Monette and Elizabeth Bear
12/28/2019, Reviewed 12/29/2019
This was a very peculiar book. It was a bit reminiscent of the “Dragonriders
of Pern” series, but with wolves instead of dragons and set in a Viking like
culture. Instead of threads, they fight
trolls and instead of it being an honor to be in this wolf community, it has fallen
into disfavor. What was most peculiar
about the book was that there is a lot of m/m sex, but there is almost no gay
content. The characters are mostly
straight, or maybe bisexual. Because the
men are psychically bonded with wolves, both male and female, the men have sex
with each other when the wolves do. So
if you’re expecting a m/m romance, this is not that book. It is sexual politics with no sexuality.
The plot however was simple but interesting. Njall is the son of a powerful landholder who
is heir to his father and sexually active with women. One day a member of the wolf community comes with
his companion wolf and demands that the father, Gunnar, tithe his son to the
community as is the custom. Gunnar is
adamant that he will not for two reasons.
First, the community has fallen out of favor because the troll threat has
greatly lessened, and second, because of the rumors of the man on man sex that
happens. However, Njall is dramatically
drawn to the wolf, disobeys his father and joins the community. There, he takes a new name, Isolfr, and pairs
with a she-wolf who is destined to be a queen.
Together they fight a new wave of invading trolls.
Then it gets sexually weird.
When his she-wolf goes into heat, the male wolves become sexually
aroused. The same goes for the human
companions of the wolves. When the she-wolf
chooses a mate, the associated human companions also have sex. The thing is, Isolfr is basically straight
and is not interested in man on man sex.
However, because he is driven to a sexual frenzy by his wolf-sister, he
accepts the passive role, actively participating in it, but at the same time
wishing it were over. He never bonds
with his sexual partners. In fact, he is
promiscuous with the women who work in the community (in traditional women’s
roles) and even fathers a child with a local woman. I was a little uncomfortable with these
scenes. While there is consent, it is a
bit dubious. Isolfr and others bonded
with she-wolves accept their duties as their companions, but they are not necessarily
gay or even bisexual. It made for some
Another problem I had with the book is that there are a lot
of characters, human and wolf, and they all have difficult, unfamiliar
names. There is no real differentiation in
the names of each type, except that some of the men have “fr” at the end of
their names. I found it very
confusing. I often didn’t know who was a
man and who was a wolf. And the charater
development of the minor characters is not that great. So it was tough to tell who was through much of
The best things about the book are the world-building and
the trolls. The world-building is quite
extensive, being a Nordic-like culture with references to the Nordic gods and the
complexity of the social structure of community. The trolls are pretty cool and even they have
a social structure and some humanity, though that is not made evident until
late in the book.
I give this book three stars out of five for the
world-building and the trolls. It is a
highly readable book, though the myriad of names slowed me down some. The complexity of the wolf social structure
and their companions was really well done.
I think I could have given this four stars if it weren’t for the sexual
Jewelle L Gomez
12/26/2019, Reviewed 12/26/2019
This is not your typical vampire story. While most vampire literature focuses on the
sexy and the bloodthirsty, this book does so only subtly. It focuses more on the main character’s
search for self and relationship with other vampires and the world around
her. Gilda is a benevolent black lesbian
vampire, made in 1850, who travels across the country at various times through
the present and future. The stories are
vignettes that take place over a two-hundred-year span. At each stop, Gilda tries
to build or integrate into a community of other vampires as well as the
ordinary humans around her and struggles with whether it is worth the risk to
bring someone else into the fold simply to help her with her own loneliness. I found the book to be very readable with
great prose and subtle takes on racism, feminism, dominant culture, the environment,
and sexuality. The book won two Lambda
Literary Awards in 1991, for general lesbian literature and for lesbian sci
fi/fantasy/horror (back when the sf/f/h category was separated into gay and
The plot is not really that grand, as the book is divided
into different stories at specific points in time over a two-hundred-year span. A slave girl in 1850 Mississippi runs away
from her master when her mother dies. She
is found by a vampire named Gilda and brought to live and work in a brothel as
a housekeeper. Eventually, the vampire
and her companion, a Native American named Bird, turn the slave girl into a
vampire like themselves. Bird acts as
her mentor, teaching her to read, write, and about life in general and as a
vampire. She acquires her name from Gilda,
her maker, when the older Gilda takes the voluntary of death of staying out in
direct sunlight. Unable to accept the
older Gilda’s death, Bird eventually returns to her people to rediscover her
own family and culture, leaving the younger Gilda to make her way in the world
alone. Eventually, she comes across
others like her, and develops tenuous relationships with normal humans.
Gilda spends most of her time as an artist, whether it be as
a hairdresser, a theatrical worker, a writer, or a singer. At one point she’s also a farmer. The thrust of her existence though is to find
a community for herself. She does meet
up with other vampires with whom she does maintain relationships with throughout
the cycle of stories. But her primary
goal is to find someone who she can make a vampire to call brother or sister. The caveat though is to make sure she finds
someone who understands what they are getting into and to make sure the feeling
is mutual, that she is not doing it for selfish reasons. Even the code of the vampires’ eating habits
is about mutuality: life for life. When feeding,
the vampire must give something in return, usually a psychic peace or
resolution. Never does a vampire feed to
the death of their victims. There are
some vampires, however, who do not live by the code and Gilda does encounter
one in the 1955 story.
As I noted above, there is not a grand overarching plot through
the stories. Each one has its own
plot. The main theme is about finding
community, or home. Gilda, being the
main character, is the best developed, though the secondary characters are well-drawn
for being present for short periods of time.
The real star of the book is the prose.
Gomez is a terrific writer. She
doesn’t bang you over the head with issues.
She presents them subtly in the stories, making you care about them by
caring for Gilda and her plight.
I liked this book very much.
I was hard to put down. My only
problem with it was that I felt one step removed from the action. But in a sense, I understand this reaction I
had because Gilda always feels one step removed from the action herself. She is always the observer, never feeling
fully integrated into either the human or the vampire community. This is something I can relate to myself, as
I never feel fully a part of either the straight or the gay community. I play the observer, only very cautiously letting
someone close to me. So I could really
identify with Gilda at that level. I
give the book four stars out of five. It’s
a terrific read, and I’d highly recommend it to people who don’t like the
classic vampire story.
I was first introduced
to Starhawk in Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”, a book about Creation
Spirituality. She had written several
books on the topic as well on Goddess worship.
This is her first work of fiction.
It encapsulates a lot of the spirituality she espouses in the context of
a future utopian society fighting against a dystopian power trying to overtake
it. It took a long while for me to get
into the book, but I found myself drawn in by the world building and eventually
became very engaged with it. It won the
Lambda Literary Award in 1994.
of the book is in what was formerly known as San Francisco. Everyone is free, everyone has a voice in
what is going on, everyone works at what they want to do, and everyone pitches
in to help each other. Racial and religious
diversity are supported. Most people are
polyamorous. This is counter to the
oppressive regime in the dystopia to the south, where women and minorities are
repressed, sexual diversity is punished, and everyone must conform to the
purity laws. Those who transgress
against the norm are told they have lost their immortal soul and are conscripted
into the army or sexual slavery.
The plot of
the book isn’t that ground breaking and at times, I found it a little
boring. But Starhawk makes it all very
real with warm, simple prose. I found
myself enjoying every return to the pages of the book, even when I felt like I
didn’t know where the plot was going.
characters were all very well drawn. And
the two main characters are black, which I found very refreshing. Madrone, one of the main characters, is a
healer witch. She works with the local
doctor to heal through spiritual energy and herbal concoctions. One of her lovers, Sandy, just died from an
epidemic that ran through the community, which may or may not have been
biological warfare from the south. One
of her other lovers is Bird. He’s been imprisoned
in the south for ten years and it is not known if he’s alive or dead. The story follows the two of them in
alternating chapters for most of the book.
fault I have with the book is that it didn’t seem to really move. Reading it was a slow process with little
direction towards where it was intending to go.
Now that’s not to say that there was not action, because there was. It just didn’t have any urgency. That was why I needed the first hundred pages
or so to get into the book. I had to be immersed
in the world and the characters before I started to care for them. Eventually, I was, and I couldn’t stop
reading it, even at that slow pace.
The book has
a lot to say about what we could be doing to make this world a better
place. Peace, love, acceptance,
patience. And the passive resistance
tactic when the army from the south comes to invade the utopia is really quite
impressive. I found it quite profound,
especially because the choice between passive and active resistance is debated
quite a lot throughout the invasion.
I was going
to give this book three stars at first, but I found myself really enjoying the
heck out of it. I had come to be totally
immersed in its world, appreciating the characters and the philosophy it
expounded. I finally had to admit that
it was really a four star out of five book.
Some may find it a little dated with concepts that came to the forefront
during the New Age movement, but it describes many truths about human nature
and what we can achieve if we can just get along.
This was my
first book by Kay. At over five hundred
pages, it’s one of the longest books I’ve read in a long time. I was dreading it at first, but as I got past
the first fifty pages or so, I became enchanted by the prose. There are a lot of characters and city-states,
and there is a lot of politics. Usually I
lose my way in this type of book. But
the prose was so glorious that the reading of it became easy and I didn’t have
that hard of a time following the kings, the religions, the politics, and the
warring. It helped that I read some
reviews first so I didn’t go cold into the book. So I knew ahead of time that the setting is
an alternative Medieval Spain, conquered by a people like the Moors, with the
old Christian-like states pushed north, and a Jewish-like minority throughout.
The setup is
fairly complex. The Asharites control
about three-quarters of the peninsula.
They are a desert people whose god is revealed through the stars and
their prophet Ashar. Once united as
Al-Rassan, the land has degraded down to a collection of city-states. Ammar ibn Khairan is an Asharite. He’s many things, including a poet, a kingly
advisor, and an assassin. The Jaddites
live in the north and some in the east.
Rodrigo Belmonte is a military captain of a band of mercenaries working
for one of the Jaddite kings. The
Kindath live throughout Al-Rassan, but are generally quartered in ghettos, and
are highly suspect by the Asharites. In
the Jaddite territories, they are often slaves.
Jehane bet Ishak is a doctor who treats all people. Through a series of unusual events, these
three characters end up exiled to one of the Jaddite kingdoms where they become
strong friends despite their religious differences in a world inching closer
and closer to a holy war.
This book is
really about relationships between people and their similarities and differences
as a metaphor for how the world should get along. It is about love, honor, and respect in a
world with too little of these. The
complexity of the world and the relationships of these three main characters
simply took my breath away. There are
good guys and bad guys, but the point of view of the book is told from many
people from the three religions and the different city-states, leaving a lot of
many featured characters besides the three main ones. Some of their names were similar so that made
things a little hard to follow at times.
However, Kay makes sure to restate who people are which made it a little
easier to remember. They were all very
well developed. No one seemed like a
complaint about the book is that it’s considered fantasy. There are two moons and one of Rodrigo
Belmonte’s sons can see the future. But
that’s about it. It’s really alternate
history and it’s probably more appropriate to use the term speculative fiction
than fantasy. But that’s really a minor
I give this
book five stars out of five. I was
completely absorbed in it. Everything about
the book, the plot, the prose, the characters, the world-building, all combine
to form one terrific novel. The ending
was quite a surprise and quite devastating.
This was one of those books where I had to chill after finishing. I really felt like had been immersed in a
different world, and coming out of it required a conscious transition. Kay has some retractors, but a lot of people
love him. I guess I’m now one of the
converted. At some point, I’ll have to
read Tigana, which is considered his best.
was a difficult read, not because of the writing, but because of the
content. It is a retelling of the
Sleeping Beauty fairy tale set during the Holocaust. It reminds us that gypsies and gay men were
among other smaller populations that were also exterminated in the camps. Any book or visual media that deals with the
Holocaust really saddens me and makes me angry. It also made me angry that I found so many
reviews on Goodreads that condemned the book because of homosexual content and
an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Wake up
people! Over two hundred fifty thousand
gay men died in the concentration camps.
Their stories need to be told. And
there are some people that have sex (gasp!) outside of marriage. Despite the sexuality references, there was
no explicit sex in this book. In fact, I
found it very appropriate for teens.
Despite its short length, I thought it was really well done. It was nominated for the Nebula and World
Fantasy Awards and won the Mythopoeic Award back in the early ‘90s.
Becca is a
second generation American of Polish-Jewish descent. As a child, she and her sisters were
fascinated by their grandmother’s (Gemma) telling of Sleeping Beauty. It wasn’t the Disney version, but more
faithful to some of the original texts. Years
later, on her deathbed, Gemma asks Becca to find out her true origins, calling
herself Briar Rose. Becca’s
investigations lead her back to Poland and the Holocaust.
being a very short book of about two hundred forty pages, Yolen packs in an
awful lot of plot. However, the
characterization suffered a bit. The
main characters are not very deeply drawn.
Josef Potocki, the old gay Pole who has a connection to Gemma has
perhaps the best characterization. He
tells Becca about his life including his capture by the Nazis. His story is very prosy, so we learn more about
him, his life, and emotions than even Becca, the main character.
liked the setting of the fairy tale in a concentration camp. I thought it was really great that Yolen used
the barbed wire fences of the camps as the thorn bushes that grew around Sleeping
Beauty’s castle. I read a lot of reviews
that thought the metaphors were forced, but I thought they were well done. It also brings to light the little-known camp
at Chelmno which was where the Jews of the Lodz ghetto were exterminated, 320,000
of them. They were interned there and
then stuffed into vans which circulated the auto exhaust into the back of van,
killing all the people packed in there.
Only two men where known to have survived the Chelmno camp. It is believed that no women survived.
I give the
book four stars out of five, despite the lack of character development. It is one of a series of fairy tale
retellings compiled by Terri Windling in the early nineties. This is only one I’ve read, and I thought it
was well done. Jane Yolen was named a
Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in
really knocked my socks off. It was
interesting, exciting, well-paced, and well-written. Not one word was wasted. It was sort of a young adult, modern, smaller
scope take on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
It’s about faeries in the woods near a present-day American town and the
teenage girl and her gay brother who try to save it from them. Everything about the book is satisfying: the plot, the characters, the world-building,
the dark tone. It wasn’t nominated for
any LGBTQ awards, unfortunately, but was nominated for a Mythopoeic Award.
Ben live in Fairfold, a small American town which is known for its proximity to
a forest with a strange inhabitant, a horned, faerie prince who has been
sleeping in a glass coffin for hundreds of years. Both sister and brother are in love with the
prince and much of the town is infatuated with him. The local teenagers hang out at the site of
the coffin, drinking and making out, sort of like any middle American town with
a tourist attraction. One day the coffin
is smashed, the prince awakens, and strange things begin to happen. Hazel and Ben have been fighting bad faeries
with Ben enchanting them with his faerie given gift of music and Hazel as a
wannabe knight. But now things reach a
climax as the fabled monster of the forest starts wreak havoc in town and it is
up to Hazel, Ben, the prince, and a changeling to save the day.
glorious as the dark, brooding teen. At
age 11, she made a deal with the king of the faeries, the Alderking. In return for getting her brother into a prestigious
music school in Philadelphia, she serves the Alderking at night. However, her day self does not remember the
night activities. In the meantime, she
kisses boys, and some girls, at teen parties while secretly pining for Jack, a
changeling. She’s also obsessed with the
horned prince. Despite being a quirky
teenager, she’s a strong female lead with just the right amount of angst.
Ben, her brother,
is also terrific. He’s not very adept at
the dating scene in this small town. In
fact, he’s more obsessed with the sleeping prince than with any human
boys. He would go to the forest, lie
down on the coffin, and whisper his deepest, darkest thoughts and secrets. When the prince awakens, he has to reconcile
his fantasy with this new reality.
prince and Jack the changeling are good secondary characters. The whole changeling story is in itself quite
interesting. Even though Jack is the
faerie, his human family keeps him even after they get their real son
back. So he is brought up by his human
family and is sort of a twin to his human brother Carter. Severis is the son of the Alderking and heir
to the faerie throne. However, there is
some bad blood between the two of them, and his character arc intertwines with
Hazel and Ben’s.
The pacing really
surprised me. There’s no lag in the
book. Every scene gripped me. Even Severis telling his story should have
felt like tedious exposition, but it was as engaging as if it were part of the
action. This is a testament to the
author’s writing skill. The
world-building was extensive, even for a three hundred page book. We only go into the faerie realm twice, but both
times are quite profound. The forest is
almost its own character as Hazel and Ben go in it, searching for missing
people and fighting bad faeries.
This book a
five star book. It just felt perfect in
every way. I was totally engrossed by
it, and whole-heartedly moved. I wasn’t
near tears, but I found it hard to come down from the book and sit still enough
to write this review. It revved me up
and I didn’t want to put it down. When
it was over, I felt like I wanted it to keep going, just to remain in the world
with Hazel and Ben.
This was an
okay book. It’s the first of a six volume
series and a precursor to one or two other series. It was chosen by my book club on a night I
didn’t attend. It felt like standard
fantasy fare with some interesting world building. It dragged a little in the middle. There were two climaxes and both were fairly
exciting. The clincher is that it really
didn’t make me want to search out the rest of the series.
two main races at the center of this book:
the Fhrey and the Rhunes. The
Rhunes are standard humans, with familiar life spans and no magical
abilities. The Fhrey are beings that
live millenia, some of whom have magical abilities, called The Art. The Rhunes consider the Fhrey gods and the Fhrey
consider the Rhunes sub-human. But that
all changes when Raithe, a Rhune, kills one of the Fhrey. In retaliation, the Fhrey go from tribe to
tribe hunting down Raithe and killing all the Rhunes.
is the recent widow of a Rhune chieftain.
She was approached by a fourteen-year-old Rhune girl who has the gift of
prophesy and surprisingly, some magical ability. Suri tells Persephone that a great tragedy is
coming upon her tribe, a prophesy which she divined by talking to trees. Persephone asks Suri to take her to the trees
so she could ask clarifying questions.
On their way, they are attacked by three warriors from her tribe. Raithe and his companion happen to be nearby
and save the day. But one of the
attackers escapes and claims Raithe and Persephone attacked them. Now under suspicion of murder, Persephone must
use her wits to keep her tribe alive in the foretold apocalypse.
interesting things about this book were Suri, the young seer, and her ability
to talk to trees. Initially, I was psyched
about the book because on the cover is a beautiful drawing of a tree. And that is a very cool part of the book, but
it’s only a small part of it. Suri’s arc
is more about all her gifts and her relationship with Persephone. Persephone is really the only person who
believes Suri. Even in this age of myth,
and the belief that the Fhrey are gods, the general public does not much believe
in this little prophet. However, they do
believe that Persephone is suspect.
is the main character and a good, strong woman in a time where women are still
considered second-class citizens. I did
like her character. The story wasn’t
soapy, like being about falling in love with Raithe, although I could foresee
that happening in a later book. She was
a take charge person in a tribe with a fairly impotent new chieftain. I couldn’t help but think that her
characterization was inspired at least a little by the iconic heroine Ripley from
Alien and its sequels.
an evil chief counsellor to the ruler of the Fhrey. He’s deliciously evil and conniving. In particular, he’s perpetuating a new myth
that the only Fhrey worth anything are those with the gift of The Art. All the other Fhrey are second-class, barely
a few steps up from the Rhunes. And of
course, he wants to rule the Fhrey.
All in all,
it wasn’t a bad book, but I thought it could have been better. It felt like there was something missing, and
the whole middle was just filler to get to the two exciting climaxes at the
end. Sure there was world-building, and
the introduction of a few other interesting characters, but it felt like a
hundred pages could easily have been edited out and you might have had a better,
fast-paced book. I give the book three
stars out of five.
I’m glad I
read some summaries and reviews of this book as I picked it up. It helped me understand that there is no plot
and that it’s a collection of loosely related vignettes. I kinda got it and I kinda didn’t. I realize that this book is about the author’s
drug addiction and the vignettes are a mixture of actual events,
hallucinations, and fantasies. It was
very hard to follow. It’s very stream of
consciousness. I gave up trying to
understand it and just reveled in the author’s word choices and creative sentences. The book is beautiful, grotesque, offensive, funny,
pathetic. And in the end, I feel like I
don’t know what I’ve read.
I have no
plot summary for this book, because there is no plot. I can say that it takes place in New York, Tangiers,
and a strange hallucinogenic place called the Interzone, the first two being
places where he actually lived. There’s
a lot sex, mostly homosexuality, and violence and it is all disturbing. One might even conclude that Burroughs was
obsessed with drugs, sex, and death. It
is definitely a transgressive work.
I can’t say
that I actually enjoyed the work. At
times, I thought that the way Burroughs strung together these random thoughts was
genius and other times just lazy. He
plays a lot with mixing tense and number.
At the end of the book is a preface, which I thought might explain some
of these choices, but it was as complicated as the novel itself. In the preface though, is a great description
of the book. It’s a very long paragraph,
so I’ll only include the beginning here (all words are exactly as written, and
spill off the page in all directions, kaleidoscope of vistas, medley of tunes
and street noises, farts and riot yips and the slamming steel shutters of
commerce, screams of pain and pathos and screams plain pathic…”
I can’t say
that I’d recommend this book to anyone but the adventurous reader. Maybe if you liked other stream of
consciousness works such as “Ulysses”, you might get this. As I said, I kinda did and kinda didn’t. So I give this book a questionable three
stars out of five. I saw the film “Naked
Lunch” many years ago, and thought it would help me understand this book a
little better. It didn’t. In fact, I was a little disappointed that
there wasn’t a scene between the narrator and a giant talking insect like there
was in the film.
This is the
second book in the Sarah Beauhall series.
I didn’t realize that until I started reading it and then looked more
closely on-line about it. The author
does a decent job of bringing you up to speed, but I think there’s a lot of
world building I missed out on. This book
has elves, dwarves, and shape shifting dragons, and is in a lot of ways, high
fantasy despite being urban. I think I
would have enjoyed it more if I read the first book, which hopefully provided more
descriptions of the denizens of the world.
This book was nominated for the Endeavor Award, a Pacific Northwest
award given at the Oregon Science Fiction Convention, and won the Gaylactic
Spectrum Award in 2012.
In the first
book, Sarah is a blacksmith and a member of a small film company crew who slew
a dragon and fought with her sexual identity.
In this book, she’s out of the closet, has a girlfriend, and is fighting
her guilt over the deaths of so many people which may have been avoided if she
hadn’t reforged the magic sword, Gram.
The reforging of the sword is what brought out the dragon in the first
place. Now there is relative quiet,
until a filker is kidnapped by dwarves.
Then Sarah continues her blacksmithing apprenticeship under the strange
Anezka whose home seems to be filled with strange and evil powers. Although it takes a long time, the kidnapping
is connected to the evil at Anezka’s home and once again, Sarah is thrust into
a battle between good and evil.
It was actually
difficult to come up with that plot description. The book meanders quite a bit for more than
half its length. The kidnapping happens
early, but nothing seems to come of it for a long time. Sarah spends most of that time fighting her
guilt, her one grounding force being her relationship with Katie. Eventually, Sarah meets Anezka and things
start to get weird. Anezka has a companion
named Bub, short for Beelzebub, a demon who is indentured to her. Then she seems to have terrible bipolar
swings, causing Sarah and Bub to somehow care for her. The mental illness seems to be related to the
terrible forces which surround the house.
That’s where the book starts to become more interesting, but it still
doesn’t pull everything together until the final showdown between Sarah and the
Bub is the
most interesting and fun supporting character in the book. He starts out by attacking Sarah, but comes
to be friends with her, even though he basically wants to eat her. He actually eats anything, regular food, the
dishes, people, but Anezka and Sarah keep him under control by feeding him
hamburgers and burritos. He helps Sarah
take care of Anezka when she goes off the deep end.
characters are good too. There’s a lot
of character development even though most of the characters first appeared in the
first book. They didn’t seem wooden or
one-note. And their dialogue was pretty
The book is
told mostly in first person by Sarah.
While the plot meanders, her narrative is pretty easy to follow. Unfortunately, there are injections of third
person narrative concerning the other dragons of the area and the dwarves who
captured the filker. By the way, filk is
a type of music whose lyrics have themes in science fiction and fantasy. The music may be a parody of a popular song,
or may have its own original tune. These
third person breaks were hard to follow and sometimes didn’t seem to have
anything to do with the plot. I found
them more distracting than informative.
All in all,
the book was okay. I liked Sarah,
although she spent an awful lot of time in self-doubt. I thought from the book blurbs that she was
going to be a kick-ass leading character.
It’s not until the end that she gains the confidence she needs to
continue her role as a defender of good.
And despite the book’s meandering, it was pretty easy to follow. It was just hard to see where it’s going
until the very end. And the end leads
into the third book. There are four books
so far in the series. I give it three
out of five stars. If you are going to
read this, I think it would be best to start with the first book.
starts out incredibly slowly, so slowly that I never thought I’d get through
it. I could barely get ten pages read a
night before passing out from exhaustion and well, boredom. Very little happened and I couldn’t see where
it was going. Then Saturday came and I
picked it up after a good night’s sleep.
What I thought was boring was well over a hundred pages of character
introduction and world-building. It
slowly began to pick up its pace and then finished with a hundred pages of
breakneck action. It’s the first of a
four part series and this book serves as the introduction to the remaining
three books. With a title like
“Starfarers”, you’d think this book was about space travel. Well, since it’s an introduction, it’s
everything that leads up to the space travel part. You could easily see this book as the first
season of a TV series with terrific cliffhanger for the last episode.
The plot is
fairly simple. The Starfarer’s mission
was to seek out alien life. Due to a
change in the presidency and increased tensions in the Middle East, the US
wants to repurpose the ship for the military.
It’s up to a scrappy polyamorous, multi-cultural trio to save the ship from
this change of plan. There are a host of
side characters with subplots, some smaller, some larger, that come into
play. The most interesting is that of
JD, the alien specialist who is enamored with divers, genetically modified
humans who live underwater as well as on land.
Her subplot weaves in and out of the main plot as her diver friend Zev
is chased by the military on Earth while she is integrating herself into the
crew of the Starfarer.
polyamorous, multi-cultural trio, Victoria, Stephen Thomas, and Satoshi, are main
characters of the book. Victoria is the
commander of the Starfarer. She’s black
and Canadian. Stephen Thomas is a blond
hunk of mixed ethnic background. Satoshi
is a Japanese-American. They are, of
course, bisexual. There was a second
woman, bringing the relationship member count up to four, but she died in an
accident. The three are learning to live
without her, but it is difficult because she was the relationship manager. The character development was pretty good,
though the book only takes place over the course of a few weeks at the
most. At first, I thought the characters
were a bit wooden, but McIntyre fleshes them out pretty well. JD is also a pretty good character, being
described as a bigger woman, though she can swim with the divers. All in all, a pretty diverse cast of
characters for a book written nearly thirty years ago.
There are several
other minor characters worth noting.
Kolya Cherenkov is a former Soviet cosmonaut who is basically stranded on
the Starfarer because there is a death edict out on him from the Middle
East. If he returns to Earth, he’ll be
killed. He is mostly a hermit, but has
an interesting perspective on the events happening around him. There’s also an old woman whose name I can’t
remember who adds some levity as well as intensity to their situation. She’s there as part of the Grandparents
Initiative, a movement to get older people up to the ship to increase the age
diversity of the crew. Lastly, there’s
Griffith, the bad guy. He’s a government
man, posing as someone who works for the GAO, but is probably part of the
military as it plans its takeover of the Starfarer. He would have been a two-dimensional
character, except for his infatuation with Cherenkov, which is the only thing
that can divert him from his primary purpose.
The plot is
pretty thin, but as I mentioned before, this book is really an introduction to
the characters and world-building. I’m
guessing the rest of the books have more of a plot than this one. Still I thought this book held its own once
it got going. I was going to give it
three stars, but the terrific climax and the setup for the rest of the series
made me up it to four stars. I must say
that I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by McIntyre, which amounts to two books
now. Her Hugo and Nebula Award winning
Dreamsnake was one of the best books I read back in my quest to read all the Hugo
winners. This book isn’t award worthy,
but I agree with her quote that this was her best TV series never made.
far exceeded my expectations. The third
and final book is every bit as deep and exciting as the first two. Picking up this third one was like hanging
out with an old friend. The prose
continues to be as warm as in the first two.
Perhaps it was because I read all three in order and without
interruption that I felt like I really knew the main character Vanyel. I was cheering for his new relationship while
at the same time, completely empathizing with his hesitancy. At first I thought that more about him couldn’t
be revealed, but he continued to grow, albeit slowly, in his new relationship,
with his family, and with his power. This
book won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy in 1991.
first two books, this one was half personal life, half professional. It starts out with him slowly falling for a
new young Bard named Stefen. Stefen is in
love with Vanyel, and it’s not just hero worship. At this point in the book, Vanyel is larger
than life, being the most powerful Herald-Mage in the land. So Vanyel tries to discount Stefen’s
affections. But Vanyel falls in love
with Stefen as well, and it takes a visit to his family to realize that. Yes, there is a third visit to Vanyel’s
family, and his relationship with his father, Withen, turns in another new
direction, as Withen comes to terms with his son’s orientation and career
choices. While at home, there is an assassination
attempt on Vanyel’s mother’s life, also endangering Stefen. This forebodes a plot not only to destroy
Vanyel, but also the whole country. So
Vanyel must leave once again to get to the bottom of this new sinister
A lot of the
first half of the book is about Stefen.
At first I didn’t like him, but he grew on me as he also grew on Vanyel.
At first, Vanyel brushes off Stefen’s
advances, but it becomes a fun game as Stefen tries to find ways to get Vanyel
into bed. It also seems like Stefen is
trying to add another notch on his bedpost at first, but the desire quickly
becomes love and Stefen lifebonds with Vanyel.
Vanyel still hold a candle for his first and only real love, so the game
frustrates Stefen and all the other major characters. Vanyel does grow though, and he eventually
comes around to the inevitability of a new relationship.
becomes very sad as a major character as well as other minor characters are
murdered. Vanyel has to deal with his emotions,
trying to control his powers, using them for good rather than for the desire to
seek vengeance. This is a recurring
theme in the books: with great power comes great responsibility. Vanyel gets a huge dose of this when he is
captured and abused by the enemy forces.
He strikes out at his captors but then is revulsed by his uncontrolled emotional
revenge. So when he finally confronts
the evil Master Dark in the end, he tries to use his powers in the least
As a reader,
you really get the sense that Lackey wrote these books in order, one after the
other. The tone and style are the same
throughout the works. It is an
exceedingly pleasant read throughout all three.
I can see why there are so many fans of the author out there. She has a wonderful voice, has interesting
plots, and develops great characters who actually grow through the action. While each book is not standalone, each wraps
up nicely. My only complaint with this
volume is that it ends rather abruptly, but I felt it was better this way,
rather than dragging out all the emotions of the bitter-sweet ending.
I give this
book a resounding five stars out of five.
The whole series was phenomenal.
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a series as much in a long time. I was truly enrapt in it from start to
finish. I didn’t get bored with it, thoroughly
enjoying it every time I picked it up.
In fact, I forced myself to stay up to read the last ten pages, as I was
nodding off in my usual late night fashion.
I had to know how it ended, and couldn’t wait until the morning for that
last little bit. I highly recommend this
series and will now put Lackey down as one of my favorite authors.
Promise is the second installment in the Valdemar: Last Herald-Mage trilogy. It picks up over a decade after the first
book. Vanyel visits his family after
four years away and confronts many of his own demons as well as real demons in
this highly enjoyable follow-up. In the
first half of the book, there is really no action, only the encounters with his
family and the household employees. Yet Mercedes
Lackey writes it really well, with all the immediacy and pacing of a well-crafted
adventure novel. I found myself plowing
through it as it held me emotionally and intellectually.
Vanyel is now
the most powerful Herald-Mage in the land and has just finished a terrible tour
of duty at the front lines of a war, exhausted, gaunt, and ready for a
leave. He doesn’t really want to go to
visit the family, but if he stays at the Mage center, his alma mater, he’s
concerned he will be called on another mission, and he simply does not have the
stamina for that. He goes home with much
trepidation as his relationship with his family is pretty strained. But it has been four years since his last
visit and he feels it is his duty to visit.
There, he has numerous confrontations with his father and Jervis, the
abusive armsmaster. Halfway through the book
and his visit home, his Companion Yfandes (a horse with the soul of a woman)
hears a terrible cry for help in the neighboring land. Vanyel and Yfandes rush to the scene where a horrible
bloodbath has taken place. The only
survivor is a near-catatonic teen who is being blamed for the tragedy. Recognizing that something is very wrong with
the scenario, Vanyel escapes with the teen to his home farm and tries to find out
if the boy killed everyone or if something even more nefarious is going
As I stated
above, the first half of the book could be considered somewhat slow, but it is
written so well, it completely had me enrapt.
Lackey knows relationships and character development. The confrontations between Vanyel and his
father and Jervis are remarkable. Even
though he’s twenty-eight years old now, Vanyel still feels like the awkward,
closeted teen when he goes home, trying to gain acceptance. But he’s maturing in front of their eyes,
taking a stand for himself and not letting anyone get away with bullshit. His biggest problem turns out to be his
mother who thinks that if he found the right woman, it would make him
straight. So she puts it in the mind of
the one of the household staff who has been in love with him since he was a boy
to pursue him at all costs. This makes for
some laughable and embarrassing situations.
comes out as major character as his Companion.
Companions are horses but contain the soul of a woman. They choose Heralds and Mages and become
lifelong companions, as their name implies.
As long as the Herald and/or Mage has some psychic ability, the two can
communicate with each other. Companions
also communicate with each other acting as a go between for people who do cannot
Read each other. I really liked Yfandes
and her role with Vaneyl. She acts sort
of as a guardian angel, giving advice and often keeping her Chosen’s feet in
reality the way no one else can.
character was a big surprise to me. I
don’t want to give away too much, but he is so much more than the cardboard
character from the first book.
I have to
say I am still really enjoying this series.
I thought this one would be a little boring because the first half of
the book is simply family dynamics. But it
was riveting. I was almost sorry to see
the plot of the bloodbath come up. However,
as with the first book, Lackey uses the mystery and the action to enhance the
characters while still making it exciting reading. Even the boy who is near catatonic at the
beginning of this sequence has moments of growth. I give this book five stars out of five. It’s unusual for me to give two books in a
row five stars, but I was once again very emotionally involved with this
book. I could feel the interactions
between Vanyel and his father and Jervis in my gut. And thanks to my usual insomnia, I read almost
the whole book yesterday through this early morning. I can’t wait to read the third and final
novel in this trilogy.
begins a trilogy set in the Valdemar universe, of which there are now many
installments. Not having read any of the
other books in the series, I found this book to be self-contained. It tells the story of a gay teen who is at
odds with his macho, elitist father who wants a son to take over the family
legacy. Vanyel, the teen, wants to be a
Bard, but turns out to possess powerful magical powers that have not yet been
awakened. This is my first Mercedes
Lackey book and I loved it. It was
nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 1990 and was quite deserving of the
on the family estate with his abusive father who is trying to make him a man’s
man. He never compliments his son,
discourages the boy’s love of music, and forces him to train with a sadistic
military trainer. After an incident
where the trainer breaks Vanyel’s arm in a particularly vicious attack, and not
taking Vanyel’s side, the father decides to send him to his aunt who runs a
boarding school where he thinks Vanyel will get more discipline and more
serious fighting experience. While this
is true of the school, it also features academics and magic training. Vanyel goes unwillingly, but soon realizes
that this school, and his Aunt Savil, are much more liberal than he expected. At the school Vanyel falls in love with
Tylender, a herald-mage in training.
With Savil’s blessing, they pursue a relationship. Vanyel excels in his academics and in
love. But a tragic turn of events seems
to destroy everything in Vanyel’s life while at the same time, awakening the
powerful magic which lay dormant within him.
This is the
first high fantasy I’ve read in a while.
It features the classic trope of a school for magic. When this book was published in ’89, it wasn’t
quite the trope it has become since Harry Potter hit the market. At first, Vanyel doesn’t like the school,
believing he is there for punishment. However,
he soon comes to love it for its wide “liberal arts” academia and its
supportive, non-sadistic combat training program. Unfortunately, while being a decent musician,
he is deemed not to have the gifts necessary to become a Bard. This is the first of several incidents that
throws Vanyel for a loop. The other
major incident of course is falling in love after repressing his true orientation. Aunt Savil, who at first has no time him,
begins to take a liking to him and becomes supportive of his scholastic and burgeoning
sexuality. She realizes the terrible
childhood Vanyel’s father provided and tries to nurture him back to being a
I loved the
character of Vanyel. He’s a bit whiney,
but at the same time, I think his emotions and expression of himself is very
typical of a gay teen who has been repressed for so long by a belligerent
father. He does a lot of second-guessing
of himself, and is full of self-doubt.
It takes most of the book to work through his self-esteem issues. But hence, we get some pretty phenomenal
character development. I also really liked the characters of Tylender
and Aunt Savil. Savil is Tylender’s mentor. She is a great person, though it his hidden
by the toughness necessary to run the school.
It is in her relationship with Tylender that we see her humanity. Tylender is an all-round nice guy with one
major flaw: he is obsessed with the feud
his family has with another family, and it is the one aspect of his personality
Savil cannot seem to break. But I just
cheered when he and Vanyel finally get together.
is excellent. Despite having been the sixth
(I believe) book published in the series, I didn’t feel like I was missing out
on much. There were a few times when a
situation came up where I didn’t understand the reference, but it was explained
a further in the book, namely, the colddrakes.
I have a feeling they appeared in an earlier series.
I give this
book five out of five stars. I deeply connected
with Vanyel’s character, despite his being kind of whiney. His self-doubt tries to sabotage so many
things in his life, but between Aunt Savil and Tylender, he has the support and
encouragement to work through the pain.
There is some real tragedy in the book, which I did not see coming, and
it made me want to weep. Lackey writes
emotions really well. This is the kind
of book where emotions take priority over the action. The action is there to accentuate the
character development. I will be reading
the rest of this series, as the third book in the trilogy is on my LGBTQ list
on WWEnd. I’m really glad I started with
this origin story of Vanyel and not just jumped right into the third book.
On the cover
of this book, there’s a quote from the Green Man Review that is very accurate. It says that this book (or possibly the whole
“Princess” series) “…brilliantly remixes fairy-tale elements with a modern
action/adventure sensibility, as if the Brothers Grimm had been allowed to
watch a ‘Charlie’s Angels’ marathon.”
That’s what you get: three powerful women trained in the marital arts
and magic fighting fairies, demons, and evil in general. There’s lots of sly remarks and funny asides,
but basically, this is an action/adventure novel. And it’s fluff. Nothing about it is great, but there’s a lot
of good stuff in it. I once tried to
read the first novel in the series for Book Club, and put it down. It was too much fluff. I gave this third entry in the series a better
effort because it was nominated for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award in 2011. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.
of the series is that Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella are three
rough and tumble princesses who fight evil in their world. In this book, Sleeping Beauty is being
pursued by an assassin who turns out to be Red Riding Hood. They capture her, find out who bought Red for
this mission, magically bind Red to help them, and then attempt to confront the
instigator. But the plot is a little
more complex than that, it turns out the instigator is a fairy feigning serving
a queen who usurped Sleeping Beauty’s throne and commands an army of the undead,
called the Hunt. To get to the queen,
the four must destroy the fairy and disperse the Hunt as it pursues them.
much character development in this book.
Any that might have occurred probably happened in the previous
books. But I don’t expect there was
necessarily a lot of it. The characters
are rather cardboard and cartoonish, not unlike “Charlie’s Angels”. There is some depth to them, but they are
basically strong, self-sufficient women.
Sleeping Beauty, whose real name is Talia, is a lesbian. She has feelings for Snow (her real name),
but comes across an old love during their travels. Snow is straight, but feels a loss when Talia
meets up with her old flame. Cinderella,
whose real name is Danielle has a husband and son. Roudette (Red Riding Hood) is a hard-core
assassin, with little need for emotions.
And that’s about all the emotional connection you get from them. But what they lack in depth, they make up for
this wouldn’t be my type of book. I
think if I wasn’t trying hard to read through the LGBTQ Spec Fic Resource list
I curated for Worlds Without End, I would have put this book down, like the
first. But I stuck with it and I have to
say it was kinda fun. The books from
this series would make great action flicks.
I give this book three stars out of five because it is good. I probably won’t read any more from this
series, though because straight-forward action/adventure is not my cup of tea,
even with positive LGBTQ content and strong women characters, like this one
has. But for the average person, I would
recommend this series as great fluff.