In the end, this seemed to be rather more about Emmett chasing the tragedy of Ben and Tom than about Ben and Tom themselves. A queer time travelling couple as the mover for another dude’s life angst, yay? Also, Bury Your Gays. If I think about it in terms of rep, it isn’t great: Ben and Tom’s love might be strong and they might work at it to find each other across all the different times, but a lot goes unexplained (like how they get separated, and why they always end up in war zones), but it isn’t really about them. It’s about Emmett, and the twist at the end did not surprise me (or indeed feel like a twist) — but nor did it quite feel like it followed on logically.
It’s well-enough written (though the chapters in Tom’s point of view could do with being slightly more different in order to distinguish the narrative voices), and there are some very poignant moments between Tom and Ben, but… they’re mostly the backdrop to another dude’s story, including featuring his pointless and unfulfilling relationship with a woman, who he meets because he’s looking for evidence about Tom and Ben.
I was kind of excited about this one, but it sucks that Tom and Ben were the sideshow in a love story ostensibly about them.
I might not like Mokoya as much as I came to like Akeha, but I did really enjoy getting to spend more time in this world and especially the character of Rider, who didn’t appear in the previous book. This is set after The Black Tides of Heaven, and deals with some of the fallout from what happens there. Mokoya’s grief and anger and failure to deal with everything is well done, though sometimes her husband seemed a little too good to be true. Who’s that understanding? Well, somebody I’d like to know — it just about worked.
There’s also a lot more of the magic, which is pretty fascinating, and I’d love to know more about where Rider came from and what that place is like. There’s so much hinted at and left to explore — I hope the next novella takes us somewhere new again!
I know that these are supposed to be stand-alone novellas, but honestly I would start with this one anyway. I didn’t like Akeha at first — they were so possessive of their twin, so reluctant to admit that maybe they’re not absolutely identical in the end, and I didn’t agree with his decision to stay away from Mokoya for so long. But nonetheless, as Akeha started to claim his own identity — first identifying as male, then going travelling, etc — I started to root for him, and in the end I was a little disappointed that this mostly felt like set-up for the second novella.
It’s a good introduction to the world, anyway, with its various social complexities (like people being genderless before whatever age they decide to declare what they choose, and people not choosing or at least not choosing entirely) and the magic. I would like to know more about both — about how the whole situation with choosing your gender and having your body altered magically to match arose, and more about the magic and Mokoya’s part in it.
But also I wish I had more time with Akeha, because I felt like I’d just really got into his story when it ended.
There’s a lot that I found annoying about this book: the allergy to using the word “said” (in one page: smirked, ranted, argued, retorted, started — and not one ‘said’), some of the made-up words and overenthusiastic descriptions of Kerri’s hair being alive, the breaking of the fourth wall… On the other hand, it’s all part of the exuberant pastiche, I think. And mostly it does work, for me anyway: I had a lot of fun. It’s goofy, but it’s pretty much Scooby Doo: of course it is.
For that reason, it’s reasonably predictable if you’ve seen a couple of episodes of classic Scooby Doo (plus maybe the movies like Zombie Island where it turns out that some supernatural stuff is real). Well, except for the Latina heroine, the lesbians, and the fact that one of the four is already dead.
It’s not the best thing I’ve read all year, but it was such solid fun I can’t give it less than four stars. I can understand those who find it too annoying, but for me it just about toed the line.
Throughout reading this, there were basically two major thoughts in my mind: one, why didn’t I read this sooner? And two: fans of Ann Leckie and Becky Chambers are probably the ideal audience (and maybe fans of Yoon Ha Lee, as well). And hurrah! It’s been republished recently, so it’s out there and ready to be picked up by just those people. I can’t quite put my finger on all of the things that reminded me of those authors, but nonetheless, remind me it did (without them being in any way derivative — that’s not what I’m saying).
Worldbuilding? Got it in spades. A unique way of interfacing between ship and crew, two warring empires, a mystery plot that turns out to reflect on the politics quite significantly, overt and perfectly matter of fact queerness… I loved the characters, even though they have their flaws (and I think I’d have liked to see more of Vidar, who kept fading in and out). I loved the way things came together, one question raising other questions while answering things you wouldn’t expect it to answer. And I read it really fast, too: I’d look up and I’d be 50 pages down the line with no real sense of time having passed.
And the ending. So much potential, without the need for more but just… telling you that more is there: the world goes on after you’ve left, as it began before you arrived. I’d love more time with Rafe and Joshim and Rallya; I’ll probably eventually reread this to get that. But the ending in itself is satisfactory and doesn’t, to my mind, leave anything hanging in a bad way.
I’m trying to think if I have criticisms, and really, I don’t. What the hey: I’m going for five stars here.
This is probably my least favourite of the trilogy, though it’s partly down to personal taste: I didn’t enjoy the characters or their dynamic as much. Nathaniel is pretty awesome in his unthinking protectiveness and willingness to help others, but Justin mostly just ticked me off. He does have some redeeming features (particularly his relationship with the kids he looks after), but I still didn’t quite get that relationship.
It’s useful for piecing together the full story begun in An Unseen Attraction (or An Unsuitable Heir if you started with that, like I did!) but it’s not necessary, and personally, I wouldn’t have minded giving it a miss. It’s not a bad story, and there certainly is intensity between the main couple, but they just weren’t the type of characters I really root for.
Really, I don’t know why I took so long to get around to reading this trilogy. As with every other book by Lam I’ve read, the pace is great and tempts me to just sit down and read it in one go… which is more or less what I did with Shadowplay, once I picked it up. I greatly enjoyed the development of Micah and Drystan’s characters in this book, and now I’m fully on board the ship, ready to go down with all hands if necessary. The new characters introduced are fun too, and so is the fact that now they go into stage magic.
The best bit, of course, is that the fantasy setting is expanded by the addition of a character with powers, and some explanations of the Phantom Damselfly’s appearances. Doctor Pozzi makes an appearance, apparently sincere and eager to help Micah, and at the same time we get a this-book-only plot of a duel between magicians (with suitably high stakes of said magicians’ careers, of course).
I’m looking forward to how all this wraps up — the background is starting to become clear, and now I just need to know what happens to Micah in the end…
I read the last book in this series first, but it doesn’t matter too much, because they’re linked but don’t follow the exact same characters. This book features Clem and Rowley, and it’s a delight: Clem’s obvious ADHD and the way he and Rowley work with that in their relationship, and also the way that the sex scenes are not just “insert tab A into slot B”, but have feeling and thought behind them and don’t feel mechanistic at all. I’m not interested in the tab A/slot B type, but when it deepens characters’ relationships, and especially when it isn’t a mechanical write-by-numbers scene, it can still be worth reading — and such is the case here. I remember the same being true of An Unsuitable Heir.
It’s an enjoyable romance on its own, and the mystery adds a little, but I do think you might need to read all three books to really find the mystery satisfying. I need to read the middle book, and I’m honestly curious about how those two characters meet and get along, because from their appearances in this book and the third… nope!
If you’re not a fan of m/m romance at all, this won’t be for you, but if you’re looking for something in that genre which is thoughtful with rich characters, this should qualify admirably.
I haven’t loved Sarah Rees Brennan’s work before, finding it just a little too predictable, but In Other Lands won me over completely. I love Elliot in all his porcupiney glory; I love Luke, because he secretly reads books (how else does he know words like “epitome” but not how to pronounce them?) and he supports Elliot and Serene and protects people; I love Serene, because even though she subscribes to a whole bundle of stereotypes about men, yet there she is caring about Elliot and Luke and supporting them throughout.
I can understand people who don’t love the characters. Elliot, for example, comes across as a bully, particularly when Luke explains how things have felt from his point of view. And it’s true that sometimes Elliot is just not that nice. But there’s also a reason for all his behaviour that made me hurt for him: the way his mother left, the fact that he’s been bullied so mercilessly… Yes, he’s nasty to people almost on principle, but I can tell you from experience that it’s easier to assume that everyone has bad intentions rather than trust them and get hurt, after a remarkably short period of being bullied. It’s no wonder he reflexively lashes out — and if you read the whole thing, you see that he does try. He does know what he’s like, and he does try.
It does make me wonder why Luke sticks by him, though Elliot is always supportive of Serene, so that does make some sense. And it is worth noting that while Elliot might not be the most pleasant character, he spends a lot of time trying to avoid people getting killed.
(And while Luke is nearly always nice, it’s important to remember that hey, he kills people without question, beats people up for looking sideways at Elliot, etc. He’s not exactly perfect either.)
And of course I can get why people don’t like Serene; particularly if you don’t read through to the end, her character (and the elven society) comes across as “reverse sexism”. It’s kind of powerful in the way it exposes some of the ridiculous stereotypes about the way women behave, but if that was all there was to Serene, she’d be just as unlikeable as a male character who looks down on women. That isn’t all there is, though, once she forms a relationship with Golden; although it’s basically just flipping sexism round, and there’s a lot of humour in that, Serene as an individual turns out not to be just about reverse sexism. I particularly liked some of the interactions between her and Elliot, as they realise their relationship means different things to both of them.
That’s all about the characters. What about the world? It’s relatively generic, but spiced up by the odd comments Elliot makes about how things go in stories about other worlds, giving us a little bit of meta.
In the end, I found it very enjoyable, and if there’s an aspect of it being “like fanfiction” in terms of willing the couple to get together, the wish fulfillment, etc — well, I’ve read some damn good fanfiction in my time, and this captured some of the delight of the best fanfiction. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
When I was feeling a bit rough, Carry On felt like an excellent choice for some light reading. It’s all the joy of fanfic — willing characters to get together, enjoying the riffs on the canon (in this case, Harry Potter), enjoying the commentary on the genre — with the inventiveness of original fiction as well; it’s not a copy of Harry Potter, and there are some rather clever things going on with the language, the relationships, the inner thoughts of some of the characters. Agatha is a great commentary on the Chosen One’s destined girlfriend; she opts out and goes away and we’re rather glad for her, without that icky feeling prominent in a certain subset of fanfic where the gay couple are glorified above all else and the straight love interest is vilified just for existing. Agatha has a point.
Penelope is great fun, too; she’s like a combination of the best bits of both Ron and Hermione, with more of a sense of humour than either.
And Baz. I never got what people saw in Draco Malfoy as a character, but Baz is great — his ambivalence about Simon, his difficulties in coming to terms with the way things actually are (because of course, he doesn’t fit the traditional story any more than Agatha or Simon do). It’s like the characters are all framed by this traditional hero’s journey narrative, and they rebel and burst out of it in all directions while the adults around them try to keep things on course (especially the Mage, but also Baz’s father and aunt, to some extent).
There’s little of the pure evil type of thing going on here, no Voldemort who can be unequivocally hated. Everyone means well. There are blinded revolutionaries and turn-a-blind-eye aristocracy, and if they could only meet in the middle things would be better, but it’s not about fundamentally bad people, a fundamentally wrong cause.
Simon and Baz together is just… it’s very much of a piece with Harry/Draco fanfic (which I never read, but was aware of), but it makes the two characters really fit, and their relationship seem inevitable.