burning Roses by S.L. HuangBurning Roses, S.L. Huang

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 29th September 2020

Burning Roses combines a mixture of different fairytales/folklore: Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Goldilocks… and Hou Yi, an archer from Chinese mythology. It blends all these disparate-sounding elements together with aplomb, remixing Hou Yi’s story in the meantime to make Hou Yi a trans woman, and winding in what reads as a racism metaphor in the grundwirgen (magical beings with animal qualities or animal forms, all of whom Rosa rather virulently hates in a way inherited from her mother and compounded by a ghastly experience as a child — you can guess what that experience was when you consider the Red Riding Hood story).

I didn’t think that all these stories could be combined like this so comfortably; for me, they’re all on quite different formal registers. I don’t know much about Hou Yi and how that story is usually told, of course, but the version I heard was rather formal and in the context of an anthology of mythological stories. On that basis, it initially seemed oddly placed next to a nursery story like Goldilocks. Just settle in and trust the author: in my opinion, it works out. I especially enjoyed the way that the story used both versions of the Hou Yi story that I knew of, showing they’re essentially the same story from different angles, depending on who is telling the story.

The grundwirgen (which I read as a metaphor for racism) theme feels a little heavy-handed at first, but when I think about the story now that doesn’t really register. The image that sticks in my head is that of both Rosa and Hou Yi working to be worthy of their families, failing and being human, and finding their way through it. It’s not a story of young and giddy fairytale love, but of love that endures through pain, love that forges a true family which you can’t walk away from.

I haven’t read the short stories in this world, but I don’t think it’s necessary to appreciate and enjoy this novella.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Four Profound Weaves

Posted September 14, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. LembergThe Four Profound Weaves, R.B. Lemberg

I originally had this to review, but ended up buying a copy on release because I’m generally picking up physical books much more regularly at the moment, and I really did want to give this a try. I’m actually wondering if I’ve read one or two of the stories set in this world before, and somehow forgotten, because some things felt really familiar.

In any case, it took me a while to get into the story — partly because I didn’t properly take notice of the POV shift, and partly because I felt like I was assembling the world from pieces of a puzzle I’d briefly seen before. It was a bit weird, as a feeling, but I settled in and ended up racing through the novella all in one go. It begins with two older people, long known to each other but not of the same cultural group, deciding to go in search of what they feel they’re missing: a name, in the case of one of them, who has just completed his long-awaited transition after a life lived as a woman for the sake of his family; and the other, in search of her aunt, and the things her aunt promised to teach her.

The story is less important, I think, than the claiming (and re-claiming) of one’s voice, one’s identity, one’s true self. Both the main characters have to find that and learn to grasp it, in their own ways, and it is only through that that they can be whole and the neglected threads of their lives picked up and woven in.

I wasn’t always in love with the story: I felt thrown in at the deep end, though I suspect some of my confusion came from expecting something else (either from reading a previous story in this world, or just something with some similar elements… it’s hard to say, because I can’t put my finger on it). I didn’t feel the two voices were entirely distinct, despite what I said about the theme of the story, and there were at times some clumsy things — like the repeated reminders that Uiziya repeats questions until they’re answered. That felt like the ultimate “show, don’t tell” violation (even though sometimes telling can be very effective):

“What’s going on?” I asked.


A thin green snake slithered in the dusk between us, as if drawing a boundary I should not cross. I stepped right over it.

“So what is going on?” I had a habit of repeating a question until it was answered.

That really, really could’ve been shown — we didn’t even need to know at that exact moment that this is a habit, we could’ve just seen it throughout the scene, the story… Telling can be a powerful tool, especially with a first-person narrator like this, but this — and the repetitions of it later, to make sure the reader notices — didn’t quite work for me.

Overall I found it really enjoyable; I just had a few niggles, I think.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Priory of the Orange Tree

Posted August 23, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha ShannonThe Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon

Oh boy, how to review this chunkster? I actually started to read it back when it first came out, and was fascinated… and then got distracted, as happens so often for me. Then I ended up reading it at a pace of five pages a day, alongside other workerbees from Beeminder! Which was pretty cool, actually; I thought I would find it really frustrating, because I’m usually a fast reader. Granted, I didn’t exactly stick to five pages a day — it was more like a chapter every other day. Either way, it worked, and I found myself eager for my daily snippet instead of daunted by the size of the book, which has been a problem for me lately.

It’s a retelling of George and the Dragon, but it doesn’t really show unless you already know that; you can also just sink into it as a story about dragons, alchemists with dubious backbones and morals, pirates, witches, queens, friendship and love. I didn’t know anything much about the characters and their relationships before starting, so I very much enjoyed watching them unfold. I never expected Sabran to grow on me so much, or for her relationship with Eadaz to work for me; her moodiness and even capriciousness made her really unattractive to me as a character from the start, but as she opened up to Ead, I came to pity her and understand her a little better… and slowly I could at least see part of what Ead saw, even if I’m not wholly convinced by the depth of the relationship given the timing.

I do agree with some other reviewers that there are pacing issues; Tané’s parts feel almost sketched in compared to Ead’s, which really dominated all the others for me. I’ve read about the book having to be substantially cut and revised, and it makes sense for it to linger on Ead the way it does… but it makes it feel like the others are both secondary and have not enough to say given their significance. I really felt like Tané needed a bit more time to grow, given her completely self-centred and self-righteous behaviour at the start.

I’m not wholly sure I followed the sterren and siden magic system, but this was partly the piecemeal way I read the book, I think. It’s certainly a world I’m sad to leave and interested to potentially revisit.

I’ll agree with other reviewers that comparisons to Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings are completely inappropriate, and if you’re looking for those worlds, you should probably just reread the originals. The Priory of the Orange Tree is not that close a comparison, and you’ll definitely be disappointed if you’re just looking for more Tolkien or GRRM. I’m not saying that as a value judgement, though; The Priory of the Orange Tree is its own thing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Alike As Two Bees

Posted July 31, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Alike As Two Bees by Elin GregoryAlike As Tw0 Bees, Elin Gregory

Not a period I’ve read romance for (that I can think of), so when my automatic recommendations turned this up I pounced on it! Philon is an apprentice stonemason, and as he works on portraying Castor and Pollux, he’s copying from a horse he’s seen on the beach. Her rider Hilarion is clearly interested in him, and Philon’s apprehensive and eager about that… even as Hilarion’s brother, Aristion, starts to bully Philon’s fellow apprentice. Hilarion comes to his rescue, and Philon… well, he falls a bit head over heels.

It’s sweetly done, and avoids the issue of an age gap (since in Greek tradition, it would be a rather older man and a fairly young boy) by having Philon be more or less an adult. Though he gets a serious crush, it’s not “instalove” — it’s quick, but he even acknowledges himself that for now it’s just the beginning of something. I’d be interested to see more of Hilarion’s point of view here, since we only see him from Philon’s point of view.

It’s nice that it doesn’t feel like the story is just there as a wrapper for the romance: the work of the stonemasons goes on and surrounds the budding romance, and each gives the other meaning.

It’s a quick read, and I’d gladly check out more by this author.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Deep

Posted July 30, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Deep by Rivers SolomonThe Deep, Rivers Solomon

The Deep is a novella which the afterword describes as part of a game of “narrative telephone”, inspired by the work of clipping., an American hip-hop group. I know absolutely nothing about the music, to be honest, so The Deep was my introductory point.

The story follows Yetu, the Historian of the wajinru, a mermaid-like people who were born by magic from pregnant women tossed overboard from slave ships. They have few memories, leaving all of it to be held by their Historian — and Yetu is too fragile, losing her sense of self and drowning in the accumulated memories of her people. During an event in which she passes all the memories on to other wajinru, Yetu flees, hoping to be free of the burden…

There’s an awful lot going on in this novella, especially given it’s pretty short: coming to terms with the past, mental and chronic illness/neurodiversity, moving forward despite trauma, finding your place and your people… Obviously, some things are just taken for granted (there’s no real reason given for why the wajinru were born like that), and some bits of the story are painted in broad strokes. Yetu’s point of view is rather dark and hopeless at times, and she has suicidal impulses as well, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend this if you’re feeling unwell yourself. Nevertheless, it’s not an especially dark novella, somehow — it’s not about wallowing in past awfulness, despite the provocative idea of a human-like people being born from the corpses of pregnant slaves. It could be a lot darker than it is, but actually it finds a way to shine a light.

I enjoyed the character of Yetu in some ways — her determination to make space for herself — and in other ways she frustrated me so much. She just… runs away, leaving her people in the torment she’s fleeing, and that’s not really something I can relate to. The whole bit flopping around in the tide pool was extra frustrating. Like, of course she needed a period of healing, but… gah, the self-pity. I did like her matter-of-fact conversations with Oori, at the same time.

Overall, I found it beautifully written, and the structure works well, despite the repetitions (which I think bothered some folks). I was surprised how much got told and felt in such a small space. I found the ending came a little easily… but then of course that’s what anxiety and mental illness is like: it holds you back from seeing an obvious possible solution.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Return of the Earl

Posted July 28, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Return of the Earl by Sandra SchwabThe Return of the Earl, Sandra Schwab

Con has been away from his father’s estate for thirteen years, after his father caught him with the stableboy. In the intervening time, he’s inherited the estate and the title… but he has no wish to return home, having been told by his father that his stableboy lover repudiated him harshly and had to be paid for his silence. Matters need to be handled, though, so reluctantly, he returns to the place he grew up… to find Bryn still there, waiting for him, and apparently totally brazen about his actions.

Needless to say, I don’t think there’s a spoiler here to say there has been a grave misunderstanding. It’s understandable in the context, but Con spends the entire time refusing to trust Bryn, looking desperately for the evidence that Bryn really did have to be paid off, instead of realising that, hey, his dad was a git and Bryn was always true. Once that gets through Con’s head, the story turns sweet, but until that point he’s rather petulant… and his about-face felt a little odd.

Bryn would almost have been a more interesting POV character; he has his head on straight, knows what he wants, and while he isn’t impervious to pain, he knows he’s not the only one suffering.

Anyway, a fun and quick read, overall, but not super memorable.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Like a Gentleman

Posted July 19, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Like a Gentleman by Eliot GraysonLike a Gentleman, Eliot Grayson

I read a different book by Eliot Grayson on a whim a while ago, and thought it was okay, and I wanted something short and relatively low-stakes this evening, so I thought I’d give this a try! James Rowley is a writer, and the brother of an Earl. His editor, Leo, has been awfully rude to him, and the crowning insult is that he’s stolen James’ work. James sets out to get revenge, and when he learns that Leo’s attracted to him, he decides that will be the perfect revenge.

The bit that I don’t really get is Leo’s nasty letter to James, which is half-explained but seems way too angry and incongruous with Leo’s feelings and actions (even if he gives some excuse about it being due to irritability). The whole scenario felt very manufactured as a result, and it doesn’t help that Leo’s feelings for James are based on very little… and James’ for him on even less. I didn’t really believe in the relationship between the two, so I wasn’t invested in it — the scene where James uses Leo and makes him feel awful is well-done, but to believe in it, I’d need to understand much better where Leo’s feelings come from.

The best bit is actually the final chapter, where they’ve got their HEA and then bicker with each other. A lot of stories dismiss the issues of class in this period, and that last chapter unpicks that a little and deals with that barrier to their happy-ever-after. Their emotions and reactions to each other in that scene make a lot more sense to me!

It’s on Kindle Unlimited and not a bad fast read; overall it’s kind of sweet, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Threshold

Posted July 7, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Threshold by Jordan L. HawkThreshold, Jordan L. Hawk

Threshold takes Whyborne, Griffin, and their friend Christine to a mining town, after Whyborne’s father (who has a large stake in the company) asks him to investigate the strange rumours coming from the town. It’s time for more horrors, some amateur spellcraft on Whyborne’s part, and an awkward meeting with one of Griffin’s former coworkers. They investigate the mystery — and the mysterious changes of personality from a prominent member of the company — while Griffin and Whyborne trip over their relatively-new relationship and their insecurities.

The relationship stuff is… a bit frustrating to me, mostly, because I felt that it was somewhat contrived. We can’t have them be too settled in themselves, so Whyborne has to be jealous and Griffin has to be hiding something, and no one can just talk about it and tell the truth. They figure themselves out without it being dragged out too long, but Whyborne’s huff with Griffin felt very similar to his reaction in the last book, and that… bothers me. Like, can you ever just sit down and listen to Griffin’s explanations? Maybe trust him a little?

I really hope this will not continue to be a theme of these books, because it’s one that I’ll get tired of pretty quickly… and otherwise it’s a lot of fun! And it’s not that I don’t want to see any conflict between the leads, but I’d prefer it not to be something that is so thin and well-worn. I’m still enjoying this series a lot, but one more book of this kind of lack-of-communication will quickly start turning me off. Here’s hoping some more trust develops between Whyborne and Griffin!

All that aside, I tore through the book. The mystery and its explanation are perhaps a little obvious, but some of the details come as a gruesome surprise, and there are some genuinely horrifying moments. Christine is amazing throughout, and I have a feeling that — support Whyborne though she does — she’d concur with my second paragraph completely. She’s a joy, and a breath of no-nonsense fresh air.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders

Posted July 7, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette De BodardOf Dragons, Feasts and Murders, Aliette de Bodard

Received to review via Netgalley; release date 7th July 2020

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders is set in Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen universe, but it’s really apart from the main plot (at least as far as the first two books go — I haven’t read the third, yet). It’s a standalone, so you don’t need to have read the series, but it may enhance things a little bit and crack open the motivations of the main characters a little more. It follows Thuan and Asmodeus, rulers of Hawthorn House, on a visit to Thuan’s family — a dragon court in a Vietnamese style, rather than the post-apocalyptic Paris that the main series focuses on. Thuan is a bookish sweetie; Asmodeus is a sadistic murderer. They love each other very much. Do they trust each other? Rather less.

It’s a rather fascinating pairing, as it happens: they have very different outlooks, and different motivations — their interests and their aims don’t always align. It makes for an interesting tension between the two and within the story, which involves a murder at court which Thuan must unravel, to prevent his dynasty from being unseated from the throne.

I found it all really enjoyable, particularly in the exploration of the balance and tension between them. For me, as someone who has read part of the main series, it’s also an opportunity to see a bit more of the world, but I don’t think that’s a requirement. The traditional mystery of the dead body itself isn’t much of one, really; the question is not so much whodunnit, or even howdunnit or whydunnit, but a question of how Thuan will use it to unpick the greater issue of the attack on his family.

And let’s face it, there are just some really great lines. I love Asmodeus as a “sweet, murderous delight”, in particular.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Pet

Posted June 18, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Pet by Akwaeke EmeziPet, Akwaeke Emezi

Pet takes place in the utopian city of Lucille. They’ve rooted out all the evil at their core: the violent policemen, the corrupt politicians, the liars and abusers… It wasn’t easy, and those who had to hunt for the evil in their midst had to do terrible things, but now there are no monsters in Lucille. Jam has been raised in this world, and is shocked when a spatter of her blood combines with a painting made by her mother and calls forth a monster which calls itself Pet and says there is a monster in Lucille, in the home of her dearest friend. Worse, it says she has to help it hunt down that monster.

It’s hard to put a finger on quite where Pet sits, though it’s labelled as YA: Jam feels rather young, despite the fact that she’s older than fifteen. I suspect that’s partly because of her naïveté, though. I don’t know how old I was when I first understood that children around me were being abused by family members, but I can’t have been more than ten. The idea of children being able to be that naïve is a pretty shocking one from that perspective: of course they wouldn’t have to grow up as fast. Of course they could have space to figure out their way through their lives.

So despite how young it feels in that way, YA is probably fair — especially because of the things Jam discovers while she’s on the hunt with Pet.

I really enjoyed the different kinds of representation here: there’s a family with three parents, one of whom is non-binary; Jam is trans; Jam prefers not to vocalise and uses signs and alternative ways to communicate; race feels unimportant to the world but is clearly signalled to the reader (with Jam’s afro, learning to do her hair in cornrows, etc — not to mention the cover)…

And as for the story… It feels simplistic, but there’s a lot of stuff to untangle. I enjoyed Jam’s friendship with Redemption, and the easy way they help each other, make each other better, and figure out their way around their problems. The relationships between Bitter and Aloe, Jam’s parents, and within Redemption’s family as well, have that feel to it as well. A world where people communicate and figure things out — and yes, are awful to each other sometimes, but figure things out as well. And there’s the whole issue of the monsters in Lucille, which people don’t want to see: we’ve done the work, they say. The work’s been done, there are no monsters.

There are always monsters, and we can’t pretend we’ve got rid of them for good, no matter how righteous we are, no matter how we purge and purge. We always have to be ready to listen, to accept that we could have been wrong.

Pet does a lot in a very short space, and it’s very worth a read at this particular moment in time especially. It has the simplicity of a fable or a parable, but within that simplicity is a hell of an idea to have to wrestle with.

Rating: 4/5

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