Review – Huntress

Cover of Huntress by Malinda LoHuntress, Malinda Lo
Review from 10th October, 2010

Huntress is a sort of prequel to Ash, but it is set a long time before it. If I remember rightly, this story is mentioned in Ash. Anyway, this story is about the journey of six people: Con, the son of the king; Taisin, a young woman who wants to be a celibate sage; Kaede, a classmate of Taisin’s with no talent for the magic; and Shae, Pol and Tali, their guards. They have to see the Fairy Queen, during a period when nature has gone out of balance.

The story of the journey itself isn’t really unique, but the love between Kaede and Taisin is. I loved the fact that the book treats them in pretty much the same way as a male-female couple is usually treated in fantasy stories — I mean, that it seems natural and inevitable that they should be drawn together, and that their desire for each other is palpable and not treated euphemistically. Okay, there’s nothing explicit, but the physicality of their relationship is there.

It’s also easy to read, a quick read, and the situations and emotions ring reasonably true. The emotional involvement that was lacking in Ash was definitely there, for me, which made it that much more enjoyable.

I really wish books like this had existed when I was younger. I hope the arrival on the market of books like Ash and Huntress isn’t just a one off.

Rating: 4/5


Review – Adaptation

Cover of Adaptation by Malinda LoAdaptation, Malinda Lo

I’ve been meaning to read this since it first came out, and at one point I even had an ARC of it, I think for the UK release. I ended up grabbing it and the sequel on our way to the airport, and read it on the flight. Which was possibly not a good idea given all the plane crashes at the start, heh. I don’t quite buy the explanation given in the book for that — genetically manipulated birds all somehow released at once and in multiple places worldwide? Seems a bit of a hole in the story there.

Still, if you elide the science stuff (e.g. I’m also not sure introducing alien DNA via mitochondrial DNA would have reliable effects), this is still pretty fun. It’s definitely YA, with the preoccupations of teenage readers fairly front and centre. What stands out is less the plot and more the characters. Even then, it’s not characterisation I’m talking about, but character diversity. The main character is, for instance, actually bisexual! And she actually initially read to me as ace, maybe grey-A, because she doesn’t seem to grok attraction as a general thing.

So that’s pretty cool. I’m not overwhelmed by plot and character, though there are some great moments — Reese’s mother, for example, and her adult life going on in the background — but it’s enjoyable and easy to read.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Ash

Cover of Ash by Malinda LoAsh, Malinda Lo
Review from 8th June, 2010

This is a lovely retelling of the Cinderella fairytale. It keeps a very fairytale-like tone, so at times it doesn’t go as deeply into what happens or people’s feelings as I would like, but there are beautiful descriptions and it’s very easy to read. It’s exciting to read a version of the story in which part of the love story is between two women.

I liked the changes to the story as I knew it — Sidhean as the fairy godmother, and the element of actually having to pay for what you get from the fairies. I loved that the prince wasn’t all that important. I liked that the young stepsister, Clara, is kind of likeable.

I wish the story spent more time on the love story, on really making the reader feel it — both the strange attraction between Aisling and Sidhean, and the relationship between Aisling and Kaisa. I think this book would have really bowled me over if it had been like that.

As it is, it’s fun, and often lovely.

Later edit: So, the homophobic reviews of this book irritate the hell out of me, and upset me, too. I think it’s important that people write books like this, taking back traditionally heterosexual stories and finding places for ourselves within them.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Cover of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky AlbertalliSimon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

This is really cute, and made me do this embarrassing grin and clap thing that I probably last did over David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy or Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl or Attachments. The email exchange and the way they finally meet, the way they talk to each other and fall for each other via email. The friend stuff, too; that rings true to being seventeen and everything’s a holy freaking huge deal, and everyone’s pairing up and figuring things out and misunderstanding each other.

Mostly, though, I saw myself in Simon in the earlier parts of the book. The threat of being outed at school, the people making little sly comments about it. I mean, I even had that stupid standing-on-stage moment where people started shouting homophobic stupid shit at me. I had the awesome teacher, too, though not so much the friends backing me up. And straight people thinking that being gay isn’t a big deal anymore because they’re okay with it and they’ve never seen anything happen, and being so stupidly surprised when it turns out that hey, actually, people still really freaking suck when it comes to this sort of thing.

So for all that this was silly and cute and full of pop-culture references, it hit a slightly more serious note for me. Even though the silliness and general good will came out on top. Because I’ve been there, ‘do this for me or I’ll tell people you’re gay’. I used to have people saying they’d tell my parents, teachers, sister, anyone they thought they could hit home with. This really did get hold of some of those awkward feelings, the way being outed takes something away from you, the way people can hold it over you. I don’t know if I like that, combined with the happy-silly-fun ending, but I appreciated that it was there. I’m not sure I’ve read anything before that did get what that aspect of it was like.

And in a way, I’m glad it does have that happy-silly-fun ending with the supportive family and friends and a cool boyfriend. Because real life is just too awful, sometimes.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Karen Memory

Cover of Karen Memory by Elizabeth BearKaren Memory, Elizabeth Bear

I was in such a hurry to read this when it came out that I bought it on release day, started reading and — promptly got distracted, because I’d been reading it at clinic and then I didn’t go to clinic for a few weeks, and lost the thread, etc, etc. So I started it again today, and devoured it all in one go. I love the colloquial narration, which manages to skirt the line between feeling genuine and being annoying really well. I love the casual way characters of all colours and persuasions are a part of the story, and the way Karen describes the world around her, taking some things for granted and explaining others. For those with pet peeves about narrators, I promise there’s a reason for Karen to be telling the story the way she is, though that isn’t made explicit until the end.

Speaking of explicit, you’ve got to admire the way Bear manages to come up with euphemisms so that a story about “soiled doves” isn’t actually explicit at all, and bar some of the language, isn’t more than a PG rating.

When I started reading it, I had no idea it would actually be a lesbian love story, with a happy ending. But Priya and Karen are so darn adorable it’s worth saying up front: they never get beyond some kissing and holding hands, it’s all making eyes and getting fluttery feelings and figuring out how the heck to tell someone you care without making a mess of it. It works really well, without ever being a big crisis or the most important thing about the whole plot.

Which is a point: if you’re reading this for the steampunk, or the LGBT, or the Wild West, and you’re not so interested in the other aspects… it’s probably one to skip. It’s all of those things and a mystery story, but it’s all those things together, and not focusing just on any one thread. In fact, the mystery/thriller aspect is more prominent than the rest; the rest is background, colouring the story and shaping it, but not foregrounded as such.

I’m gonna need a hard copy of this at some point, because I just love the cover art. But my first priority is getting my sister a copy, ’cause I’m pretty sure she’ll love this one.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Slow River

Cover of Slow River by Nicola GriffithSlow River, Nicola Griffith
Review from July 2nd, 2013

I don’t think I read the summary of Slow River when I bought it. It wasn’t familiar at all when I started reading it, anyway. And I… kind of liked that. Everything was a surprise. I loved the careful unfolding of the threefold narrative, the careful bringing to light of secrets you begin to feel you should’ve known all along. And I loved that LGBT relationships were normal, just taken for granted. I loved that the main character learns all sorts of things about privilege and the lack of it.

I even loved the slow plot. I never thought I’d find a book focused on a water remediation plant and the family that own the technology surrounding it so fascinating, but it really was. I love it when someone takes something so necessary but unseen to our modern lives and just expands it a little, showing how vital it is and could be.

Very much looking forward to the other Nicola Griffith books I have, now.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Myth and Magic

Cover of Myth and Magic, ed. Radclyffe and Stacia SeamenMyth and Magic, ed. Radclyffe and Stacia Seaman
Received to review via Netgalley

Normally I quite enjoy queer retellings of fairytales — I’ve written a couple, because it’s just fun to take such a familiar story and wring the heteronormativity out of it. I’ve enjoyed stories like Malinda Lo’s Ash greatly. But most of these took the same sort of tone, flippant and trivial — which is fine, but not what I’m interested in right now. There are some fun ideas, some humorous bits, but there’s also some aspects that make me wince: the idea that only one sort of boy (a gay one) would wear a felt scarf to dinner. Whaaaat? Stereotypes, really? Gah.

It wouldn’t be so bad if those stereotypes weren’t still harmful. In so many ways, it’s ridiculous to look at someone and say, “Oh, you look gay.” Or whatever. It’s not funny yet because it’s still so harmful.

Shrug. Mostly left me cold, though some of the stories were better than others.

Rating: 2/5

Review – Sand and Ruin and Gold

Cover of Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis HallSand and Ruin and Gold, Alexis Hall
Received to review via Netgalley

This is… not a romance. It’s something strange and sad; a fairytale with an ending that isn’t precisely happy or sad. The writing is lovely, and the descriptions of the mermaids as something wholly other really works. The relationship — is it a relationship? — between the narrator and the merman is strange, and the more realistic for being ambiguous, for being… what it is, a strange union between two species where one has more power over the other, where one is a captive and the other is, nominally, in control.

It’s not a very long story, at all, but it’s just the right length; someone else commented that it feels like the background to a novel rather than a story in itself, but I definitely didn’t feel that way. I would’ve liked more, more explanations, more depth to the world, but I didn’t feel as if it was necessary.

Rating: 3/5

Review – The Errant Prince

Cover of The Errant Prince by Sasha L. MillerThe Errant Prince, Sasha L. Miller
Received to review via Netgalley

The Errant Prince is a fantasy novella, with an LGBT romance at the heart. It’s set in the kind of world that I love in fantasy, where we haven’t automatically copied over the things we’re bigoted about. Even the fact that Myron is trans doesn’t get as much attention as it might in our world, and as we would assume it would’ve done in medieval-esque societies. It’s also awesome that the issues in this story are not to do with the sexuality or gender of the characters.

It’s also nice that this is a romance story in which there aren’t Terrible Misunderstandings. There’s one, but it doesn’t really count, because they actually communicate about it and sort themselves out before it escalates.

The fantasy aspect isn’t just backdrop, either. There’s some worldbuilding, though I’d welcome more; there’s a lot of information on magic and how it works; there’s a fair idea of the politics and society surrounding the story. It’s not as immersive as I like my secondary worlds to be, but it isn’t two dimensional. Overall, it’s a sweet and enjoyable story — and wonder of wonders, there’s no sex shoehorned in, despite the delicate balance of tension between the two main characters.

Rating: 4/5

Review – The Adventures of Monkey Girl and Tiger Kite

Cover of The Adventures of Monkey Girl and Tiger Kite by Kai SchalkThe Adventures of Monkey Girl and Tiger Kite, Kai Schalk
Received to review via Netgalley

This is a very short ebook — I’m not sure how long in words or pages, but it was a very quick read. It’s pretty fun and refreshing, in that it has a diverse cast with Chinese and LGBT characters, it’s a superhero story dominated by female characters, and it takes none of these things too seriously — even the teenage crush, which may or may not come to something, but turns out not to be as important as friendship anyway.

It is a very brief story, the more so because it includes flashbacks to the background of the characters, but all the same, it’s cute and fun. I did feel that with a more mature writing style, it might have felt like more; you can pack so much into a short story if only you know how.

Rating: 3/5