Review: Dragonborn

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Reasons for Inclusion:  Poly relationship. All characters have dark skin. Jude is genderqueer using jee/jem/jeirs. Crispin sometimes uses a wheelchair. Queer identities are common and accepted in other countries. Lila is asexual. Side M/M couple. Rachel is demiromantic.

My Review:

(5/5 stars)

Ben and Cecily, a prince and princess sharing the same body, are to be sacrificed to a dragon on their twentieth birthday. Or not, if their new teachers have anything to say about it.

Dragonborn is a powerful fairy tale absolutely bursting with diversity. Though queer relationships and identities are banned in the twins’ country, they’re accepted everywhere else, as new tutors Crispin and Jude reveal. They’re a charming duo, making for scenes with brilliant dialogue and emotion.

As the story goes on, more characters are spun into the plot. There’s Cecily’s tutor Rachel, and Lila, the princess who’s engaged to Ben but turns out to be more interested in Cecily. And as myriad bonds form between them, they must work together to save the twins from a horrible fate.

I loved all the diversity in the book, and how well it was introduced and handled. Crispin explains gender and pronouns without being preachy, and the twins accept it immediately. Various queer romantic and sexual orientations are validated over the course of the story, with the focus always on acceptance, respect, and consent.

On that note, it is a little disappointing the story is set in the one nation that’s intolerant. That’s necessary for the plot, but I’d have loved to see more of the rest of the world. I’m hoping for more stories in the future with this amount of diversity in a setting where it’s no big deal and there’s no oppression to be fought.

But what this story does is spectacular. The characters are fully formed, with personalities that go far beyond just their identities. Politics, magic, history, and love are all important to the resolution. The relationships are sweet and develop smoothly, finishing in happy endings all around.

With bright and captivating characters, bold worldbuilding and across-the-board inclusiveness, Dragonborn should top any list of queer fairy tales.

(review copy from Netgalley)

Guest Review: The Song of Achilles

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by Daphnis

Reasons: Gay protagonists and romance

Review:

The Song of Achilles is a book based off Homer’s Iliad, but with a focus on Patroclus. Readers of the Iliad might remember him as Achilles’ close companion most people see as his lover, who was the only person who could convince him to do anything. In this, he and Achilles are canonical boyfriends, and their relationship is explored in great detail. Another major character in this book is Briseis, formerly just Achilles’ war prize, who here is given agency and depth. It covers Patroclus’ life from childhood to the war and beyond.

The book is beautifully written, and is a good way to get into the Iliad if you haven’t read it. Some people who have read the Iliad before note that the relationship dynamic between Achilles and Patroclus is a bit different than in the Iliad, and some are upset that Patroclus is portrayed as not being a good soldier, even though he was one of the best in the Iliad. Despite that, however, it’s a nice book for anyone interested in historical fiction with a gay relationship. The style of writing, as preciously noted, is incredible and musical, and it’s well worth the read just for that. It’s also a good way to get a sense for the Iliad if you can’t read it.

Review: You Promised Me Two Years

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Reasons for Inclusion: Tyler is gay, Connor is homoromantic and asexual.

Summary:

When Tyler became Connor’s interpreter, he thought all that entailed was translating the Prophet’s cryptic messages about future events. 

However, it doesn’t take him long to realize Connor needs more than that. First and foremost, he needs a friend, someone who will stand up for him at the Academy, the elite school they both attend and where Connor, despite his talent, is far from popular. He also needs someone who understands that, for him, the talent of prophecy is a curse he would get rid of if he only could, a curse that pushes him toward substance abuse and oblivion.  

It also doesn’t take Tyler very long before he starts seeing Connor as more than a friend, and he’s lucky enough to have Connor return his feelings. Just as things begin to settle down, however, the arrival of a new Prophet at the Academy threatens Connor’s hard-won and still-fragile peace of mind. 

Through it all, Tyler is all too aware that every day brings Connor closer to being eighteen, the age of his prophesized death, two years after their first meeting. 

My Review:

(4.5 stars) 

This story grabbed my attention right away. A boy who can see the future but speaks only in riddles, and the boy trying to protect both of them in the face of seemingly inevitable disaster.  

I really liked the chapter style. The book was told in snippets, some going on for pages, some no longer than a paragraph. The important events and emotions came across without  being slowed down by the need to transition from scene to scene. It suited the plot perfectly: a collection of scenes is how a life really feels, and it’s how Connor sees the future.  

The characters’ emotions were honest, both the good ones and the bad ones. Tyler struggles with his attraction to Connor, Connor fights doubt and despair about his abilities. Things about Connor’s life were revealed slowly, while he continued to hold his own, refusing to become a figure of pity. Tyler’s devotion, dedication, and uncertainty all rang true and impacted the story. 

I felt some parallels between Connor and autistic characters. Talking in a way that’s incomprehensible to most, having specific interests, disliking arbitrary social stuff, facing bullying from people who don’t understand. Tyler can interpret for him, so the communication problem is minimized, but the officials who want to make use of Connor’s abilities still take no account of his wants or feelings.  

I’m looking forward to more from this author!

 

 

 

Guest Review: The Mirror Empire

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By: Sally from Bending the Bookshelf

Reasons for Inclusion: Matriarchal society where gender roles are reversed; multiple non-binary genders; gender fluidity; polyamorous bisexual relationships are standard

Review: (5/5 stars)

The Mirror Empire is that rarest of fantasy beasties – a successful mainstream epic fantasy that is also boldly, brashly, and brazenly diverse.

It all begins with a harsh, post-apocalyptic fantasy universe that is fully aware of its own mirror worlds. These are not just mirror worlds into which individuals accidentally slip, but worlds that wage war upon one another to survive the latest apocalyptic cycle. What is really interesting here is that everyone has a mirror counterpart, with whom they cannot coexist, leading to a sometimes confusing game of murder and usurpation. Most of the conflict centres upon a pacifist empire known as the Dhai, which just happens to be situated on the marching path of mirror conquerors.

As for that post-apocalyptic fantasy landscape, there is a strong theme of environmental awareness buried within it. Kameron Hurley avoids any long-winded speeches about the madness of foolishness of humanity, and does not bore the reader with details about we destroyed the world. Instead, she moves past all that, simply acknowledges that it happened, and shows us just how resilient –and vengeful – nature can be. This is a hostile environment with which humanity is constantly at war, fighting back carnivorous vegetation, including ‘bone trees’ that incorporate human bone shards into their bark.

In terms of gender, gender roles, and sexuality, this is certainly the most diverse epic fantasy I have ever encountered. Gender is as much about roles as it is biology, with both passive and assertive males and females, as well as truly gender fluid individuals. I found myself confused by the diversity of pronouns at times, so I can only imagine how a mainstream reader might feel. Despites those gender differences, this is largely a world of matriarchal societies, where masculine rulers are almost unheard of, and the very idea of a male warrior is laughed at. It is the women who make the decisions, who fight the battles, and who enjoy the spoils. Assertive men generally serve as clerics and scribes, while passive men serve as the equivalent of the stereotypical housewife, performing domestic chores and providing sexual release for their polyamorous marriage partners.

Despite the diversity and the imagination involved here, this is a very dark and very violent epic fantasy. Kameron Hurley ploughs through her story about as quickly, almost dragging the reader along in her wake, so that we do not truly appreciate what she has accomplished until the very end. There are a lot of characters and a lot of points-of-view, which only adds to the confusion, but it does personalize much of the diversity and really allow us to experience the world of the Worldbreaker Saga.

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Comic: Crystal Cadets

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Reasons for Inclusion: Racially diverse all-female cast

My Review: (4/5 stars)

This comic interested me from the first glance, and not only because of the colorful art and badass magical girls. I already knew the illustrator from the adorable webcomic Princess Princess, so I expected good things from Crystal Cadets.

The story takes magical girl cliches and embraces them wholeheartedly, a refreshing turn away from the cynicism of many new stories. Schoolgirl Zoe finds she has magic powers and joins a secret society of Crystal Cadets who use their gemstone-based powers to fight the Darkness. The Darkness feeds on bad behaviors like greed, lying, cheating. Only friendship and magic can defeat it.

My favorite thing about this world was the girls’ steeds. Each Cadet’s power set comes with a flying magical creature: pegasus, phoenix, butterfly, unicorn, and so on. The bright and expressive art style makes these even better.

And that’s without even mentioning the casual diversity! The cast is extremely racially diverse, and it’s all taken in stride, with no stereotypes in sight. And the Darkness causes trouble all over the world, so the settings are diverse as well.

I do think that there could have been more characterization. Because the plot focused on so many Cadets all busy on their mission, we didn’t get much of a chance to see their individual personalities. But this is only the first book- we’ll probably get to know them more over time.

(Review copy from Netgalley)

Review: Binti

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Reasons for Inclusion: Protagonist is Himba (a people from southern Africa) and she faces prejudice.

My Review:

(4.5/5 stars)

Binti is the first of the Himba people to be offered a place at a prestigious intergalactic university. So she leaves her homeland to attend, traveling into the unknown.

People in space, educated as they are, aren’t always friendly. Some dismiss her as too foreign  and others mess with her hair, unfamiliar with the otjize clay she wears in her hair and skin. I found this image of the future both hopeful and disappointing- a Himba girl can save the world, but there’s still casual racism, ignorance, and prejudice that should have been overcome by the time people go to the stars.

Binti’s determination and perspective on prejudice lead directly to her heroism. Her experiences help her communicate with the enemy aliens who attack her ship, making her the first person to try to understand the conflict and do something about it.

Though short, this story is full of imagination and thought, putting the importance of cross-cultural respect and communication front and center.