Hello and welcome to the February 2024 edition of the Queer Lit Review! This month, to continue our queer Winter Reading Challenge theme from January, we have a nonbinary bear shifter bringing a human mate home, an intersex character coming to terms with her gender identity, and a police officer brought back to life to save her city from evil. Each of the reviews below will list which continent the book fits into for the reading challenge.
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Title/Author: Midwinter Bears by Blaine D. Arden
Summary: Tahl promised Enfys ice bears for Midwinter, but ey neglected to tell him that ey and eir kin were the ice bears.
Winter Reading Challenge Region: Europe/The Netherlands
Genre/Sub-Genre: Romance/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Short story
Book Format: eBook
Length: 26 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Nonbinary & transgender
Content Warnings: None
Ratio of Sex/Plot: One sex scene that’s fade-to-black
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I Recommend it?: Yes
Personal Thoughts: Blaine has such an amazingly imaginative mind! I do wish this story had been a little bit longer. There's a LOT of world building packed into this little story and I think it would have been less confusing if it could have been spread out a little more. However, I'm heartened by the author's note where Blaine says she has more reference notes for this world and might come back to it someday. I hope she does! I really want to know more about the ice bears, their lives, and what Enfys does as a “nature programmer.”
There is great representation in this story with one character, Enfys, who is transgender and blind and another, Tahl, who is a nonbinary ice bear shifter with grandkids. Tahl’s identity is a little bit more complicated than that but it’s tied in with eir worries about Enfys’s reaction to the truth of Tahl’s identity and family story, so it would spoil the plot if I give you more details.
Overall, this is a cute little short story you’ll finish in no time. I only wish it was longer so I could do a deep dive into the world of these characters.
If you’re new to Blaine D. Arden or you’re looking for something a little longer, I also highly recommend her short trilogy, A Triad in Three Acts: A cloud elf is solving a murder when he uncovers an illicit affair between two tree elves he desires more than he can admit. Her imagination is on full display in this series and I’ve definitely read it more than once!
Title/Author: An Ordinary Wonder by Buki Papillon
Reviewer: Logan H.
Summary: Otolorin (Oto) was raised alongside their twin sister Wura by a stern and religious mother and a wealthy absentee father. Oto was born with unidentifiable genitals and was forced to be raised as a boy despite always feeling like a girl who they lovingly refer to as Lori. In this coming-of-age story we see Oto come to terms with their gender through many trials and tribulations.
Winter Reading Challenge Region: Africa/Nigeria
Genre/Sub-Genre: Literary Fiction
Book Format: eAudiobook
Length: (320 pages) Unabridged, 12 hours and 52 minutes
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Intersex
Content Warnings: Abuse, assault, sexual assault, attempted rape, attempted murder, neglect, religious trauma
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Lyrically written, but poor pacing, and the back-and-forth timeline was unnecessary.
Would I Recommend?: I wouldn’t recommend UNLESS you are in a very good and stable headspace. The beautiful moments and lyrical words do not compensate for the sheer amount of violence and abuse. Additionally, anyone who has complex family dynamics and religious trauma may find this even harder to read.
Personal thoughts: I was so excited to read about an intersex person growing up in the late eighties-early nineties in Nigeria. The inclusion of Nigerian folklore and other cultural and societal influences was fascinating. Unfortunately, the lack of trigger warnings, scrambled timeline, and sheer levels of abuse while Oto minimizes it all, as you do as an abused child, was too much. The writing is both lyrically complex and conversationally infantile. It’s a child’s story told through a child’s eyes, with adult words, and for an adult audience.
Title/Author: The Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach
Summary: The port city of Hainak is alive: its buildings, its fashion, even its weapons. After a devastating war and a biotech revolution, all its inhabitants want is peace, no one more so than Yat Jyn-Hok, a reformed-thief-turned-cop who patrols the streets at night. Yat has recently been demoted on the force due to 'lifestyle choices' after being caught at a gay club. She's barely holding it together, haunted by memories of a lover who vanished and voices that float in and out of her head like radio signals. When she stumbles across a dead body on her patrol, two fellow officers gruesomely murder her and dump her into the harbor. Unfortunately for them, she wakes up. Resurrected by an ancient power, she finds herself with the new ability to manipulate life force. Quickly falling in with the pirate crew who has found her, she must race against time to stop a plague from being unleashed by the evil that has taken root in Hainak.
Series/Standalone: Book 1 of The Endsong
Winter Reading Challenge Region: Oceania/New Zealand
Book Format: Physical book
Length: 342 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual main character, other queer side characters
Content Warnings: Drug use, physical violence, state violence, state-sponsored queer-antagonism, policing, war, gun violence, biological warfare, suicidality, body horror in the last half
Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written
Would I recommend?: Yes!
Personal Thoughts: Holy crap, where to even start with The Dawnhounds? The blurbs at the top of the cover call it “intensely humane” and “fiercely queer,” and both those things are true. Tamsyn Muir describes it as “part queer fever dream” in her blurb on the back, and that may begin to approach it. It’s an extraordinary queer Māori fantasy novel. I can already tell that it is going to live in my brain for a long, long time.
All right, let’s step back. To start, I am deeply impressed with Stronach for putting so much into a book and yet keeping it tightly plotted, well characterized, and largely coherent (apart from the bits that aren’t meant to be). The setting is, as far as I can tell, a post-post-apocalypse — full civilizations and countries exist, but there are countless hints about the ruin of what came before. Hainak, the city Yat lives in, has abandoned mineral-based technology for biotech — they live in fungus houses and their guns shoot grubs that bore into targets’ bodies. The main character, Yat, takes a drug that taps her into a shared consciousness. Then, she dies, and things get even weirder. There are primordial animal gods in an ancient battle with some kind of world-killing silence, but one of them has gone mad and has killed most of its siblings. Yat is brought back to life by the only one still fighting and meets a whole pirate crew of resurrected magicians like herself who can now tap into the life-force that fills all organic things. Some of them have been resurrecting for thousands of years.
That’s the big picture. On the character side of things, though, it’s about a woman who has kept herself small, made herself complicit in myriad small atrocities, and gone a long way to killing her own soul out of a desire to fit in, to belong, and to quiet the voice inside her that tells her constantly that she is not enough. She starts out as a cop who is willing to arrest a street kid not very different from who she once was, even knowing (but pretending she doesn’t know) the kinds of things that are done to “undesirables” in the system. After her death and resurrection, she has to reckon with that complicity and face the fact that she hasn’t been saving her beloved city. And then she has to figure out how to actually save it.
It's very clearly the first book in a series, but it is also a complete story in itself, so I fully recommend reading it, even knowing that the second book isn’t due to come out until August. I’m also a wimp when it comes to horror, especially body horror, but I made it through okay and don’t anticipate any nightmares, so I will recommend it even for those of you who, like me, cannot handle that kind of thing.