Tag: queer fiction

Review – Heartstopper Volume 3

Posted February 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Heartstopper volume 3 by Alice OsemanHeartstopper vol. 3, Alice Oseman

This series is just so more-ish and adorable. I can’t help but love both Charlie and Nick and their relationship. It’s not always perfectly fluffy and happy — bullying is a theme, and there are several instances of homophobia; in this volume, there’s also disordered eating and references to self-harm. But the two of them are great to each other, even as they’re feeling their way through a serious relationship for the first time, and navigating issues with parents, siblings, school friends and teachers.

This particular volume also features more development from some of their friends, including Tao and Elle… and also a cute little snippet of another potential love story between two of the teachers. None of the characters are perfect; they make mistakes and do stupid things… but they’re good, they show up for each other and they think over their issues and they learn. Even when they get things wrong (as Tao does in this volume, and arguably as Charlie does in trying to handle several situations), they’re not monsters… and even the worst characters have the potential to learn. It has such heart.

It’s also kind of nice to read something British, because the experience is close in some ways to what I had. Not all — I went to a tiny private school, and had no particular friends there… but still, there are things in common that are… not nostalgic, for all kinds of reasons — if I say everything I thought about my old school they’d probably want to sue me — but sort of like that. Study leave! School trip to France!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Edge of the Abyss

Posted February 4, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Edge of the Abyss by Emily SkrutskieThe Edge of the Abyss, Emily Skrutskie

This is the follow-up to The Abyss Surrounds Us, and it picks up almost where it left off. Just three weeks later, the Minnow is hiding out to give Bao time to forget the ship and leave them. But suddenly, the Minnow spots a hell of a thing: a wild and untrained Reckoner, quickly dubbed a Hellbeast, which attacks them. Suddenly it’s obvious that the Minnow was far from the only ship to buy a Reckoner pup, and the other ships weren’t lucky enough to run across a Reckoner trainer to use to safely train it up. Now it seems like it’s in everyone’s best interests for Cas to work with the pirates and find the Hellbeasts.

In the midst of all this, Cas also has to deal with her relationship with Swift, damaged at the end of the last book by one of Santa Elena’s well-timed bombshells. Throughout the book, Santa Elena plays the two of them against each other, letting them build things up only to shatter them again. The relationship between Cas and Swift is well done, and I especially appreciate that the ambivalence isn’t magically ironed out in a super-happy ending. It’s far from instantaneous love, and though their bond formed quickly, it’s not at all clear that it will last.

I still have some doubts about Cas’ personality/motive flipflops. To some extent, teens are just like that; her moody behaviour does ring true for someone struggling out of adolescence and into adulthood. As an adult reading about her, I cringe at the obviousness of some of her realisations… but I do remember that’s what being a teen was like.

There are some great battle scenes, and the ending comes out about as well as you’d expect, without sugar-coating things; it’s pleasing to see Cas’ family dragged back into it, after she seemed to almost forget about them on board the Minnow. It’s also a pleasing ending for Cas, Swift and the other trainees: not perfect, but just bittersweet enough to seem right. I read this one in almost one big gulp as well, and found it very enjoyable. It’s definitely YA in tone and structure, and it works well for what it is. As an adult reader, I wanted a little more complexity at times, though I appreciated the relationships that don’t just come straight out of a cookie-cutter shape.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Flight of Magpies

Posted January 13, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Flight of Magpies by KJ CharlesFlight of Magpies, K.J. Charles

Flight of Magpies rounds this trilogy off beautifully. Of course, as it opens, the two are struggling: Stephen’s work-life balance is dreadful, while Crane has too much time on his hands. They’ve come a ways from the start of the last book, but they haven’t really resolved their priorities and their future intentions. That has to play out against the background of even more work issues for Stephen, something going on with Saint, and mysterious deaths that are clearly magical in some way, but hard to trace back.

That’s really just the start of the problems, but I shan’t spoil it. Suffice it to say that everything comes together beautifully, and Stephen and Crane get the ending they deserve. I’ll confess to wandering through the flat with my hands flailing saying “aaaaa” and refusing to spoiler it for my wife, having started and finished the book in one evening.

I’m intrigued by the glimpses of Pastern and his story — which is good, since I have Jackdaw lined up to read soon. None of the revelations in that part of the plot were particularly surprising, but the climax was nail-biting all the same. I’ll admit I was surprised about Merrick, and still don’t quite understand how that relationship developed, as such — like Crane, I was blindsided by it.

There were several sex scenes, some of them including plot-relevant information, for those who might be averse to reading them or might prefer to skip.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – A Case of Possession

Posted January 12, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Case of Possession by KJ CharlesA Case of Possession, K.J. Charles

A Case of Possession follows up on The Magpie Lord fairly closely; Stephen Day and Lord Crane have returned to London, but not quite to their previous lives, setting up as many clandestine meetings as they can (perhaps not as secretly as they should). Rackham, the man who introduced them in the first place, wants a lot of money fast, and of course, they can be blackmailed. Stephen’s in a spot of trouble too, with even his nearest and dearest fearing his newfound power is a sign he’s gone to the bad.

Also, people are being found mauled by giant rats, and shamans from Shanghai are involved, bringing Lucien into Stephen’s world as a translator, putting him right at the centre of everything again.

I do enjoy these characters so much, and the fact that they can be relatively happy and open despite the homophobic setting; Lucien has no shame due to his time in Shanghai, and Stephen is reasonably sure he can handle any issues that arise, so Charles can tread lightly around the wretchedness that I’m sure many in the period faced. It’s not wholly forgotten, of course, but it isn’t a huge barrier between them. There are some adorable bits in this book as they figure things out and put their relationship on a firmer footing.

It’s also fun to see the new characters, including an excellent scene with some of Stephen’s closest friends, and some more glimpses of Lucien’s past. Some excellent quips and comebacks, too, which I shan’t quote in order to let anyone who wants to find them for themselves.

The mystery of the giant rats is also a nice nod to Sherlock Holmes, and it works together to create a very good excuse for Lucien to be part of it again — there’s no perfectly coincidental constant stumbling over bodies. (Okay, I know the Daisy Dalrymple books are very different in many ways, but it does grate that a whole series is hinged on Daisy finding murder everywhere she goes, and it’s becoming a slight pet peeve.)

Finally, there are several sex scenes in this book; none of them are plot-necessary, but they do advance the characters and show their states of mind, so that’s worth knowing.

It all comes together well, and as a bonus there’s a short story featuring a little more about Merrick.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sisters of the Vast Black

Posted January 7, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina RatherSisters of the Vast Black, Lina Rather

Sisters of the Vast Black follows the journey of a group of nuns travelling on a living spaceship (derived from sea slugs), Our Lady of Impossible Constellations. They’re wandering about the universe on missions of mercy, baptising babies in colonies, celebrating marriages in young colonies… The universe has barely recovered from a civil war, and hints of that unease wrap the story around, while everyone on board has their secrets, their doubts and their worries. The Mother Superior of the little order is suffering with dementia, Sister Gemma has fallen in love, and Sister Faustina is keeping everybody’s secrets as she watches their correspondence come and go. Worse, their ship wants to mate, and they’re struggling with whether to allow it, or whether it — as a mobile convent, essentially — should be forced to remain celibate as well.

Oh, and there are disturbing hints that a new war might be brewing…

It feels fairly small-scale and insular at first, but it quickly opens out. The Mother Superior’s secrets can shake everything, and the Sisters have been using the ship’s immune system to make vaccines for dreadful diseases. Earth influence is expanding again, including with the arrival of a new priest with new orders from Rome to bring the Sisters into line. It all comes together in a final rush, and you see what it’s all for — there’s a reason for all the choices it makes. It works beautifully; I worked out where it was going ahead of time, but was still glad to see it happen, and there were some beautiful lines about the importance of helping people.

It boils down to: it’s a big world, and we’re just lonely little specks, but we can make ourselves something more. It’s very hopepunk in that sense, and I enjoyed that it was not super cynical about everything. The faith (or lack thereof, in the case of one character) of the Sisters is treated sympathetically, but without elevating them above other people. We’re all human, and can all shine our lights in the vast black, and create our own impossible constellations.

Rating: 4/5

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