Tag Archives: queer

Reading Rec: The Descent of Monsters

Have you ever read something called silkpunk? An infusion of Asian flare with a punch of magic and technology. If not, you need to get your hands on JY Yang’s Tensorate series beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. In the third book of the series, The Descent of Monsters, Yang takes us further into the world of tensors and strange hybrid creatures.

descent of monsters

Part Jurassic Park, part noir-ish crime story, The Descent of Monsters begins where The Red Threads of Fortune leave off but from the point of view of an investigator charged with figuring out why everyone at the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods was slaughtered and how a naga raptor hybrid escaped. Told through file entries, diaries, letters, and interrogations, it fleshes out not only the mystery of the murders but what happened to Rider’s twin and how it is tied to the institute.

“Get livid.” The Descent of Monsters begins with a call to arms from its readers. Investigator Chuwan has seen the atrocities the government has not only covered up but sponsored and she wants your rage. This call sets the tone for the story, and it’s one of the things I absolutely love about Chuwan. While most of the characters in the Tensorate series have been very human, Chuwan is at times the most relatable. She is angry and fed up and just wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on, especially since the government put her in charge of the investigation figuring she would cave and sweep the evidence under the rug. WRONG. She has the investigative chops and enough moxie to go against the government.

What I love about this series is the slow building of rebellion. With the first book, we get the inner workings of the government from the view of the children of the ruler. Then from the point of view of exiles, and now, we’re getting bits and pieces from an investigation from the government and a detective going rogue. I look forward to seeing what will happen when the fourth book comes out, and hopefully this interesting progression will continue. This is where I should comment more on the format. There are interrogation scripts, files from the investigation, letters, and Chuwan’s diary/memories. If you don’t like that format, you may not like this book, but Chuwan’s voice is strong and has that no-nonsense detective noir vibe. It’s hard not to picture the scenes in dramatic black and white.

One of the things I love about Yang’s books is how effortlessly they create their world. It’s rich in the sights and textures of Asia while still being infused with futuristic technology and magic. Somehow Yang manages to make them live side-by-side without feeling awkward or mismatched. The magic, or tensing, is intricate yet simple at its heart. It makes for an interesting magical system, especially regarding how different characters interact with the slack (the magic in everything). Within their world, queer characters are commonplace, and there is even a coming-of-age ceremony where children choose their gender and name. Other characters appear as nonbinary and/or non-straight, and there is even a brief discussion of pronouns in Descent of Monsters.

If you wished the latest Star Wars trilogy was even more daring, political, and had cooler creatures, you should check out JY Yang’s Tensorate series, beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. Grab their latest book, The Descent of Monsters, now.

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Reading Rec: Salt Magic, Skin Magic

I received an ARC of Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch in exchange for an honest review.

saltmag

When Lord Thornby was dragged back to his father’s estate, he never imagined he wouldn’t be able to leave. Fearing his sanity is slipping when he can’t move past a seemingly invisible barrier, Thornby worries he has no chance of escaping until John Blake arrives. Masquerading as a guest, Blake has his own mission, to figure out what witchcraft is going on at the estate. When Thornby realizes Blake is the key to his escape, the men team up to fight the forces at play only to discover Thornby is more than he appears.

In the tradition of writers like Jordan L. Hawk and K. J. Charles, Lee Welch takes us on an adventure of magic, romance, and of course queer characters. Don’t mistake my reference to other authors of queer historical-fantasy as saying Welch’s work isn’t original. The magical system is wholly her own. What I loved about it was how it artfully combined the mystique of Victorian beliefs in faeries and paranormal creatures while also aligning with the heavy industrialism of the era. Magic can come in several ways, through faerie folk, demons, and by utilizing commonplace objects. This comes with a set of preconceived notions involving class and misconceptions about magic due to this rigid structure. The interweaving of these aspects of the Victorian Era keep us grounded in a historical reality while expanding it [logically] to contain magical elements.

Thornby and Blake are charming characters, each determined to find their way out of this magical muddle, and while there is a little friction at first, they quickly become a well-oiled team. They have fantastic chemistry, and more importantly, I loved how quirky they both can be. Thornby seems like an eccentric at first, but as the story progresses, his behavior begins to make more sense. With Blake, he is like Thornby’s foil and offsets his emotional and quirky side with a more utilitarian calm.

My only real quibble with this book was at times I found the romance aspects a bit gratuitous. I know that is a convention of the genre, but even for paranormal romance, it felt like a lot. This may have been because I read the book rather quickly and it only felt compressed. The scenes themselves though are written well and varied in terms of emotional and physical intimacy.

If you’re a fan of noblemen in emotional crisis or magic in a unique form, then Salt Magic, Skin Magic should be moved to the top of your to-be-read pile. Grab a copy here, and congrats to Lee Welch on their new release!

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Reading Rec: Wild Beauty

If you follow me on Patreon, you may have read my post about Bookcon and how Anna-Marie McLemore’s book signing and ARC giveaway was the ONE event I knew I had to attend. I was elated to find a signed copy of Wild Beauty at Bookcon, which I didn’t realize was signed until I got home (bonus!). After reading Wild Beauty, McLemore has been added to my auto-buy list.

wild beauty

For years, the Nomeolvides women have been trapped on the grounds of La Pradera, growing plants from their hands on the forgotten estate of the Briar family. More mysterious than their magical abilities is that if they step off the land, they die a painful death and those the Nomeolvides love go missing, never to return. Then, a boy in antiquated clothing and covered in dirt appears in the garden. Estrella and the other women wonder if he is a blessing from the garden or a warning, but Fel cannot remember where he came from or who he is. Estrella and her cousins must figure out who Fel was and how to escape the grip of La Prader before it’s too late.

I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s style. It’s an ingenious blend of the normal and surreal where magical flower growing women live along side cotton candy and instant mashed potatoes. Her prose is effortless to read, and her world is rich in texture and beauty. Magical realism is hard for some to deal with because of that intermixing of real and unreal, but if you can suspend your disbelief in this pocket of magic, it’s well worth it.

One of the things I worried about with this book was how it had an obvious aesthetic: flowers. What I mean by that is that some authors beat you to death with repetitive imagery and metaphors. While McLemore makes reference to flowers constantly throughout the story, it is done in such a way that it comes off as varied and artful. She capitalizes upon the sheer number of flowers available to utilize in metaphors and combines them with interesting actions and images. One of the other aspects I love that other readers may miss or think is a fault in the writing is how McLemore makes the Nomeolvides women interchangeable for the most part. Each generation there are five women, and they tend to be names without obvious identities apart from the plants they create. I feel this is done purposely and shows how the outside world sees the women versus how they are easily able to tell each other apart.

The story itself speaks to the impact of history on real people and we often try to sanitize or bury our pasts. This feels very relevant with what is going on in America politically. While McLemore doesn’t explicitly state this, readers should be able to see the parallels and understand why we must dredge up the bloody parts of our history in order to learn from them and grow.

I don’t want to give too much away because this book builds layer upon layer until the story truly unfolds at the end, and I don’t want to spoil that. If this review piqued your interest, you can pick up a copy of Wild Beauty on Amazon or at your local bookstore.

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Reading Rec: Blanca & Roja

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would read and review books written by and about LGBT+ people. I finished several books over the past week while the house was being torn apart (and still is), so expect a few more reviews to come your way this week.

Today’s review is of Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, which won’t be out until October. I received this book as an ARC at Bookcon (you can read more about Bookcon on my Patreon), but I couldn’t help but read it as soon as I got home.

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Blanca & Roja follows the tale of two sisters at the mercy of a family legacy where one of each pair of del Cisnes girls are taken by the swans. Blanca is fair and sweet while Roja is headstrong with hair so red it’s nearly black. Blanca and Roja do their best to trick the swans into giving them more time by trying to act the same to make it harder for the swans to pick which sister to take. Intertwined with their story is the tale of two friends who give themselves to the forest to escape their lives. Blanca & Roja is a riff on Swan Lake as well as Snow White & Rose Red.

What I loved about Blanca & Roja was how the story was aware that they were repeating history through the archetypal tales mentioned above. The fact that the characters are aware makes the story a little more interesting than most retellings. The style of the story is less fantasy and more magical realism. I feel the need to point this out because it begins more like a fairy tale and then suddenly there are cars and school. My rule of thumb for magical realism is to just roll with the weirdness. Swans steal girls in this world and turn them into swans. Take that as fact and move on. Stylistically, McLemore’s work is similar to Louise Erdrich and Maggie Stiefvater but with a queer, Latinx flare.

Her characters are archetypal yet realistic, and her worlds are full of lush texture and greenery. McLemore is a master of magical realism, making it easy to suspend disbelief long enough to sink into the world of her characters. Within that world, the characters are diverse and complex. Being a self-described queer Latinx, she makes certain to include characters of varying sexual and gender identity. These identities flow seamlessly into the work and are taken in stride by the characters without making a big to-do about it.

My only issue with Blanca & Roja has more to do with the back blurb’s representation of the characters versus how they are in the story. The blurb feels too simplistic and polarizing and does a disservice to the characters, especially Roja.

If you’re looking for a rich magical world hidden within our own with characters who are diverse and complex, you should pre-order Blanca & Roja before it comes out October 9th.

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Reading Rec: My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would review books by and about LGBT+ people. Today’s recommendation will be another graphic novel, but unlike The Prince and the Dressmaker, My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1 by Nagata Kabi is autobiographical.

my solo

If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have seen my review on the preceding volume, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. My Solo Diary Exchange picks up pretty much where that book left off. We find Nagata Kabi struggling to become a functional adult– at least to society’s standards. Despite the seemingly sexual/sensual nature of the cover, this volume focuses less on the queer aspect of her life and more with the vulnerabilities and trials she faces in owning her mistakes and growing from them.

What I love about Nagata Kabi’s work is how she never shies away from painful or messy topics. Numerous shades of depression and anxiety are explored in her work, and we get to see the progress she has made since her first book. Unlike many other mental illness-focused autobiographies, we aren’t presented with a nice tidy life by the end of the book. Nagata Kabi draws herself as disheveled, tired, depressed, and frankly, a hot mess. She is unforgiving in her characterization. That styles carries through into her art style, which mimics the mental chaos with fast, scratchy strokes that obscure her sparse forms. Counterbalancing the darkness are flashes of pink, which lighten the tone and remind the reader that she is a woman and this work centers around a woman who loves women.

Her work is poignant and incredibly relatable (especially to many Millenials, myself included) as she struggles to assert her independence from her parents while working through something akin to separation anxiety, depression, and coming to terms with the fact that love isn’t always unconditional or reciprocated.

If this review piqued your interest, grab a copy on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: The Prince and the Dressmaker

It’s June, which means it’s LGBT+ Pride Month. I decided that my June reviews will focus on LGBT+ fiction I’ve read lately. This really isn’t a stretch for me since 75% of what I read has queer characters and was probably written by a queer author.

My first recommendation is a wonderful graphic novel I picked up at Bookcon last Sunday called The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

princedressmaker

The story centers around Frances, a young dressmaker hoping to one day become an independent designer, and Sebastian, the prince of Belgium who is harboring a secret: he likes to wear dresses. After Frances creates a daring ensemble for a noblewoman’s daughter (much to the chagrin of society), Sebastian sends his valet to hire Frances to be his personal designer. Unfortunately, Sebastian isn’t quite out about his penchant for dresses because he fears his family (and his country’s) disapproval. Instead, he dons his new wardrobe and goes out on the town as Lady Crystallia, who soon turns into a fashion icon.

This book is absolutely adorable. Frances and Sebastian are warm and sweet and fragile. They remind the reader of that time when many of us weren’t sure where we fit into the grand spectrum of life and gender/sexuality. It’s written in such a way that the story and themes are easy enough for middle grade readers to understand without being patronizing or dull for adult readers. Honestly, I gobbled this book up in about two hours and couldn’t put it down even though I should have turned in for the night. This was due to the sensitivity with which this story was written while at the same time crushing the characters with doses of reality.

What really sells the book though is the artwork. Every page is beautifully rendered in detail and full color. The clothing is lush and textured and the backdrops scream of a Moulin Rouge era Paris. The art style is somewhat akin to what’s seen on Steven Universe but more realistic. The story itself is purposely anachronistic yet retains the historical charms of the early twentieth century.

If you like the daring costumes of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Lady Gaga, queer historical-fantasy, and beautifully rendered graphic novels, then The Prince and the Dressmaker is for you.

Grab a copy on Amazon on your way out.

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Reading Rec: The Henchmen of Zenda

FYI: I received an ARC of The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles in exchange for an honest review.

henchmen of zenda

I absolutely loved The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles. If you’re into 1940s swashbuckling films or Victorian pulp fiction, this is for you.

If the title sounds familiar, you may have heard of Anthony Hope’s Victorian novel The Prisoner of Zenda. K. J. Charles originally wrote this story as part of Riptide’s Classics Queered series before Riptide’s ugly racist/prejudiced underbelly was revealed. Now, it is being independently published.

Before I talk more about the story, I need to say that I have never read The Prisoner of Zenda, and I purpose didn’t read it before reading The Henchmen of Zenda. I wanted the book to stand on its own without having my opinion (or mind) polluted by the original. It isn’t necessary to read Hope’s novel in order to understand the story line as Charles masterfully fills in any gaps while poking fun at the original narrator.

What I loved about The Henchmen of Zenda was our narrator, Jasper Detchard, swordsman for hire, Englishman, and a minor villain in the original tale. He tells the tale of how he ends up being roped into Michael’s (the Duke and brother of the legitimate heir) service and became entangled in a power struggle between Michael, Randolph, and Flavia (the princess and cousin of the two brothers). Detchard is utterly unflappable, in control, and sardonic. He’s basically Basil Rathbone in every swashbuckling movie he ever filmed, and he adds a grounding force when set against his foil, Rupert Hentzau.

Ah, Rupert. A young noble looking for adventure, a rogue with a good heart (who would most certainly be played by Errol Flynn), and a thorn in Detchard’s side who eventually grows on him to become something more. Their chemistry grows from sword fighting to sword fighting (*eyebrow waggle*). He’s witty, lively, and more complex than he is given credit for. Together with their ally, Toni (a courtesan turned mistress turned spy turned bad ass), they manage to turn the tides of battle and have a happier ending than would have been possible in a Victorian pulp tale.

The best part of The Henchmen of Zenda is how K. J. Charles was able to turn the original story on its head by turning heroes into villains, villains into heroes, weak women into the power behind the thrown, and yet, it all makes sense! I give her kudos for her ability to engineer a completely new (and better) version of a century old tale. Her take adds a new level of complexity to a pretty problematic story (by modern standards) and giving it a queer and feminist spin.

The Henchmen of Zenda will be out May 15th, so if this review piqued your interest, you can grab a copy here.

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