Genevra Littlejohn reviews Beneath the Silver Rose by T.S Adrian

Beneath the Silver Rose by T.S Adrian cover
Shadiya is a prized courtesan of the Silver Rose, one of dozens of elegant Sisters who serve the men–though never the women–of the land of Anderholm. Fiercer-tempered than any of her compatriots, Shadiya makes what would be reckoned by many in her position as a mistake; rather than allowing herself to be raped, she kills the nobleman who comes to assault her, catapulting the house of the Silver Rose into politics from which it had long been carefully kept safe. The resulting narrative is full of interwoven designs and intrigues, with Shadiya unwillingly at the center of attention for forces that are more than her match in terms of knowledge and strength. Ancient scholars, abandoned quasi-gods, mortal treachery and plain old misogyny all conspire to throw her off balance–but she’s no layabout, and she’s not afraid to make choices boldly. I appreciated how even though she was not the one with power, other than the power of persuasion and an extreme physical coordination, still she was no shrinking violet. Juggling her need to survive, her longing for her secret and forbidden female lover, and her hopes for the future of her courtesan sisterhood, she must navigate the desires and heavy-handed jealousies of men.
Shadiya goes from one difficult situation to the next, always doing her best to survive it, but increasingly endangered. She takes as lover a fellow courtesan, and the relationship between them is easy and believable, down to the little arguments that they get into now and again. Every choice she makes tangles her further in the web of problems, and it becomes difficult to see how she could possibly escape.
I went into this book trying to keep an open mind. Ever since Kushiel’s Dart was published fifteen years or so ago, there have been more and more fantasy novels with sharp-witted courtesans as their main characters, to the point that tropes of the genre are starting to define themselves, but the subgenre can be a lot of fun in the right hands.. So by the time I was fifty pages or so in, I thought I had this one pegged. Clever, preternaturally physically skilled medieval-European-style courtesan attracts the attention of rich, powerful man, must fight off the jealousy of older women to net him, becomes something greater (and no longer a sex worker: a one-dimensional fantasy novel baseline much like “pauper” or “orphan thief,” something to extricate oneself from), only this time, With Lesbians!
And then, defying my expectations, just when the tension and malice from all sides seemed to be at its peak, the book transformed into an old-fashioned dungeon romp, complete with pitfalls and random-encounter-style monsters. I was delighted. No  longer having to worry about angry machinations from the book’s female antagonist, I found that I was really enjoying the read. The interplay between the characters was quick and believable, and while there wasn’t exactly anything groundbreaking in that section of the book it was still snappy and well-paced. It was the sort of thing you might see in a really good D&D session, familiar but warming in its familiarity. I liked the various uses of magic and illusion, I was hopeful that this was going to continue to be like a classic adventure fantasy (only this time, with queer girls!) and I caught myself thinking that I’d definitely be picking up the sequel, if things continued this way.
And then in another hard turn, the book became ultra-violent within the last short handful of pages, and any joy I had in the narrative was extinguished like a candle. I mentally crossed off pretty much every single female friend I’d been about to recommend the novel to, though I might still recommend it to a male friend or two, with warnings.
This book honestly feels like two disparate novels. There’s the palace intrigue, with violence and stolen gifts and hidden swords and razor smiles, and there’s the bouncy dungeon crawl. Taken separately, I might have been able to enjoy either of them for what it was; the misogynistic world where women are abused without recourse, but where Shadiya could somehow rise above her situation and change things, or the quick-paced but character driven role-playing game novel. But the jarring tone changes from one aspect of the book to the other made it so that when the casual brutality arrived, it was so shocking that it left a terrible taste in my brain. The book ends on a cliffhanger, more or less immediately after this new violence.
Things I really liked: the sex scenes are pretty good, whether f/f or f/m. They’re plentiful, for what that’s worth, but they’re also not the ponderous sort frequently common to would-be literary fantasy; like the dungeon scenes, they’re just fun. I liked that the female characters, of which there are several, are different personalities from each other, with all the ways that they can mesh or grate against one another. I liked that there is clearly no shortage of history and backstory behind the narrative, and the world was so layered that I’m sure I’d love to sit in a pub with the author and listen to her expound on the Things That Were, a few centuries back in the timeline.
Things that I didn’t like:  This is definitely a nitpick, but the naming conventions are a bit distracting. There are names like Deresi and Shadiya, which sound sufficiently fantastic, and then there are names like Aaron and Benjamin. The names which stood out as easily recognizable were Jewish names, and I couldn’t decide if that meant the author was exoticizing the Jewish mythological tradition. Shadiya might be an Arabic name, but the setting is decidedly European. And then there are the names that seem to come from words I’d know, like Sybaris for the captain of the guard for the Silver Rose, and Mienhard, a cruel-faced male antagonist who shows up in the beginning to assault the protagonist.
More damningly, I didn’t approve of the way that the female antagonist, herself merely a pawn to masculine anger and manipulation, was so afraid of aging rather than enjoying the power that can be found in experience. I thought it was a bit unrealistic that she was no longer able to wrap men around her little finger, as there are always going to be young cockerels who want to be taught the ways of the world by a mature woman. And then, finally, I loathed the brutal and frankly gratuitous offscreen gang rape, torture, and probable murder of a childlike character who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a scene horrifically out of place for the tone of the rest of the novel.
Final rating: Two of five stars. Would have been four without the rape.

Alexa reviews Into the Mystic Volume 3 by NineStar Press

Her ghost had once told Clotho that no proper ghost story has a happy ending, because ghosts don’t end. 

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for fantasy, paranormal and fairytales, so of course I had to pick up an anthology that has nine F/F stories with paranormal elements. While the stories had the paranormal and the sapphic main characters in common, there was a great variety in paranormal creatures, writing style, and my feelings towards them as well.

Some of the stories were truly creative gems with unexpected and rarely seen ideas: the opening story, It Started Before Noon by Ava Kelly is in itself about ideas that are made into stories. The main character is a muse who grows story inspiration in a garden like flowers, but she just can’t get the romance buds right. I loved the little details, like how the different types of stories (comedy, angst, etc.) had different flowers and needed different kinds of care. Swoon by Artemis Savory had siren-like creatures acting like pirates whom I would have loved to learn more about. I loved the myth surrounding these sisters, but I still had so many questions – I would love to read a full length novel with them.

Other stories took more often used concepts or species, but still had the kind of magic that makes them an easy 5-star read. Home by K. Parr centers a wolf pack made up entirely of women, and a college student who is accepted into the pack (and the family) after getting close to the pack’s Alpha. I loved that this story had an older love interest, and I loved the description of the pack dynamics as well. The Hunt by M. Hollis is about a young vampire forever stuck as a teenager who has been adopted by a lesbian vampire couple. On her first hunt, she meets a human girl, and she finds herself wanting to meet her again. I felt like this story ended a little too soon, I would have loved to read more. And By Candlelight by Ziggy Schutz was one of my favourite stories in the anthology: I admit that I still don’t really understand the logic of it, and yet the two main characters and their relationship was so endearing that it absolutely stole my heart.

Vampires and werewolves seemed to be a popular choice for this anthology, and yet each story had some kind of unique spin on it. My Cup of O Pos by L. J. Hamlin has a disabled vampire with Ehlers-Danlos syndmore (ownvoices!) who goes out on a date with the cute human nurse from the ER who treats her with respect and compassion. This story also takes place in a world where vampires are common knowledge and there are laws about what they can and cannot do, and it uses this fictional/fantasy marginalisation to address real-life marginalisations and their intersections as well. Dance With Me by Michelle Frost is a romance between a werewolf and a vampire that left me with many burning questions about the backgrounds of the characters, wishing that there was a longer story to read.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of stories that caught me off guard and I didn’t end up enjoying them much. I am used to most non-YA lesfic I read having at least some kind of sexual content (My Cup Of O Pos has sex scenes as well, and yet I felt like I got to know the characters), but Heart’s Thaw by Bru Baker and Fire and Brine by Lis Valentine were both mostly erotica with very little plot or characterisation. While I liked the original idea in Heart’s Thaw and the twist in Fire and Brine, I felt like I barely got to know anything about the characters, other than the sex scene that takes up half of such a short story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this anthology and I found some true gems in it, but I do wish that the blurb or tags made the sexual content of books clearer. It was especially off-putting because most of the stories didn’t have any sex at all, so having two stories that were purely erotica just didn’t seem to fit in well with the others.

Rating: 4 stars

Alexa is a bi ace reviewer who loves books with queer protagonists, especially young adult and fantasy books. E also has a fascination with solarpunk, found families and hopeful futures, and plans to incorporate these in eir own writing. You can find more of eir reviews and bookish talk on WordPress and Twitter @greywardenblue.

Marthese reviews Gretel and “Dragon Essence” by Niamh Murphy

”She had trusted two strangers in her house, offering them food and shelter. It was nonsense not to trust her.” – Gretel: A Fairytale Retold

With GDPR the copious amounts of author newsletters were at best purgatory. The ‘please subscribe to us’ emails were really great to weed out authors that I am not so interested in reading anymore. One author’s newsletter that I kept was Niamh Murphy’s. This author sends a lot of freebies and previews, is interested in fantasy and historical fiction (she’s actually a historian!) and sends advice and tips on where and what to read. I particularly liked her newsletter of Sapphic Fairytale Retellings! Anyone subscribed to her newsletter has received the short stories I will review below!

Despite knowing of this author, I hadn’t read any of her stories before last week, but now I’m intrigued. I started by reading “Dragon Essence: A Prequel to the Dark Age Trilogy.“This was, and and still is currently, free with a newsletter subscription! I have never read a prequel before the actual series, but this particular prequel was good at introducing the world and making the readers invested in seeing more from from it. The prequel is very short and can be read during a lunch break.

The plot surrounds Andra, a Captain of the Dragon Ward. Andra’s lover, Olwen is a mage set on getting a hold on a dragon egg – which Andra is bound to protect. Olwen gets killed, and the way to bring her back to life may see Andra breaking all sorts of oaths. This was a refreshing read, though very morally dubious. Why I could understand why the characters were acting in a certain way, I didn’t feel it was 100% okay. Be forewarned, there is violence on mythical creatures and violence of the human kind. The story contained also a preview of the first book Dragon Whisper. I love queer fantasy, especially with dragons and I’m interested to see how the wizards vs druids and the humans vs dragons elements will play out. I also do not know many queer fantasy books/historical fiction books with druids.

After I finished “Dragon Essence” I felt like reading the series…only it is not yet out. So I read Gretel: A Fairytale Retold, which as you probably guessed is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel: one of my favourite childhood stories! Gretel isn’t that long and is a bit fast paced, but then again, so was the original story. Hans and Gretel are introduced while running away from wolves and fortunately they are saved by a woman who offers them lodging until Hans heals. Gretel and Hans are away from home and have been looking for work. Maeve, the woman who saved them, lives in a cottage in a fort – all on her own. Gretel and Maeve grow closer in a really sweet way (and sexy way too as it involved a first-time sex scene in the woods!), but Hans is ever suspicious of the ‘witch’. Gretel has always had Hans and Hans had always had her back…until both those things are not true anymore. This story has a happy ending for the couple! It also has one of the best concluding lines from a character that I’ve ever seen.

While short, I think this story was great. It is a fast-paced story but there was no ‘love-at-first-sight’. It also featured a realistic fracturing of a family bond and growing romantic bond. I found Maeve to be an interesting character because she’s kind and feminine but still strong, physically and mentally. I absolutely hated Hans. Perhaps if it was longer, we could have seen a nice side of him. The writing was simple but effective and emphatic. This novella is currently free!

Overall, this is an author I would look into more. Niamh Murphy also has a youtube channel where she talks about books. I enjoyed discovering this author especially because of the fantasy and  retellings with a dash of history. I look forward to discovering new authors of those genres.

Mary Springer reviews Snow White and Her Queen by Anna Ferrara

Snow White and Her Queen by Anna Ferrara cover

Trigger Warning: the book contains scenes of suicide, rape, and assault and this review will discuss them.

This review contains spoilers.

Katherine was married to the King of the Northern Kingdom when she was thirteen. Seventeen years later, she plans to kill herself, but she is saved by a beautiful young woman. Soon she finds out this beautiful woman, only seven years younger than her, is her stepdaughter, Eirwen, also known as Snow White. What follows is a tumultuous love story and retelling of a classic fairy tale with a unique twist.

I have had a difficult time gathering my thoughts on this book. To be clear, I did enjoy reading this. However, there are several elements that I’m having a hard time reconciling with my enjoyment. Katherine married King Ferdinand when she was thirteen, a mere child. When we first are introduced to her as an adult it is through a graphic scene in which she has painful sex with Ferdinand. He is angry with her for not getting him a child after so many years of marriage. Katherine, believing him to be a good man and her to be a bad wife for not getting pregnant, then decides to kill herself in the garden. This is where she meets Eirwen. Later on, Ferdinand tells her to get a hobby, specifically hunting, and there she meets Phillip. Phillip decides he is in love with her and won’t take no for an answer. Eventually, this leads to him sexually assaulting her.

Another hard part about reading this is how the two men were supported and even enabled by those around them, men and women. Ferdinand blames Katherine for all his misdeeds, which is what causes her to be known as the Evil Queen. He has effectively isolated her from any support, including her own ladies-in-waiting who gossip about her behind her back. This is what leads to Phillips being so able to hurt Katherine, because she has no friends, no support system. This did feel believable and realistically explained the fairy tale aspect of Katherine being known as evil.

One of my biggest feelings of unease going into the book (before the assault scenes) is that this is a love story between a stepmother and stepdaughter. However, this book reassures the reader in that regard. Katherine and Eirwen are only seven years apart in age and Katherine only sees Eirwen once, on her wedding day to Ferdinand, before the beginning of the book. They are technically family by law, but do not grow up together and they do not act and are not treated as a mother and daughter. For the majority of the story, Katherine is thirty and Eirwen is twenty-two or twenty-three.

The romance felt real. From the moment Katherine meets Eirwen she is captivated by her and struggles with understanding how she, a woman, could be attracted to another woman. Eirwen has the same inner conflict. Not only did both characters feel complex but their romance developed in a believable manner.

The world building was well done. It wasn’t too complex because it didn’t need to be and I enjoyed being able to simply immerse myself in the characters. In this version, the dwarves are miners who have become hunched over or “dwarfed” from working in the mines. They are not good people in this edition, but it follows the book’s theme of patriarchy and misogyny, so I was fine with this change.

There were some choices the characters that felt too sudden. There were moments when characters would reveal motivations that I felt were not previously set up. For example, without giving too much away, Eirwen thinks about part of her plan for revenge against Ferdinand and how Katherine is involved. Her logic felt out of place because it seemed like it hadn’t been set up or foreshadowed. Later in the novel, Katherine tells Eirwen one of the things that attracted her to her in response to Eirwen’s plan for revenge. This reason for attraction felt odd because it seemed like it had been mentioned before at all.

The ending felt somewhat unsatisfying. There was so much violence perpetuated against Katherine and Eirwen that I was disappointed to see how those injustices were dealt with. However, considering the world and characters the author has built, the ending does make sense. Like I said, I’m not sure how to reconcile many elements of this book. However, I wasn’t totally disappointed in the ending and I am happy with where the characters end up.

Having said all of this and voiced many gripes I have with this story, I would recommend reading it. This book was engaging, interesting, and in many ways enjoyable. The story of Snow White is originally so intent on pitting women against each other over conventional standards of beauty and it was great to see a version in which both women get to have more character and agency. If you’re a fan of fairy tale retellings with a twist that the women actually love each other, I recommend picking up Snow White and Her Queen by Anna Ferrara.

Susan reviews Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill

Princess Princess Ever After is an all-ages graphic novel by Katie O’Neill about two princesses joining forces to rescue people and save the kingdom from an angry sorceress, and it’s really cute.

Sadie and Amira are very different styles of princess; Sadie is a traditionally feminine princess with an adorable pudgy dragon, who’s been locked in a tower by a wicked queen, and Amira is an action princess with very cool hair and a cookie-loving unicorn. It’s fun to see their different styles work together for solving problems, and I enjoyed seeing them work together to solve problems like dancing ogres and grumpy princes and wicked queens, and rescue each other!

They also solve problems without violence, and by gathering friends and supportive acquaintances! I don’t know if it’s supposed to be commentary on stereotypically feminine methods of resolving conflict or the tropes of magical girls and princess stories – but also I want stories that have all of the tropes of magical girls and princess stories, but with queer leads, so it worked for me. Plus: the drama is based on sibling relationships, rather than wicked mothers or stepmothers, and that’s a very welcome change. (Especially for me; complicated sibling relationships are my kryptonite.)

The art is very cute (and impressively different from her other all-ages graphic novel, The Tea-Dragon Society). Sometimes it’s maybe a little too simple, but it does work for the story being told, and the last page makes up for it.

It’s a light and fluffy story that reads very quickly, but it feels like a fairytale, and to be honest: that’s all I wanted. If you’re in the mood for a fluffy queer fairytale, this is a good place to start.

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 writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Nichole B-Larson reviews Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst is the princess story my childhood desperately needed. Coulthurst’s characters are relatable, grow well, and their queerness isn’t the center of the plot–all aspects which make them inspiring. Mare is the strong, “tomboy” princess of my dreams. She shirks the traditional role of a princess within society and within her family, but not at the expense of her nation. She’s as uncomfortable in formal dress–ditching heels as soon as she leaves the banquet hall–as she is confident in her skills in horsemanship, and actively rebels against all the forces in her life saying “be this way!” Of course, I think this is something we’ve seen a lot of, especially in YA and children’s literature, but Coulthurst doesn’t ignore that Mare’s role in the kingdom is not limited to fancy dresses and balls–a princess is an integral part of the political aspects of running a country. Mare, however, isn’t one to settle on making an advantageous political marriage. Instead she’s sneaking into pubs and paying spies for information, working on the ground to better equip her country with the knowledge it needs to succeed, to outwit its enemies, to understand its people. Mare is a strong, badass princess and Coulthurst writes her beautifully.

Denna, on the other hand, strikes a different cord. She is who I related to most–a servant to duty, torn between who she is and who she is supposed to be, and always feeling like her voice is not worthy because of her age and her gender. Denna, coming from her own kingdom and playing the dutiful princess by marrying for political connection, is shy, demure, everything a princess ought to be in the traditional sense. Because Coulthurst writes from her perspective, however, we get to see that this is, for the most part, a facade. Denna, plagued with a magical gift in a country who outlaws magic, is fighting for herself and her future in the ways she knows best, but she is also struggling with closing off those parts of herself that society will not accept. It’s a theme that hearkens to many LGBT readers’ experiences before coming out and I think Coulthurst does a beautiful job of including this without the LGBT portion of the story being the most important part of the story. Denna, and Mare, grow as characters in ways which makes their LGBT status feel secondary – a refreshing way to understand this as part of who they are but not the definition of who they are, which I really appreciated.

Aside from these two, the story delves into some very heavy themes – political alliance, espionage, religious tension, and the power of all these things to alter the decisions of people in power. There’s rebellion and questions about the significance of tradition and belief that had me a bit on the edge of my seat. Coulthurst does a beautiful job of creating a world I would really sink into and characters that made me root for them, were relatable in ways which made me wish my 12/13 year old self had had this kind of validation, but there were parts of the plot which felt a bit old hat. Still, 4 out of 5 stars for sure. I’d definitely recommend it to YA fans and I am anxiously awaiting the sequel, Of Ice and Shadows, which should be coming out next year.

Nichole B-Larson is a library associate at a small Mississippi university. She holds an MLIS, a BA in History, and usually knitting needles. She enjoys all kinds of crafty things, any kind of gummy candy, and travelling with her wife and their two rottenly spoiled dogs. You can find her on Twitter at @kneecoaleye_ <

Shira Glassman reviews The Gift of Your Love by Kayla Bashe

The Gift of Your Love by Kayla Bashe is a good fit for anyone looking for woman-centered SFF, f/f without graphic sex scenes, or shorter queer fiction.

Neely is a foreigner who only ended up in this city by accident — she traveled here with her merchant father as a child, but he ended up dead and she grew up in an orphanage far from home. Now she’s living on the street, not just because of her lack of local family, but because of a recent heartache — an abusive boss who tossed her out into the cold world. She needs people and safety and healing — but right now, she needs apples. Tasty, tasty apples. Too bad that just after stealing them, she gets attacked by a gigantic tentacle monster.

BUT HEY, that’s not so bad if it means you get rescued by a cute butch woman whose family then takes you in under their wing? All of whom have magical powers? (As does Neely, by the way.)

Here, let me let Forester sweep you off your feet, too—

“Not a diet. I just like eating foods that will give me big muscles.” She glanced down at her already-intimidating body, which Neely thought was the perfect combination of soft and strong. “Well, bigger. My dream is to be strong enough to carry a hunting dog under each arm. That way, I’ll bring joy to anyone who sees me, because they’ll be able to get kisses from two dogs at once.”

I love the writing craft in this description of her, when we first meet her, bolding mine: “And those eyes… a wolf’s eyes, a warrior’s eyes, the deep blue at the heart of a fire.”

Also, she uses potatoes as a weapon because once they’re underground they can grow, and that’s a superpower that sings to my very heart. As well as amusing me because using a potato as a weapon.

This is Kay Bashe’s latest “adorable queer people doing their best in a speculative world while recovering from trauma” romance — yes, it’s a brand image at this point. If you’re not familiar with Bashe’s work, they often contain teams of magical girls (and sometimes nonbinary people, too, although we don’t get any in the immediate family here) that read as somewhere between superhero found-families like X-Men or Avengers plus the magical girl squads of Sailor Moon and Read or Die–except, heavily slanted towards queerness and disability representation (often reflecting Bashe’s own) and sometimes more ethnically diverse. There’s usually a heavy focus on interpersonal relationships and character development alongside the adventure itself, which is sometimes just a framework on which to hang the former meaty emotional stuff. This one slots neatly into that subgenre.

It’s short and sweet, and most of the romance consists of mutual pining for each other before a closing scene get-together — and yes, it’s that characteristic Bashe type of pining where both ladies think the other one is Far Too Amazing to Like Someone as Trash As Me (while, being anything but trash, and saving each other, and doing all kinds of brave and magical things.)

Gift of Your Love also gives us an older woman mentor figure as part of the family. For those of us who couldn’t get enough of General Organa (or having her and Admiral Holdo in the same movie!) and feel a deep emptiness that we won’t get more, this is neat.

Bashe’s characters face microaggressions and stresses that are clearly plucked from real life. One of the other ladies in the little magical family has a peanut allergy, and only the other characters’ vigilance saves her from the casual dismissiveness of a disbelieving restaurant employee–which could have led to her serious disaster. The love interest, Forester, worries that she’s not a good enough feminist because of the way her OCD causes her to hyperfocus on the picayune details — this could easily be any one of us after reading the wrong thinkpiece.

In fact, Forester’s struggles with her violent intrusive thoughts, and the way she copes with the accompanying guilt, are especially poignant having been written by an author with same. (I’ve written #ownvoices intrusive thoughts myself, with Prince Kaveh, but they’re of a different type and it was interesting for me as someone with a similar-but-different issue to see what else is out there in brainweird land.) I hope anyone else out there whose brain betrays them like this finds community in the representation and validation in her heroism.

Incidentally, the main characters are coded Jewish inasmuch as they’re outsiders from somewhere else who don’t eat pork and are written by a Jewish author.

Oh and did I mention, there’s a “oh no we’ll have to share the only bed” trope at one point? This story is adorable. Even through all the heavy themes of women struggling to find value in themselves and being far from home with nobody there for you.

Shira Glassman is a hair factory and storyteller living in a bi townhouse on the moon. She just released a new high-heat f/f romance in which a super hero lady finally asks out the damsel-in-distress she’s been rescuing (and flirting with) for months. But will they ever get to have a normal date or are there too many Monsters of the Week? Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor is $1.99 on Kindle!

Megan Casey reviews The Girl in Gold by Beth Lyons

I recently received a couple of review copies of books in which the private investigator protagonist has paranormal powers. The first, Geonn Canon’s Underdogs, has its shape-shifting PI use her powers to do surveillance for a client in the first few pages. Perhaps I should have read on, but using paranormal powers to solve a case—or any part of a case—is verboten as far as lesbian mysteries go. The mystery genre should be a cerebral one—one in which, ideally, the reader can empathize with the detective, weighing clues and solving the mystery concurrently with the detective. Because readers are not canidae, it is difficult to empathize in Canon’s book. In other words, a dog can watch a house without arousing suspicion; a human cannot. So for me, the book became primarily paranormal.

So it was with some foreboding that I began The Girl in Gold, in which 23-year-old part-time P.I. Vox Swift is an elf.

Vox seems to be one of two employees of Boleian Investigations, the other being Boleian himself. She also works as a messenger for a family business called Swift Messengers, which was fortunate, because during one of her deliveries, she becomes aware of a murder. Seems that the victim—dressed loudly in gold—has just been discovered in the library of a famous author. Then, the same day, another girl about the same age and size—her face unrecognizable—is also discovered.

Vox is studying to be the type of magician called a Bard, which is one who sings songs as she investigates, asking the universe as it were, to help in her discoveries. The first time she uses this magic, she is simply trying to ascertain if magic was used in the murder. To me, this was okay—the magics were canceling each other out because, in fact, there was no magic used in the crime. But when Vox questions a maid in the house where the murder was discovered, she uses a charm that causes the girl to spill everything she knows. This was a no-no. It’s not something a human detective could do. So the book can not be truly considered a lesbian mystery. Rather, it is a lesbian fantasy. But I had already read five chapters so I went on. Later, she casts a spell to find a secret door where she can eavesdrop on an important conversation. Shake my head.

The idea of a town that had humans, fae, elves, and dwarves living in relative harmony was a good and interesting one. Vox herself has promise, and her budding relationship with the human paladin Jesskah Morningstar was tantalizing.

Still, in rating the book just for myself and for whoever reads this, just about everything about it gets a 3: the mystery (which everyone solves before Vox dose), the writing style, the relationships, the emotions, and even the universe are all above average, but just barely. It isn’t something I can’t recommend, but neither am I going to warn you away any more than I have. Those readers who specialize in reading lesbian mysteries are going to like it less than those who prefer fantasy.

Note: I read a review copy of this book kindly provided in ebook form by the publisher through Lesbrary.

Another Note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Mary reviews The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin

Fantasy was the genre that got me to love books, but I fell out of love with it as I couldn’t find any books with characters that weren’t straight or cisgender. I was browsing through recent LGBT releases and found The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin, which has turned out to be everything I was looking for.

Princess Esofi has traveled far from home to the foreign land of Ieflaria to wed the crown prince, but upon arriving finds he has died in a sudden accident. Their marriage had been planned since they were babies in order to bring magic into the land and fend off the dragon attacks. The King and Queen offer for Esofi to marry the next in line, Princess Adale. Esofi accepts, but quickly finds that Adale does not want to rule or be in an arranged marriage. However, just as Adale and Esofi begin to feel something spark between them, Adale’s heartless twin cousins arrive to try and win Esofi’s hand as way to the crown.

Esofi and Adale have a realistic relationship and their story easily pulls you in as they slowly develop feelings for each other. I loved that they didn’t immediately fall in love or lust for each other, and at the same time they didn’t immediately hate each other. There are complex characters of very different backgrounds and this results in some disagreements that only served to strengthen the character development and plot.

The LGBT representation was amazing. Esofi describes herself as not having a preference for the gender of her future spouse. She says this is how most people experience attraction in this world. The idea of two women marrying each other is not looked down upon by those around them, except for doubt as whether they will be able to perform the magical spell to produce heirs to the throne.

There is a large pantheon of gods, one of which is Inthi, a deity that is referred to as neutroi. Anyone who is a part of Inthi’s temple is neutroi, a gender that exists outside the binary. There are a few side characters mentioned that are neutroi and go by they/them pronouns.

The side characters are just as interesting and complex as the main ones. Esofi has three ladies in waiting, Mireille, Lexandrie, and Lisette. Mireille is a sweetheart who wants everyone to be happy. Lexandrie is more concerned with what’s expected and considered the right thing to do. Lisette is not really a noble lady, but a bodyguard who is ready to protect Esofi with a variety of weapons. Each of them had distinct personalities and seeing Esofi talk with them was enjoyable. Adale has several scenes with her parents, and I liked that they didn’t make her parents perfectly good or horrendously evil. They are monarchs of a country, but also her mother and father. You can see that they are struggling to find the right path for both.

The world building was really well done and one of my favorite parts. Effie Calvin has created a complex world that is easy to understand as it interweaves with the plot. One of the main deities focused on is Talcia, the goddess of the moon, magic, and creator beasts. She is also the creator of dragons that plague Ieflaria.

Along with the world building, the politics was interesting. I’m the type of person that tends to be impatient to get the plot back to the love story, but in this case I was just as intrigued by the political situation surrounding who will rule Ieflaria, the threat her twin cousins pose, and the looming threat of dragon attacks.

The dragons were interesting and covered in mystery for the first part of the book. The reader learns more about them as the story continues. Admittedly I was a bit disappointed by the resolution to the dragons. However, the ending to the story as a whole was great and satisfying.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves the fantasy genre and wants to find some LGBT representation in it.

Danika reviews Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

This is a fairy tale about misogyny. About the men who pit women against each other, and force them into limited roles. And the relationships that form between these women regardless. The love that they share even when told they should they should hate each other. The revolutionary power of love and forgiveness to break apart these narratives and allow for a new beginning. Ostensibly, this is a retelling of Snow White, but while it uses touchstones from that story, it isn’t restricted by it.

Mina is a girl who’s been raised her whole life to replace her dead mother. Her father fawns over her similarities to his late wife, but Mina is uncomfortable being shaped into the mirror image of someone she’s never known. She wants the chance to be her own person.

The story alternates between her story and Lynet’s backstory–Mina’s stepmother and the only mother figure she’s ever known. Mina adores Lynet, but Lynet has a more complicated relationship with her. The only value she can see in her own life is her position as queen, and Mina is a threat to that. We get to see how Lynet was groomed into this “Evil Queen” role by her father, who is manipulative and unkind and uses his daughter to gain power. She uses everything at her disposal to escape her father, but she’s told that the only value she has is her beauty. No one will ever love her for anything else. (Those are the words from her father that continually echo in her mind.)

I loved that Girls Made of Snow and Glass took this fairy tale trope of the “Evil Queen”/”Evil Stepmother” and did a deep dive into imagining what could lead someone to feel like that was their only option. Why would someone act so unfeeling? Why would she be so cutthroat in her pursuit of the crown? Lynet can be ruthless, but she’s sympathetic. She’s been told her whole life that she is unlovable, that the only value she has is in her appearance. The only way out of that she can see is to become queen and be loved by her subjects. And if she has to scheme her way there, well, that’s what’s necessary.

The complex relationship that Lynet and Mina share is the central tension of the story. They are constantly pitted against each other, but they’re reluctant to follow through. Lynet has been told by her husband not to get too close to Mina (no one can replace her real mother!) but Mina has grown up with her. She’s the one who finger-combs Mina’s hair every night to gently release the tangles. She’s the person that Mina feels loves her for who she is.

There is, of course, an F/F romance in here as well. Nadia is the court surgeon, and Mina is immediately drawn to her. To be honest, I don’t feel like I can comment on this storyline without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say that I think it complemented the other narrative threads well. All three women are trying to create the most promising futures they can with the circumstances available to them, but they’re hemmed in by the expectations and limitations placed on them by the men in their lives. When they seem to have found a loophole, they’re somehow pulled back and forced to make the choice to hurt the people they love or hurt themselves. It feels so inevitable and tense that you can only anticipate that final moment, where they seem to have no option but to fall into the roles provided for them. But despite what they’ve been raised to believe, despite the hurts that they inflict on each other because of this, despite the mistrust and skepticism and pessimism, they still find a way to reach out–however briefly–and find connections with each other. And the bonds they form, the love that develops even then, creates the shimmer of other possibilities for them.