Hello and welcome to the May 2021 edition of the Queer Fiction Blog! This month we have several interesting titles for you, including two high school boys in the aftermath of a first shared kiss, a ragtag crew on a tunneling spaceship during a year-long journey, and a collection of short stories about princesses and lady knights!
Title/Author/Artist: Heartstopper, Vol. 2 by Alice Osman
Summary: Nick and Charlie are best friends, but one kiss has changed everything. In the aftermath, Charlie is sure that Nick isn't interested, but Nick is more confused than ever.
Series/Standalone: Series; read my review of volume 1!
Genre/Sub-genre: Teen Graphic Novel
Book Format: Print
Length: 294 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay
Content Warnings: Homophobia
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Art/Illustrations: Gorgeous, 10/10
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: (This review will contain light spoilers!) I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been worried about where volume 2 was going to take us based on the way volume 1 ended. It would have been so easy for Oseman to make Nick’s sexuality crisis the entire plotline for this volume, but she didn’t, and the story was much better for it. She also did not let the miscommunication between our two main characters fester for too long. I appreciated that, as miscommunication is my number one pet peeve when it comes to plot points.
We got to spend lots of time with Nick and Charlie as they figured out how to be in a relationship together and navigate how it was both different and similar to their friendship. While Nick isn’t ready to come out, I was relieved with how well Oseman handled Charlie’s reaction to that decision. Heartstopper is a world without ultimatums, where everyone gets to figure themselves out on their own time without worrying that someone else is upset with them. The world of Heartstopper is my happy place and I can’t wait for volume 3 so I can return to it.
The art in this graphic novel is just a beautiful and expressive as the first volume. We get to see more of the supporting players in this one as well. Oseman is particularly gifted in conveying comedic timing within her panels. I found myself laughing out loud more than once. I am also eager to see how this world translates to the screen. (An adaptation is in the works with Netflix.) Oseman recently introduced the cast of the show to the world and it seems like the show will be just as enjoyable as what Oseman has created on the page.
Title/Author: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Summary: Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the ragtag crew of the aging Wayfarer, which includes Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. When they get the job of a lifetime, they will be stuck together for nearly a year, working together through hardships they never could have imagined might just bring them all closer together.
Series/Standalone: Series. Wayfarer is #1, but can be read as a standalone. The final book in the series just came out in April 2021.
Genre/Sub-genre: Science Fiction
Book Format: eAudiobook (2019 edition, Narrator: Rachel Dulude. Also available in eBook and print formats.)
Length: 14 hours, 23 minutes
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian, genderqueer, polyamorous,
Content Warnings: None
Well-written/Editor Needed: This will depend on your preferences. The plot was very thin, but everything else was exceptionally done.
Would I Recommend?: I would, but only if you’re okay with a slow read and very little plot, or are looking for a long vacation from the real world.
Personal Thoughts: This is definitely not for everyone. There is almost no plot, as I’ve said. It's a very episodic and character driven road trip novel, set in space. It’s also a very readable exploration in world-building in a large and very diverse universe that is very accepting of the various cultures, beings, and way of life that exist within it. The world-building was fabulous and extremely detailed and not in an information dump kind of way either. If you’re tired of folks hating on each other, this might be just the book for you!
There are some very minor LGBTQ relationships mentioned, most notably a lesbian relationship that starts over halfway through the book between two crew members who are not of the same species. However, because the story shifts point of view to each of the Wayfarer’s crew members and because they’re on a long haul and don’t spend much time on the planets they visit along the way, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with any of those relationships. That said, all of the characters are rich with depth and memorable. There are also so many really great female characters that it's impossible to count them all. Not only are the other species diverse, but so are the humans who come from a variety of backgrounds and are not all white.
On a personal relationship level, the ending was not all wrapped up in a pretty bow. I appreciated that, sad as it was. The main plot ending was almost too perfect however, mostly because of the government’s response to what happened. That would never happen in real life.
All of that said, I did enjoy this! I started reading the eBook and switched to the eAudiobook a few chapters in. There wasn’t enough plot to keep me focused and solely engaged in this book. I highly recommend the audiobook for that reason. The narrator is very good and it’s easy to listen to it in the background while getting other stuff done, if that’s your thing. It made me feel like I was on a long, gentle vacation from the real world for a while.
Title/Author: Silk & Steel edited by Janine A. Southard
Summary: In this collection, seventeen authors present their takes on the "princess and lady knight" dynamic in settings ranging from outer space, to Chicago in the Roaring Twenties, to the fantasy realm of Ruritania.
Book Format: eBook
Length: 359 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: 100% Sapphic! One story had trans protagonists as well.
Content Warnings: “Princess, Shieldmaiden, Witch and Wolf” has a happy ending, but there's a scene with some very violent transphobia, so be aware of that going in. A number of stories feature fantasy-typical violence. "The Parnassian Courante" has some disturbing descriptions of semi-voluntary mutilation.
Well-written/Editor Needed: All-around well-written.
Would I Recommend?: Yes! No collection of short stories is going to be 100% to anyone's taste, but I feel like this one was a good mix.
Personal Thoughts: Isn't the cover beautiful? It's also a rare example of complete truth in advertising. This collection is all about the "lady with a flowy dress/lady with a sword" aesthetic. If you like that, great; if not, this book is probably not for you. I actually do find that trope a lot of fun, but seventeen stories straight of it was a bit much for me! I had to pace myself while reading, to the point that Overdrive reclaimed my book before I finished it. I had to wait to return to the top of the holds queue again.
Having finally completed the whole collection, I can affirm my initial impression: the first story is a hard act to follow! "Margo Lai's Guide to Dueling Unprepared" by Alison Tam was definitely my favorite of the bunch. It's got humor, vivid worldbuilding, wuxia-style fighting, friends-to-lovers, embarrassing parents, rules-lawyering your way through a magical duel, and most importantly of all, a concept that actually fits into a short story. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Alison Tam in the future!
I enjoyed several of the other stories as well, although not quite as much. "Elinor Jones vs. the Ruritanian Multiverse" by Freya Marske was funny without losing its bittersweet edge. "Chicago Iron" by Chris Wolfgang kept me on the edge of my seat. And "The Epic Fifth Wedding Anniversary of Zaynne the Barbarian and Tikka the Accountant" by Elizabeth Davis was, as it sounds, a hilarious send-up of Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy. An anthology is pretty much by definition going to be a mixed bag, but overall I thought the winners were worth the price of admission.