Carmella reviews The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

The Animals at Lockwood Manor is an atmospheric gothic novel from debut author Jane Healey. Set during World War II in an English country house, it contains all the genre’s staples – supernatural disturbances, hidden rooms, spooky dreams, dark family secrets – along with a good helping of sapphic romance. If you’ve ever read Jane Eyre and thought “OK, but what if Jane fell in love with Bertha Mason instead?”, then this is one for you!

When the Natural History Museum’s collections are evacuated during the London Blitz, a menagerie of taxidermied mammals are sent to Lockwood Manor – along with their newly-promoted director, Hetty Cartwright. What with the manor’s imperfect storage conditions, the creepy atmosphere, the unwelcoming servants, and Major Lockwood’s sexist arrogance, Hetty would have enough trouble keeping her collection in order. But then some of the animals start to go missing.

While Hetty investigates who’s responsible for her missing charges, she grows closer to the Major’s delicate daughter, Lucy. Lucy’s mother and grandmother both passed away recently in a horrible car accident, causing Lucy’s childhood nightmares and sleepwalking to relapse. In her dreams, she wanders the house, desperately searching for a room that doesn’t exist, and remembering her mother’s warnings about la diablesse – a devil-woman in white who haunts the manor.

The romance between Hetty and Lucy is slow to build, and it’s touching to watch them slowly discover their attraction to one another. Healey is a master at ‘show don’t tell’ when it comes to her characters’ feelings.

And how could I review this without mentioning the eponymous animals? The taxidermied collection in Hetty’s care are characters in their own right: the truant panther, the faded hummingbirds, the towering polar bear. Hetty worries about them constantly, and you feel invested in their welfare too.

Then there are the human animals. Throughout the novel, Hetty compares other characters to the creatures in her care: Lucy is a cat, the housekeeper is a Rüppell’s fox, one of the maids is a chipmunk. This adds a fun flare to character descriptions, but also reflects that people can be just as beastly as animals – particularly Hetty’s host, Major Lockwood.

The Major is a wonderfully dislikable antagonist. He reminds me of gothic leading men like Rochester, Heathcliffe, or Maxim de Winter. Except that instead of asking us to believe he’s actually a romantic love interest (despite his patriarchal beliefs, violent temper, and mysteriously dead wife), Healey lets him be the villain of the piece. As someone who always wants gothic heroines to realise how awful their leading men are, I appreciate a novel that finally gives me what I’m looking for!

I’m a big fan of gothic literature, so I was delighted by Healey’s inclusion of so many classic gothic elements. If there’s a gothic trope you can think of, it’s probably in this book. Despite this, the story doesn’t feel predictable or formulaic – the tropes are thrown in more like nods to Healey’s predecessors. You can feel the influence of Jane Eyre (fun fact: Healey was named after her), Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, Angela Carter, The Woman in White – and probably a load more that I’ve missed on my first reading.

If you’re a fan of gothic or historical fiction – particularly authors like Sarah Waters, Laura Purcell, and Daphne du Maurier – then I would highly recommend The Animals at Lockwood Manor. It’s a tense, claustrophobic read, full of opulent descriptions and chilling twists. The novel is published on 5 March by Mantle in the UK and 10 March by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US.

Only 3 Days Left in the Lesbrary Patreon Special Offer!

In case you missed it, the Lesbrary recently turned 10! To celebrate, I’ve overhauled the Lesbrary Patreon page, and for the next 3 days, every new Patron at the $5 and up level gets a handwritten thank you card in the mail!

Why join the Lesbrary Patreon? Well, you can help keep this place afloat, and I’d sure appreciate that! But there are lots of other benefits, including:

Rainbow Reader tier

For $5 a month, you get:

  • A behind-the-scenes look at the Lesbrary
  • Entered in a monthly queer book giveaway!
  • Access to the Lesbrary Discord, where you can chat with the Lesbrary reviewers and other sapphic book fans!
  • Every month, you vote on a book you’d like me to read, and I do a Patreon-only reading vlog where I record all my thoughts about it!
  • In addition to the monthly giveaway, you get a guaranteed queer book in the mail twice a year!

Honorary Lesbrarian tier

For $25 a month, in addition to access to the Discord channel and monthly Patreon-only reading vlogs, you get a queer book in the mail EVERY MONTH!

Check out the Patreon for more information!

PJ review Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S.J. Sindu

Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S.J. Sindu

I’d looked forward to reading Marriage of a Thousand Lies since I glanced it on Lesbrary, and my initial reaction after finishing it was that of elation, but there was a pit left in my stomach. At first, I couldn’t understand why, but the more I pored over S.J. Sindu’s book, it began to make sense. Let’s break down the good and bad of this book:

There are so few books with South Asian representation, even few yet with LGBTQ+ characters, and even less still with that character as the main character. Having a lesbian character in a realistic setting, fighting against her parents who believe in and strictly adhere to a culture that has failed them, was so relatable it hurt. But therein lies the problem. Sindu writes in a way that comes off as surreal, dreamy, but the content is harrowing, painful. I actually think that’s a perfect mix to keep the reader going without bogging them down with too much heartache.

See, there is nothing inherently wrong with the book: it’s a fairly realistic and sobering portrayal of toxic parents in a toxic culture which bleeds into the main character’s own actions. There are a fair amount of points where she responds with the same toxic and controlling behavior she’s been raised in. Realistic. So, in one way, it’s cathartic to read about something so relatable. But, in another, it left me with a sense of hopelessness.

I realized the main issue I had: This book wasn’t about a lesbian South Asian woman who rose above all odds, it was a book about said character who was barely able to scrape by and finally managed to begin to process of cutting herself free from her toxic family.

This is not to say I wouldn’t recommend the book. I would certainly recommend it with a warning. Anyone who wants to read this book should mentally steel themselves, or at least be mentally prepared about the harrowing ride this book can take you on. The more you can relate to it, the more it’ll hurt.

But, in the end, it is great to see a story revolving around the hardships of a first generation Southasian background, and I hope to see more kinds of niche representation, South Asian or otherwise, until it’s no longer so niche!

Maggie reviews No Parking by Valentine Wheeler

No Parking by Valentine Wheeler

I received an ARC of No Parking by Valentine Wheeler and was instantly intrigued by the description. Older main characters, bi and ace characters, they’re snowed in together? I’ll pick that up! And No Parking delivered. I found it a delightful read that had me cackling with delight as legal shenanigans and small town drama were added to the mix.

Marianne Windmere and Rana Wahbi run neighboring businesses, but both of them think that the other’s customers are hogging their shared parking lot. When a snowstorm traps them both in the building overnight, not only do they find out there’s more to their parking problems than they thought, they both have unexpected feelings ignited. When Marianne’s subsequent investigations into just what is going on with her parking and the building her family bakery has been in for generations kicks up town secrets and drama, Marianne and Rana are left to negotiate not only the future of their businesses, but their growing feelings for each other.

One of the things that I loved best about No Parking is how cute the romance is between the two main characters while at the same time giving them both full and rich romantic histories. Marianne and Rana are both older and both are bi and had been married to men in the past. Rana is widowed and Marianne is divorced and also identifies as ace. Their romance, which starts as soon as they get snowed in together, is very sweet, full of blushing and wanting to spend time together and feeling like kids with a crush, but the story also shows them as adult characters with full lives. Marianne is working towards a more amicable relationship with her ex-husband, and we also meet one of her past relationships that causes her to consider how her life would have gone if things had gone a bit differently. Rana has dealt with her feelings about her husband’s death, and has a whole life with friends and her kids. It was very nice to read a story with a very sweet relationship that didn’t consume their whole lives and where they were mature enough to make thought-out decisions about it.

I also really enjoyed the legal and political subplot. There is something incredibly satisfying to me about see a family that thinks it can run a small town get their comeuppance, and Luke Levent definitely deserved a comeuppance. From the start, there is something slimy about Levanti, who is running for the district House of Representatives seat. He’s incredibly condescending, and from the start it is clear that he is doing something fishy with the fact that he owns part of the building with Marianne’s bakery. The whole reveal process was very dramatic and satisfying with all the plot elements you could desire. Hidden wills! Lesbian lawyers! Non-sanctioned parking signage! It was all here.

An underrated part of romance, and queer romance in particular, is building not only a fantasy relationship, but also a society that the relationship can reasonably take place in. No Parking built a small town that was an idealized version of itself, but is also well within the realm of possibility and hope for other queer women who live in small towns, and it spoke of the support networks of friends and family that are necessary in a small town. Wheeler builds a whole network of queer characters who support Marianne and Rana and who are supported in turn. Marianne’s sole employee is a black trans teen named Zeke, who Marianne gives both a job and emotional support to. Marianne also receives research help from the town’s librarian who is both trans and her ex. When, at the end of the novel, two young ladies wander through the bakery, delighted to know that there is a queer bakery in this town and wondering if they should move there, it shows not only the idea that the threat to the town’s character in the form of corrupt politics has been defeated, but that queer community and support in small towns is viable and necessary.

My only, slight, quibble is that I wish this book would be longer. Marianne would refer to events that happened when her search collided with small town politics that I wish I could have actually seen, like what was clearly a retaliatory visit from the health inspector. Sometimes I would page back when she referred to something, thinking that I had missed it. There was a lot that felt glossed over. But overall seeing all those details would be my preference, and I respect the intent of the author to try to balance the legal shenanigans with the rest of the plot and not let it overwhelm the romance.

In conclusion, I found this book fun, cute, and full of the kind of energy that I need going into 2020. Arrest your corrupt politicians, reach for your ideal relationships instead of society’s, support your community members, and patronize your local queer businesses.

It’s the Lesbrary’s 10th Birthday!!

The Lesbrary is 10 years old! graphic

It’s mind-boggling to say, but it’s been 10 years today since the very first Lesbrary post was published. A decade! That’s ancient in internet time! I’m so proud of how this little blog has grown over the years. When it started, there were very few queer book blogs out there. There were a handful of “LGBT” and “Gay and Lesbian” book blogs, but in reality, they were 90% m/m books. Now, there are so many other excellent queer book blogs out there! Not only that, but there are exponentially more queer books being published every year. It’s so much more than I could have imagined when I started the Lesbrary!

To celebrate the Lesbrary’s first decade, I’ve overhauled the Lesbrary Patreon page. To celebrate the Lesbrary’s birthday, for the next week, every new Patron at the $5 and up level gets a handwritten thank you card in the mail! Why join the Lesbrary Patreon? Well, you can help keep this place afloat, and I’d sure appreciate that! But there are lots of other benefits:

Bookworm tier

For $2 a month, you get a behind-the-scenes look at the Lesbrary, and you get entered to win a queer book/ARC every month! More info at this page.

Rainbow Reader tier

For $5 a month, you get all the previous benefits, PLUS:

  • Access to the Lesbrary Discord, where you can chat with the Lesbrary reviewers and other sapphic book fans!
  • Every month, you vote on a book you’d like me to read, and I do a Patreon-only reading vlog where I record all my thoughts about it!
  • In addition to the monthly giveaway, you get a guaranteed queer book in the mail twice a year!

Book Dragon tierFor $10a month, you get all the previous benefits, PLUS:

  • A guaranteed queer book in the mail four times a year instead of twice!
  • A handwritten postcard from me every month!

 

Honorary Lesbrarian tier

For $25 a month, in addition to access to the Discord channel and monthly Patreon-only reading vlogs, you get a queer book in the mail EVERY MONTH!

Lesbrary Director tier

For $50 a month, you choose a book-related topic for me to make a video about, where I’ll also thank you by name and shout out your social media or book. This can be a video or Lesbrary post: whichever you’d prefer!

On top of that, if we are able to reach the $500 a month goal, I’ll be able to take the Lesbian Literature 101 project from research into action, by making monthly videos. For years, I’ve been slowly researching and working on a project called Lesbian Literature 101. I want to outline the history of queer women books in an accessible way, because I have found that this history is often erased and hidden. I love this project, but it is very time-consuming, so I haven’t been able to move beyond the research stage yet. If we can reach $500 a month, though, I will be able to carve out time to start making monthly Lesbian Literature 101 videos!

Whether you’re a Patron or regular reader, thank you so much for your support of the Lesbrary! It wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for you. Here’s to another 10 years! I can’t wait to see what the future of queer lit and the Lesbrary looks like.

Check out the Lesbrary Patreon here!

If you’re not able to monetarily support the Lesbrary right now, consider sharing this link around! I would sure appreciate it.

Maddison reviews The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood

Firstly, thank you Tor, for the e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood is an action-packed, high fantasy, coming-of-age story (orcs, necromancers, mages, giant snakes, and countless fantasy races!). Csorwe lives in the House of Silence as the Unspoken One’s chosen bride. On her 14th birthday she is to walk into the shrine, never to be seen again. But a mage, on a quest for a lost relic, persuades her to turn away from her god and join him. She leaves the shrine, alive, by his side and sets out on adventure. With training and endless tutors, she becomes his sword hand and together they will reclaim his seat of power. Of course, it doesn’t end there, and Csorwe’s story of adventure continues. At its core, The Unspoken Name is a book about choices and their importance.

You really get three stories for the price of one with The Unspoken Name. Other authors may have drawn out each of Csorwe’s main adventures into its own book, but A. K. Larkwood utilizes every single one of those 464 pages to the max. A lot happens, enough that I questioned how so much happened, but it never felt like too much and it never felt rushed. Her prose is (forgive the genre-related pun) fantastic, and it really drew me into the story. The writing is descriptive and clever. The small pieces of comedy, amid what is often chaos and destruction, were a relief and were really well done.

I really loved that we followed the story of a young female orc. I think it was a refreshing change. Typically, these coming-of-age stories, especially those sold as fantasy, follow men – rogues, mages, swordsmen, but almost always mostly human. It was fun to follow a different type of character through a familiar genre.

Csorwe’s character development is realistic, as are her relationships with the main cast of the book. And I would be remiss not to include the gradual relationship progression between Csorwe and Shuthmili. It was sweet to watch their relationship progress, and to see how these two young women changed for it, developed around it. Like most of what I read, Csorwe’s sexuality wasn’t at the forefront of the book, it was just a part of her character. Because of this, the relationship between the two women isn’t necessarily at the forefront of the story, but it becomes a driving motivation and the story would have been entirely different, with different emotional stakes, without it.

From one SFF lover to another, you should read The Unspoken One. It is a wonderfully well written story, and if you are disappointed you can come fight me about it online (but I’m almost sure that you won’t).

Danika reviews Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure is about Simone, a teenager who’s been HIV positive since birth. Her dads have done their best to make sure she has the best possible life, and as long as she takes her medication every day, her day-to-day isn’t much different from her peers. The problem is not so much with symptoms or medical care, but stigma. At her last school, her peers turned on her when they found out her diagnosis, and she had to switch schools. Now, she just wants to enjoy directing the high school play and hanging out with her friends and crushing on a boy without having to think about how people would react if they knew. Which is why getting blackmail notes threatening to out her if she doesn’t stay away from her crush is particularly terrifying.

I will say up front that this has a bisexual main character, and the central romance is M/F. But even aside from the bi main character, there is queer rep aplenty: Simone has two dads, one of her best friends in an asexual lesbian, and the other best friend is also bisexual. In fact, it’s partly because Simone is surrounded by confident, out queer people in her life that she doesn’t feel like she can claim the word bisexual for herself. Sure, she has crushes on celebrity women, but that doesn’t count, right? And liking one girl isn’t enough to be able to call herself bisexual, right? An undercurrent of the story is Simone coming to terms with her sexuality, and realizing that she can claim that identity. (Also, her–almost?–ex-girlfriend is awful.)

I find this book a little difficult to describe, because on the whole, I found it a fun, absorbing, even fluffy read. Simone is passionate about musical theatre, and she is excited and intimidated to be acting as director. She is swooning over a cute guy (also involved in the production), and their romance is adorable. Simone’s friends are great–even if they have some communication issues–and so is her family. She is surrounded by support, and there is a lot of humour sprinkled throughout.

On the other hand, Full Disclosure also grapples with the stigma around HIV positivity. Simone’s dads felt that it was fitting that they adopt an HIV positive baby, after having lost so many people in their lives to HIV and AIDS. There is discussion of what living through the epidemic was like, and the extreme bigotry towards people with HIV/AIDS. Simone is being blackmailed, and she lives in fear of having people turn against her again. She doesn’t feel like she can even talk to the principal about it, because it could mean that the information could get out. Even her best friends don’t know.

There is tension between the lightheartedness of the book as a whole, and the serious underpinnings. It meshes well, though, and doesn’t feel like bouncing between emotional extremes. Instead, it portrays that HIV positive teens can have happy, fulfilling lives and also have to worry about unfair, hateful treatment. They can be carefree in most aspects of their lives, and also have to take their health very seriously.

Full Disclosure is masterful, including well-rounded characters, an adorable love story, and a protagonist who grows and matures over the course of the novel. I highly recommend this, and I can’t wait to read more from Camryn Garrett.

Bi & Lesbian Books Out This Week

Sapphic Books Out This Week graphic

It’s Tuesday, and that means new book day! Here are some of the sapphic books coming out today.

Ink in the Blood by Kim SmejkalInk in the Blood by Kim Smejkal (YA Fantasy)

A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.

[bisexual main character; gay, lesbian, and non-binary side characters]

The Unspoken Name by AK LarkwoodThe Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood (Fantasy)

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

[f/f romance; sapphic main character; lesbian, bisexual, and gay characters]

Stormsong by CL Polk (Fantasy)

After spinning an enthralling world in Witchmark, praised as a “can’t-miss debut” by Booklist, and as “thoroughly charming and deftly paced” by the New York Times, C. L. Polk continues the story in Stormsong. Magical cabals, otherworldly avengers, and impossible love affairs conspire to create a book that refuses to be put down.

Dame Grace Hensley helped her brother Miles undo the atrocity that stained her nation, but now she has to deal with the consequences. With the power out in the dead of winter and an uncontrollable sequence of winter storms on the horizon, Aeland faces disaster. Grace has the vision to guide her parents to safety, but a hostile queen and a ring of rogue mages stand in the way of her plans. There’s revolution in the air, and any spark could light the powder. What’s worse, upstart photojournalist Avia Jessup draws ever closer to secrets that could topple the nation, and closer to Grace’s heart.

Can Aeland be saved without bloodshed? Or will Kingston die in flames, and Grace along with it?

[f/f romance]

Ceremonials by Katharine ColdironCeremonials by Katharine Coldiron (Fiction)

Ceremonials is a twelve-part lyric novella inspired by Florence + the Machine’s 2011 album of the same name. It’s the story of two girls, Amelia and Corisande, who fall in love at a boarding school. Corisande dies suddenly on the eve of graduation, but Amelia cannot shake her ghost. A narrative about obsession, the Minotaur, and the veil between life and death, Ceremonials is a poem in prose, a keening in words, and a song etched in ink.

[f/f romance]

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood HargraveThe Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Historical Fiction)

After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves.

Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil.

As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.

[f/f romance]

The Sacramento of Desire by Julia Bloch (Poetry)

THE SACRAMENTO OF DESIRE links the vulnerabilities of the body with the economies of assisted reproduction, landscape disasters, and language itself. Julia Bloch’s poems catalog temporal objects–lunar charts, basal calendars, office cubicles, freeway metering–to imagine the possibilities of a queer future beyond the edges of ruin. In interlocking, essayistic prose poetry, Bloch’s third full-length collection mimics the way time skips and lingers in feeling, questioning the norms of reproduction we attach to mandates for social value.

[queer]

Citrus+ Vol. 1 by SaburoutaCitrus+ Vol. 1 by Saburouta (Manga)

A NEW SEASON OF LOVE!

High schoolers (and stepsisters) Yuzu and Mei have gone public with their relationship! The two are happy to be dating out in the open, but friends and family keep trying to butt in with advice. Can Yuzu and Mei figure things out on their own? The return of the modern yuri classic!

[f/f romance]

 

Kase-san and Yamada Vol. 1 by Hiromi TakashimaKase-san and Yamada Vol. 1 by Hiromi Takashima (Manga)

KASE-SAN AND YAMADA GO TO COLLEGE!

Yamada is in heaven at her school’s horticulture department, and Kase-san is training hard at the sports university. With classes and a long train ride to keep them apart, hanging out together is tough. Can they beat their busy schedules and find time for one another?

[f/f romance]

Our Wonderful Days Vol. 2 by Kei HamuroOur Wonderful Days Vol. 2 by Kei Hamuro (Manga)

LIVING SIDE-BY-SIDE WITH THE ONE I LOVE

High schoolers Nanaya and Minori are classmates, best friends, and roommates. Though the two are as different as night and day, they do just about everything together! But what drew them together in the first place? Find out in the second volume of the sweet slice-of-life yuri series, Our Wonderful Days!

[f/f romance]

Check out more LGBTQ new releases at:

If you like what we do here, consider supporting the Lesbrary on Patreon! At $2 or more a month, you’re entered to win a queer women book every month! You can also check out the Lesbrary Amazon page for lists of all the sapphic books I recommend.

Susan reviews Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie’s Provenance centres on Ingray, the daughter of a prominent politician on her planet, as she attempts to put one over her brother by smuggling a notorious criminal out of an inescapable free-range prison. Unfortunately, she’s got the wrong person. What follows is murder, terrorism, several diplomatic incidents, and a mild alien invasion.

It’s excellent.

As you can probably expect from a story by Ann Leckie, the world-building is expansive and full of politics! Inter-family, inter-planetary, inter-empire (including some of the ripple effects from the Imperial Radch trilogy)… There is a lot going on, and watching Ingray navigate parts of it with ease and figure out how to navigate the more alien parts of it was delightful. The world-building of her planet specifically is fascinating – their culture is built around vestiges, items that were present in significant events of history or in someone’s life, and as you can guess from the title, their provenance and the meaning people impart to these objects is incredibly important. It’s a fascinating cultural note, as is the fact that everyone gets to choose their gender at adulthood, including choosing to not have a gender, and that’s just respected at a cultural level!

There are so many complicated relationships here, both politically and famillialy; Ingray and her brother have a very fractious relationship where they hate and envy and distrust each other, but they protect and cover for each other out of loyalty to the family, and it’s excellently written. It ties into their relationships with their mother, their respective family roles and skills, and the details of the plot. It’s fantastic. And the relationship she builds with her stolen criminal (who happens to be both non-binary and dry as the desert) delights me! As does Ingray, for that matter; she gets to be anxious and cry a lot, but still be the protagonist and good at her job whether that’s politics, managing the press, or protecting her family! Her entire world is turned upside down (only partially by her own hand), and seeing her response to it made me very happy. Especially the romances: there are two romances, and they’re very subtle and gentle, which is pretty much ideal for me.

The long and the short of it is that Provenance had me at the complicated siblings, and then it brought me a story about history, artifacts, and politics as well, of course I was going to love it.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

[Caution warnings: child endangerment, bullying, terrorism]

Emily Joy reviews Heart of Sherwood by Edale Lane

Heart of Sherwood by Edale Lane cover

Another lesbian Robin Hood retelling has arrived on the scene of my favorite niche. Usually, my Kindle does a poor job making recommendations for me, but in this particular instance, it was absolutely correct in advertising this book to me. As a self-professed amateur Robin Hood scholar and enthusiast, anything that combines my favorite English myth with queer ladies is something that I will read. My congratulations to my Kindle for its successful marketing algorithm.

In Heart of Sherwood by Edale Lane, Robyn of Locksley flees into Sherwood Forest after the Sheriff of Nottingham wrongfully takes her family’s manor and lands for himself. Disguising herself as a boy, she joins an outlaw gang and soon leads them into a new charitable cause. Meanwhile, Marian is an agent and spy for Queen Eleanor, keeping an eye on the Sheriff and Prince John and their doings in Nottingham. Together, the two young women work to help the queen acquire the funds to pay King Richard’s ransom, and stand against those who would use the poor for their own benefit.

This book is fairly straightforward as far as Robin Hood retellings go. Which is to say that it doesn’t act like a prequel or stray too far from the basic premise of the traditional story preserved in popular imagination: Robyn and her band of outlaws rob from the rich and give to the poor, Maid Marian is Robyn’s lady love, their chief enemies are the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John, and they are staunchly supportive of King Richard the Lionheart. If anyone is looking for a traditional Robin Hood novel with lesbians, this one will probably satisfy.

While it is traditional, it also does some new and interesting things with the story. I particularly enjoyed how Marian acted as a political spy for Queen Eleanor. She definitely had her own agency and a role to play within the story. Not only did she help provide information as a spy, but she also had parts in the bigger moments of action. I liked that Marian was allowed to play a feminine role, while still being involved and important in the action and plot. Often in more recent Robin Hood retellings, Marian’s character tends to be cast into the “not like other girls” category so she can be “one of the boys” instead. While that isn’t always a bad thing, I definitely enjoyed a Marian who used her status and power as a woman to her own advantage and the advantage of her cause.

Robyn and Marian’s relationship moves quickly, and although I would have enjoyed a bit of build-up, I liked that they are established as lovers early in the story. It makes room for the more politically-minded plot to take its course without being too encumbered by the romance.

There were times that the writing didn’t feel very polished. Some run-on sentences were clunky enough to disrupt my reading flow, and the research often felt extremely one-note, without much depth. But in my years-long pursuit of a good lesbian Robin Hood retelling… I forgave it.

Speaking of research, historical anachronisms somewhat deterred the overall more historical feel of this book. Notably, during a scene where Catholic Mass is being said, the characters use the post-Vatican II English Mass. I was raised Catholic, so the call-and-response on the page was almost laughably echoed in my head in perfect cadence, even though I haven’t been to church in years. I did find it very odd though, that this scene used English, rather than Latin, as it would have been in this time period. It also felt odd that the scene took a few pages to go through the service step by step, describing each significant part, despite not having any obvious connection to the plot. It felt like I took a break from the story and went to church.

Later, in the book Robyn goes through the process of trying to find equilibrium between her Catholic faith and her relationship with Marian. I think having religious LGBTQ characters is definitely important, but I did not expect to find it in Heart of Sherwood, and perhaps that is why I found the scenes dealing with Robyn’s internal struggle with religion more of a distraction than anything else. Despite any of my own misgivings, I do think that it resulted in a very positive portrayal of someone who can both be gay and still feel valid and accepted in their chosen religion.

Overall, I’m happy to recommend this book to anyone looking for a lesbian Robin Hood retelling. Although slightly clunky at times, it was a solid retelling with some particularly nice additions. It’s not going to earn a rank among my favorite Robin Hood retellings overall, but it’s definitely a wonderful addition to the growing number of lesbian Robin Hood books out there. I enjoyed this!