Tag: queer fic

Review – Watchtower

Posted January 6, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Watchtower by Elizabeth A. LynnWatchtower, Elizabeth A. Lynn

Oof, I was always so sure I’d love Watchtower, and yet when it comes to it I don’t know what to say. It felt like there was meant to be a lot going on under the surface, but I couldn’t see through it to what I was supposed to be connecting to and understanding. It opens with the aftermath of a battle: Ryke has survived, though the lord of the Keep has not, and he’s offered a chance to live and serve… and if he does, his prince will be kept safe. He agrees in order to save Errel, and ultimately contrives his escape after Errel has been thoroughly humiliated by being forced to be essentially a court jester. So far, so heard it all before.

And then he and Errel end up in a sort of… commune, where everybody pitches in and everybody learns to fight, only there’s also dancing, which Errel learns and Ryke won’t learn. Some things turn out the way you expect — actually, none of the actual plot surprised me, per se — but the relationships are what I think are what’s really being explored. Sorren and Norres (their names aren’t alike for any particular reason I can see) help Ryke and Errel escape, and the four become entangled in a weird web of trust, jealousy and confusion.

It doesn’t help that Ryke is obtuse and stubborn all along. At the end, I was left with a pretty powerful sense of melancholy: that aspect of the regret and confusion Ryke feels comes through solidly, but what anyone else feels and why is rather beyond me. Why Ryke’s so stubborn and stupid (except learned prejudice, which he displays fairly frequently) doesn’t really come through for me.

In the end, I’m not really intending to bother with the other Tornor books, on the strength of this; it’s interesting how casually queer it is (Sorren and Norres are women and in a committed relationship; there are people of non-binary gender presentation in the world, though it seems that’s by birth rather than choice), given the age of the book. That part of it hasn’t aged it at all.

It all feels deceptively simple, in a way that I think is intended and meant to create something with that melancholy regretful feeling. But it’s like trying to hold a handful of snow in the palm of a warm hand; it doesn’t last long, and it doesn’t stand up to any pressure — it won’t last in my mind, I don’t think. I’m glad I gave it a try, though.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Posted December 29, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa ColeOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy, Alyssa Cole

It’s probably bit weird to come to this book without reading the main series, but the cover is so lovely! Likotsi is essentially the personal assistant (“Advisor Most High”) to the prince of a fictional African country. She was in New York working for the prince a while before the story opens, where she met Fabiola through a dating app. They clicked quickly, and were well on the way to falling in love when suddenly Fabiola decided, out of nowhere, to tell Likotsi that it was over between them. Back in New York, Likotsi’s planning to forget her… and of course a chance meeting makes that impossible.

(No, there is no actual ghosting in this story. Fabiola makes the end of the relationship explicitly clear, and then enforces her boundaries in not wanting to talk to Likotsi.)

There’s something too much about the narration at times — here’s an excerpt from early in the book: “New York City didn’t have majestic mountains or roaring waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than to be the receptacle of memories that impeded her forward motion like a badly tailored suit that was too tight at the knees and elbows.” It would be perfectly fine — and smoother to read — if it was more like this instead: “New York City didn’t have mountains or waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than just to provoke the memories that kept constraining her at odd moments, like a badly tailored suit.” That’s not the best, but it makes the point: you know mountains are tall and waterfalls roar, you know that a badly tailored suit fits badly.

I don’t normally nitpick too much at the prose level, and thankfully it did smooth out once it stopped being self-conscious and the leads started going around the city together. It ended up pretty cute, and Fabiola’s reasons for the abrupt breakup are obviously such that she is not in fact an asshole.

There is one sex scene which is very explicit; it’s totally fine to skip, it’s just a culmination of their relationship, without significant character development or plot relevance. It’s pretty clearly signalled and at the end of the book.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

Posted October 20, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vlyar KaftanHer Silhouette, Drawn in Water, Vylar Kaftan

Received to review via Netgalley

This novella went wholly different places than I expected, though not in a way that could really be foreshadowed. It was okay, but I wasn’t in love with it; I did enjoy that it is clearly, unapologetically queer, with Latinx main characters. It opens on a prison planet, in a mysterious maze of tunnels which Bee and her lover Chela navigate blindly. They must explore the caves, seeking for supplies which are left for them at intervals, and ensure they arrive there before the bugs that infest the place and seem to hunt them — their punishment for the crime of being telepathic terrorists. However, despite the block on her telepathic powers, Bee feels someone trying to contact her… a woman she realises is in fact her wife.

Things take quite the turn from there, in a way that wasn’t really foreshadowed — too much detail would have made it far too obvious. It’s hard to discuss the rest of the novel without spoilers because of that: suffice it to say that this is a character-focused book, and Bee has to face certain facts and her own trauma in order to win through. The sci-fi plot turns out to be a vehicle for a story about trauma and healing.

In the end, it didn’t bowl me over, but I don’t regret giving it a try. I’d probably try something else by Vylar Kaftan to see whether it was just this story or if it’s her whole style.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics

Posted October 10, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia WaiteThe Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Olivia Waite

This is a lovely historical romance in which a young girl, Lucy Muchelney, seeks a patron to help her continue her work as an astronomer after her father’s death. She did much of his work in the years before his death, but has never been acknowledged as the author — though she has high hopes that the Lady of Moth, Catherine St. Day, will listen to her and sponsor her as the translator of an important astronomical work written in French. Catherine St. Day is a widow, freed from an unhappy marriage to a scientist, and reluctant to jump into supporting yet another scientist, even in his memory.

Obviously, she decides to do so (early on — that isn’t a spoiler) and the two quickly grow close. Their romance is sweet, though I was frustrated by the miscommunication plotline in the last section of the book. I know constant communication between partners can’t be the norm because everybody seems weirded out by my relationship, but yeeesh, I am tired of it as a complicating trope in romance fiction. On the other hand, I am glad that fear of exposure wasn’t a huge plotline here — it’s hard to shape a happily ever after around constant massive fear of exposure or disgrace, so in that light I was glad Waite steered clear.

I do kind of wish that the former lover wasn’t so petulant… I loved the sympathy with which her husband was treated by the narration and the characters, and I wish she as a character seemed more worth all the devotion she supposedly inspires.

For my folks who’re asexual/demi/just not interested in sex in books for whatever reason, this book does contain sex scenes. They’re not 100% necessary to the plot, though they do demonstrate the emotional connection between the protagonists, and deepen it through intimacy.

All in all, enjoyable enough and I’d read more in the series, though it didn’t blow me away.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Desdemona and the Deep

Posted September 20, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. CooneyDesdemona and the Deep, C.S.E. Cooney

Desdemona and the Deep is a novella featuring a descent into the underworld/otherworld, following mostly the title character, Desdemona. Fae and goblins and the weirdness of the otherworld are the order of the day, though Desdemona starts as a spoilt, rich girl, totally cranky about her mother’s benefit for girls with “phossy jaw” (an element of real-world history which is more or less copy/pasted into Desdemona’s world, which is quite conscious of other worlds). From there, it’s not entirely clear why she takes exception to her father making a deal with a powerful underworld creature, tithing 10% of his miners’ lives in order to get new reserves of oil. Nonetheless, she does, forms a plan for going there, and sets out to win back those lives which have been traded away for her comfortable existence.

(She never really seems to care that this has happened before and it’s not just the 36 names she’s seen in the paper that have been sacrificed on the altar of her love of luxury, including a woman to dress her, endless amounts of good alcohol, designer dresses, art, artists, and more or less anything else she wants.)

Throughout the first half of the book, her best friend Chaz is referred to with male pronouns. Once she reaches the underworld with Desdemona, though, she transitions magically and female pronouns are immediately applied — and Desdemona later says that she always knew Chaz was really female. The tight third POV thus makes Desdemona a misgendering asshole, and the fact Desdemona and the narration all switch to she only when Chaz has a physical form that matches is a really shitty way to deal with a trans character.

The rest of the story is kind of a meh plot that’s been done a gazillion times before: descent into the otherworld, fae contract must be broken, captive must be saved, etc, etc, etc. I liked Chaz, of whom there was not enough and who was misgendered for half the book; I was not keen on Desdemona, who besides being spoilt was a misgendering mean girl who also made shitty comments about the girls with phossy jaw. I think we’re meant to come to like Desdemona, but I never got past the impression that she was playacting concern. The ending maybe alleviates that a little, but too little and too late.

People have commented about the beauty of the prose; it definitely had some high points, but it didn’t stick out to me in particular, so that wasn’t a saving grace for it either. I might have generously given it a three on enjoyment, but I’m also toying with the idea of a one because of the grossness surrounding Chaz. For now, let’s say it averages out to two.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – This Is How You Lose The Time War

Posted August 16, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

This Is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

I’ve been curious about this book for a while, so I dug into it right away when my pre-order arrived! I’ve only read short stories by Amal El-Mohtar, as far as I recall, and only one of Max Gladstone’s novels, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. It’s a rather lyrical and poetic book, following the correspondence of two enemy agents as they follow each other up and down time, through alternative worlds and different histories, and as they fall in love.

To be quite honest, I didn’t fall in love with it. I appreciated the lyricism, and I also definitely appreciate that these two agents are definitely presented as female. I found it enjoyable to read. But it didn’t really get claws into me; I didn’t feel like I’d mind terribly much if I never finished it. I couldn’t say what it could have done better to make me love it; I’m not sure there is anything specific. It felt too clever by half, really, and then the emotional undercurrents missed me while I was watching the cleverness from a cynical distance.

Definitely an interesting endeavour, and worth a read, but not something I could love.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Posted August 4, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth DickinsonThe Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson

I reread this because I wanted to read the sequel, just out recently. It’s stood alone for a few years now, and almost feels complete in itself: the story of a young girl, Baru Cormorant, who comes of age just as her home is taken over by the Empire of Masks. She vows vengeance in her heart, while on the surface she plays their game, and keeps on playing it as she becomes the Imperial Accountant for another land in transition. She keeps on playing the game as she gets embroiled in a rebellion, though she’s now compromised by her love — a love the Masquerade would kill her for having — for the Duchess Tain Hu.

The ending is one of those awful punches in the gut that you kind of know is coming, but which still feels awful and which you keep hoping you’re going to be able to dodge. It’s amazing that this book about an accountant manages to be riveting, really shows how money has the power. Sometimes I think it’s simplified a bit too much in this book: it’s a bit too easy to push this lever and get that reaction from the people of the country. But in principle, it works, and it’s a hell of a ride. There are so many characters to love even as you know nothing good is going to come of this.

It’s a shame that when I read the first 10% of the sequel, it didn’t work for me — something felt off, and people’s reviews encouraged me to put it down and let The Traitor Baru Cormorant stand alone. Luckily, in a bleak way, it does stand alone — and really, after everything that happens in this book, I don’t think there’s anything that would feel like enough of a payoff, or enough of a triumph. I kind of like the idea of treating it as a standalone, with that awful and hopeful ending.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The True Queen

Posted July 23, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The True Queen by Zen ChoThe True Queen, Zen Cho

The True Queen is a not-quite-direct follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s set in the same world, and some of the same characters play a part, but for the most part the main character is Muna. Muna doesn’t remember her past before she and her sister were found on the shore of Janda Baik, and she doesn’t seem to have any magic (while her sister Sakti possesses a surfeit of it), but she nonetheless finds herself entangled when Sakti is abducted into Fairyland, a rescue must be made to get Damerell back after something goes rather wrong for Rollo, and all the while she’s staying in England at Prunella Wythe’s school for female practitioners of thaumaturgy.

Thinking about it now, I think it wasn’t as strong as the first book, particularly because Muna isn’t nearly as strong a character as Prunella. It was certainly entertaining while I read it, but even just a couple of weeks later some of the details have gone all thin for me. I did enjoy the f/f romance aspect, though I confess it felt a little out of nowhere, but really my strongest feelings were about the relationship between Rollo and Damerell! Also, the whole section that involved Georgiana Without Ruth, because she’s awesome.

The ending sort of didn’t surprise me, and everything tied up neatly; I was less invested in the final get-togethers than I was in Sorcerer to the Crown… All in all, it just doesn’t seem to have worked quite as well for me, though it’s still an entertaining read.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Afterward

Posted June 30, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Afterward by E. K. JohnsonThe Afterward, E.K. Johnston

When I read this, I more or less straightaway gave it to my sister. It’s light, sweet, and very easy to read — though it has some Moments, certainly. The basic premise is that it follows a group of knights, and one thief, who have returned from a fairly traditional fantasy quest. This is after everything’s gone down (mostly), and the story is shaped instead around the social conditions. For example, the fact that becoming a knight is so expensive that many knights get themselves set up and then have to go off and have an arranged marriage to pay for it all. Or the fact that after the end, there’s not much for a thief to do except go back to thieving.

It turns out, of course, that it wasn’t quite the end — there’s still something that needs doing. The thief Olsa ends up wrapped up in that, while the knight she fell in love with during the quest — Kalanthe — gets busy on that whole getting married thing. I’m going to say a spoiler now, so look away if you don’t want to hear it: there’s a happy ending. And that’s great, because we need lady knights and the lady thieves that love them and their happy endings, because gosh the world can be awful, and especially for ladies who love ladies.

There’s also other representation too, from the cover on down — a tutorial from one character to another in how best to deal with their tangled, tightly-curled hair, for example; a trans knight… If I recall rightly, there’s also an asexual character.

It’s a little piece of happy fluff, though there is a little bit of angst and longing in the middle, and a couple of genuinely painful and poignant moments. But mostly, it’s a feel-good book — not something Deep and Meaningful, except insofar as life and the bonds between people ever are Deep and Meaningful (which of course they are, but I’m digressing) — and I am so glad I got to give it to my sister.

(Who is not a teen anymore, of course, and I wish I could go back in time and give it to her as a teen, but I can’t. She can have it now, though.)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Fire Logic

Posted June 21, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fire Logic by Laurie J. MarksFire Logic, Laurie J. Marks

This book has been on my to read list a really long time, and I thought it’d be a sure thing. It’s got queer characters, the opening caught my attention — particularly with the character eager to go and view a manuscript! — and the elemental magic seemed potentially interesting. It’s a fairly standard set-up, I suppose: the invading army, the guerilla defenders, people’s way of life at risk, and Our Bold Heroes… But in the end, this was a really slow version of that. Realistic, in some ways — worrying about supplies and morale — but slow.

Too slow for me, alas. That combined with the writing style — everyone “cried” everything, even when a shout, sob, or any other loud noise is not exactly the appropriate reaction — and a general sense that I just wasn’t catching on… Meh. Life’s too short. It’s not my thing, the end.

Rating: 2/5

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