Hello everyone, and welcome to our December 2022 edition of the Queer Lit Review! This month we have a momentous summer for one teenager, two asexual secret agents slowly falling in love, and a princess hoping to win the loyalty of her handmaiden and destroy her brother's kingdom.
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We hope you've had another good year reading along with us and we look forward to continuing this venture in the coming year with some significant, but very good, changes in store!
Title/Author: A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo
Summary: The summer of 2013 in the Bay is a momentous one for eighteen-year-old Aria Tang West, for the working-class queer community she finds herself in, and for her artist grandmother.
Series/Standalone: Standalone (though you’ll find a small inclusion of characters from Lo’s novel Last Night at the Telegraph Club)
Genre/Sub-Genre: Teen Fiction
Book Format: eBook
Length: 324 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual/Lesbian
Content Warnings: Death; infidelity
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend?: Yes, but
Personal thoughts: If you spent any time around me in 2021, you probably heard me talk about Lo’s National Book Award for Young Readers winning novel, Last Night at the Telegraph Club (reviewed here). I literally did not shut up about that book for a full year. In fact, given the opportunity, I’ll still talk your ear off about it and how great I think it is.
It is, perhaps, my fierce love of Telegraph Club that prevented me from enjoying Scatter the way it deserved. In the marketing for this book, there was a strong emphasis placed on the fact that we see a glimpse of the leads from Telegraph Club again and find out what became of them and, while this does happen, it doesn’t do more than confirm the happy ending Lo set us up for in Lily and Kath’s book. If you’re reading Scatter for Lily and Kath, I recommend just skipping to that part and moving on.
To really get into my review of Scatter, I feel it's important for you to know that I hate cheating plots. Like, hate them. In almost every instance of a cheating plot, I will DNF a book. I love Lo and her writing, though, so I stuck this one out.
This book takes place (and was written) in 2013, which might explain some of the very rudimentary understandings of what it means to be queer. For a book published in 2022, it does feel regressive, in a sense, in its representation of queerness. However! I do think that main character Aria’s journey is relatable no matter the year. She comes to California to stay with her grandmother for the summer and leaves with a much greater understanding of her own self and the queer community. What, at first, was an accidental stumble into the queer liberation movement becomes a much more purposeful examination of self.
In all of this is Steph, the girl Aria has a crush on. Despite reassurances otherwise, it often feels like Aria’s crush on Steph is mostly one-sided, which felt cringey to read. Even when we find out that Steph returns Aria’s feelings (despite having a long-term girlfriend) I didn’t feel the connection. When the two of them start sneaking around and sleeping together, I found myself instantly rooting against the relationship and upset that this book about growth and family had suddenly become about this clandestine relationship. I think there was too much pressure on this book to be a love story, when it simply could have been about a girl and the summer she discovered herself. To be frank, we need more stories about crushes (especially first queer crushes) that do not come to fruition. Crushes are powerful things; we don’t need to know someone reciprocates our feelings for it to change us and I wish that had been the case with this book.
Title/Author: His Quiet Agent by Ada Maria Soto
Summary: Arthur Drams works for a secret government security agency writing reports no one reads when it’s suggested that Arthur try to "make friends" and "get noticed" to move up the ladder. In a last-ditch attempt to be seen as friendly and outgoing, he decides to make friends with The Alien, aka Agent Martin Grove, known for his strange eating habits, unusual reading choices, and the fact that no one has spoken to him in three years.
Genre/Sub-Genre: M/M Romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: His Quiet Agent – 130 pages; Merlin in the Library – 19 pages; Agents of Winter – 153 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Asexual, demisexual, and gay
Content Warnings: None
Ratio of Sex/Plot: NO SEX
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend it?: YES! I honestly re-read His Quiet Agent at least ten times the first year it came out!
Personal Thoughts: This is a very quiet, understated, yet charming series focused on two social outcasts: Arthur and Martin. These two men might be secret agents, but don’t expect any major heroics!
For such a small book, His Quiet Agent has a lot of deep character development that slowly gets rolled out over the course of the book and does not feel overwhelming for the short space it’s in. The side characters really stand out as well-rounded and interesting, even if they don’t get much page time. Here, the main focus, and the point of view, is on Arthur, his backstory, and his attempts to get to know Martin by feeding him small, homecooked meals. Martin still remains a bit of a mystery at the end as Arthur is good about not pushing him to share information about himself that he’s not willing, or ready to share. Their relationship is sweet and comforting for this reason.
Merlin in the Library is a short story interlude between the first and second novella told from Martin’s point of view! The first book did not need Martin’s point of view, but it’s refreshing to dive into it here.
I was super excited when Agents of Winter came out earlier this year, and it did not disappoint in the least! Keep in mind, this does not have an actual plot. It’s mostly just a series of events told from both points of view that shows a little bit of Martin’s past and how Arthur is doing after his loss the previous year while they both enjoy and endure the holiday season. The first book didn’t necessarily need a sequel, but this felt like the finishing touch that really completed the story without tying up every single strand into a neat, unrealistic bow.
I think this conversation from Agents of Winter sums up the series quite nicely:
“…They offered me structure, while staying within the bubble of my own mind.” – Martin
“Then I showed up and popped that bubble.” – Arthur
“No. You sat quietly beside me until our bubbles merged into one.” –Martin
Title/Author: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Summary: When Princess Malini's brother imprisoned her in the Hirana, it was meant to be a death sentence. But Malini will do whatever it takes to survive—and if she can win the loyalty of her mysterious handmaiden, Priya, together they will burn her brother's empire to the ground.
Series/Standalone: The Jasmine Throne (The Burning Kingdoms #1) & The Oleander Sword (The Burning Kingdoms #2). The third book in this trilogy has not been released yet (and to give fair warning, The Oleander Sword ends on quite a cliffhanger)
Book Format: eBook
Length: The Jasmine Throne - 563 pages & The Oleander Sword - 500 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian
Content Warnings: Violence up to and including human sacrifice, nonconsensual drug use, body horror
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written!
Would I Recommend?: YES, absolutely. This series should be way more popular than it is!
Personal thoughts: Do you like politically savvy, plotty high fantasy? New, cool and unique settings? A morally gray character willing to do whatever it takes for power who unfortunately falls for the one genuinely good and kind person around? (This is one of my favorite tropes of all time, in case you couldn’t tell.) Did I mention that it's a sapphic slow-burn as well? Pick up this series now! I lost my entire mind reading The Jasmine Throne back in 2021, and I was thrilled to see the quality stayed consistent for the sequel. Sometimes an author will struggle with upping the stakes in the second book, but not here!
I’ve read a lot of subpar political fantasy novels this year, so I was primed to devour the top-tier intrigue and scheming on display in both The Jasmine Throne and The Oleander Sword. I loved the complexity of Suri’s moral landscape: Priya and Malini are incredible foils for each other. Priya is more obviously a heroine; she’s introduced while literally trying to save sick and starving children. But is she a better person for valuing individual lives so much, or is she just less effective? Do Malini’s ends justify her means, when her means will kill thousands or destroy someone she loves, but her end is to dethrone a power-hungry despot who wants to literally burn women alive?
Maybe the most interesting character, however, is the third point of view observing Priya and Malini’s doomed romance: Bhumika, the privileged daughter of a colonized nation who chose to marry the leader of the occupation. Is Bhumika a traitor and a collaborator, or is she the true hero for protecting as many of her people as she could while accepting that she couldn’t save them all? Is incremental change ever possible, or is the only effective tactic in the face of unrelenting oppression bloody revolution? There’s so much to dig into with this series — and that’s even before you get to the conflicting magic systems both powered by human sacrifice! (Fair warning: both magic systems are kind of disturbing if you’re sensitive to body horror.) I’m on tenterhooks waiting for book three.