wilderthan: ((Fujin) Won't understand)
[personal profile] wilderthan
A couple of groups of reviews going up now in a minute, because I realised how big a backlog I have...

Huntress (Malinda Lo)

Huntress is a sort of prequel to Ash, but it is set a long time before it. If I remember rightly, this story is mentioned in Ash. Anyway, this story is about the journey of six people: Con, the son of the king; Taisin, a young woman who wants to be a celibate sage; Kaede, a classmate of Taisin's with no talent for the magic; and Shae, Pol and Tali, their guards. They have to see the Fairy Queen, during a period when nature has gone out of balance.

The story of the journal itself isn't really unique, but the love between Kaede and Taisin is. I loved the fact that the book treats them in pretty much the same way as a male-female couple is usually treated in fantasy stories -- I mean, that it seems natural and inevitable that they should be drawn together, and that their desire for each other is palpable and not treated euphemistically. Okay, there's nothing explicit, but the physicality of their relationship is there.

It's also easy to read, a quick read, and the situations and emotions ring reasonably true. The emotional involvement that was lacking in Ash was definitely there, for me, which made it that much more enjoyable.

I really wish books like this had existed when I was younger. I hope the arrival on the market of books like Ash and Huntress isn't just a one off.

The Dark Wife (Sarah Diemer)

I don't exactly remember how I came upon The Dark Wife the first time. I don't think it was in the usual way -- I seem to remember that someone posted a to do list, and they were going to buy this book if they completed it. Something like that. Anyway, I was enchanted by the whole idea: a lesbian retelling of the Rape of Persephone, consensual and with a genderflipped Hades. A reclamation of a horrible story, in both a feminist sense and an LGBT sense. Apparently, it's based on older versions of the myth, where Persephone chooses to go down into the Underworld.

Sarah Diemer's blog has several interesting links about it: These Are Not Your Stories impressed me when I found it, in particular. It reminded me of a conversation in reviews here on GR, about how horrible it was for Malinda Lo to 'steal' Cinderella and write an LGBT version. I argued then as now: that it's a powerful thing for LGBT people to take these stories and write ourselves into them, make a place for ourselves. Straight people can look to these stories as a dream of theirs: while fairytales remain exclusively heterosexual, gay people are shut out of 'happily ever after' dreams. It's no use to tell us to go and make up our own, because going to make up our own shuts us out of the tradition that we may well have adored and loved as children, the old familiar stories that we never get tired of.

Sarah Diemer recognises the power of the old familiar stories. She even offers The Dark Wife free, as a PDF, here, for anyone who needs it -- which is exactly why I bought her book, personally, because I can afford to and I want her to write more. At fourteen, fifteen, I needed it, and it wasn't there yet.

I enjoyed the story itself a lot. I read it in about an hour, just a bit more than that, and in one go (aside from when I had to stop a moment to look up concert times -- ugh, how dare people interrupt my reading?). I'm a little unsure whether I think it deserves three or four stars: I love the idea, and it was a good read, but I didn't sink as deeply into it as I'd have liked to. It was, well, fairytale like, which meant I already believed it would turn out okay in the end, and which kept me from really feeling the tension.

I thought it was clever, though, the use of the pomegranate, the parts about the Elysian Fields... And I thought Cerberus was cute.

I was a less wowed by the 'After' section, which didn't quite seem to fit.

Definitely not worth a five star "it was amazing", but it's enjoyable, fun to read, and necessary.

Heart's Blood (Juliet Marillier)

I'm not sure Heart's Blood actually stands with my other five star books in terms of how much I loved it, but it's the first of Juliet Marillier's books I've read (the other two being Wildwood Dancing and Cybele's Secret) that I felt genuinely excited about and eager to read, once I'd started. I ended up loving it quite a lot, with 'just a few more pages' syndrome and, near the end, excited little eeps and sighs. I'd hoped to enjoy Marillier's work more than I did, so it was lovely to thoroughly enjoy this, and that's probably inflated my rating an extra star.

I do have reservations about it -- the narrator, the main character, was not very well differentiated from Marillier's other narrators. There was the same tone, the same inclinations... There were differences in the characters, and they're certainly not carbon copies, but it didn't come through in her tone.

I was also a little put out by how quickly I realised the true identity of a certain character, and how long it took the main character to realise the same.

But, yes, for the most part, I loved it. It's an inventive retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it has a disabled protagonist, the issues of abuse which hover around it like a cloud from the very first pages are well-handled... I could believe in the situation, whole-heartedly: I enjoyed the setting, and the supporting characters, and believed in how they related to each other. For the first half of it, I couldn't predict what was going to happen, and I couldn't predict the way Marillier was going to reinterpret the story.

If there's to be a series, as I've seen suggested, then I'll definitely buy any subsequent books. But it does stand alone, too: it has a proper resolution, and the end is hopeful and suggesting the future without requiring follow-up, as such.


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October 2013

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