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.
I know, I know. It’s taken me far too long to get round to reading Pantomime, and I deserve a kicking. I really do, because now I’ve finally read it, I wish I hadn’t taken so long. It’s pretty unique in that it has an intersex protagonist and a queer love story, but it’s not just about that. I’m fascinated by the world, too: the different species, the magic, the Vestiges, what the mysterious glass is… And by the end of the book, I very much wanted to know more about Drystan, too.
I did have one disappointment, and that was the love interest’s reaction to Micah’s revelation of the fact that he is intersex. Also, I wish I was a little clearer on what pronouns Micah would prefer, just because I feel weird saying either he or she in the context. In real life, of course, I’d just ask. The ending of the arc with the love interest just really annoyed me, because it felt like an easy way out of dealing with the complex emotions that’d been stirred up by Micah’s revelation.
I’m definitely eager to read the rest, despite that discomfort throughout the book where I felt that reveal scene coming. I hope it’s not such a big thing in the other books, though.
Trouble and Her Friends is old school queer cyberpunk — enough said? It is a little on the slow side, but I found that the pacing worked for me: I needed to get to know Trouble (and, well, her friends), and get settled in the world and the old school view of the internet and how it works. I enjoyed the sheer number of queer characters a lot, although it was a little jarring to have a world where they’re clearly somewhat looked down on. From my comfortable position here, it feels like most things are pretty okay on that front.
Once you get a handle on the lingo, it’s a pretty easy read. It’s not hard to guess where certain plot threads are going — surprise! Cerise and Trouble reunite; they keep talking about Seahaven and its Mayor for a reason! — but it takes its sweet time in unwinding all of that. There’s no sudden jumps ahead without pausing to consider, and the characters typically do not do stupid unhelpful things that cause them more trouble. Each step is a step forward, more or less.
I really enjoyed visiting this world, even though it’s one that took its time. The details of the net, the brainworm, the way the characters could hack in a sort of virtual reality, were all fascinating — and so were their relationships and goals. Honestly, I was going to compare it to a sort of cowboy story for the internet before they wore white hats in the final section.
Sea, Swallow Me, and Other Stories, Craig Laurence Gidney
I’m not honestly sure what I thought of this collection. The writing is really strong, and I found that I had to keep turning the pages to get more of it — but some of the stories just grossed me out so much and made me feel really uncomfortable. They’re undoubtedly powerful, but not really a style that I enjoy. There’s a bit in the Goodreads description that about sums this set of stories up: “rich, poetic, dark and disturbing”. Yep.
One of the most powerful of the bunch is definitely the most disturbing to me; if you want warnings about what ‘Etiolate’ contains, I can let you know.
I originally received this to review, but ended up picking it up on the Kobo store when I needed a pick-me-up, rather later than the release date! It’s the third in a series, but it’s a loosely connected series with new main characters for each book; this one features Navy SEAL Ryan, an amputee, and game designer Josiah. Both of them have disabilities: Ryan is just learning to cope with being an amputee and going back to civilian life, while Josiah has ADHD which makes him impulsive and prone to forgetting the important things. This sets up a nice dynamic between the two of them, and I enjoy that it isn’t just plain sailing: Josiah blurts out the wrong thing several times, apologises awkwardly, etc, etc, while Ryan’s steady ability to look ahead and work things out helps Josiah steady himself.
It isn’t all plain sailing in terms of their relationship, either, starting with a casual sort-of-hook-up in a hotel while stranded by snow, supplemented by some gaming, and slowly growing into a stronger connection which both of them avoid naming or solidifying for far too long, despite their growing attachment. The emotional stuff between them is well-written, and their actions make sense: there’s no stupid misunderstandings that would just be solved by some basic communication, but rather genuine issues caused by their situations and personalities.
The exploration of Ryan’s new disabilities is well done, in my opinion; it explores some of the difficulties he has with physicality, some of the things he has to get used to, but he is also unequivocally still a sexual person. Josiah’s ADHD, too, is dealt with sympathetically.
There are quite a few sex scenes in this book, as with much romance (particularly queer romances); they’re well-written and don’t forget the characters’ limitations or characteristics, and though they’re not exactly essential to the plot, they are key in demonstrating how the relationship between the two men works and grows. The main thing that I enjoyed, though, is that it isn’t just about the sex, and we get windows into both characters as they navigate life. My only quibble is that sometimes the time jumps felt a little weird, and the formatting of the Kobo ebook made it difficult to tell what was actually typed and what was just thought during the gaming sessions.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017
I wanted to love The Tiger’s Daughter, because there’s queer protagonists with a love story, a non-medieval-Europe fantasy setting, etc, etc. The writing at first promised to be beautiful, but I found the segue into the series of letters from one of the characters really off-putting. It makes it all second person (which can be done wonderfully, but wore on me here), and it requires one protagonist to tell the other stories as if she wasn’t there… despite them actually being present. So “you said to me, we did x, I did y to you”… It just feels too contrived at that point. It’s also rather slow-paced: this is less a fantasy story with romance, and more a romance story with fantasy. Which is fine, but the other things dragged it down for me.
In addition, this isn’t really my area, but I did notice a few warning signs. It’s not “own voices”, and it shows; it’s the typical flower-petals-and-beautiful-calligraphy version of Japan we keep getting served up, and several people from East Asia or of East Asian descent have been writing highly critical reviews about the racial stereotyping. I don’r know enough to really understand what’s going on there, but I believe people that it’s made them deeply uncomfortable.
That and the pacing meant I didn’t finish this, in the end. It’s a shame, because the cover is gorgeous, the concept sounds fun, and I did get somewhat into the relationship between the two characters. And yet. So my writing is very much for “as far as I read” — it’s possible the pace picks up and that issue at least is resolved. I wasn’t willing to hold my breath for it.