Reviews

The Queen of Rhodia: F/F Fantasy with Established Relationship and DRAGONS

The Queen of Rhodia (Tales of Inthya Book 3)Title: The Queen of Rhodia
Author(s): Effie Calvin
Series: Tales of Inthya #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 280
Published: 
May 27th 2019 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: F/F main ship between pansexual mains, F/F side ship
Other: fat protagonist

It has been sixteen months since Princess Esofi arrived in Ieflaria, and eight since her marriage to Crown Princess Adale. The princesses have a peaceful life together, preparing to become co-regents and raising their baby dragon, Carinth.

Their peace is shattered when Esofi’s mother, Queen Gaelle of Rhodia, arrives in Birsgen. She has heard about Carinth and believes that she deserves custody of him due to her greater devotion to Talcia, Goddess of Magic.

Adale and Esofi have no intention of giving up their son, but Gaelle is impossible to reason with—and there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to in order to get what she wants.

5+ stars

This fantasy series deserves so much love. I mean, come on! Pansexual princesses in love! Talking dragons! Goddesses and warriors! What’s not to love?

The Queen of Rhodia follows the pansexual F/F couple who got together in the first book, now in an established relationship, with the F/F couple from the second book appearing as side characters.

Esofi and Adale are married now, and they never run out of things to do. Adele is finally learning how to govern from her parents, Esofi is working on establishing a university for magical students, and they are raising a son together, who just happens to be a baby dragon. But when both news of a dragon wanting to talk to Esofi AND Esofi’s mother arrives in Ieflaria, they have even more to deal with than they would have thought…

I loved how realistically their differences and occasionally relationship problems were written. Esofi and Adale both have their own insecurities, and Esofi, like many abused children, has views that she doesn’t even realise are wrong, because they were normal when she was growing up. I love how Adale doesn’t judge her, but still makes it clear that those things are wrong, and Esofi’s mother was wrong to do them.

We learn more about the dragons and also Lisette, who was one of my favourites in book one, which was great. Svana and her brother are back, which is also great! There is so much worldbuilding potential in this series, and I’m eager to learn more about the elves and the Nightshades and the Empire. I admit I skipped book two, but I’m fully intending to go back and read it eventually, and meeting the characters here only gave me more motivation (but unfortunately, not money).

That being said, there were a couple of things in the worldbuilding that felt like missed opportunities to me. In the world of the series, a third gender, here called neutroi are officially recognised – but at least in the two books I read, we don’t actually meet a single neutroi who has more than a few lines.

There is a ritual called Change, where basically they can change one’s sex with magic – it’s something many people use to experiment or to have children, but it is mentioned that there are people who chose to stay permanently Changed, which would be equivalent of transgender people. Again, we never actually MEET anyone who is like this, or at least we don’t know about it. I know it’s probably a personal topic so it would be more difficult to bring up, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to have someone drop a comment about it.

There is also a kind of weird scene where Adale mentally compares gay and straight people (those who are only attracted to one gender) to a woman who refuses to date taller than her. She actually corrects herself, because gay and straight people don’t have a choice about their attractions, and it’s clearly just Adale’s opinion, but it was still weird and I want to mention it for others.

Finally, humans in the series are called Men instead of just Humans, which is… something I would have expected in a “mainstream” fantasy that replicates real-world sexism, but it was jarring to read in a book with pansexual princesses that has very different gender roles from ours. There is also a scene where Adale is speaking about a culprit whose gender she doesn’t know and she defaults to saying “him” instead of “them” (even though her main suspect is a woman, so it can’t even be a Freudian slip). It’s not necessarily bad, but male default language in this world didn’t make much sense to me.

Overall, I loved this book, and I absolutely adore this series and I’m eager to see the other countries that we’ll visit in future books. The next one is titled Empress of Xytae, and the princess of Xytae was mentioned briefly in this book, so I’m excited to see more of her – although she’s a liiitle too young for a YA protagonist.

NOTE: The book does give a trigger warning about past child abuse, but I didn’t really feel like it was accurate/enough. It is true that Esofi is not a child anymore and currently living away from her mother, so the abuse is less obvious, but it’s still clearly there in their present-time interactions, along with its effects on Esofi’s own views. So, consider this an extra warning that the child abuse is a central part of the story, not just a passing thing.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Into the Drowning Deep: Killer Mermaids and Killer Writing

Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1)Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author(s): Mira Grant [ Seanan McGuire ]
Series: Rolling in the Deep #1
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Pages: 256
Published: 
November 14th 2017 by Orbit
LGBTQAI+: a bisexual main & an autistic lesbian main
Other: two deaf characters

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

5+ stars

Yes, I do know that post title is terrible, thank you.

Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant) keeps destroying my emotions by writing complicated human relationships. Also, I had a nightmare about killer mermaids while I was reading this.

First impression: I was conflicted about the very long intro. On the one hand, I liked getting to know these characters, and how they were diverse and different, and getting to know them definitely raised the stakes. On the other hand, at around 120 pages I just really wanted to get to the action already.

I liked that there were many POVs (including some unexpected ones), and that not all of the characters were likeable, but in their own POV they justified their actions even if others disagreed.

Despite being a scary book, this was still funny at a lot of points, with the sarcastic comments and cat metaphors I have learned to expect from this author.

Of course, like with most horror books, there are definitely some frustrating parts where you are shouting at the characters to stop being stupid and actually realise how much danger they are in. Still, there were some twists later on that surprised me and that I really liked.

I also liked how diverse the book was (a bisexual main, an autistic lesbian main, multiple deaf mains), although in a book where anyone can die at anytime that’s always a double-edged sword.

I admit that I don’t deal well with books where a lot of characters die (I am invested in most books BECAUSE of the characters, so if you remove them, you remove my main interest), and my interest strongly plummeted at one point when one of my favourites seemed to die. In this case, I was quite lucky because most of my favourites survived, and the deaths were mostly those that I didn’t really care for anyway.

Finally, one of my favourite parts was – well, the mermaids, really. I loved how their intelligence and culture was gradually shown as the scientist found out more, and man, I loved Jillian being so completely done with everyone else. Also, all the conflicting emotions from these people who loved and feared and respected the ocean.

Into the Drowning Deep has a prequel novella, Rolling in the Deep, which was limited edition and currently only the audiobook is available from what I could see. I listened to it and I really liked that one as well, but it was… very similar to the main book. We learned the same things in both of them, and I had pretty much the same likes and dislikes in both, which is why I’m not writing a separate review.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Love Beyond Body, Space and Time: An Anthology of Indigenous LGBT+/Two-Spirit Stories

Love Beyond Body, Space, and TimeTitle: Love Beyond Body, Space and Time
Author(s): Hope Nicholson (editor), David Alexander Robertson, Cherie Dimaline, Gwen Benaway, Richard Van Camp, Nathan Adler, Daniel Heath Justice, Darcie Little Badger, Cleo Keahna, Mari Kurisato
Series: 
Genre: SFF
Pages: 117
Published: 
August 24th 2016 by Bedside Press
LGBTQAI+: Indigenous people of various non-allocishet identities

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time is a collection of indigenous science fiction and urban fantasy focusing on LGBT and two-spirit characters. These stories range from a transgender woman undergoing an experimental transition process to young lovers separated through decades and meeting in their own far future. These are stories of machines and magic, love and self-love.

Stories featured are by an all-star cast of writers including:
Cherie Dimaline (The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy, Red Rooms)
Gwen Benaway (Ceremonies for the Dead)
David Robertson (Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story, Tales From Big Spirit)
Richard Van Camp (The Lesser Blessed, Three Feathers)
Nathan Adler (Wrist)
Daniel Heath Justice (The Way of Thorn and Thunder: The Kynship Chronicles)
Darcie Little Badger (Nkásht íí, The Sea Under Texas)
Cleo Keahna

This book has been on my TBR for a long time, so I was enthustiastic to see it was available on NetGalley. I have already read two of the stories before, Transitions by Gwen Benaway and Né łe! by Darcie Little Badger, and I loved both. Né łe! is about two lesbians in space with a lot of dogs, while Transitions is about an indigenous trans woman dealing with transition.

The anthology starts with a letter from the editor, then two different introductions/essays about the history and present of real-life two-spirit people and their place in their communities. After this, there are eight short stories and one poem, all by indigenous authors, and all with protagonists who defy hetero- and cisnormative rules.

Other than the two stories I read previously, there was another three that really stood out to me:

  1. The Boys Who Became Hummingbirds by Daniel Heath Justice is a wonderful and colourful story about being yourself, often despite being afraid, and the beauty that it brings.
  2. Imposter Syndrome by Mari Kurisato is… you know, I’m not entirely sure what this story is about, but I loved it anyway.
  3. Valediction at the Star View Motel by Nathan Adler has two girls in love, sisters beign protective, and other family relationships.

My individual ratings are the following:

Richard Van Camp: Aliens – 4/5

Cherie Dimaline: Legends Are Made, Not Born – 4/5

David A. Robertson: Perfectly You – 3/5

Daniel Heath Justice: The Boys Who Became Hummingbirds – 5/5

Darcie Little Badger: Né łe! – 5/5

Gwen Benaway: Transitions – 5/5

Mari Kurisato: Imposter Syndrome – 4.5/5

Nathan Adler: Valediction at the Star View Motel – 5/5

Cleo Keahna: Parallax – 3/5

Which averages at 4.2 stars.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Prophetic Huntress and the Warrior Princess: Outrun the Wind

Outrun the WindTitle: Outrun the Wind
Author(s): Elizabeth Tammi
Series: 
Genre: Greek mythology, Fantasy
Published: November 27th 2018 by Flux
LGBTQAI+: bisexual female MC, lesbian MC, F/F ship
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on November 11th, 2018.

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Outrun the Wind has been on my list of most anticipated releases ever since I saw that magical cover, and learned that it is a Greek mythology love story between two complicated young women. I love reading stories based on Greek mythology, but most of the ones I’ve read recently were modern retellings, so I was glad to read a more classical one.

This book did not disappoint. Outrun the Wind pulled me in from the beginning with the writing style, the story and the characters. The warrior-turned-princess, and the huntress with the prophetic gifts. And, of course, the gods, who somehow managed to be even bigger jerks than I expected. I wasn’t familiar with Atalanta’s myth before, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this book at all – while it has elements from the canon myths, it also adds several new characters and fills Atalanta’s life with people.

I loved that this story was about two young women who were both hurt by men, but they managed to stay strong, get revenge, and heal together. Of course, nothing comes easily – their relationship develops gradually from animosity to love, so if you’re into that kind of thing, you might love this book.

One thing that was really strange to me is Artemis’s behaviour at the very beginning of the book, that Atalanta herself points out. You would think that a maiden goddess who renounced men and has a group of female warriors helping her would respect female warriors more and wouldn’t see them as subordinate to their male companions. I had minor issues with Apollo’s character as well, but those are more subjective (and possibly due to me still being under the effect of The Trials of Apollo) – however, this bit with Artemis just simply didn’t make much sense to me. I also would have loved to see more gods or Greek mythical figures maybe.

All in all, I thought this book was great for a debut novel, and while it could have used some more polishing, I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes Greek myths, or just fantasy with sapphic characters. (Also, I squeed when the title of the book was mentioned.)

tw: attempted sexual assault

~ Alexa

Reviews

Dear Transphobes, Destiny Says You Suck: No Man Of Woman Born

No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales)Title: No Man Of Woman Born
Author(s): Ana Mardoll
Series: 
Number of stories: 7
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Published: July 10th 2018 by Acacia Moon Publishing
LGBTQAI+: nonbinary and binary transgender protagonists in every story(Note: I bought this book with my own money, and then downloaded it from NetGalley too because why not.)

Destiny sees what others don’t. 

A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny. 

From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

This collection of seven stories has been one of my most anticipated releases ever since I found out about it. It’s a collection written by a nonbinary author, for trans readers, “with cis audiences welcomed but not centered”. I was already in tears by the end of the author’s note at the beginning.

No Man of Woman Born plays around with gendered prophecies by using transgender and/or nonbinary protagonists. I loved seeing how the different prophecies are worded, and I loved guessing while reading what the solution to the particular prophecy would be – as well as the ways people can misinterpret it, as in the case of King’s Favor.

I also loved that the book includes content warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides as well.

Tangled Nets: 4/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, dragons, sacrifices. It wasn’t my favourite, but a nice warm-up.

King’s Favor: 4.5/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, witches, queens – and a very entertaining misinterpretation of the prophecy. Plus, a great side character, and an even better protagonist.

His Father’s Son: 5/5 stars. Trans guy protagonist on a revenge quest. I would have loved to see the villain’s face.

Daughter of Kings: 4/5 stars. Sapphic* trans girl protagonist with Arthurian sword-in-the-stone elements. (*There is no romance in the story, but it’s hinted that she likes girls.)

Early to Rise: 5/5 stars. Genderfluid, possibly aromantic Cinderella. This was one of my favourite stories, and the best curse-loophole. Also one of the only stories where the solution was completely different from what I expected.

No Man of Woman Born: 5/5 stars. One of the strongest stories – no wonder this one gave its name to the collection. Women, girls, nonbinary people and others who could be argued to fit the prophecy rally around to kill the evil king. Has a questioning protagonist, a parent who comes out in adulthood, and several trans or nonbinary side characters.

The Wish-Giver: 4/5 stars. Kind of simple compared to the others, but incredibly sweet, and overall a nice ending to the collection. Also, it has a female dragon, so kudos for that. (And some ironic commentary on binary colour-coding children.)

~ Alexa

 

Reviews

Beauty and the Beast with Dragons: In The Vanishers’ Palace

In the Vanishers’ PalaceTitle: In the Vanishers’ Palace
Author(s): Aliette de Bodard
Series: 
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Published: October 16th 2018 by JABberwocky Literary Agency
LGBTQAI+: main F/F ship, nonbinary side characters
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

My rating: 4 stars

I had to read this entire book before I realised it’s written by the author of The Tea Master and the Detective, the Sherlock retelling I’ve been meaning to read.

In The Vanishers’ Palace is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is a scholar and the Beast is a spirit dragon that lives in a Palace impossible to understand. Also, they’re both women.

This was a brilliantly written novel with fantastically visual descriptions, although it made my head spin sometimes. The world and the culture whose mythology its based on was very unfamiliar and sometimes I felt like I was lacking some basic knowledge to really understand, but I still enjoyed becoming familiar.

My favourite part was that while – other than the names – this book is written entirely in English, it was obvious that it is translated from a language other than English. I found the references to the many pronouns the characters use very interesting: they all refer to each other as family members in some way, even strangers (which was a little at odds with the complicated, antagonistic relationships sometimes).

The book has two major nonbinary side characters, but that is not the only reason why it’s nonbinary-friendly. Nobody’s gender in this book is assumed by their appearance, and they are only referred to with gendered terms once they established it with the language they use for themselves.

I think in a way the story is secondary to the worldbuilding and characterisation in this book, so I can’t say much about the story. As for the characters, I loved the development they all go through, and the “Beast” having children to care for was something I didn’t expect (because clearly I didn’t read the full blurb before heading in – I’m sorry!).

I’m going to be honest, the “dark, unspeakable secrets” mentioned in the blurb were a little anticlimatic for me, but I’m sure Yên didn’t feel the same way.

All in all, I have very positive feelings about this book, even if the descriptions were a little difficult to wrap my head around sometimes.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Navigator’s Touch: From Ariel to Captain Hook

The Navigator's Touch (The Seafarer's Kiss, #2)Title: The Navigator’s Touch
Author(s): Julia Ember
Series: The Seafarer’s Kiss #2
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Mythology
Published: September 13th 2018 by Duet Books
LGBTQAI+: lesbian main character, bisexual love interest, nonbinary side characters
Other representation: disabled main character, fat love interest

After invaders destroyed her village, murdered her family, and took her prisoner, shield-maiden Ragna is hungry for revenge. A trained warrior, she is ready to fight for her home, but with only a mermaid and a crew of disloyal mercenaries to aid her, Ragna knows she needs new allies. Guided by the magical maps on her skin, battling storms and mutiny, Ragna sets sail across the Northern Sea.

She petitions the Jarl in Skjordal for aid, but despite Ragna’s rank and fighting ability, the Jarl sees only a young girl, too inexperienced to lead, unworthy of help. To prove herself to the Jarl and win her crew’s respect, Ragna undertakes a dangerous expedition. But when forced to decide between her own freedom and the fate of her crew, what will she sacrifice to save what’s left of her home?

Inspired by Norse mythology and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, this companion novel to The Seafarer’s Kiss is a tale of vengeance, valor, honor, and redemption.

To lead this crew, I had to promise them the world and dangle their nightmares from the top of my silver hook.

Before I learned that The Navigator’s Touch was a retelling of Peter Pan, specifically Captain Hook, I wasn’t sure if it would be a sequel, or more like a companion novel that tells the story of what Ragna was doing while Ersel was fighting for her own freedom. In the end, it was both. It’s mostly a sequel, but a few flashback chapters tell us how Ragna lost her hand and got her own crew… that she doesn’t trust.

A lot of this book is about Ragna’s relationship to her crew, which I really enjoyed. Their development in the second half of the book makes you wonder about how reliable Ragna is as a narrator, and whether she was really judging her crew correctly up until that point.

Ragna is a flawed person in many ways – she is motivated by revenge, trauma holds her back from trusting people, and she has the tendency to treat those around her quite badly, including her crew and Ersel. This changes somewhat towards the end, and her progression was interesting to see.

I didn’t kid myself. She was no more mine than the ocean.

It would be difficult to call this book (or even the first one) a romance. Ersel is very clearly bisexual, and Ragna is very clearly a lesbian, and they are clearly attracted to each other and share some romantic moments, but saying they’re in a relationship would be a stretch at this point. They both have different priorities, they treat each other carelessly sometimes, and romance is secondary or even tertiary to the story.

I’m not listing these as bad things – I actually really enjoyed their dynamic and how they both keep their freedom – but I think these are important to know, so that nobody expects a fluffy mermaid romance. I would love to see how their relationship progresses, although even if there is another sequel, I’m not sure how they’ll spend more time together.

You’re asking me if I can let her die. Can you?

Our favourite antagonist, Loki returns in this book, and frankly, I loved all their appearances. I loved the forms they chose, how they played with appearance and voice, how they didn’t technically break their promises. Still, I feel like their involvement here was less than in the first book. I’d rate the first book 9/10 for quality of Loki content, and maybe 6/10 for this one? I also loved the hints and questions about the nature and culture of the gods, e.g. making deals with each other, not having a choice over who they love, etc.

The first book was heavily criticised because the only nonbinary character in it was Loki, the god of lies and trickery, so I’m happy to say that this book has a major nonbinary side character, and casual comments that suggest nonbinay identities are accepted among humans as well. I consider that an improvement.

Overall, I enjoyed both The Seafarer’s Kiss and The Navigator’s Touch, and I actually ended up rating this one a star higher than the first book. I am eager to see where the story goes, because it didn’t sound like the end is anywhere near.

(Also: I would love to see good fanart of Ragna’s marks, because damn.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

In Which I Read Julia Ember and Spread Love For F/F Fantasy (Unicorn Tracks & The Seafarer’s Kiss)

Julia Ember is a writer of fantasy books with (mostly) sapphic main characters. Unicorn Tracks is her debut novel, but The Seafarer’s Kiss seems to be the most popular. I recently read both of her books in the same month (although in reverse order – I read the Seafarer’s Kiss first) and decided to do a double review.

Unicorn TracksUNICORN TRACKS

Mnemba is a tour guide at her cousin’s business where she leads tourists in the wilderness to track rare animals such as… chimeras, manticores, freshwater mermaids and occasionally unicorns?! This story takes place in a fictional fantasy country based on Africa (specifically South Africa if I’m correct), and I loved how most of the story/world was actually realistic, except for, you know, the magical creatures casually living alongside lions and such. The main characters are both sixteen years old girls (so it was a little strange that the blurb refers to them as women) who navigate their own attraction to each other as they try to uncover a plot to use unicorns for illegal deeds. The book is quite short, so there isn’t too much time for details, but we still learn some things about both Mnemba’s and Kara’s cultures. I especially liked the way Mnemba’s culture treated “blood crimes” (mostly rape and murder), which is a big plot point in the book.

tw: mentions of past rape, people expecting the survivor to forgive the rapist, and also an in-book attempted rape

The Seafarer's Kiss (The Seafarer's Kiss #1)THE SEAFARER’S KISS

The Seafarer’s Kiss is a Norse mythology retelling of The Little Mermaid where instead of a sea witch, the main character makes a deal with Loki, god of lies, whose month she was born in.

It actually had much less focus on the love interest than I expected, and more focus on the bisexual main character wanting to get away from an oppressive regime and outplaying the god of trickery. I loved how it was stated explicitly several times that while Ragna is neat, Ersel made her choices for herself (and in some cases her mother/community) only.

I know some people have issues with the fact that the only nonbinary character in the book is the literal god of lies and deceit, and those are entirely valid feelings. I definitely would have appreciated more nonbinary characters (and hope that maybe the sequel will be better in this respect?) but I also have a weak spot for Loki. I loved their representation and how they were both angry and impressed when Ersel outsmarted them.

I can’t wait to see Ragna’s half of the story.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Akata Witch: A Nigerian-American Girl’s Magical Adventure

Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1)Title: Akata Witch
Author(s): Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Akata Witch #1
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Fantasy
Published: July 11th 2017 by Speak
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: Black Albino character with Nigerian parents, Black Nigerian sidecharacters

Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.

Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But just as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them against a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?

My rating: 5 stars

This was a wonderful, magical adventure in Nigeria with a protagonist that I loved, and a friend group that anyone would envy.

Sunny is an albino twelve-year-old whose parents are from Nigeria, but she was born in the United States, but now they live in Nigeria again. In this book, she finds out she’s one of the Leopard people (people with magical abilities) – what’s more, she is a free agent, which means that neither of her parents have similar abilities.

I loved how imaginative this book was: all the places, creatures and people encountered, and the culture of the Leopard people was great to read about it. The concept of money being earned by knowledge (yes, money literally falls from the sky when you learn something new) was something that I simply adored. I loved the description of the spirit faces, especially Sunny’s spirit face, and I can’t wait to see how it will become more significant in the second book.

Sunny was a loveable protagonist who stood up for herself against the racism and the sexism and the world, and those who mocked her for her albinism. I loved how she called out all the messed up stuff that was happening. There was only one line that disappointed me where Sunny claimed to be ashamed of being female after she saw some other girls crowd around a boy – it was unnecessarily judgmental and didn’t fit in well with Sunny’s other comments.

I also loved their friendship group, where Sunny makes friends with two other Nigerian kids, and an African American boy who was sent to Nigeria after he got in trouble at his old school. I loved how they worked together, how protective Sasha in particular was of Sunny at the soccer match, and I loved how the differences between Nigerian and African American people were addressed.

‘Akata Witch’ also addressed several events from the real world, from the Nigerian prince scam to witch children (which was a concept entirely new to me, so don’t tell me this book wasn’t educational).

The last thing I expected in this book was a plot about a ritualistic serial killer, but I still got it – and let me tell you, the final showdown between the kids and the antagonist was scary to read, and I feel like the sequel will only get more intense.

All in all, I loved this book, and also: what do you mean the paperback of Akata Warrior isn’t out until October?!

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Broad Knowledge

Broad Knowledge (Women Up To No Good #2)Title: Broad Knowledge
Author(s): Joanne Merriam (editor) + 35 authors
Series: Women Up To No Good #2
Genre: Anthology, Dark Fiction, both SFF and realistic stories
Expected publication: November 20th 2018 by Upper Rubber Boot Books
Purchase: Publisher | Kickstarter
LGBTQAI+: 5 of the 35 stories have queer women protagonists
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3.75 stars (rounded to 4)

Earlier this month, I posted a guest post by Joanne Merriam where she talks about how she founded Upper Rubber Boot Books, and she also mentioned the Kickstarter she’s currently running for two dark fiction anthologies. I had the pleasure of reading one of these, so I’ll share my experiences with you.

According to the introduction, in all of these stories, the pivotal moments revolve around what the characters know. And nothing is more frightening to the world than a woman who knows things. We all know that knowledge is power, but knowledge is also a very versatile and broad concept, which means that the stories in this anthology were also very versatile.

Overall, I have to say that most of the stories were a solid 3-4 stars for me: there were many creative ideas, but only a few stories really shone for me. However, I also didn’t find any stories that I hated, which is always a good thing, and a pretty good achievement with more than 30 stories. Since reviewing 35 stories would get pretty long, I’m going to stick to what I do with longer anthologies, and only talk about my favourites that really worked for me.

Rainbow is for queer women protagonists, and the little star is for my absolute favourites.

Taking It Back by Joanna Michal Hoyt: How many times did you wish you could take back the last few seconds? Keep that secret that accidentally slipped out, or think of a witty come back? What if you could do it? What if everyone could do it? I absolutely loved that this story explored how society at large would be affected if everyone had their own personal time travel device. (Spoilers: Not well.)

🌟 Frankenstein Sonata by Julie Nováková: What happens in the world of Dr. Frankenstein years and centuries after his death? Would anyone try to follow in his footstep? What can a mother do after she loses a child, and what does music have to do with any of this anyway? You can find the answers to all those questions in this incredibly creative story. The ending of it definitely gave me chills, and I loved the little hints leading up to it.

🌟 First Mouse Model of Innsmouth Fish-Man Syndrome Draft 2 USE THIS VERSION – edits by MK.doc by Megan Chaudhuri: That’s a hell of a title, huh? Maybe you already guessed, but this story was written entirely in the style of an academic paper by a PhD student, with corrections and notes from her supervisor. It was truly like an academic paper in the aspect that it was sometimes tough to read, but it was absolutely worth it. I loved the way the supervisor corrected the student’s emotional/casual wording to academic wording, and, well… the ending was certainly something.

Below The Kirk, Below The Hill by Premee Mohamed: I’m not sure what to say about this story without really spoiling what happens, but it’s about a dead girl washing up on a shore, in a world/culture where the sea and the grass/trees have their own little gods.

🌈 The Cold Waters of Europa by Claudine Griggs: I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but it won me over. A woman tries to stay alive under the ice on Europa in space after their diving expedition is sabotaged. She has also been married to another woman for 14 years, and the relationship is central to the story.

Infinite Boyfriends by Marie Vibbert: Parallel universes, mad scientists best friends, robot armies… and a boyfriend who kinda sucks in all possible universe. There were a couple of things I disliked about this story, but the concept is so good that I just need to give it a shout out.

Profanity by Liz Ulin: This one went from hilarious to really, really dark pretty fast. I probably wouldn’t have liked it without the hopeful ending, but this way it kind of balanced out. It’s about a religious cult, and I strongly recommend checking the trigger warning list at the bottom.

Viva la Muñeca by Perla Palacios: After her mother’s death, a young girl gets revenge in a peculiar way that has everything to do with her family’s traditions. I can’t really tell you much else without spoiling it, but read this story.

🌟 🌈 Blood Sausage by Jae Steinbacher: If you’ve ever read The Cybernetic Tea Shop, you probably thought “damn, I wish there were more stories with queer women where at least one of them is ace, and one is an android”. Fear not, because Jae Steinbacher has you covered. This story is about a mechanic who works on robots that are being used as sex workers, and a robot that wants a chance at freedom.

Matched Set by Aimee Ogden: The world this story takes place in is incredibly misogynistic and unfair to women, and this certainly doesn’t have a happy ending, but I did love that it’s about a woman who thinks she’s above other women until she realises that all they have is each other.

🌟 Your Life Will Look Perfect From Afar by Audrey R. Hollis: Most women have probably dealt with an incredibly sexist male boss who insists he isn’t sexist, he’s just traditional, and it’s just science that men are smarter than women. What are you supposed to do in a situation like that? — Well, maybe not what the protagonist in this story does, but damn if it isn’t a kickass option. I wasn’t sure about this story at first, but the ending twist got me.

🌈 Mary in the Looking Glass by Laura E. Price: This is another story that I kind of feel “meh” about, but it still deserves a place here because it had a bisexual woman protagonist whose lover is… well, Mary in the Looking Glass. And that’s just the best idea I’ve ever read honestly.

🌟 Clara Vox by R.S. Benedict: This one had a reference Apollo and Greek mythology so it automatically gets a star. Okay, no, but I adore Greek mythology so it was great to just randomly come across it in one of the stories. This story is about two women – one of them in serious need of help, and one who uses her god-given powers for good.

As you can see, there really is a variety in the stories – some of them involve mythology or legends, some are sci-fi with robots, and some are realistic/contemporary with a strong woman protagonist. All of the stories go to dark places, although the degree to which they do can also vary a lot.

Below is a list of major triggers that I remember. Please note that this is a dark fiction anthology, so there are likely many triggers I missed (death, for example, appears in most stories, and it’s often murder), I just tried the list the common ones.

Election Season by Rebecca Jones-Howe: major rape tw
Profanity by Liz Ulin: major self-harm tw, beating, religious cults, death of an infant referenced (and, well, profanity)
Blood Sausage by Jae Steinbacher: mention of attempted rape
Mary in the Looking Glass by Laura E. Price: miscarriage
Clara Vox: attempted suicide/suicidal idelation

Again, if you think you might be interested in this anthology, please visit the Kickstarter and consider donating so that it can published!

~ Alexa