Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Book Review: The High King’s Golden Tongue

I checked out The High King’s Golden Tongue by Megan Derr as an ebook from the library because I wanted a romance after some high stress at work. It was a quick read–I got through it in three or four days. I liked the characters, I liked their dynamics and interactions, I liked that it showed how much work goes into the job of actually ruling. The consort actually trained for his job! That was phenomenal to see. (Also, I love me a linguist protagonist.)

There were a the surprising amount of casual background trans rep. The high king’s (deceased) husband was a trans guy, the consort’s mother is a trans woman, a close friend to both of them in court is a trans guy. (I think one of the background drivers of the political drama was another trans woman, but I’d have to reread it to make sure.) I wasn’t expecting that in a cis m/m romance. I liked how the rep and inheritance was handled well enough that it’s making me consider adjusting it in my own books.

That said, I wasn’t all that impressed with the romance development. The protagonists didn’t say a civil word to each other until the midpoint. There’s some rushed development mostly spurred by respect, politics, and attraction, then they’re apart for another six months. Then it’s sex scene and love confession and we’re done. I’m skeptical about the actual emotions involved. I think if we’d gone into more detail about the time the two of them actually spent together, instead of the time apart, I’d believe it better. It’s not that two people couldn’t become that close in that time, but I have to see it to feel it.

For all the mention of politics in this review, this is more a court fantasy than a political fantasy. The in-world politics moved the characters around, but I never got a strong sense of them. The action and interplay was very much focused on the court (even when one or the other characters was away on a mission).

I liked this book enough that I will probably check out the sequel (which has pirates!). If you want a quick fantasy arranged marriage romance with normalized queerness, this is worth checking out.

TWs: whipping

Recommended for: fans of m/m romance, fans of normalized queerness in fantasy, fans of fantasy romance, fans of court fantasy, fans of arranged marriage romance

Book Review – Mexican Gothic

Let me say right from the bat that my familiarity with Gothic stories is pretty limited to, like, Crimson Peak and tropes from pop culture. That said, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia hit those tropes early and solid. Creepy, falling apart old house? Check. Mist so thick you can barely see when you step outside? Check. Unnerving, incestuous family? Check. A rising sense of horror while the protagonist tries to figure out what’s going on in a logical fashion? Check.

This isn’t strictly horror or romance, this is properly Gothic. And it’s great. The little hints of things going wrong, the growing dread, the self-doubt, the determined protagonist.

And I loved the protagonist. Noemi Taboada is a socialite, which is I expected to put me off, but she’s far more intelligent than the trope is usually handled. And there is a backbone of steel in her–it’s why her father sends her to investigate the worrying letter from her newly married cousin. Her combination of intelligence and joie de vivre means that it’s really clear when the Gothic atmosphere begins to wear on her. She’s not afraid to seek outside help, she fights back as best she can, she refuses to back down.

This is, as the title implies, a Gothic set in Mexico. The family her wayward cousin has married into, however, is English and pasty white. There is constant racism and talk of eugenics. This might not be surprising, for what is a subgenre of horror, but it’s definitely something to be aware of going in. [Apparently some people have asked but no, Dia de los Muertos does not show up in-book. Because it’s set in August.] Moreno-Garcia has said that some of the interactions between Noemi and the family are taken directly from interactions she’s had with people and I can absolutely believe that. I’ve seen that level of creepy bullshit as a white woman before.

This is a great October read if you want something on the unnerving and creepy side of horror.

TWs: racism, eugenics, incest, repeated rape threat

Recommended for: fans of horror, fans of Gothic stories, people who want women protagonists, people who want Latinx protagonists, anyone looking for a spooky Halloween read

Book Review: Lord of the Last Heartbeat

I started following May Peterson on Twitter because I wanted to follow more trans authors. When her book came out, I added it to my to-read list, but didn’t think much of it.

I wish I read it sooner.

I enjoyed Lord of the Last Heartbeat a lot more than I thought I would. Similar to In the Vanishers’ Palace, it was full of things I enjoyed. Shall I list it all, like I did for that one?

  • A non-binary main character
  • Singing as magic
  • Powerful women
  • Icy women with swords
  • Snarky characters tired with life
  • The moon and darkness as good, purifying magic
  • A haunted house
  • A respectful romance
  • A happy ending

Frankly, “non-binary singer mage” would have been enough to sell me on the book. There are certain things that pull me in, and that hits three of them. Three is all I need to pick up a book.

Also similar to In the Vanishers’ Palace, this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I liked the way the power differential is handled in Lord of the Last Heartbeat better than In the Vanishers’ Palace (though I did enjoy both, to be clear). I liked the ways Mio reached expressed his agency despite his mother’s manipulation and control. I loved that he didn’t work things out with the mother who’d been manipulating and using him for years. (I have Opinions about reconciliation with abusive family.)

Completely unrelated to the story contents, this book is just gorgeously written. It feels poetic without veering into purple prose. It’s told in alternating first person POV, but it’s so smooth and seamless I didn’t even notice until halfway through the book. Even though Peterson’s style is poetic, it doesn’t overwhelm the voice of the individual characters. Each character had a distinct voice, which is a hard feat to pull off.

Don’t sleep on this book. If you want fairy tale retellings, if you want sweet romance, if you want fantasy with queer protagonists, if you just want a fantasy with a happy ending, buy this book. I read this as an ebook through the library, but even before I finished it I decided I’d be buying a copy for myself. It’s that good.

 

Recommended for: people who want queer fantasy, fans of fairy tale retellings, fans of fantasy romance, fans of shifters, people who want a non-binary protagonist, people who like beautiful prose, people who like music as magic, people who want a queer happy ending

Book Review: Silver in the Wood

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh is like a fairy tale, but make it gay. It’s told in two parts.

The first part is full of soft romance and fluffy tropes. There is

  • cuddling in front of a fire with a cat
  • looking adorable in the other person’s too large clothing
  • one partner reading to the other
  • one partner singing to the other
  • listening attentively as the other person geeks out about their thing
  • hurt/comfort

And I just love it all so much. This is the sort of thing I’ll read over and over again because it’s just a delight. The characters never push each other’s boundaries while making their interest clear. It’s all very sweet and soft.

In the second half, the antagonist abruptly ruins everything for the rest of the book (almost). It’s a sharp change in tone. It’s still good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s fairy tale adventure, not fairy tale romance. This is marketed as fantasy, not as romance, so it probably shouldn’t have startled me so much that it doesn’t follow Romance Genre format, but it still surprised me.

It’s a short enough book, though, that you can blast right through the sadness and get to the happy ending. It’s mostly a happy ending, at least. There’s a sequel to this and it says it’s the second book of a duology, so I’m curious how that will effect things. It’s definitely not an HEA. One is human and the other is semi-immortal; one has chosen the woods and the other hasn’t. But there’s definitely an acknowledgement of feelings there, and that’s enough for the HFN.

 

Recommended for: fans of gay romance, fairy tale fans, fans of gay fantasy, anyone looking for some fluff who doesn’t mind a yearlong separation

Book Review: The Stars Are Legion

The Stars Are Legion was both exactly what I was expecting from a Kameron Hurley novel, and not at all. If you, like me, love her women-led novels and unflinching look at violence and trauma, you will find that here.

And when I say women-led, I want to be clear, there are no men in this book. None. Zero. All the main characters are women. All the side characters are women. All the nameless grunts in the background are women. The lack of men is never noticed or commented on. There’s no point to be made here about women as rulers or female-led societies. Men are just completely irrelevant to the society and plot line.

After all the sausage-fest novels I’ve read in my life, this was glorious.

Another thing that I appreciate in this that is such a Hurley thing is that no one in here pretends to be a good person. Jayd, in particular, is pretty explicit about being a villain. Yet despite that, it’s a novel about love and filled with hope. It’s about keeping going even when life is at its worst and everything has gone wrong. No one here is a good person, but they’re all still doing their best.

As for what they’re doing? Well, Zan and Jayd are trying to get to the surface of a particular living worldship. Everyone in the (maybe artificial?) solar system they’re in sees that particular worldship as the key to their salvation–since all the worldships are slowly dying. Everything goes wrong in a spectacular fashion, as plots are wont to do. But Zan and Jayd claw their way towards their goals, sometimes literally.

Hurley became one of my favorite authors three books of hers ago. This has all the women and queerness and body horror and unflinching injuries that I’ve come to expect from a novel of hers. But at the same time, it was also less violent than I expected. To be clear, it’s still violent. Incredibly violent. But it’s less violent than I was expecting after finishing her Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy or even The Mirror Empire. There’s a lot more politicking and interpersonal drama in this book. It’s still just as thrilling, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, so it threw me for a bit of a loop.

There’s also a mystery to this book: Zan has amnesia. In a way, her surprise about everything in the setting works well. Her competence comes through in believable, automatic ways, but doesn’t always save her. Her amnesia lets the reader see the world as something new with her, though. And because of that, I feel like this wouldn’t be a bad intro-to-sci-fi book.

I want to be clear that pregnancy, freedom, and bodily autonomy are major themes in the book. If pregnancy is a trigger for you, give this a pass. I really enjoyed the thoughtfulness put into those themes.

The title drop at the end was a chef’s kiss of a sucker punch. Utterly perfect.

 

Recommended for: people new to sci-fi; women interested in sci-fi; queer people interested in sci-fi; fans of Ancillary Justice/The Imperial Rach trilogy; anyone who wants a bit more body horror in their sci-fi; anyone who wants some amazing worldbuilding; everyone who wants more SPACE LESBIANS

Book Review: Unconquered Sun

I won a copy of Unconquerable ┬áSun by Kate Elliott in a Goodreads giveaway advertised on Twitter. I am not affiliated with the author or publisher in any way, nor have I been compensated for this review. I’m not all that familiar with Kate Elliott’s work, but one of my favorite authors is a fan of hers, so I was willing to give her a shot. Unconquerable Sun comes out on July 7, 2020.

Unconquerable Sun is billed as an Alexander the Great retelling in space. It feels exactly as epic as you might imagine from that. I, admittedly, don’t read a lot of space opera, but this had the grand sprawling feel I associate with epic fantasy. (A good thing, as a lover of epic fantasy.) There’s lots of space stuff too. Different planets, spaceships, space battles, humanoid aliens, everything you might expect. If that’s your jam, this hits it square on.

It took me a little while to get into Unconquerable Sun, but once I got into it, I was really into it. I LOVED the character interactions in this. Princess Sun with her Companions is exactly the kind of tight platonic bonds I adore. The forbidden romance between Sun and Hetty fed my sapphic heart without any hint of queer-shaming. I loved that Sun and Perse were both allowed to be assholes without using that to degrade their womanhood. Like, I feel like I need to repeat that because it’s SUCH a major thing for me. Women are allowed to be assholes in this book. Both women are encouraged to be more polite for political reasons, but not for any comment on their womanhood. They can just be asshole women. It’s everything I love about Kameron Hurley, but without the body horror.

And the characters are so much fun, I feel like this book would be perfect for fanfic. I want all the fics of childhood friendship shenanigans of Sun and her Companions.

Circling back up to Sun and Hetty’s romance, this is a queernorm book. The queen has two husbands and a wife. Hetty has two fathers. The forbidden aspect of Sun and Hetty isn’t that they’re women, it’s that Hetty is her Companion and that’s supposed to be a purely platonic bond, not a romantic one. I am quickly developing a strong preference for queernorm books. Give me all the forms of queerness that no one bats an eye at.

On a related note, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a book use “queen” (or any other female-associated title) be used as a gender-neutral default. I’ve seen it with male-associated terms like “lord,” “king,” and even “prince” in plenty of other spec fic novels. (Winterglass, for example.) I literally gasped when I saw that because I’d never heard of that before. Women, as the default. Not just the only people there, as in The Stars Are Legion, or the de juro rulers, as in The Black Jewels Trilogy, but as the societal and linguistic and political default. It was shockingly refreshing, the way I felt reading The Perfect Assassin (possibly my first queernorm exposure) or In the Vanishers’ Palace (with its near-complete lack of men).

We open with three very different POVs, but they all interweave by the end. Once the first death happens, it’s almost nonstop action. That was probably the point where I got invested.

Why did it take me that long?

The beginning is full of info dumps. I am very much an author who prefers being dropped in with minimal info. I figure I’ll either pick it up as I go along, or I’ll bounce out. The info dumps slow down later on, but it remains heavy on description all the way through. That writing style has never been to my taste.

On top of that, I was thrown by being introduced to the first few characters in third person past, then Perse in first person present. Having finished the first book, I don’t know why Elliott made that choice for her POV. I would have been less thrown had the whole book been consistent in third person past. The switch was jarring and it took multiple chapters for it to stop bouncing me from the story.

Despite that, I finished that yesterday and immediately want to get my hands on the sequel. (It says it’s first in a series, so I’m guessing one must be coming eventually.) The pasts of this I didn’t like were things I could look past, and the parts of this I loved I really loved. So, yeah, highly recommended. Check this out.

 

Recommended for: fans of space opera, fans of ancient Greek retellings, fans of feminist SFF, fans of asshole women, people who want female protagonists, people who want strong friendship grroups, people who want queernorm books

Book Review: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse was sort of like a whirlpool. At first, I wasn’t that into it. It felt like the urban fantasy that had made me stop reading urban fantasy in college. (Though this isn’t UF, to be clear. It’s post-apoc.) By the time Kai was introduced I felt the current. After that, it kept pulling me in deeper and deeper until at the end it left me going “can I order the second from my local indie bookstore tonight?”

For a while I was confused by what the plot was, because it didn’t seem to be the mystery of the monsters or the side quests offered up by tertiary characters. At the climax it was clear–this is Maggie’s story. This is her recovering and moving on and learning to see herself as more than just a monster. And once I hit that, all the choices in the book made so much more sense. This is a very character driven novel, rather than a plot one.

This is also everything I wanted out of the Mercy Thompson books. A Native woman hunting monsters. There’s no Christian supremacy here, no werewolf bullshit, no Western European mythos. There’s very few white people. It felt good in the way that Aliette de Bodard’s books do (or even Kameron Hurley’s, though with way less body horror); it’s that sense of 0 patience for the white man’s kyriarchy. (Though it’s not queer, like de Bodard or Hurley. There’s hints Kai might be multi-spec and one of the side characters is gay, but our protag Maggie appears to be straight.)

Book 2 (Storm of Locusts) is already out and I want it. That may well be the next book I order, if I can get my hands on it through my local indie bookstore. There’s not a release date set for book 3 yet, but it’s supposed to be a 4 book series. (Storm of Locusts is described as a “girl gang road trip” that pulls on more post-apoc tropes than the first one, so that should be fun.)

(ETA: I ordered Storm of Locusts and it’s even better than the first one, I highly recommend these.)

 

 

Recommended for: fans of UF, fans of post-apoc fantasy, people who want non-Western fantasy, fans of violent women, fans of women coming into their power

Book Review: The Deep

The Deep by Rivers Solomon is based on a song by clipping. of the same name. I didn’t listen to the song until after I finished the novella but it does feel like a good translation of the song to story form. clipping. describes the shift of the story from their inspiration to song to novel as being like a game of Telephone, but with things added each time instead of lost. They’re all slightly different, but connected.

The basic premise is that mermaids are the children of the pregnant African women thrown overboard from slave ships. That was basically all I knew going into it, but this book goes a lot deeper than that. It brings in concepts from The Giver by Lois Lowry and “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K Le Guin. Yetu, the Historian, is the only one who remembers their wars, the humans’ attacks on them, their horrific origin from the dead enslaved mothers, and it’s killing her. Her people are happy, almost idyllic in their forgetfulness, because she’s the one who bears all the pain.

The book dives deeply into Yetu’s pain, her desire to live, and her cultural connections. The prose feels lyrical, though the word choices are straightforward. The rhythm of the piece feels like a song. I want to go back and read this book out loud, just to get a feel for hearing it.

I loved this novella. It touched on fables from SFF that I was already familiar with and brought them to new and harsher depths. It had the best description of mermaids I’ve ever seen. (That sensory detail!) It was queer and consent based and had a happier ending than I expected for both a novel with such a dark premise and one feature a mermaid/human romance.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a free weekend.

 

Recommended for: people who want queer SFF, people who want f/f SFF, mermaid lovers, people who want Black protags/casts, anyone who likes fantasy and has some free time

Book Review: How To Bang A Billionaire

For about eighteen years, I avoided Romance novels. I had a bad run of them when I was young–books full of alphahole heteronormative bullshit where abuse equaled love–and I wrote off the whole genre for many years. But I’ve been following an increasing number of Romance writers on Twitter and I’ve been writing more romance and erotica myself. It was time to get back into the genre and see what there was to see.

I am delighted that I got back into the genre with Alexis Hall’s How To Bang A Billionaire. This book was so much fun. My husband kept asking me why I was giggling.

The main character, Arden, was by turns delightfully snarky, painfully awkward, and incredibly thirsty in a way that immediately made him endearing. It felt real in a way that I don’t feel like I see that often in my normal Fantasy novels. People screw up! They can be awkward! It’s not always tense negotiations of politics where everyone must be perfect. (There’s not any of that in here.) Arden just felt like an awkward, horny college student, and man, I’ve been there.

It says twice that Arden is pansexual and while I wanted to love that, it didn’t feel backed up by the text. The way he talked about women–not in a misogynistic way, just in a “women are not an option in attraction” way–felt really off to me, as a pan person. Don’t get me wrong, I know that multi-spec people can choose not to date particular genders if they wish, but this doesn’t feel like that. It feels like a gay character got changed to pan somewhere along the line without changing any of the mindset/reactions behind it.

That is, it must be said, a pretty minor critique (it just rubbed me wrong the whole book because I am pan and I’m in a lot of pan groups and no, that’s not how we react). He was still a fun character. I loved that he was raised by a polyam triad. I loved that he was not afraid to cry. I loved his cuddly friendship with his straight guy friend. I loved that he expressed and enforced his boundaries.

The love interest, Caspian Hart, was the sort of emotionally-distant, masculine Dom that should have ticked the alphahole box for me, but he didn’t. I think what really made the difference for me is that he respected Arden’s boundaries and tried to make him happy (as best as he could figure out, which wasn’t great at times). Watching those two with entirely different ways of relating to the world and relationships stumble around each other was great entertainment.

The story ended with a HFN (happy for now, instead of HEA, happily ever after) and I know there are two more books in the series. I might pick them up at some point when my to-read pile shrinks a little (lol, unlikely), but honestly? I’m satisfied with this ending. It gave me the warm fuzzies I wanted. I feel safe venturing further into Romance knowing there are authors who write fun, consent-focused stories I want to read.

I am not fully clear on how heat levels work in Romance (see above for having been out of this a long time), but this wasn’t as high heat as I was expecting considering the title. So if you’re considering this book but don’t know if it would be too much sex for you, I’d say give it a shot.

 

Recommended for: people looking for consent-focused M/M romance; people who want a fun, thirsty romance; fellow queers thinking about venturing into Romance like I have

Book Review: Gideon the Ninth

I know Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir has been hyped up by a lot of people, but frankly I think it’s well deserved. This was a delightful book. I was sold at the tag line “lesbian necromancers in space” and it was even better than I dreamed of.

The basic plot is that Harrow, the Ninth House’s necromancer, has been summoned to compete in a challenge to become one of the Undying Emperor’s elite. Every necromancer must go with a cavalier, and Gideon gets stuck with the job. Once they’re in place, everything starts unraveling and bodies start piling up, as you might expect with a book full of necromancers.

The relationship between Harrow and Gideon was one of the things I loved most. They grew up together on a mostly dead planet and hated each other–but they’re also the only people the other can rely on. Their snark was one of my absolute favorite things. Do you enjoy the snark in the Dresden Files but wish it was full of women and utterly queer? (I do.) This is the book for you! I also really enjoyed the slow way they came together as the tension mounted. They continued being their frustrating (to each other) selves, but they opened up and came to rely on each other. I loved it.

As someone who is always enchanted by necromancy in the games and books I enjoy, I deeply enjoyed the many permutations of necromancy present here. The worldbuilding is intriguing. Calling it fresh seems weird when it’s so full of bones and corpses, but hey, it works. There’s a sci-fi empire that feels like it’s decaying like one of the corpses in the novel.

I feel like the author lived in a thesaurus while writing this, but in the best way. Every description is exactly on point in setting up the mood and theme of the books. Death. Dying. Bones. Corpses. Every single permutation of these you can think of. But it wasn’t overbearing–I found it delightful and refreshing. That’s part of what made this book so enjoyable for me.

The death toll climbs sharply as the book goes on, and death is a lot more permanent than I would have expected for a bunch of necromancers. But the book ends with a number of the bodies unrecovered, so I have hope we’ll see some of those characters again. There is major character death, FYI, so be aware of that going in.

I have already preordered the sequel, it was that good. And I’ve talked three other people into reading it next.

 

Recommended for: grownup goths; everyone it’s amazing; if you like the Addams Family; if you’re looking for a blend of science and magic; if you want a lesbian protagonist; fans of women warriors; fans of snarky protagonists; fans of necromancy