Volume 2 of Heartstopper basically just continues the adorableness. If you’re not interested in a comic about a pair of boys — one gay, one bisexual — becoming friends, figuring out they’re into each other, and coping with things like coming out and getting along with each other’s friends, then it probably isn’t for you. The art is all in the same style on the cover, kind of doodly, and somehow that makes it more adorable to me, as well as quite distinctive (though there’s a couple of other artists with a similar sort of aesthetic).
I love the way Charlie and Nick are with each other; they have a couple of misunderstandings, and yes, one of those is at the start of this volume and is due to not actually communicating… but for the most part, they do communicate, and it’s lovely.
Look! It’s just adorbs:
They’re consistently adorable and I am so tempted to race ahead and read the whole darn thing. Buuut instead I’m being good and purchasing it volume by volume as it comes out.
(That Patreon with so many pages ahead is tempting, though…)
In the third book in this series, Kate finds that Derek’s got himself into some kind of trouble, and it seemed to be tangled up with Saiman’s involvement with an underground arena that pits people against one another in gladiatorial bouts, with real blood, guts and death. It’s pretty obvious where that’s going to lead, and yes, there are some epic team-ups in the arena. There’s also progress on Kate’s non-courtship with Curran, and we get to see several characters old and new kicking butt in lovely ways.
(There’s also finger-gnawing anxiety for one particular character, and no shortage of high stakes, but that’s what you get with Ilona Andrews!)
As always, I find myself pondering the classification of these books as paranormal romance. I’m wary of saying a thing isn’t paranormal romance just because I like it… but I think that genre label is sometimes used to dismiss a book that (if written by a man) would be urban fantasy, and I’m also wary of that. The thing is, I really don’t see these books as being all that much about the romance, especially not the first two or three. The real driver of these books is Kate’s given purpose in life — to kill her biological father — and the way she struggles with it, sometimes willing to follow it, sometimes throwing caution to the wind. It’s a slow process of her letting people in, and that doesn’t mean Curran, primarily: it means having a best friend, it means having an adopted kid, it means trusting and protecting Derek…
I mean, there is romance there: there’s a lot of sexual tension between Kate and Curran, and their stupid banter is the reason these books crease me up with laughter. (A particular kind of laughter which my wife can pinpoint to meaning “ah, Nikki’s reading that series”, embarrassingly.) But I’d more readily categorise something as romance when the plot is all about driving the characters together and the end payoff is the relationship. The drive in romance is typically toward Happy Ever After — to the point where people get very upset if something is billed as romance and doesn’t have a Happy Ever After — but I think the real drive here is about Kate facing her demons, and the romance is just one part of that.
On the other hand, I am also totally ready for Kate and Curran to hurry up and get together already, so that’s probably a vote that it is romance — I don’t have opinions this strong about Peter Grant and Beverley Brook, after all. And there are things about the relationship that are pretty tropey: His Furry Majesty can be kind of creepy at times, in a way that can be very wish-fulfillment-y for some people. (Never mind that Kate usually flings that back in his face and things are rarely less than equal between them.)
The point is, there’s a lot going on in these books, and though romance and sex are a part of it, there’s also a very long game being played concerning Kate and her biological father, and that story is also pretty riveting. This book takes a step further in that direction… but just a step.
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.)
Here Mary Robinette Kowal takes on yet another genre crossover. We’ve had the fantasy romance, the fantasy spy book, the fantasy revolution, all wrapped up in a historical analogue. Now we get the spy caper novel, as Jane and Vincent find themselves robbed on their way to Murano to work with the glassmakers there. The novel continues to explore their relationship, and the limits of their art and magic, while also bringing in some new characters, and another whole new backdrop. I love that Kowal had Byron only visiting on the days he visited in our history (according to records) — I love that eye for detail she brings for the world, like her Austen dictionary.
Valour & Vanity probably isn’t my favourite — actually, during the scam I get a little second-hand embarrassment for them being taken in. But as a chapter in the Vincents’ lives, it’s entertaining and pushes the historical fantasy a little further. What Kowal does in these books is clever, and always completely readable.
Heartstopper is just freaking adorable. Charlie and Nick attend an all-boys grammar school, and they really meet when they find themselves in the same form (odd, since Nick is in year 11 and Charlie is in year 10? but what do I know, grammar schools can do what they want in many ways; or mine certainly did, anyway). They quickly become friends, and Nick even coaxes Charlie to join him in playing rugby. They hang out together… a lot… and Nick quickly becomes Charlie’s defender and closest friend. And, of course, a mutual crush develops.
The art is cute, and while there is a little bit of angst and confusion, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. I’m a little mad about the cliffhanger this book ends on — and I know I could go looking for the rest online, and probably will, but aaarggghh, that so typical plotline where — well, I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that I want to get back to them being adorable, whether that’s as friends or boyfriends.
It’s also kind of awesome how British it is. And a grammar school, too! That’s a world I know well.
I’d call this a quiet story, but there is in fact plenty that happens once it kicks off. Tobias Finch has a quiet life within the forest, dealing with supernatural threats within its boundaries and protecting the forest. He’s a Green Man, a creature of mythology — not quite a male Dryad, but a man whose existence is nonetheless deeply entwined with that of a vast oak growing near his cottage. One day the owner of the lands, Henry Silver, comes by, stays the night due to a rainstorm, and awkwardly flirts with Tobias. Naturally, that isn’t the last they see of each other, though Tobias tries to protect Henry from his own interest in the myths of the forest — myths of wildness and sacrifice, to which Tobias also has links.
The relationship between Tobias and Henry is a quiet centre of this story, along with Tobias’ own development and rejoining of the world outside the forest. There is also a badass older lady who takes down supernatural threats, the coming to life of some myths that would have been better left quiet, and an awesome Dryad called Bramble. Despite the atmosphere of quiet greenery, there’s a lot going on — which is true of all forests, really.
I enjoyed this both as a telling of a less-used myth and for the queer love story. And I’d happily read a lot more about the adventures of Tobias and [spoiler], solving supernatural mysteries and dealing with mythological threats — that part could’ve been a lot longer and a lot more detailed and I’d have been happy.
Snowspelled is a short read, so be prepared for that going in. It opens on an invitation: Cassandra Harwood, her brother, and his wife Amy have been invited to a house party, which Cassandra’s ex-fiancé is due to attend. The story unfolds from there: it’s not quite a direct flip of the gender/power dynamics of British history, because though women rule Britain (as a body called the Boudiccate), men wield magical power… traditionally, at least. Cassandra is one of the few women who has ever mastered magic, and despite her successes at school, has failed to really make her way in the magical world. Which makes it doubly bitter that she tried to work a spell too strong for her, and nearly died in the attempt, leaving her unable to use the least magic for fear of her life.
Her ex-fiancé is naturally still a brilliant magician — and still deeply in love with her. It’s inevitable, then, that their paths immediately cross as soon as she arrives at the party, and he becomes sucked into her conundrums. And naturally she immediately gets herself into trouble through a rash promise… and this is a world where Faerie and the Boudiccate are (sometimes uneasy) allies.
I really wanted certain things to happen in this book, and they didn’t. Which is probably for the best, because the solution you want isn’t always the best story, but gaaah. I’m looking forward to reading the second book: in many ways, the novella format makes the worldbuilding rather sketched-in, so another book exploring that will be nice. And knowing it’s about Cassandra and her efforts to help other people like her find their places in the Boudiccate… well. I’m intrigued!
Glamour in Glass follows the Vincents as, early in their relationship, they take a trip to the Continent to study and work glamour together with one of Vincent’s friends. This time, Kowal explores the way her magic system might affect pregnant women, while playing with the historical backdrop as well. The Vincents find themselves at risk from Napoleon’s followers, and their trip becomes less about the glamour and more about spying out what exactly might be happening — perhaps even betrayal from the people they call friends.
This was where the series took off for me, the first time I actually read this book, and while I’ve come to appreciate the first book, this is still where I would say the series really gets interesting. This is where Kowal starts to work out the implications of the magic and how it changes society, eclipsing the primarily romantic plot of the first book. I’d say the third book is even stronger in that sense, but this one is certainly nothing to sniff at, either. It’s all up from here, and this has really become a series I think about fondly.
I’ve found this author’s romances entertaining before, so I expected this to be a fairly solid entry in that vein. And indeed, it began as expected with the rather Gothic setting on the coast. The hero and heroine are immediately obvious, and the fact that they’ll end up together just as clear. It went more or less as I expected for the first part of the book: Christina arrived at the house, met her cousin, quickly realised he was the smuggler she met on the way to the house, gets sucked into what he’s doing…
It felt like it was all about to wrap up, at around 50% of the way through. And then it took a left turn and went off to do some more plot things… not very coherent plot things. The hero comes off extremely badly, being fickle and tasteless, while Christina shows very little backbone for someone previously so stubborn. Of course, things end as you expect, which is more than a little whiplashy after Ross’ inconsistency in the second half of the book.
“Georgette Heyer, but queer,” they [being people on Twitter] said.
“I’m there!” I said.
That’s pretty much the summary of this book, though there’s significantly more sex in this than Heyer would’ve got away with, and a lot more free-thinking, philosophy and queerness. The situation, though, is kind of classic: Guy and Amanda live in significantly straitened circumstances, trying their best to be as quiet as possible while a relative holds the purse strings, making them live on her charity. Amanda chafes at this somewhat and hits on a way she can earn them some money: she writes a Gothic novel and easily sells it. The hitch? Well, she based it on the stories about a neighbouring family — with whom her family has a long, storied and unpleasant history.
Then she decides to ride over there to do research, falls from her horse, is seriously injured, and her brother has to go join her in the den of iniquity as a chaperone. Thus do Guy and Phillip meet — and of course, Phillip is in fact much-maligned and really not at all as dreadful as he’s painted (albeit admittedly being queer, and atheist, and fairly promiscuous).
What follows is mostly a delightful exploration of a relationship based on communication — albeit with one or two snags — and consent. If anyone tries to claim consent isn’t sexy, send them this: it absolutely is in this book, and makes the sex scenes worth reading even for those who have no interest in the mechanics, because the emotional content is there. It’s not insta-luv, but the respect and carefulness is there throughout.
The happy ending is decidedly Heyer-ish in tone and effect, and it delighted me. The characters also delighted me — Guy is a dork, and Phillip a sweetheart, and both of them care immensely about the things close to them in a way that draws you into their feelings and motivations just perfectly.
And you know, I was going to automatically give it 4/5 stars, but I didn’t actually have any quibbles. It was deeply enjoyable from start to end, both for the pastiche and on its own merits, and K.J. Charles can write more Heyer-esque stuff any day and just set up a direct debit on my bank account for it.