Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Tag: Fantasy

Book Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant

I’ve been trying to pull my thoughts together for weeks on this one because it just blew me away. Baru is a young girl when the colonizing empire shows up. She grows up through their increasing control.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel with such a blatant depiction of the horrors of colonialism. The horrors of Empire are typically sanitized—think of the pure white of Princess Leia’s dress as she fights as a rebel. But with Baru you see the children indoctrinated against their own parents, the plague that comes through after a previously unexposed population, the people who are killed for not complying to the new rules set down by the colonizers, the sexual abuse of the colonized people who have limited recourse for help. It’s hard and it’s brutal and Baru is brilliant in her navigation of it.

The title is a promise. I spent the whole book hoping she’d be betraying the empire, but it’s always in question. She plays a long game, always. She learns as she’s still a child that the empire is too big to overthrow with some grand gesture—like her parents plan, or the hero of some YA novel. She has to destroy it from the inside, but that means working from the inside.

And that’s the whole trick of the situation. Is she working for the Empire here because she’ll turn against them later? Or has she lost hope of ever overthrowing them? Is she helping these people due to her conscious, or so she can tear them down that much harder later?

Will it even matter if she saves her people in the end after all the other nations she destroys in her path?

I’m definitely hooked. This could very well be a villain origin story, but I’m totally into it. There’s a line at one point that’s something like “better a reluctant traitor than an unfeeling sociopath” when she refuses to kill someone, and the very fact that she has that thought tells me she made that calculation. She knows exactly how she wants to be perceived and acts accordingly. The question is not, is she a traitor, but rather, who is she betraying this time?

On the less twisty side of things, Baru is definitely lesbian. She was raised by her two dads and her mom in what appears to be a closed triad, until one of her fathers was killed for being queer. Her whole motivation arises from that. There are definitely queer characters who are killed, both for being queer and for other reasons, so if you’re looking for something that avoids that, look elsewhere.

I’m definitely going to check out the sequel.

 

Recommended for: fans of dark fantasy, people who want queer relationships outside of romance, anyone interested in anti-colonialist fiction, fans of anti-heroes and villain protagonists, fans of female villains and anti-heroes, fans of Sapphic characters

 

Mind the trigger warnings:

Attempted child sexual assault, threats of sexual violence, eugenics, child brainwashing, queer slurs, colorism, seriously so much eugenics

Advertisements

Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken is an erotica novel set in the same world as the Port Lewis Witches by Brooklyn Ray. We get a cameo from a couple of characters from the other novellas and short stories, which is a nice little treat if you’re already a fan.

I knew I was going to buy this book the moment Ray posted this.

This is my exact ship dynamic. Like, exact. So I was pretty sure I was going to love this book going into it and I did. The demon is a good mix of human and not, the sex was hot, consent was regularly reaffirmed (a safe word was used and respected!), and the relationship between them was interesting. This book is first and foremost erotica though, rather than erotic romance. The relationship between Michael and the demon comes second to Michael’s personal development. There’s still fluff and romance in there, don’t get me wrong, but don’t expect it to be in the forefront the way you would for erotic romance or straight-up romance.

Part of Michael’s development is moving past an abusive relationship and it gives the book a weight that you might not otherwise expect from consent-focused erotica. His coping mechanisms aren’t necessarily healthy, but they are so very true to the way people actually react. Ray has said this is a very personal book for them in regards to how Michael relates to his trauma. It’s not treated lightly or flippantly in anyway.

This is not a witch-focused book the way the other Port Lewis books have been–Michael is a normal human–so if you’re a Pagan looking for more witchy books, this won’t quite be that. The aesthetic is definitely there in the background, though. And it is definitely quite enjoyable despite that.

I don’t know what else to say about this one. If you want M/M erotica with beautiful language and rough sex, you’ll love this. It’s great. If not, give it a miss.

 

Recommended for: fans of M/M erotica, monsterfucking, demon/human relationships, Hades/Persephone retellings, consensual erotica with rough sex

 

Mind the trigger warnings: Discussion of past abusive relationships, discussion of past sexual abuse, rough sex, drinking, scene of bloodletting, self-harm, depiction of anxiety, D/s situations

Book Review: The Witches of Port Lewis – Volume 1

CW: Discussion of edge play kinks

This is a collection of four stories, all in the same world with the same characters. Fictional Port Lewis is filled with witches and magical creatures and it’s so wonderfully queer. I will admit I was originally drawn to this book (and the author, Brooklyn Ray) with descriptive tags of, “queer,” “witchy,” “monsterfucking,” and “knives.” It has all of that and I love it. (The monsterfucking was heavier on the fucking than the monster, but still excellent.)

The first story, “Reborn,” is an F/F short featuring Thalia and Jordan. Thalia is a witch come home, the new matriarch of her clan. Jordan is a necromancer—and her old ex. Despite the concerns of their families (or, at least, Thalia’s family), they are drawn back into each other’s arms. This story does an excellent job setting the mood of a dark, witchy tale filled with sex, drama, and knife play.

Knife play is either explicit or referenced in every single story in this, so if that’s a hard limit of yours, maybe pass. If, on the other hand, that’s your kink? Read this book. Read it right now. I love knife play where the knife and the cutting (and to some extent, the blood) is eroticized, rather than the fear. Fear play didn’t come up here, but blood play did.

Next was “Darkling,” a novella featuring Ryder, a fire witch who becomes a necromancer. I loved his attitude, I loved the little touches of his magic, I loved the descriptions of siphoning his boyfriends magic and the knife play between them, I adored the blend of magic and sex. Holy shit that was possibly the best part (of this whole book, Ray writes excellent sex scenes and blends them with magic spectacularly). I know “darkling” as a term in the book is supposed to be an insult to a necromancer, but it’s such a cute term I want to see used as a pet name between him and his water witch boyfriend. (I might have strong Tamora Pierce associations with that term, I’m sorry.)

“Undertow” featured the same pairing, but this time the POV character was Liam, Ryder’s water witch boyfriend.  Their relationship was established in “Darkling” and continues to grow here, but the focus is on Liam’s family drama/family witch clan secrets more than anything else. Have I mentioned how much I love how witchy these books are? It feels so good to read books by witches for witches. So incredibly validating. Also, I love water witches, they are my jam.

Ryder and Liam, the protags of “Darkling” and “Undertow” are in the same circle and one of my few critiques of this is that I want to see what keeps them in the circle. There’s a ton of in-circle conflicts here (not between Ryder and Liam, mostly between both of them and Tyler the circle leader) and not much showing what keeps them together. I’d love to see them work together as a circle. (I’d also love to see Tyler being actually supportive and not a jerkface, but I get the feeling his character growth is coming soon.)

Literally the only other thing that bothered me in this was the lack of safe sex practices (or discussion whatsoever). The sex was hot and kinky and I loved it, but this is a modern setting friends. Diseases are a preventable thing. Pregnancy this a preventable thing. Why is this not addressed? (I know a lot of people don’t think safe sex practices are sexy, but in modern settings I view them as much a requirement as consent. Normalize it and make it sexy.)

The last story of the book, “Honey”, was pure fluff between Ryder and Liam. It was so perfect and wonderful to end on after the darkness of “Undertow” and made me squeal and hug the book.

Overall, I love LOVE LOVE this book. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: Pagan readers, fans of sexy contemporary fantasy, people with a knife play kink, readers who want a trans lead (Ryder), fans of M/M and F/F romance, fans of cross-elemental pairings, fans of necromancers, fans of kelpies

Book Review – Song of Blood and Stone

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope got recommended as a potential comp for mine, specifically focusing on the romance through war aspects. I think that’s probably part of the reason I’m struggling to put my thoughts into words here. I came into it expecting it to similar to my queer violent fantasy and it’s… not.

For one thing, both participants in the main romance appear to be straight, which was definitely not what I expected for an M/M comp. Don’t get me wrong, the romance was sweet. The attraction between the main characters was clear (to the point where the ace side of me was going “oh my gods, you two, get on with it”). They treated each other well, which is a delightful change from the romance I read when I was younger (which contributed to me not reading romance for over a decade). They truly and deeply cared for each other and that came out in their actions. And, I didn’t get annoyed or bored with it the way I have with some straight romances recently.

But it was a romance between strangers, rather than long-time friends. It was a romance between a prince and a shepherdess, with an almost Cinderella-like feel, instead of a pair of assassins raised by the villain. While both stories involve a romance set in the lead-up to war, in Song of Blood and Stone, it felt like the romance was separate from the war plot until the very end. In this book, the war ended, whereas in mine, the war begins.

It also wasn’t as violent as I expected. I mean, the story opened with racial slurs and threats of racial violence, then two separate rape attempts (towards both of the main characters), so I was expecting a similar level of combat and violence all the way through. But once we leave her house, there are a few isolated incidents of violent racism and a whole lot of politicking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy political fantasy, but again that wasn’t what I was expecting from this book.

But it also wasn’t what I’d expect from a political fantasy, either. There wasn’t much manuevering for the throne, or dealing with outside royals. Rather, this is a new monarch dealing with internal strife–particularly around refugees. This is an extremely relevant topic right now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a fantasy novel before. I would have honestly liked to see that delved into even more, but this story was tightly focused on the romance. (Not a bad thing if you’re here for the romance!)

About halfway through the book I was wondering how they were going to wrap up the plot they set up. I started to think they wouldn’t, that killing the villain would be a series goal, but no. It’s not quite a deus ex machina, despite the appearance of literal gods, because it’s still the human MCs who have to save the day (and save the goddess!). Yet, it didn’t quite feel like a twist, either? The ending was well-foreshadowed and set-up throughout the book, but again I was expecting more violence.

This might be a book I’ll have to reread again to get a better feel. (I realize this review was pretty unfair since I spent a lot of it comparing it to a book that’s not even picked up by an agent yet. Sorry about that.)

One thing I will say I was super pleased to see is that the MC does not reconcile with her abusive racist family. She confronts the racist matriarch once and decides no, that bullshit is not worth her time. I LOVE that. There’s way too much pressure in society and books for people to put up with abusers “because family.” I am so glad to see she’s not putting up with it.

Overall, this was a good book. I liked it. I’d be interested in picking up the sequel when it comes out.

Recommended for: anyone who wants romantic fantasy, fans of interracial romance, people who want a Black woman lead, a sweet romance fans, people who want a sort of 1920s-ish second-world fantasy, #ownvoices black leads in fantasy

Book Review:In the Vanishers’ Palace

9781625673749_p0_v1_s550x406

 

I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on this book since I first heard de Bodard tweeting about it.  (I have mentioned my love of de Bodard’s work before, so I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one.)  Sapphic Beaty & the Beast retelling with a dragon?  Hells to the yes.

Let me tell you, this did not disappoint.

I found the first half a little hard to envision sometimes, though that is a problem equally shared by our protagonist.  There is non-Euclidean architecture, reality breaking rooms, future alien tech, and dragons who rarely seem to stay in one shape for long.  This felt very much like a post-apocalyptic fairy tale.  Horrifically dangerous weirdness that people try desperately to survive, but wrapped within beautiful poetic prose.

I actually struggled for a long time with what to put in this review.  It’s just so wonderful I want to shove this book at everyone.  Like, queer fairytales with a dragon?  Why are you not already reading this?  I seriously can’t remember the last time a book made me cry, and it wasn’t even with the romance.  It was just a line about life and surviving but it’s so relevant right now.

Here’s a list of all the wonderful things in this book, since there are too many to go into individually:

  • Central F/F relationship
  • Multiple non-binary characters
  • D R A G O N S
  • Post-apocalyptic forests with alien machine/monsters
  • Dragon/alien monsters
  • Living mothers who are important to the plot
  • Dragon/human romance
  • Setting is #ownvoices Vietnamese inspired
  • Magic through books
  • Consent issues common to B&tB are acknowledged and addressed
  • People actually learn from their freaking mistakes
  • Healers and scholars are the main characters
  • There’s almost no fighting in this whole book
  • There’s only one living guy in the whole book and he dies pretty quick
  • Fresh take on a fairy tale retelling

 

So, yeah.  Pick any reason you want out of that list and read this book.  At 48k, it’s right on the edge of novella and novel. (Apparently 40k is the cut-off for novels for the Hugo awards, which I did not previously know!  So it counts as a novel for our big genre award.)  It’s not a long read, but it is definitely worth it.

 

Recommended for: Everyone?  Fans of Beauty & the Beast, fans of fairytale retellings, non-European settings, fans of post-apocalyptic fantasy, readers who want fantasy that’s not based on combat, readers who want mothers to exist in fantasy, dragon lovers, fans of Vietnamese settings, all Sapphic readers, people looking for non-binary rep

Book Review: Dreams of the Golden Age

Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn is the sequel to After the Golden Age.  It’s told in alternating POVs: Celia, our protagonist from the first book, now twenty years older; and Anna, her teenage daughter.

This is a family tale.  After the Golden Age also was, since it was about the non-powered daughter of superhero parents.  But this, this dives deeper into it.  Celia not only has to deal with her own plotline, but having two teenage daughters and all the drama that carries with it.  Anna is dealing with a superhero plot of her own, while navigating the complicated relationship between a teenage daughter and her overbearing mother.  The family relationships are part and parcel of story.

One of the things I love about this duology is that it takes a superhero story and makes it extremely personal.  You don’t get the grandeur or epic battles of other superhero stories.  You get the pettiness, the rivalry, the inadequacy, the fear–because these are human beings we’re talking about.  Their lives, and the lives of their friends and family, are at risk.  Vaughn does an excellent job making you feel that.  This is what I loved about the first book.  It’s just as prevalent here.

And, in contrast to some short stories I’ve read recent, Anna really feels like a young woman.  She has that nervousness, the need to prove herself, the rivalry with friends, the conflict over her crushes.  And Celia felt like a woman in her prime.  These are beautifully characterized and believable people.

I highly recommend both these novels, but if you’re going to read them, start with After the Golden Age.  There’s enough context that I think it’s important to read that one first.

Recommended for: Fans of urban fantasy, fans of superheroes, fans of family drama in fantasy settings

Book Review – Harbinger of the Storm

This is the sequel to Servant of the Underworld, which I reviewed hereHarbinger of the Storm continued the first’s standard of correctly-written polytheism that matters to both the characters and world.  I realize this is historical fantasy and the gods referenced aren’t even mine, but I have never felt so acknowledged as a Pagan reader.  It’s wonderful.  If you want to know how to write polytheism correctly in fantasy, read this series (Obsidian and Blood).

Anyways…

Like the first, this book purports to be a mystery novel.  And there is a murder being solved, don’t get me wrong.  But as a lover of political fantasy, I felt like this was political fantasy at its finest.

The king is dead and the throne does not go straight to the heir. The council must vote between a number of worthy candidates.  And, in true political fashion, everyone has their own agenda and their own favorite.  This being fantasy, magic is part of the way they put forth those agendas and the use of dangerous magic is part of the mystery our hero must solve.

The stakes have definitely increased in this book.  Servant of the Underworld focused on saving his brother’s life amidst inter-temple drama.  In Harbinger of the Storm, all of humanity is threatened is threatened by the politicking.  Our hero is constantly racing the clock to protect the Fifth World.  And I like Acatl even more now than I did in the first book–he’s lost some of his family baggage and is more sure of himself and his role as a priest in a bellicose culture.

New characters are introduced, old characters take on new roles, and even beloved favorites are not safe from death.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Recommended for: Fans of the first book, those who want non-Western fantasy, fans of mysteries, worldbuilders, fans of high-stakes fantasy

Book Review: Dark Currents

Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite authors.  I adore her Terre d’Ange novels and I enjoyed her Banewrecker duology.  This is Carey’s second Urban Fantasy (UF) series, but the first I’ve read, and I expected to enjoy it.

I didn’t.

I think my unfondness of it is pretty specific to me.  With a series called “Agent of Hel” (as in, the Norse goddess Hel, not the Christian hell) and the polytheism of Moirin in the Naamah trilogy, I was really looking forward to a modern Pagan lead in UF.  Instead, it’s Yet Another Christian Protagonist.

Really?  You can’t have a modern polytheist being the one to serve a Pagan deity?  Really?

*deep sigh*

To be clear, this is not a problem with the book, this is a problem with my expectations.  I was hoping for some recognition, some acknowledgement that people like me exist in more than just a mocking reference.  UF is the natural place for modern Pagans to show up.  We’re here.  We exist.  We are intimately familiar with these gods you keep referencing.  And yet, time and time again, it’s Christian protagonist after Christian protagonist.*  It’s Christian cosmology being seen as stronger/more important in every iteration, with every author.

I’m just so tired of this.

My religious complaints aside, as UF goes, it’s pretty good.  The action is steady, that pace takes a reasonable toll on the main character, she has a healthy relationship with her mother and her best friend.  Three different romantic leads are presented, but she doesn’t jump into anything with any of them, choosing to focus on the issue at hand like a reasonable person.  I enjoyed the character dynamics.  I enjoyed the little town full of magical creatures.  I liked the twist of how the main character won in the climactic battle.

If you enjoy UF and you’re not a Pagan like me who is tired of being erased in UF, read it.  I think you’ll really enjoy it.  I will not be continuing the series, but honestly this stands up as a solid UF recommendation for others.

I’ll take my chances with the Santitos duology and the newly released Starless.

Recommended for: Fans of UF, readers who want to see a happy/healthy/functioning mother/daughter relationship, readers who want to see female friendships and friends hanging out, a femme hero in UF

 

* – So far as I’ve read, the only Pagan-ish main character in UF that I’ve read was Dante Valentine, written by Lilith Saintcrow.  That was more henotheism than proper polytheism, but it was still something.  I wouldn’t recommend that series for other reasons, but that’s an example of a Pagan-ish character in a UF-ish (more like near-future magitek) setting among the sea of Yet Another Christian Protagonists.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

This book is considered one of the classics of Sci-Fi/Fantasy as a genre.  It was originally published by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the legends of Fantasy, in 1968.  For as long as I’ve been working on my novel, people have been telling me I need to read this book for two reasons: a similar setting, and non-white protagonists.

And this book certainly has that, so if you’re tired of pseudo-European fantasy or were frustrated with the thinly veiled racism of the Lord of the Rings, this is definitely a classic you’d want to check out.

As to whether I actually enjoyed reading it…  No.  This is not my style of book.  I like high-action stories with engaging characters I can get behind.  This is not that.  I kept putting it down for long stretches, and finished it more out of obligation than any real desire to.

Ged reminds me a lot of Draco from Harry Potter, and despite my fondness for shipping, that’s not actually a fun protagonist to follow.  He spends the early part of his life with everyone talking about how powerful and important he is, and it goes to his head fast.  His arrogance gets kicked hard at one point, and then he spends the rest of the book trying to fix his mistake.  At no point did I actually like him as a character.  There was no sympathy there.  His proactivity felt more like a magical compulsion than any choice of his own.  And I felt like his competence was more told than shown.

…which is actually a problem I had with the entire book.  A Wizard of Earthsea has the same mythopoetic feel that Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia have.  I can easily see why they are compared.  It feels like someone is telling you a story, rather than letting you experience it through the character.  That sort of distance is not as popular as it once was, and it’s not something I enjoy.

I would like to clarify that this is not a bad book, it’s just not my style.  If this is your type of book, don’t let my review of it scare you away.

 

Recommended for: Fans of LOTR, fans of Narnia, people looking for fantasy classics written by women, people looking for non-white protagonists

Education Systems – Adult Education

People generally conceive of education as being directed towards children, but that has never been true.  Adults have had cause to learn new things throughout history.  In many cases, one might be required to be of legal age (whatever that age may be) before they are allowed to learn something.

 

What are some reasons an adult might seek education?

  • Continuing their education from childhood
  • Adding additional degrees
  • A change in profession
  • Immigration/emigration

 

Some of the same questions that apply to children apply to adults as well.

 

Who teaches adults?

Do people who teach adults need to have the same credentials as those who teach children?  In the US, those who want to teach children need to have a teaching license.  Depending on the educational institution, all that is needed to teach adults is some form of higher degree.

 

The qualifications of who teaches adults will change depending on the reason an individual seeks the education.  Someone who has moved to a brand-new country and needs to learn the language needs someone fluent in the new language more than they need a teacher with fancy degrees.  Someone changing their profession wants a teacher skilled in their new profession; higher education is only relevant as long as it pertains to the job in question.

 

What discipline methods are allowed?

Typically, corporal punishment is out of the question because adults will fight back.  But this may change depending on the circumstances of the education.  So, how are the adult students kept in line if they get unruly?  Are they sent out of class?  Given lower grades?  Refused permission to return?

 

There are also some questions specific to adults.

 

Who chooses an adult’s profession?

Is it self-chosen?  Do they follow their parents’ profession(s)?  Do their parents/guardians pick their profession for them?  Does a local leader make that choice?  Who gets to make this decision will tell you a lot about the level of autonomy vs social control in your particular culture.

 

Also consider what sort of professions are available.  Hunting isn’t generally an available option in an extremely high-tech society.  Nor would it be viable in a vegetarian society.  Similarly, a computer programmer would be out of the question for a low-tech world.  Consider what sort of jobs your culture would have available and what value they hold in society.

 

Don’t forget to add social class into the mix.  The higher up the social ladder one goes, the less likely you are to find them cleaning waste from the streets.  The lower on the social ladder one is, the less likely they’ll be working in places they might contact the ruling class.  This will impact what jobs are available for your characters.

 

Can a person learn more than their particular trade?

Are people allowed to switch professions?  This will tie into who gets to choose a person’s profession.  If an individual can choose whatever they like, they might be able to change their mind later down the road (assuming that finances and other concerns allow).  But if someone in power chose a person’s profession for them, there is less of a chance that the profession is changeable.

 

What if a person doesn’t want to change their profession, they just want to pick up a new skill or hobby on the side?  Where can this person go for teachers?  Who controls that knowledge?  Are certain trades open to anyone to learn?  Are certain trades restricted to certain individuals?  Are there adult education classes that teach hobbies like these?

 

Can a person be a jack of all trades, and dabble in a bit of everything?  Are they, perhaps, expected to, like a Renaissance Man of old?