Welcome to the July 2020 edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have a gender bending retelling of King Arthur, a fantasy concerning love and regrets, and an historical romance with lots of pining and hurt/comfort. We hope you find something here to enjoy!
Title/Author: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta & Cory McCarthy
Summary: Ari Helix is a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation. When she crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, tells her that together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to the universe.
Genre/Sub-genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction
Book Format: Print
Length: 354 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Too many to list; this book has a LOT of representation
Content Warnings: Mentions of past genocide; racism, sexism, misgendering (all immediately addressed on page)
Well-written/Editor Needed: Editor needed
Would I Recommend?: Maybe
Personal thoughts: I was really excited for this book because I love a good Arthurian retelling and I really loved the idea of an Arthurian retelling that gender-bends Arthur and queers up the knights. In that sense, the book absolutely delivers. Nearly every character in this book is queer, which is more reflective of my friend group and experience than most other fiction I’ve read that has queer characters. Problematic behaviors are handled with kindness and on-page so you get to witness growth in real time in a way that feels organic. The banter and relationships between the characters that make up the core cast are charming and heartwarming and were easily my favorite parts of the book.
However, the pacing in this book leaves something to be desired. The plot is all over the place and the Arthurian callbacks seem more limiting than as something that’s driving the story. I personally think this story would have worked better as an original work, not a re-telling and the authors even set it up in a way that would have made sense for it to be an original work. Quite often, there is a strong set-up for an action scene or a big moment only for the next chapter to take place after all the action has passed, leaving the reader ready for a confrontation that never comes.
I think my biggest issue with this book is that it tries to tackle too many things at once. And those things are important -- classism, racism, oppression, etc. -- and it feels like they are only touched upon to say that they were touched upon, rather than exploring them in a meaningful way. Every significant moment and theme in this book felt rushed which was disappointing.
Overall, this is a fun read if you’re looking for something lighthearted and able to read pretty quickly. There is a sequel which I plan on reading, but it’s definitely not at the top of my to-read list.
Title/Author: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
Summary: Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods. Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.
Series/Standalone: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps #2. While I’ve been told you don’t need to read the first book to understand this one, I’m wondering if the world-building would have made more sense if I had.
Book Format: Print and eBook
Length: 160 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay and possibly bisexual
Content Warning: Homophobia, sexism, and Aqib’s older brother is an abusive bully to him.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: There is no on-page sex, but Aqib and Lucrio do have a lot of it.
Well-written/Editor Needed: This will depend on the reader, I think. In general terms, this was well written, except that there were too many overly difficult words here, where context wasn’t always helpful in figuring them out, and some didn’t seem all that necessary when a simpler word would have done just fine. They pulled me out of the story so many times it was a bit frustrating.
Would I Re-Read?: No
Personal Thoughts: This novella is very hard to review without revealing any spoilers, so please be aware that there may be some spoilers here. So many readers have praised this book, yet I had a very difficult time getting through it. First, I want to say I do appreciate that this was written with characters of color! There aren’t enough of them in queer fiction, so hurrah for that!
Second, this is a fantasy novella about regrets, in its most basic form, not about taking the journey to love, romance and a committed relationship, as the publisher’s summary would have you believe. We bounce back and forth throughout the entire novella between the first ten days young Aqib and Lucrio are in love and a few years later when Lucrio has left and Aqib has married a woman and fathered a child with her. This left me feeling very confused about what was going on. If the two boys were going to end up together, I wanted to see them grow and change together beyond those first ten days, and we don’t get that journey.
Third, this is an insta-love story, the reason I suppose, that we don’t need to go on a romantic journey with the two men because we already did that in the first few scenes. Some romances work out really well as insta-love, others do not. Here’s what I didn’t like about this one: Aqib is seventeen years old and as innocent sexually and romantically as a newborn babe. His culture frowns upon same-sex relationships so much he hasn’t even realized he might be bisexual or even gay. He then gets catcalled walking down the street at night by a visiting soldier, for whom same-sex relationships are normal in his home country. Shouldn’t someone have alerted the soldier to the fact that this isn’t customary behavior in this country and could be dangerous for anyone involved? By the end of their conversation, however, Aqib is madly in love and agrees to a secret tryst with him. Their relationship moves so fast it seems unrealistic for someone like Aqib who is also bullied and physically abused by his soldier brother in an effort to keep him from straying into inappropriate relationships. I would really like to know how this abuse has affected Aqib, other than his defense of his family, but again, this isn’t shown or acknowledged in any way.
Fourth, the world-building is interesting, but because of the choppy way the story is told, I was left spinning, not really understanding how this world worked. In one scene Aqib’s daughter is using magic to raise a gate and in the next her mother is a visiting hologram. Because Aqib mispronounces the word, I wonder if holograms are new to them. Are they a primarily magical society where only the gods use science fictional devices? Who has access to these things? Is it only nobility? And how much are they integrated into society. I felt these questions might have been answered if the story had taken place chronologically, which would allow space for proper world-building. But maybe that’s just me, as many others (including well-known authors), have praised the world-building here.
Lastly, the ending contains a huge plot twist that explains the entire story in just a few scenes. Since finishing the book, I’ve been struggling to understand why the story was told this way. It has a great premise, once I figured out what it was, but I think I would have preferred knowing about it up front, or perhaps if I’d been given a chance to figure it out along the way, rather than getting smacked in the face with it at the end. I needed a journey, whether it be Aqib falling in love and dealing with the abuse from his family, figuring out his regrets, or both, but that journey wasn’t here.
Title/Author: Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian
Summary: After finding his childhood best friend deathly ill and hiding in his brother’s attic at the end of A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, Will Sedgwick knows exactly what to do to keep Martin safe: he kidnaps him. A small cottage in the country, away from the London smog and Martin’s overbearing family, is the perfect place to hide while he nurses Martin back to health. Once Martin is on the road to recovery, however, they will have to be brave enough to face the ghosts of their pasts before they can build a future together.
Series/Standalone: Third in the Seducing the Sedgwicks trilogy
Genre/Sub-genre: Historical romance
Book Format: eBook (also available as eAudio!)
Length: 304 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: since this is a historical novel, modern terminology isn’t used, but the protagonists appear to be pansexual and demisexual, respectively
Content Warnings: Will is a recovering addict, and Martin has been subjected to medical abuse by his family starting from his childhood and continuing into adult life.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Absolutely!
Personal Thoughts: Is it really necessary that a book have a "plot"? Is it not sufficient that it be about two devoted best friends nursing each other through illness and addiction while pining after each other despite living in the same one-room cottage that has only one bed? Your answer to these questions may be different from mine, so: if you want a romance with a strong B-plot or a lot of character conflict, this is probably not the book for you! If, on the other hand, wallowing in hundreds of pages of mutual pining and hurt/comfort sounds delightful, click that hold button right now, because you're going to love this.
Given everything going on in the world right now, a book realistically featuring a serious lung disease may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I actually found it a very comforting read, though! Cat Sebastian has been putting thoughtful portrayals of disability and chronic illness into her books since her debut with The Soldier’s Scoundrel, and she’s been open about her own struggles with chronic pain. She knows what she’s talking about. Is love going to magically make tuberculosis go away? No, but that doesn’t mean that Will and Martin can’t be happy for as long as they have together. It’s not a perfect Happily Ever After, and that makes it feel that much more attainable. For me, it was the perfect COVID comfort read.