Reasons for Inclusion: Protagonist is from a culture without gender, uses ze/hir pronouns for self and as a default. Love interest is deaf and black. Sign language is important to the story.
I’ve been looking forward to this story ever since I spotted it on the Forthcoming list. And I wasn’t disappointed: there’s a curious alien, a welcoming community, and plenty of diversity.
Veni crashlands on Earth after escaping a perilous political situation on hir homeworld. Luckily, ze has translation software, so ze can talk to the people ze meets. Veni’s species doesn’t have gender, so they use ze/hir pronouns for everybody. (Social distinction is instead drawn between long- and short-winged individuals, but even then, there are people in between.) Veni, when told about gender, adapts to the dwarves’ he and she, but continues to use ze for unknowns. What’s really interesting here (and reminiscent of Diskworld!) is that dwarf gender presentation isn’t like human presentation- women have beards!
And then the romance comes in. Wystan, who trades with the dwarves’ community, is deaf, and his use of sign language intrigues Veni. Through hir translation program, ze is able to communicate easily in Wystan’s own language, and the two strike up a friendship that soon becomes romantic.
I really loved the way the story handled cultural differences. Veni, the dwarves, and Wystan had several interesting conversations about aspects of their cultures, and nobody was rude or judgmental. I hope I can find more stories like this!
(Review copy received through Netgalley)