Tag: queer fic

Review – Provenance

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

Cover of Provenance by Ann LeckieProvenance, Ann Leckie

I loved Provenance the first time I read it, focusing on Garal Ket and somewhat on Tic Uisine as being particular awesome points. I also enjoyed the gender-neutral characters included as a matter of course, and seeing something from outside the Radch, from a human point of view. Also, getting some screentime (so to speak) for the Geck! It’s all pretty awesome, but this time all of it was a background to Ingray’s journey, for me. If you’re used to Breq, she’s a much less put-together main character, and we also may feel less close to her as it isn’t a first-person narrative. Nonetheless, her journey to true self-sufficiency — and her healing from some of the wounds of a childhood spent competing with foster siblings — is great.

The book opens with her disastrous attempt to have a neman returned from Compassionate Removal (a sort of prison planet). The captain of the ship she’s about to travel on refuses to take anyone on board who isn’t fully consenting and aware of their destination, so the neman is awoken right there in the dock… and says e is not the person Ingray thought she asking for. Nonetheless, she ends up offering em the fake identity she bought to take that person home, and e ends up accepting — and throwing in with her to scam her family into believing e is the person she was hoping to find. Then the Geck get involved…

It’s an interesting society, which includes some stuff quite casually — part of adulthood is deciding on your gender and choosing your adult name! there is a third, officially recognised neutral gender! Ingray has a lesbian romance with a friend! — which I really enjoy as a) setting this planet apart from the Radch or from our own Earth, and b) the inclusiveness. The idea of the importance placed in this society upon “vestiges”, physical remnants that have been touched by one’s ancestors, is an interesting way to build up the society, too. Ingray’s relationship with her mother and brother are interesting and sad and ultimately rather affirming: despite mistakes made in the past, they remain a family and find a way through it all.

It remains a very enjoyable book, and I ate it up the second time as swiftly as I did the first. That said, if you’re looking for more of the Radch, or for a character more like Breq, this isn’t going to scratch the same itch.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Moontangled

Posted February 5, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Moontangled by Stephanie BurgisMoontangled, Stephanie Burgis

Received to review via Netgalley

Moontangled is a novella in the Harwood Spellbook world featuring two of the minor characters: Miss Banks and Miss Fennell. If you don’t remember them, they’re the two who had a clandestine relationship while Juliana attempted to learn magic and Caroline attempted to become a high-flying politician. In this world, women do politics and men learn magic, and ideal partnerships for political women are with men who can do magic. Juliana is one of the first women to learn, and Caroline… well, she’s now in disgrace because of her mentor’s failings, and she thinks it’s time to end the relationship with Juliana before it brings her down.

I’m not a big fan of the kind of misunderstanding that drives this novella: just sit down and communicate, people. It’s not that difficult, I promise you. (As I frequently joke, I am the Relationship Advice Dalek: COMM-UN-I-CATE! COMM-UN-I-CATE!) There’s ample room for it in the letters they send each other, for goodness’ sake. It doesn’t help that it’s exactly the same kind of misunderstanding as in the previous books I’ve read in this world: “I’m going to do things to protect you, including end our relationship, regardless of what you might actually want and oh, wait, what do you mean you didn’t want what I thought you wanted?”

Still, even if their misunderstanding is completely daft, their care for each other is sweet. I found the plotline a little obvious, but it’s fun to watch it play out anyway. Highly original this isn’t, but a sweet escapist romance with a touch of magic? It delivers. I read it all in one gulp when I should probably have been doing something else; it doesn’t need to be more substantial than this.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Abyss Surrounds Us

Posted February 3, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily SkrutskieThe Abyss Surrounds Us, Emily Skrutskie

I’ve had this on my TBR for a while, but it ended up as the pick for a book club read. So I plunged on in, and… accidentally read it in a day. It follows Cassandra Leung, who has been raised training kaiju Reckoners, big sea monsters that protect ships from pirates. She’s on her first solo mission at the start of the book when a pirate ship attacks, having already weakened their Reckoner; she’s recognised as a trainer by one of the pirates, who drags her on board their ship, the Minnow, to raise their very own illicitly-obtained Reckoner pup.

The pirate captain, Santa Elena, is skilled at pitting people against each other and using their feelings against them, and she quickly puts Cas’ wellbeing under the aegis of one of her protegés, Swift. If Cassandra fails, she dies… and so does Swift. The psychological set-up there is pretty good, and the way they have to work together and the enforced intimacy creates a bond between them which feels pretty real: it’s strong, but it’s confused and ambivalent as well.

The turnaround from Cassandra’s intentions at the beginning of the book to her actions at the end feels… a bit too fast. Sure, there’s a bit of Stockholm syndrome there, but it feels like Cassandra’s family have very little hold on her compared to Swift. Part of that is the fact that she’s crossed the point of no return, of course, but that capitulation felt too soon as well. Part of it is the pace of the book — it speeds along, and if you’re not paying close attention you can miss that weeks (perhaps months?) are passing as Bao (the Reckoner pup) grows.

I’m not totally sure how I feel about the ending and set-up for the next book; Swift and Cas’ relationship will be interesting, but I’m not sure about Cas’ motivations. At the same time, I hope it starts where it left off, with Cas sure of herself, because more vacillating now she’s supposed to have decided will be annoying. I’ve picked up the second book, so I guess I’ll see where it goes!

Rating: 3/5

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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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