Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Book Review: The Companion

EE Ottoman’s The Companion is a short, sweet, historical romance between three trans characters. This is the first book I’ve read where every character involved in the romance is trans. There’s no reliance on the acceptance or approval or understanding of cis people. Just trans people being hot as fuck with each other.

And this is a hot book. In a place where she can be safe and accepted as she is, Madeline wants to learn pleasure and the joy of her body. Victor and Audrey both teach her and please her in their own unique ways. (And the way Audrey doms both of them is incredibly fucking hot.) Which isn’t to say this book is all about the sex—frankly, I don’t even know that I’d classify it as erotic romance, because it doesn’t have the same thread of thirst running through it that I associate with that genre, even though it has more sex scenes than some erotic romances I’ve read. It’s just these people finding love and acceptance together.

I really loved the difference in dynamics between the three of them. That’s reflected in the difference in metaphors too. The Audrey/Madeline dynamic is described as a forest enchantress taking in a runaway fairytale princess. The Victor/Madeline dynamic has shades of a brooding Gothic hero and shy maiden, which the characters themselves poke fun at in a wonderful scene. The Audrey/Victor dynamic we only see from the outside, since the book is in Madeline’s POV, but it still feels so wonderfully real—a pair of exes who still care about each other rediscovering their love for each other through their mutual love of Madeline.

The polyam dynamic in this is just so, so wonderful. I loved seeing the compersion between them, the loving affection without possessiveness, the complete support they had in each other. It just felt so good.

There is some reference to transphobia in the greater society, but the three of them have made a bubble for themselves. Madeline occasionally makes reference to how it affected her living in NYC, but there’s nothing really blatant in the book.

Also, Ottoman includes content warnings in the front of the book.

I loved this book. The romance, the sex, the representation, the wordplay. All of it was so beautiful. I’m glad I bought this one instead of just getting it through the library.

Recommended For: fans of historical romance, anyone looking for trans characters in romance, anyone looking for T4T romances, anyone who FMF polyam romances, people who want trans character written by trans authors

Book Review – Gods of Jade and Shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow is another book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, though this one is not related to Mexican Gothic in anyway. This is more of a fairytale-esque book based on the Popul Vuh and Aztec mythology.

I am discovering that fairytale-esque books are very hit or miss for me personally. Gods of Jade and Shadow, like Earthsea, was a miss for me. (Silver in the Wood was a hit, though, as was In the Vanishers’ Palace. Maybe because those two are both more romance-focused? I will have to dig into that.) The stakes were definitely there, and quite high at that, but for some reason I just couldn’t connect to them the way I could to Mexican Gothic.

Despite it not being my taste, this is a good book. The setting is great, the language is clear, the descriptions of the gods and Underworld are evocative. The plot is solid and the stakes are high. The characters are realistic and have great interactions with each other.

The plot is pretty straightforward. Casiopea gets roped into helping restore the death god Hun-Kame, who was betrayed and imprisoned by his brother. She travels throughout Mexico, helping him regain pieces of himself while avoiding his brother’s lackeys and trying not to die.

My favorite part was the characters. Casiopea’s life with her family was painfully believable. The increasing humanity of Hun-Kame, the longer he spent in the mortal world, was skillfully done. The tension between the immortal brothers was palpable, both in their resentment and their desire to be reunited. The demons and spirits and wizards they dealt with were varied and vivid. Casiopea’s development as she traveled and interacted with the modern (to her, it’s set in the 1920s) world absolutely seemed realistic. The relationship between Casiopea and Hu-Kame as he becomes less god and more man is one of the better written love stories I’ve read, even though this is not a romance.

Let me repeat, this is NOT a romance, despite the developing feelings between Casiopea and Hun-Kame. Do not go into this looking for a Romance genre HEA because you will not get it. I found the ending perfect, honestly. It is true to the all the characters, in a way that I don’t think a HEA would have been.

Recommended for: people who want non-white protagonists in fantasy, people who want female protagonists, people interested in Jazz Age settings, people interested in Mexican fantasy, fans of fairytales

TW: much discussion of death, beheading, throat-slitting, corpses; major character death, beatings

Book Review – The Burning Magus

The Burning Magus is the last book in Don Allmon’s Blue Unicorn series, which started with The Glamour Thieves and continued in Apocalypse Alley. In The Burning Magus, all the characters are united. JT and Austin are once again the focus, but Buzz and Comet are part of their team. They are taking down Firelight, the wizard who has harried them this entire time.

I was expecting this book to be all about JT and Austin working out their shit and getting together for real. That was there, yes, but I ended up spending most of the book wondering if this was going to end in a gay quad. JT has fucked all three of the other men and seems perfectly happy to continue to do so and/or watch, as the case may be. Austin and Comet share a moment that is described as being like sex and then is key to the climax. Austin and Buzz are basically the only line of this quad that is not developed in-text, and I feel like that’s still workable. But (SPOILERS) it ends with two separate M/M pairings. Still satisfying, but holy shit I wasn’t expecting a polyam tease in this series.

(I would very much love more queer, sexy-without-fetishizing polyam stories. Please, please, PLEASE.)

This was, as promised, a fun, sexy, action-filled conclusion to the series. A bit longer than the others, but still quite short considering most fantasy novels. I highly recommend it for a fun read.

Also, there’s bonus tentacle sex.

I’m not really sure what else to say in this review. This is a great, fun, and short series. If you like the first, you’ll probably like the others. I highly recommend them for fun gay urban fantasy.

Recommended For: fans of sexy urban fantasy, fans of sexy post-apoc, anyone looking for M/M in romance, anyone looking for M/M in fantasy, anyone who wants a fun sexy fantasy novel, people looking for orc/elf romance

Book Review – Apocalypse Alley

Apocalypse Alley is the sequel to Don Allmon’s The Glamour Thieves, second book in the Blue Unicorn series. I was expecting JT and Austin again when I went into this, but no. This is Buzz and (new character) Comet’s story. Remember how I said that Buzz didn’t feel fleshed out in The Glamour Thieves, but it just wasn’t his story? Now this is his story.

Apocalypse Alley continues to be fun and sexy and action-packed, just like the first book. JT (and Austin and JT’s apprentice) have disappeared, and it’s up to merc Comet and hacker Buzz to find them. I didn’t love Buzz and Comet as much as JT and Austin, but they were still a fun duo to read about. They are competent in their respective (very different) skills. They start out hating each other and fall in love across the book. It doesn’t feel overly fast, but the story only covers a day or two (I think), so they do, in fact, move quite fast.

I mentioned the lack of subplots in the first book, but that was not a problem here. Things went wrong, subplots entertwine with main plots, the romance develops along with the story. Allmon is really hitting his stride here. This book starts out quick and doesn’t slow down.

The worldbuilding continues to be delightful. This one felt more post-apoc than cyberpunk, like the last, but still great. It was seamlessly presented and vividly described without distracting from the action.

The story ends with all four leads coming together in what promises to be a sexy, action-filled climax. I’m really looking forward to the third and last book of this trilogy.

If you want sexy, action-packed fantasy, pick up this series. Do not wait on it, it’s a delight.

Recommended for: fans of sexy urban fantasy, fans of sexy post-apoc, anyone looking for M/M in romance, anyone looking for M/M in fantasy, anyone who wants a fun sexy fantasy novel

Book Review – The Immortal City

The Immortal City is a standalone sequel to May Peterson’s Lord of the Last Heartbeat. It’s set in the same world, but some place completely different with different characters, so you can pick up all on its own.

This is an amnesia romance. The main character, Ari, remembers nothing about his life before he was reborn as immortal. This haunts him and makes him question his identity and community in a way that felt reminiscent of Solomon’s The Deep. Peterson’s book did not get as deep into that as Solomon’s, so if you’re interested in that topic but don’t think you’re up for something as heavy as The Deep, definitely check out The Immortal City.

I wasn’t quite as in love with this one as I was Lord of the Last Heartbeat, but that’s a testament to how much I loved that first book. The Immortal City is still a great book with fantastic characters. Ari works to reclaim himself and establish who he is in the loss of his memories without being dependent upon Hei (the love interest with secrets). Hei, too, has his own plot and driving force, related to Ari but functioning independent of him. The attraction to and interest in each other was solid.

I was also really invested with the memory plot the whole time. Possibly more invested in that than the romance because, well, this is a romance novel. There was never* any doubt in my mind that they were going to get together. (* – until a certain point in the climax, you will understand when you get there) But Ari’s memories? I wanted to know what happened there. I wanted to know if he consensually gave them up, and if so, why. I wanted to know why Hei, who seemed so sweet and carefree, was out for revenge.

(I, honestly, could have read this whole book from Hei’s POV. I could read a whole series from Hei’s POV. I adore him. He is the exact kind of “you mess with my lover and I will go to ungodly lengths to fuck you up” dedicated that I love.)

Peterson’s language continues to be as poetic as ever without veering into purple prose. I read her books and look at my own writing and see how far I still have to go. Her writing is an inspiration while her stories are a balm.

All in all, this is another excellent addition to the fantasy romance genre and an excellent book from Peterson. I highly recommend it.

Recommended for: fans of m/m romance, fans of shifter romance, fans of fantasy romance, people who like beautiful prose, people who want queer happy endings, people who like sexy romance novels, people who want sexy consent-minded fantasy novels

If you’re looking for some cold-weather books to read in the winter, this is a perfect one to pick up!

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