Kit reviews Valhalla by Ari Bach

Valhalla

Violet MacRae is one of the aimless millions crowding northern Scotland. In the year 2330, where war is obsolete and only brilliant minds are valued, she emerges into adulthood with more brawn than brains and a propensity for violence. People dismiss her as a relic, but world peace is more fragile than they know.

In Valhalla, a clandestine base hidden in an icy ravine, Violet connects with a group of outcasts just like her. There, she learns the skills she needs to keep the world safe from genetically enhanced criminals and traitors who threaten the first friends she’s ever known. She also meets Wulfgar Kray, a genius gang leader who knows her better than she knows herself and who would conquer the world to capture her.

Branded from childhood as a useless barbarian, Violet is about to learn the world needs her exactly as she is.

– publisher’s synopsis.

This is a good blurb. It’s concise, engaging, and does hint at a lot of the madcap joy that can found in Ari Bach’s debut. And it still doesn’t explain a thing.

Of the million people in Kyle City, there was none so aimless as Violet McRae. And, out of the thousand-odd books I would have read or listened to over the past few years, none have made me laugh, roll my eyes, wince, shout out loud, or made me feel like my brain was leaking out my ears quite like this novel.

The cleverness of it—the enormity and insectity (yes, just go with it) and sneaky joy—caught me as soon as Violet—dishonorably discharged from a military career and certain of nothing except her own bleak future—found herself in the Hall of the Slain, training to bash heads and take names, taking to life the way Sean Connery took to Bond films. I watched her make friends and disconcert her enemies, and accept uncomfortable truths about herself. It was chilling. It was sweeping. It was often extremely funny. And I’d nearly given up on Valhalla in the first two chapters. Not because Violet was amoral—she is, in a way, but that’s not the point; the whole novel examines politeness and ‘acceptable’ emotional responses as a conceit, and it’s going to stick with me a while—but because the narrative style is downright peculiar. The closest parallel I can come up with is the ridiculously smug, omniscient narrator from Pushing Daisies, or Robin McKinley at her most stylised. The reader reads Violet, a lot like an extremely long, detailed report written by someone with a dubious sense of humour. We watch her parents die, as she does, and narrator-on-high dolefully informs us that Violet is aware that she should be expressing grief, but that she doesn’t need to. The overall effect is distancing: we are distanced from Violet just as she is (we are told!) from her emotions.

Strangely, this effect disperses as we enter Valhalla. The story is still narrated, but the affectation softens. My lit-crit brain reads this as: Violet came home, and so did the text, but that’s just my own reading. Whatever the reason, remainder of the book was a delight: including the best (and most brutal) training montages I have ever seen, heists and hijinks, true friends, and a fascinating take on revenge narrative that, like much of Valhalla when it turns philosophical, is going to lurk in the back of my mind for a while. The worldbuilding is a joy. The dialogue, so sparse early on, is heady and clever and does a remarkable job not tripping up on itself. There are, possibly, a few too many plot threads that turn up in the final third, but I’ll forgive it for the tikari, and the walruses, and the beautifully complex characterisation of Violet’s friends. I have to stop here, before I fangirl elements of this story to death.

Now, this is a Harmony Ink Press title and a review for the Lesbrary, so I’d me remiss not to mention that the relationship that slowly (slowly) burns between Violet and Vibike—a woman so clever that Violet initially mistook her for an AI program, and with her own need for revenge that, I think, was even more finely drawn than Violet’s—is gorgeous. It is not rushed, or forced, truly resolved in any way, but it adds a level of tension just where the novel needs, and—should the story be continued—I’d love to see where Vi and Vibs end up.

So. Yes. This book. Enjoyed lots. My brain basically short-circuited the moment I found out the Valhalla historian goes by Snorri, and I finished the rest of the novel in orgiastic Old Norse scholar glee, where I wished that Aud Torvingen might show up to take Violet out for a drink. The narrative style is, unquestionably, a style, and it won’t be for everyone. The end is rushed. But when it’s not making you laugh, it’ll make you think, and I am delighted that I kept going past chapter two.

Women Float Virtual Book Tour: Kit reviews Women Float by Maureen Foley, plus audio excerpt from the author

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Anyone who has ever seen me on the internet for any length of time knows that I wish all stories could be made into audiobooks. I spend half my life legally blind. It would make me happy. But I’m also sure that even average narration does one of two things to most stories.

First, it can cover up a multitude of sins, if the story needs it. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve managed to listen to—and quite enjoy!–in audio form when I would have winced and put them away if I was reading the same from print. Second, when your story is good—when the language flows and the story is strong and dialogue feels real—hearing it read aloud can be beautiful.

Mo Foley’s Women Float falls into the second category. It is a tightly written, often lyrical novella that touches on friendships and grief and secrets that are better unsolved.  It is also completely outside of my literary comfort zone. I read children’s books and space operas. I like it that way. When I picked up Foley’s novella, I had no idea what I was getting into.   The blurb given by CCLAP is clever, so I’m going to include it here.

Lonely California pastry chef Win never learned how to swim, despite growing up just miles from the Pacific Ocean. Even Janie, her flaky pro-surfer single mother, couldn’t convince her to brave the water, solidifying Win’s fear when she leaves her at the tender age of 9. But when Win turns 29 and decides to take swimming lessons for the first time—finally confronting her hydrophobia and trying to make sense of why her mer-mother suddenly swam off all those years ago—she must also deal with a desperate crush she’s developed on her New Age neighbor, mysterious postcards that keep arriving in the mail, and her bad habit of pathological lying

That’s a lot of story in eighty-eight pages. My main problem with ‘literary fiction’, genre reading peasant that I am, is that it is often difficult to engage with the characters through all of the navel gazing. There are stretches of text that, if the story was made into a film, would roughly translate to someone staring out past the camera at…cormorants, or a beach ball, or something equally strange for 30 minutes. There are too many words, not enough voice. But Win is a warm, wry presence who had me with her nine-year-old commentary on mothers and boxed cake mix on the third page. Because of this—because of the mix of characterisation and dialogue, humour and vivid imagery—I was able to pay attention to Win and her town. Her voice keeps kept me grounded, even as lush descriptive passages made me want to stop and read things aloud. The mix is both lovely and necessary, and you’ll hear both in the chapter excerpt.

The troubled, determined woman she grows up to be was a pleasure to meet and read, and her relationship with her particular edge of California—both its landscape and its people—shifted like the water that comes up so often as metaphor in this text. It was by turns immediate and remote; sweet and compelling; dangerous and changeable and constant and, before I drown you all in adjectives, far more hopeful than I initially gave the story credit for.

(The other reason literary fiction and I don’t get along? Unsatisfactory endings. None to be found here.)

At the end of this review is an audio excerpt. Maureen did a fantastic job, one that just makes me wish that a full production could be done of the piece. Ignore my rambling, enjoy her words.

 [See the rest of the tour here.]

Kit reviews For Want of a Fiend by Barbara Ann Wright

forwantofafiend

For Want of a Fiend / Barbara Ann Wright
Bold Strokes Books, May 2013. ebook.

Princess Katya Nar Umbriel’s uncle Roland rose from the grave, kidnapped her cousin, and stripped her of her greatest weapon—her Fiendish power. Without her Fiend, Katya doubts her ability to weather the storm her uncle is brewing. When she lacks what even the children in her family possess, can she even call herself an Umbriel?

In only a short time, Starbride has become the princess consort, a pyradisté, and a member of a secret order in charge of protecting the crown. Even steeped in responsibility, she’s still an outsider. While wading through court intrigue and resisting schemes to break her bond with Katya, Starbride must prepare for a covert war. Roland is waiting, watching, ready for any chink in their armor, and he doesn’t care who knows their secrets.

Long time no see, Lesbrary readers! I know, I’m only supposed to post once a month—how hard could it be? Thing is, it’s been a tricky couple of months—a new job, nicely combined with lots of surgery, where I let the nice orthopaedic men break my feet to make them better. The combination of exhaustion and pain killers has made it a bit hard to concentrate on stories in any form, be they audio or text. I did, however, know which book I wanted to read for you lot. It waited for me, taunting cheerfully through a haze of oxycontin:

Kztya and Starbride. You get to read MORE ABOUT KATYA AND STARBRIDE. WITH EXTRA PENNYNAIL. And if that isn’t an incentive to try and work through some pain, I don’t know what is.

For Want of a Fiend begins where The Pyramid Waltz left off: Katya battered and baffled, and Starbride still raw from the new power and responsibility that comes with being Princess Consort. Star is also living with the fact that, in order to save her beloved’s life, she had to take something away that, while it wasn’t exactly precious (seriously. Living with a fiend does not seem like a barrel of laughs) was still a crucial part of how Katya saw and thought of herself. Meanwhile, Uncle Roland is on the loose, Maia with him; Crowe is dying with too much to teach Starbride; and Katya’s brother Crown Prince Reinholt has regressed to a spoilt fourteen year old in response to his wife’s betrayal. Oh, and Starbride’s mother is coming. I just wanted to hug everybody.

The plot still moves at a fast clip, the alternating POV chapters showing Star and her princess as they try and solve mysteries, deal with courtiers and inlaws, and still find time to sleep. Their evolving relationship continues to be one of the loveliest things about these books, and the addition of Brightstriving, Star’s indomitable mother, was an excellent touch. Characterisation continues to deepen—Star’s relationship with members of the order of Vestra is in no way the name as Katya’s, and I love that. I love seeing a passionate, adoring romantic relationship flanked by friendships (and cute flirtations: Lord Hugo Sandy, your crush is still showing) of different weights and colours. Pennynail, just as I’d hoped in the last review, finds his voice. Katya also comes into her own as Reinholt goes rather delightfully postal, and her own relationships within her family are seen in a deepening, compassionate light.

The writing, while still glib (often to the good, only sometimes to the eye-roll!) and stylistically a bit odd, flows a little easier than in book one. I’m unsure if this is because of a better editing job or simply the joy of being fully immersed in Barbara Ann Wright’s world, but it gives me great hope for the rest of the series, even if it is hard to forgive a glorious, shout worthy cliffhanger that had me wishing I could get up from my bed and pace.

If you enjoyed The Pyramid Waltz, For Want of a Fiend is the perfect next step. If you haven’t read either, know that you’d be embarking on a joyous, funny, sweet and madcap ride around very dark things lovingly told, with characters who will stay with you for months after.

Kit reviews The Daughter Star by Susan Jane Bigelow

TheDaughterStar

The Daughter Star / Susan Jane Bigelow

Candlemark and Gleam, release date May 28 2013 (e-ARC)

What a rotten way for everything to turn out. Freighter pilot Marta Grayline is grounded, trapped on her miserable home planet by an intrasystem war that’s separated her from her beautiful girlfriend, her career, and everything she loves.

When her sister Beth offers her a way out by enlisting in the Novan Emergency Fleet, Marta jumps at the opportunity to get back into space.

But when her ship is attacked and destroyed, she finds herself stranded on a mysterious space station with a crew that won’t answer her questions.

And, of course, then there’s the aliens – the planet-destroying Abrax that somehow seem to have a hold on Beth.

They’re coming for Marta, too.

She’ll have to face ancient forces, her own doubts, and the inside of an alien mind if she wants to get some answers, complete her mission, and unlock her own latent potential. The Daughter Star, the red beacon in the night sky, may yet be the key to the freedom and understanding Marta so desperately wants.

I jumped on The Daughter Star as soon as its galley showed up in my inbox (thank you, Danika and Candlemark and Gleam!) because Bigelow’s Extrahuman series has been on my TBR pile for months. After finishing this novel, everything else by the author has just moved up a few hundred notches, because The Daughter Star is one of the richest, most thought provoking SF novels I’ve read this year. Or last year. I haven’t actually felt this excited about aliens as a genre or construct since discovering (only a few decades late) Octavia Butler and Lilith’s Brood a couple of years ago.

Imagine that you have to leave Earth. That votes have taken place. That debates have gone on for over a year and that you, along with everyone else, have directed to a window that, you are told, opens out onto another planet. You have no choice. You—or your government—have already voted. One window–you don’t know which—will bring you to beautiful, peaceful Ad Astra. The other—and this is where you suspect you’re going, as you are neither rich nor influential, brings you to Nea. Nea. Where the gravity bites and all the plants want to kill you. Imagine the tensions that would exist between these two planets. New countries form. Bodies must change to suit new atmosphere, new gravity. Languages evolve. And, over the years, imagine asking why. Why these two planets? Why one Elysium to the other’s hell?

Now imagine that you’re long settled on Nea. Inhospitable country has led to strict borders and local governments, including one particular puritanical outpost on a rain drenched peninsula where you are, as a good young girl, expected to marry and produce enough offspring to flood the rest of your forsaken planet with the right sort of people. The aliens—the Abrax—are long gone. Earth is dead. You are frustrated, stifled, and the only gay in the village. You get out. You leave your sisters and parents and find a way out your country, off your planet. You join an interstellar trade fleet and do not particularly care about the inherent inequalities between planets, just so long as you can get off your own. You meet a beautiful woman. You can see the stars.

You are Marta Grayline, and you are going to have obscene, glorious amounts of character development before is done.

Marta moves from the rather flippant, naive, infuriating girl conjured up by The Star Daughter’s blurb into a questioning, determined, and often powerful woman by the time you see the last of her. I won’t spoil the plot—I can’t, it would go on too long. But watching Marta navigate her way through personal space, as well as the real kind, is a beautiful thing. Her relationships—with her siblings, with her planet, with co-workers and Abrax and the woman she is sure is the love of her life—are all so well drawn that I would forgive Bigelow if plot took a back seat. And it never does. I’m still left breathless by that. Every time I thought I had The Daughter Star figured out—and there were three distinct points where I was sure that I knew where this book was going—I, like poor Marta, was thrown something else. And does the twisting plot, character development, and the novel’s Serious Social Questions make for dull, worthy reading?

Like hell. The Daughter Star is often laugh out loud funny. Novans, as you might expect, have developed whole new avenues in gallows humour. Marta’s complete adoration for a girlfriend she barely ever gets to see—the way she can twist a memory to suit her longing–will touch many readers. Her relationship with Beth—the youngest and least known of her siblings, is also stunning. It was almost unfair that The Daughter Star had an ending to match of the rest of it: self contained enough for satisfaction, but still leading strongly to the other stories Marta has to tell.

Enough of this. Go read.

Kit reviews The Pyramid Waltz by Barbara Ann Wright

ThePyramidWaltz

The Pyramid Waltz/Barbara Ann Wright

Bold Strokes Books, December 2012

213 pages – ebook

To most, Princess Katya Nar Umbriel is a rogue and a layabout; she parties, she hunts and she breaks women’s hearts. But when the festival lights go down and the palace slumbers, Katya chases traitors to the crown and protects the kingdoms greatest secret: the royal Umbriels are part Fiend. When Katya thwarts an attempt to expose the kings monstrous side, she uncovers a plot to let the Fiends out to play. Starbride has no interest in being a courtier. Ignoring her mother’s order to snare an influential spouse, she comes to court only to study law. But a flirtatious rake of a princess proves hard to resist, and Starbride is pulled into a world of secrets that leaves little room for honesty or love, a world neither woman may survive. — Kobo synopsis

Now, readers: not only am I an old-school Lynn Flewelling fan, but I’m also a queer woman with a pulse. If the dishabille exploits of Seregil of Rhiminee and his awed lover Alec had me grinning and giggling all over the place, then just imagine what the rakish, insouciant Katya Nar Umbriel and the intrepid Starbride did to me, and you have the heart of this book. The Pyramid Waltz has had me smiling for three days.

In terms of plot, it’s mostly what it says on the tin. Lots of chases. Lots of alleyways and castles and ballrooms and bedrooms. We meet the fiendish princess Katya as she is chasing a traitor across her father’s hunting grounds, all whilst Averie (who is quite possibly the best lady in waiting of all time) hunts deer for her so that she can keep up the ruse of being forever out and about after wildlife. Starbride, meanwhile, is tolerating being treated as an “exotic” oddity by the princess’s court only because it gives her accezs to the library, and to laws that will, she hopes, stop these richer neighbors from exploiting her land. They meet. Sparks fly. Sparkly things are exchanged, along with kisses and gorgeous— if broad—banter, All the dialogue seems to come from the Mercedes Lackey school of feel what you’re feeling before saying it adverbially, and the novel also reads a little bit as if Wright read Dianna Wynne Jone’s Tough Guide to Fantasy Land (tavern brawls and all!) and decided to follow it verbatim. But it is so much fun that I really don’t care. I also haven’t actually read this assortment of cliches in a world that is entirely unfazed by homosexuality or female power before. I think I love it.

The characters are all kindly drawn—keep an eye out for Katya’s blustering father, and a hilarious aside about his inability to read his children bedtime tales because he kept trying to find the racy bits. The masked Pennynail is also a hoot, and one of the few actually mysterious parts of the mystery. I also loved that while the relationship between Starbride and Katya was near-instantaneous, they also misunderstand each other regularly and tried to get into each other’s worlds—Starbride much more successfully than the more privileged Katya. One thing the novel does surprisingly well is address colonialism and white privilege, albeit briefly. There is a very strange take on master and servant relations in Starbride’s home might be dubious, but that was the only real quibble I had with The Pyramid Waltz once I’d settled in for the romp. Mostly, I’m just delighted this book exists.

(…and is there any waltzing involved, darlings? Read to find out!)

Kit reviews About a girl by Joanne Horniman

Aboutagirl

I remember when we lay together for the first time and I closed my eyes and felt the crackle of her dark hair between my fingers. She was all warmth and sparking light. When I was with her, my skin sighed that the center of the world was precisely here.

Anna is afraid she must be unlovable—until she meets Flynn. Together, the girls swim, eat banana cake, laugh, and love. Some days Flynn is unreachable; other days she’s at Anna’s door—but when Anna discovers Flynn’s secret, she wonders if she knows her at all. This beautifully crafted novel explores the tension between the tender moments that pull people together and the secrets that push them apart

Joanne Horniman is one of those authors who can get lost in Australian school booklists. She writes strong, lyrical narratives on youth and joy and rage and sadness in a way that feels simultaneously immediate, fierce, and also coloured by poetic, aching nostalgia. Think Margot Lannagan, if Lannagan was a little kinder to her characters. All of this can be a little intimidating, a little distancing.

About a girl, thankfully, never gets lost in its own loveliness. We are given Anna’s story, as she navigates the first intense relationship she has ever experienced outside of her family, her old home, and her childhood. We see her stumble and laugh and lose herself completely in another person, and then slowly learn how to separate out just enough of herself for her own sanity. Her story isn’t always linear, but it’s the sort that resonates in different ways on different days. My writing won’t do it justice—find out for yourself.

Kit reviews Noble Falling by Sara Gaines

Aleana Melora, Duchess of Eniva, knows her duty. She comes from a noble family of formidable reputation, and her upcoming marriage to her realm’s Prince, Tallak, will seal it for generations. This does not mean she looks forward to it, only that she will do what she must.

The Duchess expects quiet dissatisfaction and loneliness, tempered by the hope of being a good Queen. She does not expect betrayal. She does not expect fighting and death and political intrigues from quarters she never even knew about. She does not expect to be rescued by Kahira. And Kahira—fierce and solitary, with a past as ugly as the brand on her arm—does not expect Aleana Melora.

Full disclosure. I’ve been looking forward to this book’s release since I stumbled across Sara Gaines and her tumblr last month. We’ve spoken off and on, she seems lovely, and I gleefully purchased the epub yesterday, hoping for romance, adventure, and the heady mix of newness and nostalgia that might come from old quest fantasy tropes played out by queer characters.

Noble Falling delivers all of this, plus persimmons. There is a lot to love in this book. Aleana is a vivid character, and her first person voice shows us a duchess who is…well, precious. In the bad sense as well as the good. She is naive and pampered and used to command, and she does not take immediately to dangerous travels in the woods, with only one guard—and, eventually, a very distracting Kahira—for company. So often in these these types of narrative, the heroine is able to adapt too fast and too well, giving her success less impact. Here, you can actually see Aleana’s evolution, and it is believable as well as lovely. Kahira is, perhaps, a little too much the darkly mysterious stranger, full of allure and sidelong glances, but she was charismatic enough for me not to care. My one complaint about Kahira is that she wasn’t introduced early enough!

One major issue of Noble Falling is in the pacing. The book is only 145 pages long, all of the action seemed crammed in the first fifteen and the last forty-five pages. The rest of the story is Aleana’s quest to travel from near her old home in Eniva to Tallak’s capital Seyna, and there is a lot of sleeping on rough ground and dubious camp meals, without much tension. We learn about Aleana’s married guard, Ori, and—when she joins them—we strive with Aleana to learn a little more about Kahira, but as Aleana allows herself to shape her complete unwillingness to marry Tallak, and acceptance of the fact that yes, she really does feel attraction to women, it’s hard to actually want her to stick to her journey. This provoked more irritation in me than it did pathos. Adding to this, when she completes it, the story suddenly explodes into a violent whirlwind of political intrigue that, while adding depth to the story, could have been introduced in greater amounts a lot earlier. there are hints throughout, just not many of them. There is also quite a lot of info-dumping in the early chapters.

As complaints go, however, these are minor minor. This is a first novel, and Gaines has set up a world in Noble Falling that I sincerely hope will be expanded, as I am not quite ready to give up Alaena and Kahira, or the world that Aleana so passionately wants to improve.

These two have an almost unseemly amount of chemistry; it was delightful. When, at one key point in the story, Aleana declares she would surrender her title—something that we know is crucial to her—to save Kahira’s life, you will believe it. It was also lovely to read a universe where girls (at least, girls without title or need to maintain noble bloodlines) can marry girls, and boys marry boys with little comment. This is not a coming out novel. It is a story about change, about beginnings and gallantry and trust that fills an empty space in my heart much like Julie Anne Peters’s work did for me years ago.

I hope that Sara Gaines never stops.

 

Kit reviews The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.

Every review I’ve read of Cameron Post starts with that line. Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. It’s a flash of the voice you’re going to know better than your own by the end of 300 pages, and her sadness and guilt and agile, bright humour becomes yours for a little while.

The night Cameron’s parents died, she had also been kissing Irene Klauson. And Irene Klauson had kissed her back. Eleven years old, it’s the summer of 1989, and Cameron is certain that the knock on her friend’s door means she’s been found out—about the stealing, the kissing, all of it—and that this might mean something terrible. Cameron’s first emotion when she finds out her parents have died is one of relief. Cameron never forgives herself for that, but she still likes girls. She still likes girls even after well-intentioned Aunt Ruth moves in from Florida to be her guardian, bringing her born-again evangelical ways with her. Anyone with a basic idea of plot knows what has to happen next.

The book can then divided roughly into two parts: Before Ruth Finds Out and After Ruth Finds Out. The first is a careful, but never slow, picture of the end of Cameron’s childhood and into her adolescence. It shows how she tries to get along with her hopelessly well-meaning, often resentful aunt. We share her love of swimming; watch the gorgeous friendship she develops with Lindsey, who appoints herself Cameron’s Lesbian Guardian Angel. We watch Cameron run with friends in the ruin of old hospitals, and watch countless films as a way to see how people on screen react to grief, and life in general, because she feels as if she has no idea how to be. We watch her fall desperately, often hilariously in love with Coley Taylor, and how that, in the end, gets Cameron found out. But that is not the whole story. That is just what is sketched in the blurb, in the book trailers. The real story happens After.

After Ruth finds out, Cameron gets sent (using her own college fund) to an evangelical camp. God’s Promise.

After Promise, Cameron finds that no one is quite what they seem, and that its easy to lose yourself when everybody tells you that is the right and godly thing to do.

This section of the book goes into stranger places than what came before. Watching Cameron adjust to life in Promise, it’s unsettling—as a “liberated” outsider, and queer person, who knows that these sort of camps are reprehensible and damaging and wrong—to see how…not evil everyone is. This is clumsy, I know. But it would have been easy to write a caricature of these people, this life. Danforth does not. She refuses to condescend in that way, and it makes for challenging reading as you find you can’t help but care for everyone even as many seem to kill, like Ruth, with good intentions. The students are just people—though some, like two-year veteran Jane who keeps a store of home-grown pot in her prosthetic leg, are more vividly drawn then others. Reverend Rick, the founder of Promise who has no head for business and a gift for the guitar, seems to genuinely care about the wellbeing of his “charges”. Many  seem to want to be ‘cured’, and don’t seem brainwashed in the least (and yet, and yet, and yet!). Danforth’s writing does not help, here. It is smooth and nonjudgmental, even as, in the end, terrible things do start to happen, and Cameron makes an important choice.

This was a beautiful, unsettling read for me. There were many parts of The Miseducation of Cameron Post that, due to my own upbringing and sensibility, I could not understand, ranging from life in a Montana farming community to Cameron’s relationship with God. This book was, however, slice of life fiction in the best possible sense. If I didn’t understand, then Cameron (mostly) did, and it was a strange, often hilarious time, being in her life for a little while. This story is both passionate and compassionate, with some of the best first person narration Ive ever read. I know that with re-reading, I can get even more out of Cameron’s life.
In the end, I would recommend it for any child who has felt alone, and any adult who has been a child.

[The Miseducation of Cameron Post has also been reviewed at the Lesbrary by Anna M. and Danika.]

Kit reviews Huntress by Malinda Lo

Huntress / Malinda Lo

Little Brown and Company, 2011

If you could change your fate…would you?

Argh, wait. Wrong story.

At its heart, all the same, Malinda Lo’s Huntress is a beautifully written, sometimes strangely distant story that tackles fate, free will, and the joy of a journey.

Two girls study at The Academy—a wrought-iron centre of learning at the edge of The Kingdom. We meet them in alternate POV chapters. The first, Taisin, is a farmer’s daughter, and so skilled at Sage craft—the spiritual/quasi magical order at the heart of the Academy’s learning—that she is considered the most talented of her generation. Taisin cares little for that. She has just wanted to be a Sage her whole life, and is prepared to take the necessary vows to do so. These vows include celibacy. Kaede, the daughter of the King’s Chancellor, has always struggled with the rituals of the Academy. She is too wilful; too fierce, and too protective of herself, to be any other way. She feels rather lost in the Academy as she works through her last year, knowing that her father will marry her off for political gain one way or another, and that she is running out of time. (There hasn’t, a friend reminds her early on the novel, been a political union between two women in recent memory).

The Kingdom, meanwhile, is falling to pieces around them. Crops wither, people starve, and a strange, lingering winter encroaches upon the land. When the King receives an envoy from the long-closed off fairy realm of Taninli, with possible clues to the end of this winter, Taisin also experiences the clearest vision of her life: she will be going somewhere far, and icy, and strange. Kaede will be going with her. And Taisin is in love with her.

How do you look someone in the eye when you know you’re meant to fall in love with them, but haven’t yet? Huntress is very delicate as it examines this question, and its companion themes of whether love compromises or aids duty. Taisin’s chapters are full of quiet frustration and questions and confusion, while Kaede—who spends much of the book blessedly unaware of her companion’s anguish—learns skills out in the wilderness with a few friends that she could not have picked up in her father’s home or her old school. I loved the strength—the capability—of both these girls. It shows early and never falters, as the two of them embark on one of the better-written quest narratives I’ve read. There is inclement weather; changeling babies; flirting and jealousy and daggers and stunningly well handled exposition. By the end of the road, you feel like you know every character well, but never like that knowledge has thrown at you. Taninli (which, along with The Wood, will be familiar to readers of Ash, Lo’s debut novel that is set in this world some centuries later) is as fascinating, imbued with Tír na nÓg allusions as much as the Academy and Kaede’s city of Cathair are imbued with Chinese folklore and philosophy. The two women themselves, with their non-romantic Prince Companion and bantering coterie of guards, feel like a link between these two different scaffolds. I think the best example of this fusion is in the name of the fairy folk themselves: Xi—which, at least phonetically, reads as a Chinese transliteration of sidhe.

My linguistic ramblings are digression, however. It’s easy to find something to love in Huntress. I found myself looking rather sidelong at the love-story between Kaede and Taisin, no matter how much I love simple queer representation in fiction (not a spoiler! Predestination!) precisely because it was hard to separate myself out from Taisin’s initial near-panic about it. But what does develop between the near-Sage and growing-Warrior is still beautiful, often humorous, and real. The warmth and strength of this relationship lingers with you, just under your skin, and I found that I adored it. The ending (oh god, that ending) feels right—though I dare not spoil it, and people may disagree with me.

As strong as the character development is, the physical world-building (with the exception of the Academy, Wood, and Taninli) is less well done. The map at the beginning does not make The Kingdom’s geography. The path of Taisin and Kaede’s quest, for all the place names and descriptions of taverns, and snow and flowers and hills, never really feels set. I had a similar problem with Ash when I read it, though less so, since Ash was a retelling of Cinderella and often in more ephemeral, fae places than Huntress, for all its otherworldly ending. As a quest story, it would have been good to see where the characters were going, along with what was happening inside their heads. This feeling of disconnect was the only thing that stopped me from being utterly infatuated with the novel.