Completed 6/30/2018, Reviewed 6/30/2018
This is the first of a series of fantasy novels. Books three through seven in the series were
nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.
This book has only a few hints of the gay content that the later books
were acclaimed for. It is a good book in
its own right, weaving a tale of magic, mentorship, thieving, and spying. It has good world building and spends a lot
of time introducing the characters. It’s
a good, enjoyable book, but slow on the uptake.
The primary strength of the book is the world building. The countries, the gods, the queen and her
dynasty, and the elves all make for decent story telling. What it lacks is plot. What plot there is is basically an introduction
to the main characters. Alec is a sixteen-year-old
boy wrongly imprisoned for spying. His
cellmate helps him escape and sets him up as an apprentice. The cellmate, Seregil, is a bard, a thief,
and a spy, among other things. Seregil
mentors Alec, helping him become something other than the country bumpkin he
is. Together, they get involved in trying
to uncover a plot to overthrow the Queen.
Both Alec and Seregil are very likeable characters. Alec is quick, smart, and an excellent
bowman, even though he can’t read.
Seregil is wonderfully mysterious, full of surprises that are slowly
revealed as he reveals himself to Alec. He is continually much more than he
seems. He has a quick wit that adds
humor to the story. He mentors Alec in his
crafts, giving the boy a purpose in life.
There are several other characters that receive a lot of
attention. Micum is Seregil’s friend and
part-time cohort. At one point in their
past, Seregil fell in love with Micum, although the latter chose to marry a
woman instead. Nysander is also Seregil’s
friend and former mentor. He’s a wizened
wizard who has close ties to the Queen’s court.
He is kind of a Gandalf-ish sort of character who also has a sense of humor. Micum and Nysander also help in mentoring
Alec a little, each taking him under their wing at various times.
One thing that is very interesting about the book is that
the author lets women have strong roles.
Specifically, women get to be soldiers.
Also, the royalty is matrilineal.
The land is ruled by the Queen, and upon her death, the eldest daughter
takes the throne. Thus, there are
numerous women showing up as supporting characters in the novel. So it’s not just a sausage fest of the four male
main characters. And I have to say that most
of the characters are very multi-dimensional.
You get the sense that they are real
The book is good, but it’s a slow burn. There are several subplots running through
the story and only one of them has much resolution. The rest are all setups for the remainder of
the series. At times I didn’t mind it
because it allowed for good character development, but it also dragged in the
second half. I give this book three
stars out of five.
Completed 6/20/2018, Reviewed 6/24/2018
This is a collection of short stories which was nominated
for the Lambda Literary Award for SF/Fantasy/Horror. Most of the stories would fall into the Fantasy
category, and perhaps under the subheading of Urban Fantasy. Almost all have to do with some sort of
spiritual or mystical experience. The
prose is absolutely beautiful and the characters developed nicely for short
stories. The protagonists are mostly gay
and/or black, with a few exceptions being a young Buddhist monk in a monastery,
and a white Frenchman. It’s a wonderful
collection that I was glad to finally get around to.
I really liked all the stories, but here are a few that I
though stood out from the rest.
Her Spirit Hovering – This is about Howard, a young man
longing to be a famous artist. He has a mother
who disapproved of almost everything in Howard’s life: his art, an Indian
girlfriend, a white boyfriend, living in the city. Howard carries her around in his head, even
after she dies.
Come Join Me – Aime is a young boy who after a long spell of
what sounds like the flu develops the ability to see dead people. First, he sees relatives, later, all the
people from the town he’s growing up in who came before him, particularly African
and Native American people. The last
member of his family to have this gift killed herself because the voice of the
dead people calling to her was so strong.
Will Aime suffer the same fate?
Sea, Swallow Me – The titular story is about a man on a
tropical vacation who leaves his resort to experience the local flavor of the
native peoples. He comes across a
village that is having some sort of religious experience with the Sea. He follows, only to become trapped in their
Circus Boy Without a Safety Net – CB becomes obsessed with
Lena Horne after watching the movie version of “The Wiz”, becoming his patron
saint. His parents of course disapproved
when they found black Barbie-like dolls in gorgeous glitter gowns hidden in his
closet. In response, CB joins the church
choir, where his talent for singing shines.
Despite all this hiding, the question becomes, will he ever be able to
A Bird of Ice – This story is about a young Buddhist monk who
lives in a monastery. One day he saves a
swan from freezing in the river. It
turns out the swan is really a spirit who has fallen in love with him. The young monk must decide if he will let
himself love the spirit back.
Catch Him by the Toe – A dark tale about the town of Azalea
when the circus comes to town. One of
the acts is Sambo, an African Tiger Tamer, and Simba, the tiger he tames. When Simba gets loose, fear grips the town
and they descend to their basest instincts in resolving the problem.
Well, I guess that’s most of the stories. I think what this says is that the stories
really stuck with me. I give this book
four out of five stars. The stories are haunting
and deliciously prosy. The collection is
short, only about two hundred pages for nine stories. Well worth the time to become acquainted with
this excellent young voice in the fantasy genre.
Completed 6/15/2018, Reviewed 6/17/2018
Normally, “shifter” stories are about people who can shift
form into other creatures, like werewolves.
In this book, a shifter is someone who changes gender at will. It’s part of their DNA to be able to change
gender. Some prefer to be a man most of
the time, others a woman, and some are 50-50.
This book borrows from the transgender experience, illustrating the
difficulty in switching gender to conform with inner identity.
Alex is a shifter.
His parents force an implant upon him which is designed to prevent
shifting. He’s a man when this procedure
is done, so now he is stuck in a man’s body.
Damon, Alex’s lover, is heterosexual and unaware that Alex is a
shifter. Now he has to deal with Alex as
a man, instead of as a woman. Damon now
must question the depth of his love for Alex, pondering the ultimate question
of can he stop loving Alex just because he’s static as a man.
This book is short, just over 200 pages and is a real page
turner. The basic plot of the book is about
whether Alex can get the implant removed.
But the real thrust of the novel deals with Damon’s coming to grips with
Alex as a man when he’s only known him as a woman. The book is told in alternating point of
view, between Alex and Damon. It’s done
really well and lets us get to know Damon through his questioning his own
sexual and emotional identity and Alex’s struggle with not being able to change
genders when his inner identity changes as well as his guilt for not telling
Damon sooner that he is a shifter.
Static is remarkable in that it heartbreakingly captures the
issues and prejudices the trans community faces, including parents, religion, lovers,
and the workplace. Witt did a lot of
research into issues and she it really shows in how the characters develop and
interact. She even includes struggling
with alcohol, an issue that is very prevalent in the LGBTQ community.
This book was nominated for a slew of LGBTQ awards,
including two Lambda Literary Awards, for Transgender Fiction and for
SF/Fantasy/Horror. I think it’s well
deserving of the acclaim. It takes the
shifting genre in a new direction and makes it enthralling. I give this book four out of five stars.
Completed 6/17/2018, Reviewed 6/17/2018
This book is a tear-jerker. I had tears streaming down my face at the
end. I had to walk around a bit to chill
before writing this review. It’s a
modern-day fairy tale told in a somewhat naïve voice about the personification
of death in the lives of a lesbian couple and their daughter. Despite its simple language, the prose is
wonderful and the plot is inventive. It
poses the question of what death would be like as a godmother.
The story begins with Jacqueline trying to find herself by
figuring out what to call herself. When
she settles on Jaqe (pronounced “Jake”), positive things begin to happen to
her, including finding a lover, Laurie.
They go through all the normal things to lovers go through when they
first come together. Then Jaqe decides
she wants to have a baby. Throughout
their time together, a mysterious old woman called Mother Night weaves through their
lives seemingly giving them what they most want. Of course, there is a price which will be
collected later. Happiness now for heartbreak
The narration threw me off at first. It’s told from third person omniscient, but
in a fairy tale sort of way. In other
word, we always know what everyone is thinking.
But then it clicked and it felt akin to the style of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I think this book would
work really well as an audio book. I
know that most books are audio books now, but it would be like being told a bedtime
story, granted a rather spooky one.
The characters are all wonderful: Jaqe, Laurie and their
daughter Kate. Jaqe is a young and naïve
college student. Laurie her lover, is a
few years older and the more worldly president of the campus Lesbian Student
Union. When they meet, they fall immediately
in love. The time frame is earlier than now,
so their relationship is difficult, especially because of their parents. The first half of the book follows Jaqe and
Laurie through their relationship and pregnancy. The second half follows Kate as she grows
from a colicky baby to a child to a tweener to an adult. Kate lives with death her whole life, even
becoming something of a death midwife, helping people cope with death and occasionally
helping them avoid death if the circumstances are right. I loved each of the characters as I got to
know them and was devasted whenever tragedy struck their lives. And being a book about the personification of
death, it happened a lot.
Even Mother Night is wonderful. I pictured her being like an older friend of
mine who always wore interesting dresses and hats. I can’t go into too much detail about her,
though, because it would give away too much.
This book won the World Fantasy Award and was nominated for
the Tiptree and Lambda Literary Awards.
I give it five stars because it made me cry and I had to ground myself
back into reality when I was done reading it.
A friend of mine only gives five stars to books he can’t put down, which
is rare for him. I found this to be
quite the page turner as well, forcing myself to breath at the end of each
chapter. I read this over a weekend,
finding I just couldn’t put it down. It’s
one of the most exciting and occasionally exhilarating books I’ve read in a
Completed 6/13/2018, Reviewed 6/14/2018
I read this book because it is on the LGBTQ Resource Reading
List at Worlds Without End. It features
gay and lesbian relationships, but it is not very heavily emphasized. The book is really a sprawling tale of the
politics and intrigue of an alternate middle ages predominantly set in a
France-like country, told from the point of view of a high class courtesan who
is the first in several generations to find pleasure in pain. At first, I didn’t care for the politics. There were way to many names and families. In fact, the book begins with a listing of
all the characters from all the houses.
That overwhelmed me for about the first three hundred or so pages. Then the adventures began, which cut down on
the politics and focused more on plot. With
over nine hundred pages, I thought I’d eventually be bored with it, but the intrigue
kept me, well, intrigued.
The story revolves around Phedre, born with a red mote in
her eye (Kushiel’s Dart of the title), abandoned at an early age to the Night
Court to be trained in the ways of pleasure.
At a certain age, she discovers she equates pain with pleasure. She is the first “anguissette” in a few
generations and is sold to the House Delaunay, where she grows into her trade
as well as being classically educated.
When Anafiel Delaunay decides she’s old enough to let her begin plying
her trade, he commissions her to report back on any gossip of the kingdom. She sort of becomes a spy as well as a courtesan,
learning the ins and outs of the court of their land, Terre D’Ange (Land of the
Angel). One of court captures her and
sells her into slavery to the “barbarians” of the north. There she learns the truth about the person
who betrayed her and the havoc that will be wreaked on the kingdom. This is just the beginning of a journey that
will test her courage and prove she is more than just courtesan.
This is the first real sprawling book I’ve read in many an
age. At first, I was put off by the length
and the politics. I was afraid it was going
to be a fantasy opera. And it sort of
is. But the Phedre’s journey is quite
thrilling. Once she is captured, we
learn more of her smarts and stamina.
One can say that this is the story of a prostitute with a heart of
gold. But it is much more than
that. It is phenomenal world building,
complete with a continent’s worth of kingdoms and a well-constructed
religion. Their god, Elua, is an angel
born of the blood of Jesus on the cross and Mary Magdelene’s tears. Kushiel and others are Elua’s companions. It is the basis for the whole of the society
of Terre D’Ange.
The character development is quite good. It being such a long story, we get to know Phedre
and quite a few other characters quite well.
Phedre is the narrator, so we learn of all the characters based on her
relationships with them, sexual or not. And
yes, she uses sex as a weapon. Though
there were so many characters, you get to know many of them really well. Although by the end of the book, my head was
swimming a bit as some of them from the beginning of the book reappear.
The prose is also quite lovely. At first, I didn’t care for it, being of a rather
old fashioned literary style. Carey uses
the phrases “of a sudden” and “of a surety” a few times, which normally grates
on me like nails on a chalkboard. As the
book progressed, I found myself getting into the rhythm of the language and
found it quite enjoyable.
As I mentioned earlier, the gay, lesbian, and bisexual
elements are positive, though not in the forefront, just as sex is there and
somewhat explicit at times. The book was
nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for positive representation of LGBT
characters and issues. But it is more
about Phedre’s relationships than with sex itself, despite her being a
I give the book four out of five stars. It is extremely well written, if not a little
on the heavy-handed side with its literary style. I found it intriguing and exciting and it held
together despite its length. The ending
is a little long. Not quite a cliffhanger,
it is the setup for the next book in the series. Though I won’t be reading the sequels, I do recommend
Completed 6/2/2018, Reviewed 6/2/2018
I tried to read the Iliad on my own in high school but was
bogged down by its heaviness. I never
saw the movie Troy. However, I am
familiar with some of the Greek Myths surrounding Troy and Achilles. This book opened my eyes to how dramatic this
particular story could be, despite it being a retelling. It is primarily a book about the relationship
between Achilles and Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion. It assumes it was a gay relationship, which was
only hinted at in the Iliad, with Patroclus being a secondary character. Here, Patroclus is the narrator, telling the heartbreaking
tale of the relationship between himself and Achilles.
Patroclus is a Greek prince who is exiled from his kingdom
for accidently killing another noble’s son.
He goes to Phthia to be fostered by Achilles father. Through a strange bit of circumstance, Achilles
and Patroclus meet and become friends.
This turns to love, though it is not consummated until both are
sixteen. At this time however, the
Trojan War begins. Both boys go to war even
though Patroclus is not a warrior and Achilles death there is foretold by his sea
Miller builds the story mostly from the Iliad. She tells how Achilles and Patroclus are
tutored by Chiron the satyr. She also
tells of how Achilles is whisked away by his mother to a distant isle and hidden
as a girl to keep him from going to Troy.
She does not tell the Achilles’ heel story since that is a later
addition to the mythology. Instead
Achilles is simply the greatest warrior, the Best of the Greeks.
The prose is glorious.
It flowed brilliantly with excellent but modest word choices. There was nothing self-conscious or
show-offish in its presentation. It was
a joy to read. Sometimes I have a hard
time reading dialogue that’s interrupted by prose, but I did not have that problem
The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was beautiful. They were in love, but they also had their
problems. Achilles mother Thetis hated Patroclus
and that was a source of endless grief. She
even tricked her son into having sex with a girl who would become pregnant with
his only heir. Needless to say, this
caused some problems, though none as great as the Trojan War itself. Still, their love remained true to the end.
Speaking of the end, most people know that the ending is
tragic. I won’t give it away, but it is both
devastating and beautiful.
I give the book four out of five stars. It’s an excellent read and very
powerful. There are lots of reviews
where people said they cried at the end.
While I did find it profound, I wasn’t moved to tears. I think that basically knowing how it was
going to end kept me emotionally on guard.
That’s the only thing that kept me from awarding it five stars.