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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

Alas, because I like Elizabeth Hunter a lot

Building From Ashes - Elizabeth   Hunter

I should have known I was not going to be into this. We've met one of the main characters, an Irish priest named Carwyn, in the Elemental Mysteries series. He was fine as the duffer coot friend of the hot lead, but promoting him to romantic lead himself is way too much. He's officious and holier than thou, and his crush on the girl was gross. Hunter sidestepped a lot of the pedo-stylins of vampire fiction quite neatly in the Mysteries series, making her characters perfectly cognizant of the ethical problems of their predicament. Here it's like Carwyn is so busy being right all the time that he can't see how wrong he is. 

Not my particular poison

Beyond Shame  - Kit Rocha

Picked this up because I saw it on a list of completed romance series -- you know, don't get stuck hanging for a year because Moning can't help but end everything on a cliffhanger -- and the list included a couple series...es that I liked. (Brothers Sinister by Courtney Milan and The Guardians by Meljean Brook, specifically.) This is sold as post-apocalyptic, set in a post-solar storm America. There's a religiously oppressive city with all the money and power, and a ring of sectors beyond with various governments or lack thereof. So far so good. 

 

I kind of can't believe I'm saying this, because I like sex writing as much the next sex-positive feminist, but there was way too much pointless sex for my tastes. I want to be clear I'm not saying "I'm not a prude, but", a phrase that is an exact indicator that the speaker is a massive fucking prude. None of the sex depicted was beyond my comfort level or anything. I mean, sure why not have a ruthless gang of bootleggers have a company orgy every Wednesday; seems legit. But I didn't feel like much of it was in the service of, like, plot or character development, so it ended up often feeling mechanical. 

 

There was a sort of trajectory, sexually speaking, for the leading lady. She is ejected from the confines of her shitty, repressive city life for being sexually precocious, and then learns a little something about menage, BDSM, and blowjobs, and maybe, just maybe, something about herself. This trajectory was undercut a little by having her jump immediately into public sex and blowjobs after maybe sixteen seconds of thinking, oh no, my repressive upbringing, I couldn't possibly. So, it's not so much a trajectory as a backstory we are only told about, and a present course of complete sexual openness. That's not a story; that's a situation. 

 

One of the reasons I like PNR is that it so very often deals credibly with body trauma, people moving from grief and brokenness to wholeness. Because there was no real emotional trajectory for anyone (and I do not credit hero dude struggling with these completely new feelings of tenderness and possessiveness, what are these things I'm feeling?) nothing that happened, no matter how theoretically sexy, had much juice to it. It was stuff that was happening. Except for the tattooing sequence; that was hot, rarrr. 

 

I guess what I'm saying is that I want this book to buy me dinner before we skip to the fucking. I didn't realize I was that old fashioned.

 

Anyway, if you like kinda light BDSM and lots of group sex, you could find a lot worse. Nobody is slut-shaming or becoming a massive alphole. I mean, even when the main pair get together, they still fuck around with other people instead of reverting immediately to middle class American monogamy. So that's good! But I'd prefer a little more apocalypse in my post-apocalit. Alas. 

The Edge

On the Edge - Ilona Andrews

I thought I'd check this out while waiting on the most recent Kate Daniels to get its ass in at the library. On the Edge deals with a pocket universe called, ahem, the Edge, that exists between the Broken (us'ens) and the Weird (magic'ens). The Edge is a narrow band separating the two, where magic and tech mix. The people the occupy the Edge tend to eke out a pretty haphazard existence, working shit jobs in the Broken because they don't have the requisite papers from our world, or bartering between the Weird and the Broken for trinkets and Pepsi. Or they farm, or cook meth, or whatever. Altogether, a pretty great metaphor for populations who live in poverty for one reason or another, be it cussedness or that they're los illegales.

 

Main character Rose is in her 20s, raising up two much younger brothers after her mom died and her dad run off (again). She's got a grandmother who helps out, but that's about it, and a minimum wage job in the Broken cleaning offices for 10 hours a day, no time off for good behavior. The novel opens with one of her brothers tearing up his new, expensive shoes by being a boy, and the crushing decision to buy him new ones. Because she knows he'll be laughed at in school with the wrong shoes, or torn shoes, or, God help them, no shoes at all. He'll be laughed at anyway, but new shoes is just one fewer reason. Shoes bought, then she has to figure out how they're going to eat for the next week. 

 

So, so rarely does pop fiction deal in actual poverty, working poverty, the kind that so many of my fellow Americans have to live with. A good friend of mine is getting foreclosed on -- she's losing the house she raised her boys in -- because she donated a son a kidney after his utterly failed. I'm not sure how this would have been treated under Obamacare,  but this was before the ACA passed, and was treated like an elective surgery. ( I know the ACA kept me out of a spiral of medical bills, which was passed just months before I would have been crushed by the "preexisting condition".) But before Obamacare, her kidney transplant to save her son set off a spiral of medical bills and lost work that lead her here, looking at getting turned out of the home that she's spent 25 years paying a mortgage on. Fucking hell. 

 

So it was, refreshing isn't the word, maybe satisfying is what I mean, to see characters grapple with the implacable cruelty of poverty, how poverty gives zero fucks if you have a degree or a good work ethic or a dying son, it's just going to grind you down like glaciers. And other people, otherwise well meaning people, are going to judge the ever living fuck out of you for your bad shoes and bad car and bad food. For having the temerity to be poor. 

 

On the Edge ends up being something of a Cinderella tale, all told, which I don't quite know what to think of. On the one hand, I don't mind a wish fulfillment exercise when the wishes are "get me the fuck out of this impoverished nightmare". Rose is not a pretty useless nothing, but principled and disciplined, understandably more competent than her 22 years might imply. She's had to grow up, and grow up fast, and has too many people counting on her to swoon or moon over a rich dude. Rich dudes are dangerous and trouble; they think they can own you.

 

Nor do I particularly want it to end with dire disaster. I can read miserablist fiction for that, thank you, not urban fantasy. I guess I just wish there had been a middle path, one that let Rose live in her Edge community, near her grandmother, on the land of her ancestors. Maybe that's the real wish fulfillment exercise, a naive wish within myself that we can break out of the rote poverty without severing ties completely, cut off from our peers because they are no longer our peers. Alas. 

Yeah, no

Unborn - Amber Lynn Natusch

Unborn pretty much exemplifies everything that I find unpleasant about paranormal fantasy; not sure why I finished it. First off, we have a lone woman, an exemplary special girl who has untapped powers surrounded by a whole bunch of dudes. Then said dudes spend all kinds of time treating other women like shit, and this is somehow a reflection on the women and not the dudes. Then, and this is my special favorite, most of these dudes are the main girl's brothers, but they persist in treating her like a sex object, and this is funny. Because incest is funny. Why are you being such a buzzkill? 

 

Oh, and it ends on a cliffhanger. I know, right? 

 

This is the sort of book that makes me appreciate this book's antecedents, stuff like Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Fever novels. I made some fun of those at the time, but actually the way those series navigated some seriously problematic shit was pretty deft. BDB has the whole dudes-only feel, but the banter is honestly amusing, and the whole thing ends up being an exploration of masculinity that doesn't have to hate on every woman but the protagonist. Fever, well, Morning turned the cliffhanger into an art form. Unborn does neither of these things well. 

Gothic angel morality tales are a thing; who knew?

Cruxim: You Are Never Alone (Dark Guardians Fantasy Series Book 1) - Karin Cox

Odd little book. The blurbcraft I saw for this book all called it a paranormal romance, but that really isn't right. It's more dark fantasy or Gothic, like Interview with the Vampire period Anne Rice. The plot concerns a Cruxim, an angel like being that hunts vampires. The novel takes place over the 16th and 18th Centuries, and our cruxim is a man of his time, convinced of his righteousness and utterly bought into the virgin/whore dichotomy.

 

Which is what makes this so not a romance, because when his now adult ward throws herself at him, begging for him to release her from the nunnery so she can marry and have a life, he completely freaks out. Like oh my God you can't want to have sex you slut! Then of course when he runs off like a big idiot his ward is deflowered and turned into a vampire OH MY GOD THE IRONY.

 

It's first person, and there isn't much authorial commentary on this, which makes the whole thing interesting indeed. The prose is overheated and formal, which I completely adore for the right subject matter, e.g. tortured angel morality tales. Oh, and there's a sphinx character who is the most impressive mix of sinuous sexiness and alarming bestiality. Bravo. 

Liu is so awesome

A Dream of Stone & Shadow  - Marjorie M. Liu

She did it again! I am growing to love how delightfully bent Liu is at times, in a way that few urban fantasy writers will even touch. For all the shapeshifter and werewolf romance out there, no one acknowledges that a shifter could have sex in its animal form, or that the whole shooting match isn't tinged with bestiality from the get go. Not that there is anything wrong with that! There's a great scene in an Angela Carter short story where the lion beast flenses the skin off the girl, revealing the fur underneath. She was so good, god.

 

Anyway, this book is about a disembodied gargoyle and a precog falling in love. I know, I know, that sounds ludicrous. But it is real sweet, the way the dude is almost like a ghost, just this hint of sensation and a voice in her ear. She eventually meets the gargoyle in the flesh, and he's totally, you know, grey, with big bat wings and red eyes. And she is totally into it. I got all excited about the tiger bj in Liu's first book -- who even does that? -- but that ain't got nothing on gargoyle blow job. He's got knobby bits on his knob! Love conquers all! 

After Atlas is Painfully Good Science Fiction

After Atlas (Planetfall Novel, A) - Emma Newman

I completely adored the book previous to this one, Planetfall, and it's so wonderful to see the second meet the same impossible standards. After Atlas is not a sequel so much as a companion novel, and I suspect it could be read as a standalone.

 

My latest on B&N SciFi 

Jews vs Zombies

Jews vs Omnibus: Jews vs Aliens and Jews vs Zombies - Naomi Alderman, Daniel Polansky, Sarah Lotz, Shimon Adaf, Rachel Swirsky, Eric Kaplan, Rebecca Levene, Lavie Tidhar, Sarah Anne Langton

So that happened! 

 

For whatever reason, I ending up being assigned a bunch of Jewish science fiction (or science fiction written by Jewish writers, if you prefer) by my editor, which ended up being a fun mini-class. I picked this up as it's edited by the fabulous Lavie Tidhar. His A Man Lies Dreaming is one of those most bananas alt-history pulp meltdowns; it must be seen to be believed. 

 

I only read Jews vs Zombies, but BL doesn't have anything but the omnibus listed. Like most short story collections, it's a mix of better and worse. "Zayinim" by Adam Roberts is a standout, a sly alt-history that could easily keep going to novel length, given the richness of the detail. "The Scapegoat Factory" is funny, which one does not expect from zombie fiction, as is "the Friday People", but there the humor is black as pitch. The real Talmudic ones didn't work for me, too abstruse, but they may work for others. Definitely a better collection than the silly name implies. 

 

Ta da!

Adventures in Audio

Phoenix Rising - Philippa Ballantine, Tee Morris A Conspiracy of Alchemists - Liesel Schwarz The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, Book 1 - Rod Duncan

Mr Ceridwen and I have been listening to audiobooks on our (somewhat long) drive up to the cabin, which has been generally enjoyable. We got through the entire "Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire" series, which was absolutely a great time. Good narrators, very interesting alt-history, a semi-twist ending I didn't see coming, very astute observations about gender, and on. Well recommended all around. So then we cased around for the next steampunkery to fill the hours. 

 

I downloaded A Conspiracy of Alchemists first, but holy God was the narrator bad. We just couldn't stop laughing at her hiccoughing reading style. Then we moved on to Phoenix Rising, which opens with a relatively fun rescue sequence, and then settles into ... a whole lot of not so very clever bickering. The main characters, named Books & Braun (gag), are a fussy librarian and a stabby brute, but, get this, the DUDE is the fussy pepperpot and the LADY loves explosives. Oh ho, I bet you thought the lady was the librarian, but you would be wrong! See our fascinating gender reversal! 

 

I actually fell asleep while listening. 

 

Which, look, I generally think whether I like this sort of pulp mid-list disposable reading is more dependent on the angle of the sun or the barometric pressure than, say, actual merit. Because this stuff is all more or less the same -- somewhat formulaic, dependent on action, sometimes quippy, little bit of romance for the ladies, etc -- so I wonder sometimes why I bother reading (or writing) reviews. Something called Conspiracy of Alchemists is going to be a three-star outing, shitty narrators notwithstanding, and that I thought Phoenix Rising boring and trite might because I ate something like all the doughnuts when I stopped in Hinckley and hit Toby's bakery. Noms. 

Some More Strange Things

Paper Girls Volume 1 - Cliff Chiang, Brian K. Vaughan

If you've been mainlining Stranger Things, do yourself a favor and pick up Paper Girls. It's set in 1988, on Halloween morning, as the titular paper girls bike through their subdivision delivering papers. At which point all manner of wtfery ensues. I liked Stranger Things fine, but it does really speak to a boy's experience. Paper Girls speaks more to a girl's experience, so it's a good companion piece. It's nice when you can balance your nostalgia. 

Sick Reading: Nalini Singh

Archangel's Blade - Nalini Singh

I got super sick last week and read a half dozen trashy and less trashy PNR/UF books to salve my soul. Also, I managed to tear through all of the Mercy Thompson books, so I'm a little at loose ends as far as light reading goes. I hit a lot of different series to try them out, and the last is Nalini Singh's Guardians series. 

 

So, I've read me all of Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series, because she totally hits me somewhere strange. The background of that world, which is set in the late 2070s, is that there are three races of humans on the planet: regular humans, like you or I; changelings, who can turn into everything from birds to rats to leopards; and the Psy, who are basically psychic Vulcans. The Psy, who have a variety of psychic gifts, embraced something called Silence in the late 1970s, a conditioning designed to suppress all emotions, and bring their sometimes terrifying psychic powers under rigid control. A hundred years later, and Silence is breaking, a failed experiment. 

 

The series of over a dozen novels follows various pairings of Psy, changelings, and only very occasionally humans. The changelings are invariably predatory animals like wolves or big cats, I think because deer changelings, or squid changelings, are totally ridiculous. Also, because she seems to have a lady-boner for predatory alpha types; I cannot think of a single male character who isn't described as dominant.

 

The mythology in the background mostly deals with the Psy's breaking Silence, and it's fucking fascinating. My personal predictions do not run to the alpha type, but even that aside, the Psy characters are something like a million times more interesting than the changelings puffing up at each other in various dominance displays. The Psy, without an exception, are brutalized, damaged people, just as a baseline, and then those characters often carry other scars because Silence makes people into sociopaths.

 

The narratives of the Psy discovering emotion, healing, and their humanity are often slowly sensual and emotionally touching, this odd, metaphorical narrative of people working through bad childhoods and hideous betrayals toward a resonant, complete emotional connection. Or not: some of the more interesting stories, like the one about Kaleb Krycheck, deal with people who can only heal so far, and that one emotional relationship is all he can manage. Which is interesting too, a strange kind of acknowledgement that some damage is permanent. 

 

Anyway, blah blah, not what I'm here to say. I decided to try out her Guardians series, partially because her most recent Psy-Changeling collection kinda sucked. And what a weird series. The Guardians takes place in an alternate present, where angels and archangels rule the world. They create vampires as their lackeys, and divvy up the world amongst themselves. Angels are not the warriors for the Lord from the bible, but magical creatures with wings and immortality. And, like the PSy, they are pretty much universally brutalized and brutalizing, their immortality tending towards a murderous sociopathy.

 

The first three novels deal with a woman, a hunter, who works for the angels by contract to bring rogue vamps back into line. She gets involved with a big bad archangel; she's turned into an angel herself; various psychotic angels and archangels try to kill everyone. Pretty much every single character has a history steeped in blood and death, and often really inventively bloody and horrifying traumas. I can't think of anyone who isn't horrifically scarred, often to the point of either loving pain or hating touch. Eesh. But we have three books of the hunter and the angel, and that's unusual because typically PNR follows a single pair each outing. By the fourth, we turn our attention to a different couple. So here we go. 

 

Archangel's Blade follows a thousand year old vampire who's really awful, and a hunter who was taken by other awful vampires and brutalized and raped for two months. She's, you know, super fucking traumatized, but finally pulls herself up to do a job for the angels. Which is when she meets vamp dude, who immediately starts sexually harassing her and trying to assault her. He's the romantic lead.

 

I kind of don't know how, but it gets worse from there. There is so, so much bloody carnage in this novel I find the romance sticker a little hilarious. Several years ago, I wondered aloud if there was horror romance, because there seems to be romance novel versions of just about every genre under the sun. There's beheadings and loving descriptions of torture, castrations, murdered children, people getting their hearts pulled out still beating, et fucking cetera. I just, I don't even know. 

 

And I want to be clear, I'm not trying to high horse this one, passing judgement. Singh is doing something really strange with this series, something I don't understand, but I feel like it's not coming from some place of misogyny. It's just, the emotional reckonings are so left-handed, the hunter woman allowed to lash out and rage and hate her sexual responses like someone who has been sexually brutalized, and then this romantic lead who seems to reenact so much of that brutalization, or at least the mindset behind it.

 

It's like it has a realness at the center of some kind of wish fulfillment exercise of the bloodiest sort, but the juxtaposition is so, so much more stark than usual in this sort of thing. Fucking bizarre. It was definitely a weird novel to pick as my last book coming out of a horror cold, and I'm pretty sure I'm done with this series, whatever it's doing. It's funny that something that's ostensibly romantic can bug me out way more than most horror novels, even those that trade in sexual violence for kicks. Those are just boring and done to death, this is something much more intimately fucked. Happy Halloween. 

Sick Reading: Ilona Andrews

Burn for Me -  Ilona Andrews Magic Bites -  Ilona Andrews

I got super sick last week and read a half dozen trashy and less trashy PNR/UF books to salve my soul. Also, I managed to tear through all of the Mercy Thompson books, so I'm a little at loose ends as far as light reading goes. I hit a lot of different series to try them out, and next up is Ilona Andrews.

 

Turns out, Ilona Andrews a husband and wife writing team, which is fascinating, because they do an amazing fucking job. I started with Burn for Me, because it was on my ereader for some reason (see, a theme!) Burn for Me is the start of a new series, different from the Kate Daniels series that put them on the map. In this world, people who took a serum to activate magical talents a hundred years ago have been intermarrying to shore up the money and power amongst themselves. They are basically unaccountable to anyone, for anything. You know, like our world, but slightly more metaphorical. The main girl is a PI, who is called in to take the fall for a son of wealth and power gone rogue. 

 

I rarely actually laugh while reading, because I have a black black heart, but I did here, multiple times. Andrews is clever and funny, and utilizes a vocabulary typically unseen in urban fantasy. Burn for Me is definitely more on the urban fantasy end, so the growly love interest person isn't anywhere near the most important character, more's the better. The PI has a complex, loving, and exasperating family who are in the business with her, and they get in the way and help out in equal measure.

 

I'm also fairly confident that Burn for Me pretty much smashes the Bechdel test, which is also notable for a lot of paranormal romance (or actually just regular romance.) So, the Bechdel test is this thing where you ask if 1) there are two women with names and 2) if they talk to each other 3) about anything other than a man. There's a lot of problems with how the Bechdel test gets used, not the least of which is that of course failing the test is not an indicator of either poor quality or anti-feminist writing. I think its main utility is in broad genre statistics: how often does a particular set of writings tell the stories of women that do not hinge on the men in their lives?

 

PNR fails this test a lot, a lot, partially for the very obvious and understandable reason that mainstream romance by its very definition deals with romantic relationships mostly between heterosexual couples. (Of course there's M/M romance, but that has its own issues I'm not getting into right now.) So of course ladies talk to dudes, and when they talk to their lady friends, they talk about dudes. So far so good.

 

But really, PNR often takes this one step further, where there is often only one female character in dozens of guys (which you can see in everything from Mercy Thompson to the Black Dagger Brotherhood). If there is another female character, she's slagged as a slut or something, in opposition to the shiny, shiny perfection of the heroine. So it was just lovely to see a family unit of mostly women enacting real relationships that didn't necessarily have anything to do with the love interest. They had money problems and argued about who got the car and who was going to set the table. About how they were going to do their jobs. Just, my heart swells. 

 

Next I hit Magic Bites, which has to be one of Andrews's first novels (weirdly, a theme in my reading recently: start with later stuff and work back.) Not as accomplished as Burn for Me in terms of prose style, but still a damn fine novel, with an absolutely dynamite world to play around in. Kate Daniels lives in an alternate present where magic is swinging back into dominance, and the ascendance of either tech or magic happens randomly and without warning. The vacillation toward magic in the last 15 whatever years means that skyscrapers are falling down, and all of our magical technology is going dark. It's technically a mid-apocalyptic world, which O, baby. 

 

Kate is something between a PI and a bounty hunter, magically inclined. A father figure from her childhood, who works for the magical Order keeping magical shit in check, turns up dead, and she drives into a crumbling Atlanta to find his killer. It's one of those stories where she keeps getting the shit kicked out of her and running down blind alleys, but her general competence and grit gets her through. Something like magic noir. Reader, I enjoyed it greatly. I'm definitely gulping down the rest of this. 

Sick Reading: Marjorie M Liu

Tiger Eye - Marjorie M. Liu

I got super sick last week and read a half dozen trashy and less trashy PNR/UF books to salve my soul. Also, I managed to tear through all of the Mercy Thompson books, so I'm a little at loose ends as far as light reading goes. I hit a lot of different series to try them out, and next up is Marjorie M. Liu.

 

I'm pretty sure Tiger Eye is Liu's first novel (or close to it) and it suffers from the usual panoply of first novel woes: weird pacing, a tendency toward repetition, and an absolutely energetic mess of a mythology. Main girl picks up a puzzle box in a Beijing market, and out pops a thousand year old shapeshifter. (The Chinese setting is actually really well done, which is a plus in a genre which is often tragically white.)

 

He's not a djinn, more's the pity, but just a tiger-dude stuck in a box by an evil wizard. He expects her to use him like his other masters, for sex or warfare, but she's like, ick, that's gross, I'm a modern person who doesn't particularly enjoy slavery, magical or otherwise. They fall in love. Also, some people try to kill her, and they end up in LA. Oh, and she's got magical powers and belongs to a company of mercenaries who have magical powers, like you do. The usual.

 

Two things set this apart. First, Liu's prose is almost overheated, very tactile and prone to lovely flights of acute observation. It made me realize how rarely one sees actual Gothic style prose in these sorts of novels, and how bizarre that is. PNR owes a lot to the Gothic novel, and the sentimental novel, but mostly the prose is grimly pedestrian. You have all these oversized emotions described with all the paste of a cereal box. (I'm looking at you, Stephenie Meyer.) It was charming to see someone punch it up a bit. 

 

Second, well, this is going to be a little weird, but I think the heroine gave the shapeshifter guy a blow job while he was in his tiger form. The situation is a little vague, but he turns into a tiger, she's all into stroking his fur, then there's a blowjob, after which the text says something like, he changed back into a man and then they had sex. I know! Another thing I've noticed when reading PNR involving shapeshifters is that the authors never NEVER describe sex between the animal forms, or between one human and one animal. Which makes total sense and I'm not really complaining, thanks, just observing. So when someone crosses that line, I'm all astonishment. 

 

I told this to my husband, and he was like, yeah, can you imagine a wereduck coming at you with his curly wereduck penis? You should never be a wereduck. After long conversation about the various animal penises out there, we tried to figure if tiger-man in his tiger form had a tiger dick or a person one, after which I started laughing so much I had coughing jag and almost died. PNR is not for the weak! I'm not sure I have a point, but my husband did say something that made me think a bit. He was like, if it's a furry fantasy, why isn't there more yiffing? And I was like, shapeshifter romance generally isn't a furry fantasy; that's a whole other ball of wax. 

 

Shapeshifter tropes seem bundled more with biological determinism and domination/submission play, with a sideline in mate-for-life. Often these shifters are massive alpha types, hewing to a vision of pack hierarchies that are both Victorian as fuck, and heavily discredited, scientifically speaking. So you have a dude who is often described as dangerously domineering, but with this biological safety valve that makes him literally incapable of being abusive. After helping a second friend this year make a midnight dash out of her house after her partner had put his hands on her, I can see the appeal of a fantasy dude who can get his alpha on without fucking punching you and breaking your cheekbone. 

 

So that escalated quickly! 

 

Anyway, I liked Tiger Eye, tiger blow jobs and all, and given the strength of her prose (if not her worldbuilding) I'd try her stuff out again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But honestly mostly because of the tiger blow job. 

Sick Reading: Alyssa Day

The Cursed - Alyssa Day Atlantis Rising - Alyssa Day

I got super sick last week and read a half dozen trashy and less trashy PNR/UF books to salve my soul. Also, I managed to tear through all of the Mercy Thompson books, so I'm a little at loose ends as far as light reading goes. I hit a lot of different series to try them out, and first up is my accounting of Alyssa Day.

 

I started with The Cursed, because I think I had a copy already on my ereader (this will become a theme.) I've seen her name in conjunction with other writers I like (specifically Meljean Brook) and I was hoping it would be a readalike. The Cursed ended up being really fun, set in a pocket universe place on the edge of a bunch of other demonic and elvish realms, I like this sort of word, folded into and on the edges of our world, just a stop off the wrong street in Manhattan.

 

The main dude was a rugged wizard detective type, all powerful and broody, but the text poked a fair amount of fun at him. The humor was solid, and not entirely dependent on "banter", which I find generally tiresome. All in all, a fun ride, and I was full bummed to find that this was the first in a series that doesn't seem to have any other books. Given that it's been a couple years (and the breakneck publishing speed of these kinds of books), I suspect it must not have done well, and that's that. Drag.

 

So I then moved on to Atlantis Rising, which was Day's very first novel, and successful enough to spawn a solid series. Frankly, I thought it was awful: clunky characterization and cliche everything, with a raft of unlikable assholes and dodgy enough theology to get me going in a very serious way. Apparently, Atlantis is real, as is Poseidon, but they've dropped out of the world because reasons. Meanwhile, vampires and shifters are also real, and they've come out of the closet, so to speak, and are now running Congress and the like.

 

The dick prince of Atlantic ends up coming ashore and falling instantly in lust with some girl with heretofore unknown powers. He's been held and tortured for the last couple years by a vampire queen, and this is his first foray out into the world. He's followed by his complaining compliment of dudes, the worst of which is a priest. I couldn't possibly conjure the ins and outs of the plot, but I found just about everything about Atlantis awful, from the bitching leadership to the plot-expedient whims of the god of the sea.

 

Not to invoke the dread voice of cultural critic Harold Bloom too loudly (and for sure he'd absolutely choke on his Manischewitz if he heard me say this), but Day's first novel has all of the earmarks of the anxiety of influence. The Atlanteans appear to be modeled on the Black Dagger Brotherhood, all black leather and bulging muscles. But the BDB can produce just pages of funny dialogue, and here the repartee was more along the lines of the single entente.

 

Set against the later The Cursed, you can see Day in Atlantis Rising working off the books and characters that influenced her writing, trying (and failing) to produce the the things she enjoys to read, but isn't particularly gifted at producing. The world of The Cursed is way more sensible than anything in the BDB, and her humor more situational than quipping. It was cool to see that she has found her voice, and also a downer to think that maybe it wasn't as successful as her earlier, shakier writing. Alas, the whims of the market are jerks.

to use the parlance of our times...

Red Sonja Volume 1: Queen Of Plagues - Jenny Frison, Walter Geovanni, Gail Simone

A lot of these quasi-feminist icons are, as they say, problematic. Wonder Woman solidly formed my childhood notions of the expanse and limits of female empowerment: you can save the day, absolutely, but you're going to need a patsy/beard to pin all the credit on. She was also the bondage fantasy of the dude who invented the lie detector. 

 

Likewise, there's a lot of fuckery in Howard's Hyborian books, way moreso than in Wonder Woman. That WW's creator was into bondage and polyamory feels quaint and sweet compared to Howard's literally barbaric escapades, with sexual violence lurking around every corner. I'm not sure that anything Howard wrote is reclaimable, because his stuff (like Kipling) is just too damned entrenched in the mores of the day.

 

Ms Sonja stands out in such a place, revenge playing her way through grubsome slavers and bandits. You go girl! Etc. But she stands out precisely because every other woman is backdrop or victim, and I don't have a lot of time for fictions that posit a single woman in the "strong female character" role, not including villains, who are just domme fantasies anyway. 

 

So, point being, taking on such a creature as Red Sonja is going to be no easy feat. I see her appeal, which hits me in much the same place as, say, Slave Leia does: good lord that's hot, but also, ish. In fact, I think probably the hotness is a function of the recoil, a sort of attraction/repulsion. You've got to put in enough transgression to get the blood running, but not so much you get all grossed out and overwhelmed. 

 

I was excited about Gail Simone taking this on, because I like her stuff. But, alas, this just felt a little wan. The narrative slips around through Sonja's life, a retrospective of How We Got Here. There's a fair amount of killing and revenge killing. Some of it treads real lightly into crazy lesbian tropes, which didn't so much make me mad as bore me: if you're going to go there, then by god go there. I feel like so much that makes a character like Sonja compelling/infuriating was just skipped over, and we end up with this stock badass.

 

Which is fine. I like stock badasses; we could use more of them. First volumes are often kinda wobbly, and maybe this character will tighten up as the writers learn to write for her. So a success of a sort, considering how difficult it is the thread the needle of this kind of character. 

Eh

Lost Dogs - Jeff Lemire

Eh. I like Lemire, and I have all the praises for Descender, but this is a bust. The story just strikes me as dumb and simplistic. Part of Descender's charm, of course, is Ngyuen's just ravishing artwork. The art here is good, Lemire's trademark black and white, now with slashes of red, but like the story, if feels a little unformed.