Danika reviews Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

I found Into the Drowning Deep because I was looking for deep sea fiction. I’ve had an interest in the deep ocean since I was a kid, and I was craving a book to satisfy that itch. Throw in some killer mermaids, and how I could resist giving this one a go? It wasn’t until after I had decided to read it that I found out that has a bi woman main character and a F/F romance! That’s almost unheard of! I almost always find out about queer books online, on queer book blogs, and then seek them out, so it was fun to just stumble on one.

I absolutely loved this book at the beginning. The premise is that seven years ago, the ship Atargatis went to the Mariana Trench to make a mockumentary about mermaids. Unexpectedly, they seemed to find them! Unfortunately, the “mermaids” were deadly, and no one on the ship survived. Only a bit of footage shows what happened to them, and it’s believed to be faked. Now, another ship is being sent to follow up and find out what really happened.

The book begins by gathering up a large cast of characters, who will all be on the ship. Most of them are scientists, researching things that could be helpful in their search. It’s a fairly diverse cast: there are Deaf characters, characters with autism, bisexual characters–but I didn’t notice a lot of racial/ethnic diversity, though I could have missed it. It seemed odd that in a book with so much other diversity, all the main characters were white (the only character of color I noticed was Michi, who is a poacher and possible murderer).

Unfortunately, it did start to drag for me in the middle. Part of that was the many points of view that get cycled between, which I always find exhausting. But it also felt like what was coming was inevitable: they were following the Atargatis’s path. Their security measures weren’t functional. Why wouldn’t the exact same thing happen again?

There’s also a lot of science packed into this book: Grant clearly did a lot of research (though the one thing I googled from the book seemed to be incorrect–deep sea fish exploding when brought to the surface). Most of the characters are scientists, and a lot of the scenes revolve around their research. This was at times fascinating, but could also get a little slow.

Luckily, it picked up again near the end. There’s a lot of high-stakes tension, especially between the two characters I was most invested in (Tory and Olivia–the queer characters, obviously). This does get pretty grisly, so do go in expecting some horror element, but I didn’t find it scary (probably because it did feel so inevitable). Goodreads lists this as #1 in the series, but I’m not sure if that’s because there was a (now out-of-print) novella prequel, or because there are going to be more books in the series. It wraps up satisfactorily, but I’d be happy to pick up a sequel (or the prequel, if it goes back in print!) (Even though, to my disappointment, not much actually happens in the deep sea in this book. Most of it takes place on the ship, on the surface.)

Danika reviews The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang

This is a fascinating novella. It’s a dark, reversed retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” from the point of view of a human scientist who acts in an anthropological capacity studying the atargati (definitely not “mermaids”). If “dark queer retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid'” didn’t already hook you, I don’t really know what else to say.

I really liked the author chose to not only have the atargati not have gender, but to also have a nonbinary human character (who uses hir/zie prounouns), so that it wasn’t presented as an alien concept:

We did try to describe binary genders to [the atargati] once. Of course Dr. Hansen jumped in and tried to expand the conversation to sex versus gender, and to explain intersex and genderqueer people, and I tried to stop hir because I thought that would be too confusing, but it turned out that part made more sense to them than what we tried to tell them about men and women.

This also had personal appeal to me because the main character falls in love with one of the atargati (of course), and really grapples with what this means for her identity as a lesbian, especially when she had to fight so hard to claim that space in the first place:

I lost my whole identity. I had to rebuild myself brick by brick and seal a shield around myself with the label “lesbian.” I’m attracted to women. I was born that way. I’ve always been that way. If that’s not true, then my whole life, every relationship, every broken tie—it was all a lie. …

I’ve never been attracted to a human man, and still can’t conceive of such a thing. But maybe… maybe I can’t be slotted into a box either. Maybe I don’t have a definition

Have I mentioned that this is a dark retelling? And that it is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s original, and not the Disney version? I probably should have paid more attention to that, because I was disappointed by the ending. I was looking for a little more from the story: I think I was so intrigued by the world that I wanted to spend more time with it, even outside of this specific story. I wanted to know what happened after the story was over. I wanted to learn more about the atargati.

Still, this science fiction, queer, dark take on “The Little Mermaid” is compelling and memorable. You can easily finish it in one sitting, but it will stick with you long after that.


Marthese reviews Adijan and Her Genie by L-J Baker

adijanandhergenie

I love queer fairytale retellings! Although I do not think this is much of a fairytale. It’s set in the Arabian Nights fantasy world and has a few elements of the folktale Aladdin, in the sense that there is a poor messenger who’s however a girl and there is a genie, who’s not really a genie.

Adijan is a messenger girl, who dreams of having her own business and is a bit too fond of drinking despite being really hard-working. She’s married to Shalimar, a very kind woman who is always happy and yet always thought of as simple, much to Adijan’s annoyance. It is evident that Adijan loves Shalimar, but she is also slave to vices and wasn’t such a good spouse. This book, full of adventure and Adijan being kicked out from countless places, follows the journey of Adijan to try and get back Shalimar from where she is being kept by her brother Hadim.

While set in an invented Arabian country, Adijan and Shalimar’s relationship is accepted and legitimate. The problem lies in wealth not in their orientation and love. Something that really bothered me was that Adijan was continuously misgendered and most times she did not correct these assumptions where from her gender expression and clothing her gender was judged.

Adijan and the ‘genie’, don’t really get on at first. However, I thought it was great that even though they did not like each other, they were respectful, using correct names, considerately describing time and place and consoling one another. They eventually come to understand and care for one another. Nonetheless, you also see two people battling their wills against each other because they both have big and fundamental dreams.

Injustices to the social system, especially in courts and wealth are addressed. It’s a book that says a lot about non-materialistic values. For someone that was looking to get rich, Adijan got that freedom and love were priceless. Privilege was understood as it was lost. For being a fun book, it also has serious themes.

I really enjoyed the characters of Zobeidé once she stopped getting on my nerves, and of Adijan’s aunt Takush who owns a ‘friendly house’ and her suitor Fakir. A bonus in this book were the insults which often contain some form of ‘camel’ to them.

I liked how Zobeidé did not forgive simply because her old tutor apologized and said he was set up to do what he did. Stripping freedom from someone is inexcusable.

This book ended on a great note. Something that was lost, even if in a land of magic, was still not magically made better and in that it was realistic. To end, you find yourself being angry at Adijan, then pitying her and then laughing at something. This book is a fast read and a true adventure.

Islay reviews Raven Mask by Winter Pennington

Raven Mask is the second in Winter Pennington’s series featuring the adventures of ‘preternatural investigator’ werewolf Kassandra Lyall, and I would most certainly recommend reading the first before the second as Raven Mask picks up fairly seamlessly from where the first novel leaves off. It is, however, an enjoyable romp told with flare and good humour and scattered with a decent number of extremely intense sex scenes which should keep any lover of Sapphic fantasy fiction very happy.

The plot is fast-paced and intriguing, and if it occasionally feels somewhat disjointed it’s more than made up for by their being a juicy love scene within the first couple of chapters to wet the reader’s appetite for what’s to come. This is the first of several love scenes between Kassandra and her vampire lover Lenorre scattered throughout the novel, which all manage to be both erotic and entertaining without overcrowding the plot. It’s somewhat unfortunate that here in Britain ‘Lenore’ is actually the name of a leading brand of fabric softener and couldn’t be less vampiric sounding if it tried – but I’m prepared to forgive Pennington that given that this book was clearly written with an American audience in mind.

Kassandra Lyall is a likeable, sympathetic and frequently funny heroine, and Pennington sets her up well amongst a brace of other quirky, intriguing characters – I developed a particular soft spot for the Beta werewolf Rosalin. The cast of vampires, however, feel a little over-egged: I for one think we’ve really moved past the point where blood suckers must all be faux-Gothic cartoons who dress like bastardised Victorians and speaks with British accents. We now live in the age of True Blood and Being Human, after all, and those shows have been so successful at re-popularising vampire fiction because they resist the Anne Rice style of vamp that permeated 80s and 90s cult lit. Pennington might be a little more successful at getting me to take her vampire characters seriously if she wrote them in a style that didn’t feel so dated.

However, I can’t be completely sure she isn’t doing so with a wink and a nod anyway – her tone is characterised by a slightly tongue-in-cheek mischievousness which shows most clearly in Kassandra’s wry wit and commentary on outrageousness of the situations she gets into. Pennington can just about get away with pantomime vampires where a less skilled author wouldn’t, because her narrative voice is so appealing.

Kassandra does occasionally stray into feeling like an insert for Pennington herself, however. Not only is she a gutsy lesbian werewolf, but a Celtic pagan witch with a particular affinity with ravens. This would be fine if the fact of her being a witch had any bearing on the plot whatsoever – but it doesn’t, and left me wondering why such a detail kept being shoe-horned in. Being a Hellenic polytheist myself I wont criticise the respectful inclusion of a Pagan belief system – neo-Pagans are sorely lacking representation in any kind of popular literature – but it does feel somewhat convenient that Pennington’s blurb mentions that she too is a pagan on a Celtic path with a great fondness for ravens and crows. No author separates themselves from their characters entirely, nor should they have to, but the tongue-in-cheek style which allows Pennington to get away with her vampires is missing from her descriptions of Kassandra’s spirituality and that leaves those sections feeling a little forced and out of place. She doesn’t need to be a witch on top of everything else – there’s no benefit to the narrative – and as such Kassandra being a Celtic pagan feels self-indulgent and jars the reader somewhat.

That being said Kassandra remains an appealing narrator and Raven Mask an entertaining novel – highly recommended to anyone looking for a sexy, funny, escapist bit of fluff to bury themselves in for an afternoon.

Danika reviews Fireflies by Lacey Reah

I had all these notes written down about Fireflies and I lost them! Sigh. I’ll just do a short form review, then.

Pros:

  • I adore this cover. This is probably my favourite cover ever. I’m not sure why, but I just think the art is fantastic, and it’s sexual without being creepy. Also, it actually is a scene in the story and ties in the title! Perfect.
  • I was really intrigued by the plot. Well, it’s less about plot and more about character, but Linda trying to figure out who she is and what she is was fascinating, and I kept looking forward to the end to see what the final judgment was.
  • The characters were fairly interesting. Not the most dynamic, but compelling enough for a 95-page novella.
  • It was a new (for me) take on erotica. In fact, I’m not sure how to categorize it. There’s a lot of sex (some straight sex, too, just so you know), but the thread of the story is Linda’s inner turmoil, and it really takes precedence.

Cons:

  • The writing felt clunky.  The sentences were almost all very short and often didn’t flow–enough that it distracted me from the story. There was also some awkward wording, and a few wrong homophones. (Someone talking about a towel around their “waste” was particularly jarring.)
  • I didn’t feel like the ending quite tied things together. The entire time I was reading Fireflies, I thought the ending would decide what I thought about it, because I couldn’t quite figure out how Linda was going to reconcile everything. By the end, I was still puzzled. There didn’t seem to be much resolution.

Guest Lesbrarian Shanna

This is a new author who has written a beautiful take on the Cinderella story, with a twist.

Ash’s mother is dead, and, following in the tradition of almost all Disney movies, epic poems, and fairy tales, her father dies soon after.  She’s left at the mercy of her stepmother, forced to clean and look after her stepsisters: all events that closely follow the original Cinderella.  Ash absorbs herself in a single book of fairy tales her mother bequeathed her, and spends all her time searching the woods for a fairy troupe that is rumored to connect people with their dead loved ones.

Wait, the good part’s coming: Ash soon becomes torn between the fairy Sidhean and his dark promises to reunite her with her mother, and Kaisa, the Queen’s Huntress.  When Kaisa and Ash meet in the woods one day, something within Ash changes.  Ash and and Kaisa fall in love in a natural and charming way.  However, Ash still must reckon with Sidhean and his claim on her.

Ash’s world:

Fans of fairy tales will enjoy the book.  I was not necessarily a fan of the unwieldy triangulated relationship between Ash, Kaisa and Sidhean, but I really loved the dark, slightly creepy, slightly sad feeling to the book.

If you’re looking for a light fantasy read, try it out.

Lo, Malinda. Ash. Little & Brown: New York, 2009. 272 pp. ISBN: 0316040096

 

Thank you to Shanna for this Guest Lesbrarian review! Check out her book blog, Fortitude and Patience.

Also see Emily’s Guest Lesbrarian review of Ash.

If you’d like to do a Guest Lesbrarian review, shoot me an email!