Hi and welcome to the Queer Fiction Blog, November edition! This month we have a granddaughter on a road trip with her grandfather, a trans writer finding her two loves in historical New York State, and a fantastical revisioning of the rise of the Ming Dynasty.
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Title/Author/Artist: Grandad's Camper by Harry Woodgate
Summary: A child who enjoys Grandad's stories of his travels and adventures with Gramps persuades him to fix up their old camper and take another trip, in honor of Gramps.
Genre/Sub-genre: Picture book
Book Format: Print
Length: 32 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Gay grandfathers
Content Warnings: Death
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Art/Illustrations: Gorgeous; the color palette was warm and inviting with just a few tinges of nostalgia
Would I Recommend?: Yes
Personal thoughts: This is one of my favorite 2021 reads! A young girl listens to stories of her Gramps, who has passed away, from her Grandad. Readers travel back with Grandad as he recalls his time with Gramps, from falling in love with him to the adventures they took together in their camper. This book gave me the same kind of feeling that Like a Love Song by Abdi Nazemian and Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo did: getting a glimpse what having queer ancestors would look like. Though short and with a primary audience of children, this book was like being wrapped up in a hug with all those who came before me.
By telling the story of his life with Gramps, Grandad decides to seek out adventure once more in their camper, but this time with his granddaughter by his side. This intergenerational story reminds us to share with our own loved ones, so that those we have lost are never really gone.
Title/Author: The Companion by E.E. Ottoman
Summary: New York, 1949. After years of trying to break into New York City's literary scene, Madeline Slaughter is emotionally and physically exhausted. When a friend offers her a safe haven as the live-in companion to reclusive, bestselling novelist Victor Hallowell she jumps at the chance to escape the city. Madeline expects to find rest and quiet in the forests of Upstate New York. Instead, she finds Victor, handsome and intensely passionate, and Audrey Coffin, Victor's mysterious and beautiful neighbor. When Victor offers her a kiss and the promise of more Madeline allows herself to become entangled even as Audrey, Victor's one-time lover, is also claiming her heart.
Genre/Sub-genre: Historical Romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 122 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Transgender, Bisexual, Polyamory
Content Warnings: There is brief mentions of transphobia and rape culture, but nothing explicit or on page.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Whooo, the sex scenes are many and hot! I wasn’t expecting that. I could have done with fewer sex scenes, or not rushing into them as we did, but that’s personal preference. One of the characters even mentions she should have waited to get to know the other better first, so the rush into sex is covered within the story.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Well-written!
Would I Recommend?: Yes!
Personal Thoughts: This book felt like coming home to a cup of tea in front of a fire after a cold rainy day with a warm blanket and a good book. Here we have three adults who talk about their problems and work together to solve issues that come up. There’s plenty of respect for and between each of the three characters. This is a soft and sweet story, until you get to the very hot, explicit sex scenes, that is.
The scenes of walking through the woods, harvesting produce, or canning food were relaxing to read, and as a writer, I appreciated the discussions on writing and the actual writing that took place. It was relatable and realistic.
The only thing that didn’t work for me was the passage of time, simply because I was unaware of it, so everything seemed a bit rushed even when it wasn’t. Towards the end it’s mentioned that a few months have passed, but most of the scenes seemed to be happening one day after another.
The author did a fabulous job writing a story with only three characters. There are mentions of others, but only Madeline, Victor, and Audrey are ever on page. If you’re looking for a relaxing, sexy read with transgender characters finding the home and the love they each deserve, I highly recommend this one!
Title/Author: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Summary: In this fantastical revisioning of the rise of the Ming Dynasty, an unwanted girl who refuses to die seizes her dead brother's destiny to rise from orphan to monk to commander of a rebel army. Meanwhile, her nemesis, a general haunted by the dead, must choose between the man who loves him—the son of the lord who murdered his entire family—and revenge. As their fates inextricably intertwine, how far will Zhu Chongba and General Ouyang go to achieve greatness?
Series/Standalone: First book in a duology
Genre/Sub-genre: Historical Fantasy
Book Format: eBook (also available in print and downloadable audiobook formats)
Length: 416 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Queer and genderqueer, but modern terminology is not used
Content Warnings: Graphic violence, including mutilation, the threat of sexual violence, child harm and child death. The author also wrote a list of content warnings, which you can read here.
Well-written/Editor Needed: Extremely well-written
Would I Recommend?: YES
Personal thoughts: It’s hard to discuss this book without talking about pronouns first. The character referred to as Zhu Chongba is assigned female at birth and uses female pronouns in her point-of-view chapters, but does not identify as a woman. Ouyang is assigned male at birth, identifies as a man and uses male pronouns in his point-of-view chapters, but is treated as something other than male by other characters because he was castrated as a child. I will use the same pronouns for both characters that they use in their own point of view. With that out of the way...
This book absolutely knocked me off my feet. It is not an easy read in any sense of the word, but I never wanted to put it down! Both protagonists are incredibly compelling. It is truly a masterclass in the art of the narrative foil. I had no idea how their stories were going to intersect, and the plot kept ratcheting up the tension to a meeting that genuinely shocked me when I read it. Because I mostly read romance, plot twists that I can’t predict aren’t something that I actively seek out. If that’s something that you do care about, I recommend this book even more strongly to you.
I loved Zhu Chongba’s evolution throughout the book. She isn’t what I was expecting as a heroine at all. But even more than that, Ouyang was not what I was expecting as a villain. The book is very much about power, but it isn’t a straightforward “power corrupts” narrative. Pretty much everyone is morally gray from the start! (The one genuinely “good” character is Zhu Chongba’s future wife, Ma Xiuying.) Zhu Chongba does horrible things to gain power, and even more horrible things to keep it. She believes that she’s making the right choices—the only possible choices—the entire time.
Ouyang, who loves and is loved by the man who literally owns him, offers a different and equally important perspective on power. Lord Esen's power makes it easy for him to be kind, but it also blinds him to the fact that Ouyang is his own person with his own independent desires. Is it possible to truly love someone if you have so much power over them?
She Who Became the Sun is only one of the bumper crop of sapphic science fiction and fantasy novels that have been published recently! Check out this list and get ready to place some holds: