Review: Cinder Ella

 

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Reasons for Inclusion: Black characters, trans woman protagonist, f/f romance.

My Rating:

(5/5 stars)

My Review:

Ella knows she’s a girl, but to her stepmother and stepsisters, she’s just their brother Cole, no better than a servant. And then the princess invites the family to the ball. Ella’s sisters don’t want her to go, but they can’t deny that she was personally invited. With the help of a mysterious woman with a magical talent for dressmaking, Ella outshines them all. And when she arrives at the ball, everybody accepts her as a woman without question.

This is a wonderful book, a sweet and hopeful romance full of lovable (and hateable) characters, detail both mundane and extraordinary, daily chores and beautiful dresses, love and friendship and acceptance.

And one of the best things about it, in my view, is that it’s not about gender or race. This world is black-normative, and Ella being trans doesn’t matter at all to anybody outside of her backward-minded family.

This is a wonderful tale (and a short read too!) and I highly recommend it.

 

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

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Reasons for Inclusion: Ace protagonist, trans character, racially diverse cast.

My Rating:

(4.5/5 stars)

My Review:

After a year spent in the Halls of the Dead, the human world is too fast, too bright, too loud for Nancy to handle. Her parents don’t believe she travelled through a vanishing door to another realm, and send her to a school for troubled youth to cure her of her delusions. Or at least that’s what they think Eleanor West’s school does.

But Eleanor understands Nancy. And so do the young residents, all of whom traveled through impermanent portals to fantastic lands as children, and all of whom desperately wish to return to these worlds that lie on the compass points of Logic, Nonsense, Wicked, and Virtue.

And then people start dying, and Nancy and her companions have to figure out   who the murderer is, and why, before more people die and they lose this home they’ve made at the school.

I loved the way the fairy tale mythology was woven through the story, taking hints from various sources while never feeling derivative. Many characters speak in riddles and mythological or literary allusions, lending the story a timeless feel. The philosophical and ideological conflicts between, for example, Logic and Nonsense, made for interactions that felt new and classic at the same time.

This book is very diverse as well, featuring some lesser-seen identities. Nancy is asexual, but she wants to fall in love someday, with somebody who understands. A hope that might just come to fruition when she meets fellow student Kade, who was rejected from his world when he realized he was trans.

It’s short and easy to get into, dark and atmospheric while never losing hope, and full of memorable and varied characters. I recommend it to anybody who likes twisted fairy tales or explorations of the strangeness in our world.

Review: Daybreak Rising

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Reasons for Inclusion: Racially diverse cast, f/f relationship, nb character, blind character, trans characters, demi character, mental health and disability issues discussed, class issues discussed.

My Rating:

(4/5 stars)

My Review:

Daybreak Rising is one of the most anticipated books of the season in diverse fiction circles, and it’s one of the most diverse books I’ve recently read, not only in its characters but also in its landscapes and settings.

In this world, the Council rules strong, and Elementalists with magic powers are either killed or turned to the Council’s purpose. And our heroes are those who stand against them, even if they’ve failed before.

Our protagonist is a queer woman with PTSD, her girlfriend is demiromantic, a trans woman and man join in a little later on, and so does a blind woman. Their squad leader is nonbinary. And none of this is unusual or challenged.

Despite the conflict and the oppressive social structure, this is a world where queerness is accepted more often than not. Trans people get medical support from the government (even if this is often only a way for the regime to earn their loyalty), accessibility tech is commonplace, and the characters’ identities and romantic choices are rarely if ever challenged.

The cast comes from various social backgrounds, and this disparity causes tension at times, but they figure out to work together and they don’t need to be taught to appreciate each other’s point of view.

The vibrant worldbuilding deserves special mention. The characters come from and travel to many different countries and regions, all with varying climate, geography, religion, race, language, even food. All the details that make a world live and breathe: the smells of Kayvun’s seaside home, the silent religion of Basau, countless other little things, nothing is overlooked.  

This attention to details comes through especially well in the sections from Kayvun’s point of view. Kayvun is blind, and so her parts of the story are brimming with tactile and auditory detail. She makes use of accessibility tech built into the base camp’s systems, a memorable example being serving dishes that announce the ingredients of the food being served.

These characters deal with both larger political and social issues and smaller personal issues: getting along in tight quarters and stressful circumstances, minor and major romantic entanglements, doubt and confusion, family issues, and the trauma that comes with war and oppression.

As in life, interactions can be uncomfortable and raw. Tempers fray in stressful situations. Celosia’s panic attacks become more frequent as situations come close to her past experiences. People make mistakes, offend others. People are forced to choose between their morals and their goals. But they keep on going, working towards freedom.

On the critical side, I found the writing style awkward at times, especially when something was explained directly that could have been implied or shown. Characters were frequently referenced by awkward epithets that I hope get cut in the final edition. At times the villains didn’t seem to have much of a motivation besides being something for our heroes to oppose. But those are mostly personal qualms, and other readers might see differently.

If you’re looking for a diverse ensemble cast, a fight for justice over oppression, and the coexistence of magic and technology, read Daybreak Rising.