Welcome to March! This month we have an anthology featuring charming and cruel demons, a science fiction series featuring older queer ladies and a bi teen, and a Boys Love Manga where ex-boyfriends meet again in college. We hope you'll find something to love here and wish you happy reading!
Title/Author: Devil Take Me by Jordan Castillo Price, Ginn Hale, Rhys Ford, Jordan L. Hawk, T.A. Moore, & C.S. Poe
Summary: Temptation lurks around every corner in worlds sometimes dark, sometimes lurid. Giving in is both dangerous and satisfying, though never in the ways one expects. While these enticements offer a vast range of benefits and boons, the cost is a soul and the devil expects his due. Sometimes suave and charming or calculating and cruel, these devils have schemes and desires of their own. They can be creatures to run away from…or toward.
Genre/Sub-Genre: Paranormal and Urban Fantasy
Book Format: e-book (available on Hoopla and Overdrive)
Length: 450 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay and Non-binary
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Most of these stories are very plot heavy.
Well Written/Editor Needed: Well written
Would I Re-Read?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: Overall, this is definitely worth a read. See my thoughts on individual stories below.
Infernal Affairs by Jordan L. Hawk – I really enjoyed this lighthearted and humorous story. Demon Ralgath, lost his job because a mere mortal got the better of him at a crossroads conjuring on his first assignment. He then must team up with the non-binary and flamboyant, Chess, to solve the mystery of a missing demon. The characters were great, the hell hound was adorable, the romance was sweet, the mystery was intriguing, the humor was perfect, and the world-building was well done. This was probably my favorite story in this anthology.
Collared by TA Moore – Jack is a defrocked, motorcycle riding priest turned private investigator who is told, through gruesome means, of a murder that his demon lover, Math, wants him to investigate. This one is very dark and gory. It was very confusing to follow as I wasn’t sure what exactly was happening. I also didn’t find anything about the two main characters to really care about.
Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale – This story takes place in the same world as Ginn Hale’s first novel, Wicked Gentlemen, though you do not need to read that first to enjoy this story. Here, Archie and his Prodigal lover, Nimble, go undercover at a private club where sponsored Prodigals are mysteriously disappearing. The mystery had me guessing until the end, and I liked the two main characters. Their feelings for each other were sweet and heartbreaking at times.
11:59 by C.S. Poe – Asuka lost his soul and his ability to dream to save the people of New York City from the nightmare monsters that began plaguing them five years ago. Merrick is the light that steps into his life, making Asuka hope for something better to come. Both characters were great, even though this story was a tad bit less romantic than the others. I would like to read more about them, if this author decides to write more. The action was gripping and I especially liked the unique take on the Underworld, as it was not at all what I was expecting. I just want more from this world and these characters!
Wonderland City by Rhys Ford – This is set in a reimagined Wonderland after Alice has left. Xander Spade is the Ace of Hearts, working as a bounty hunter while trying to avoid the Prince of Hearts. When a second girl enters Wonderland City, Xander is tasked with finding her and getting her out before she causes too much destruction. The characters were fun and intriguing and the battle scenes were epic. This was less romantic but had a sweet “happy for now” ending.
Dark Favors by Jordan Castillo Price – Johnny may have sold his soul when he was young, but these days he’s living the simple life. Agreeing to do a favor for the Devil, for a bargain he can’t refuse, brings him into the strong arms of his target’s bodyguard. While not exactly a romance, there is plenty of sex here. What I especially liked about this one was its eternal question of how to cheat at the Devil’s game.
Title/Author: Record of A Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
Summary: The Exodans are the descendants of the Exodus fleet, humans who left a dying Earth in search of a new home, only to realize that life aboard their ships was their home. Over 150 standard years later, the Exodans are peacefully existing on their Fleet, their ships orbiting a sun, when tragedy strikes. The daily lives of the inhabitants of the Fleet are thrown off balance, and one newcomer to the Fleet struggles to fit in.
Series/Standalone: Series, but can stand alone
Genre/sub-genre: Science Fiction
Book Format: Paper
Length: 368 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian/Bisexual
Violence: Nothing explicit
Well Written/Editor Needed: Well written
Would I Recommend?: Yes!
Personal Thoughts: Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third book in Becky Chamber's loosely-connected Wayfarers series. After hearing that the books are loosely connected and can be read in any order, I chose to test this theory by reading this book first. I definitely think it succeeds in standing alone! There are some things that I assume are better explained in the first novel, such as terms for various inventions and the use of the gender-neutral pronouns "xe/xyr." My impression was that the "xe/xyr" pronouns are used in place of "they" to refer to people who are anonymous, people who don't disclose their gender, or “hypothetical” people. Presumably there are also actually non-binary people who exclusively use xe/xyr pronouns, and I’d be curious to see if any exist in the first two books. "M" is also a gender-neutral honorific, used in place of Mrs/Mr/Mx/ma'am/sir. In the preface, the author states that this book takes place during the ending events of the first book, so I would be interested in reading the first one and getting that additional context, but again, I don't feel like I missed out on anything by starting with the third book.
As for sexuality representation, Isabel is an older (late 70s) queer woman with a wife, and Kip is a bi teenager. Isabel's relationship with Tamsin was absolutely adorable – their date to what was essentially a space roller coaster had me grinning from ear-to-ear. Kip never entered a relationship, but there were mentions here and there that he was interested in multiple genders, which I appreciated. I really enjoyed dipping into the cast of characters' lives; each chapter alternated between the viewpoints of Isabel, Kip, Tessa, Eyas, and Sawyer. They all had their own stories to tell, with their own relationships and struggles, and it was satisfying seeing the paths of these characters eventually overlap.
Ultimately, this was very much a slice-of-life book that just happened to be set in outer space, on a Fleet of ships orbiting an alien sun. A soft sci-fi book, it didn't focus on the minutiae of the technology behind everything; the focus was squarely on people. It was about the humanity and relationships of the Exodans. I loved it, personally, I found it a quiet and cozy read, and a breath of fresh air. I became very invested in everyone's stories, even those of the non-queer characters!
Title/Author/Artist: Escape Journey by Tanaka Ogeretsu
Summary: After a horrible break-up in high school, Naoto never expected to see Taichi again, and he's less than pleased to run into him on his first day of college. Their overlapping friend circles and classes keep bringing them together, though, and agreeing to live and let live seems like the grown-up thing to do. But the more time they spend together, the less it seems like they're on the same page with why they broke up…
Series/Standalone: First volume in an ongoing series
Genre/sub-genre: BL manga
Book Format: paper
Length: 252 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Naoto flirts with women and expects Taichi to do the same, but it's unclear whether either is bisexual or gay and closeted
Violence/Abuse/Rape: This volume mainly earns its "M" rating on explicit sexual content, but there's also an argument that escalates to fairly graphic rape scene (further discussed below)
Well written/Editor Needed: Well written, and I would add well translated
Art/Illustrations: The style is a little different from the very clean lines that are in fashion now, but I actually think it suits the story, and the art is overall very appealing. The character design for Naoto in particular is great.
Would I Recommend?: Oof, the sixty-four dollar question. Certainly not to anyone who wasn't already deeply familiar with the problematic tropes in BL manga – specifically, the excruciatingly common rape scenes. I liked the art and was enjoying the story up to a point, but I had a hard time getting past that one scene. It's hard to avoid consent issues in BL manga at times (and this isn't the worst by far; it didn't send me screaming off the deep-end the way the therapist-patient relationship in Ten Count did, for example) but there are many, many titles I would suggest first.
Personal thoughts: I wanted to love this title so much. I'm kind of tired of BL set in high school (honorable exception to That Blue Sky Feeling, where at least the kids actually feel like high school students) and office romances where everyone is closeted as a matter of course, and this felt like a great example of the genre starting to explore more mature themes: not mature as in M-rated, but mature as in situations real adults might encounter, such as coming out to your college friends and trying to figure out what you're doing with your life. I thought the art was unusual, eye-catching, and very well drawn. And the central mystery of the story – what really happened when Naoto and Taichi broke up – is handled so cleverly! The reader is immersed immediately in Naoto's perspective and I loved the slow lead-up to finding out that because Naoto didn't understand what happened, the reader has had the wrong information all along.
But. But but but. Halfway through the book, well after Naoto and Taichi have restarted a consensual sexual relationship, there is a really graphic scene where they get into a fight because Taichi wants to have sex and Naoto doesn't, Naoto tries to leave the apartment, and Taichi violently forces him to have sex while Naoto says no and cries in pain the entire time. And then neither they nor the author seems to understand that what happened was rape. There is no narrative weight given to what happened; they break up again, but the textual explanation Naoto gives for not wanting to be with Taichi anymore is "Taichi and I just don't fit. All it takes is the littlest thing for us to completely fall apart." He responds to Taichi's apology (for the argument? For hitting him? For holding him down and sexually assaulting him? Unspecified) with "It wasn't totally your fault. I acted like an ass too." They eventually get back together after Taichi finally confesses that he does, in fact, love Naoto, overcoming Naoto's reservations that Taichi only wants him for sex. I just can't get over how lightly the book treats what Taichi did.
I don't want to seem like I'm picking on this title unfairly. This is a genre in which some classic romances start with, for example, a grown man raping a teenager in a brothel as punishment for the crimes of the aristocracy, a grown man date-raping a teenager whom he has mistaken for an escort, and a mob boss raping an investigative journalist who is attempting to uncover his crimes. Escape Journey is happening within the context of a well-established trope, is what I’m trying to say. That doesn’t mean, in the year 2019, we have to keep reading stories that overlook or romanticize rape. So instead I’m going to take this opportunity to recommend some BL mangas that have zero rape whatsoever: What Did You Eat Yesterday?, I Hear the Sunspot, and Awkward Silence.