Danika reviews Heathen, Volume 1 by Natasha Alterici

Heathen Volume 1 by Natasha Alterici

I feel like Heathen is a book that lots of people are looking for, but they don’t know it’s an option. It’s about a lesbian viking taking on the patriarchy. Norse mythology with a queer lead! That’s what made me pick this up in the first place, but I mistakenly thought this would be incidentally queer: that the main character liked women, but it wouldn’t come up much. Instead, the basis of her arc is that she was banished from her community–and meant to be killed–for kissing a girl. Instead of feeling shame, she feels outrage at a system that punishes her for this. She decides to free Brynhild, a Valkyrie who is imprisoned in fire by Odin.

That’s only the beginning, though. This is a quest to take down the patriarchy, and along the way Aydis and her allies defend other outcasts. She also runs into some talking wolves and a talking horse as well as Freyja, goddess of love. Oh, and of course, she picks a fight with the most powerful enemy you can find in Norse mythology: Odin.

I really like the art, which has muted colours and a scratchy quality that makes it more dynamic. I’m not going to be able to explain it well, so just look at the page below for an idea of the style. My only qualm, and it’s a small one, is that Aydis and many other female characters are wearing very little clothing, especially considering that this scene takes place in winter. It is own voices lesbian representation, though, so I’m not going to get too hung up on clothing choices. This is a fun, feminist take on Norse mythology, and I’m looking forward to picking up volume 2!

Page from Heathen

Julie Thompson reviews The Dark Wife audiobook by Sarah Diemer, narrated by Veronica Giguere

BEFORE. I am not my mother’s daughter. I have forfeited my inheritance, my birthright. I do not possess the privilege of truth. The stories told by fires, the myth of my kidnap and my rape, are all that remain of me. Forever I will be known as the girl who was stolen away to be the wife of Hades, lord of all the dead. And none of it is true, or is so fragmented that the truth is nothing more than a shadow, malformed. The stories are wrong. I am not who they say I am. I am Persephone, and my story must begin with the truth. Here it is, or as close as I can tell it.

*Trigger: rape, incest

Welcome to the world of “alternative facts”. The administration on Olympus controls the flow and shape of information. Fear undercuts the bacchanalian veneer of the ancient Greek pantheon. Elsewhere in the world, gated away in her mother Demeter’s earthly paradise, the Immortals Forest, Persephone frolics and dreams with her girlfriend, a nymph named Charis. The most fraught moment of her life is learning that she has to move to Olympus and leave everything she loves behind. In a desperate bid for freedom, the young goddess and nymph hatch a plan to runaway. And then it all falls apart.

In The Dark Wife, author Sarah Diemer recasts the Grecian myth of Persephone, goddess of Spring and Rebirth, and Hades, ruler of the underworld, from abduction and forced marriage to a kick ass romance. What starts as an escape from Zeus’ escalating machinations, transforms into a greater mission to dissemble his aggressive and destructive hold on humanity and the gods/goddesses.

While falling in love (they don’t seem to make an issue of being related; though Hades knows of this connection before she reveals it to her niece), Persephone and Hades also endure smear campaigns and risk shunning in order to take down the kingpin. They take a stand against bullying, misogyny, complicity, and rape culture. This is evident in the simple ways in which they live their lives (for example, helping bridge the gaps between the afterlife in the Elysian Fields and the village of the dead), as well as how they make a stand.

Diemer sets most of the novel in the underworld, showing us the underworld and Persephone’s evolving sense of self and purpose as she explores it with Palais, Hades’ best friend. The final face-off against Zeus feels anti-climactic, taking place within the last twenty minutes or so. Although, the other confrontations are more indirect; Zeus channels his passive aggression through manipulating the souls of the dead, in hopes that this will be enough to tear down his sister goddess.

There are a few key differences between Diemer’s version of the Greek myth and older incarnations:

  • Pomegranate: In older versions, Persephone eats the seeds and must stay with Hades for six months of every year, hence winter. In Diemer’s version, the pomegranate takes on romantic implications. The fruit is a precious reminder of Persephone’s idyllic earthly life. She uses it during her marriage ceremony with Hades to seal their commitment.

  • Older versions: Demeter becomes depressed by her daughter’s abduction; nature withers and the first winter occurs. In Diemer’s story, Zeus twists Demeter’s arm and forces her to freeze the world, threatening death to all creation.

First published in 2011, Diemer released the Audible version of The Dark Wife in February 2017. The audiobook, at its best, enhances Diemer’s storytelling and immerses listeners in the world she re-envisions. Veronica Giguere’s narration is pleasant overall. The tone she assumes for much of the story reflects Persephone’s emotional lens, though Giguere’s delivery does not always convey the heightened sense of drama during key scenes.

Persephone and Hades garner the most distinct characterization. Giguere invokes the vitality and innocence of Persephone’s youth and sheltered existence. Hades reminds me of a lower, breathier version of Linda Griffin, mother of Lawndale High’s fashion club president, Sandi (Daria). Zeus comes across as the petulant, whiny bully that he is. Plus, his creepy, inappropriately jolly laughter after he rapes and deceives makes your skin crawl. Secondary and tertiary characters garner less clear representations. The younger cohort of gods and goddesses, including Hebe (daughter of Hera) and Harmonia (daughter of Aphrodite), and to a lesser extent, Palais, are similarly voiced. Charon, ferryman of the river Styx, holds potential for super disturbing representation by Giguere. Given how Diemer describes the various personages embodied in Charon’s shifting frame, I expected the editing to layer different pitches and personalities that Persephone encounters on her ride across the Styx to her new life.

After finishing this quick, enjoyable eight hour audiobook, you may find you need a Daria and Xena: Warrior Princess fix.

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Marthese reviews “Olympic Hearts: A Tale of Two Goddesses” by Madeline Kelly

“As a goddess of love, it’s not my way to stay chaste”

“Olympic Hearts” is a short story by Madeline Kelly. Once I realized what it was about, I started reading it immediately because it combined my loves of reading about mythology and queer women. It helped that it was short, and although I wish I had the time to read more, sadly I don’t. This short story is around 30 pages long!

The story is about Aphrodite and Artemis, who seem to have a thing for each other. They meet during Aphrodite’s marriage to Hephaestus…so you can guess that the story may not be smooth sailing. While the main love, seem to be between the two women goddesses, the marriage to Hephaestus plays an important role in the story. Although non-explicitly, there is content in the story around Aphrodite and men.

That said, while the story is cute, it may not be for everyone. This is Madeline Kelly’s first published work and her passion does show in the writing but some elements were used that I was not convinced about. One such element was the use of modern language and phrases, such as “buddy” or “colour me unimpressed”  that to me, did not seem to resonate with the time that was being written about. I like to immerse myself in the world that is being written about and it’s a pet peeve of mine when languages does not fit with the story.

What I liked about the story is that it portrayed the gods like the mythology make them out to be: not perfect. Indeed, they have many faults and most of the problems were due to these faults.

For being short, the story does have a mild twist towards the end.

The concept of this story is good and I wish to see more similar stories, perhaps going into more depth and longer (let’s hope I will eventually have enough time to read them). People that don’t suffer from my same pet peeve and don’t mind non-same-gender non-explicit content, should give this story a go. We should support new writers so they cultivate their talent and we, as readers, should read different authors to find our styles and perhaps be surprised by liking something different.

Danika reviews The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

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I have to start this with my Goodreads status update from 5 pages in:

I literally cannot handle how much I like this book. I can’t get through a page without cackling or exclaiming. The art! The narration! The surreal worldbuilding! The f/f couple in the middle of it!!! The feminism! The cleverness! Like, I actually can’t handle it. I have to read it a couple pages at a time or I get overwhelmed. I don’t think this has ever happened??

I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddy from the first pages of a book. I was already hooked from the premise: a graphic novel retelling of the Arabian Nights featuring a woman who has fallen in love with her maid. Once I had it in my hands, I was stunned by the cover alone. It looks even more gorgeous in person, with the text in shining gold letters. And best of all, the two women reaching for each other: no attempt to disguise the queer content.

I’m a sucker for experiments in story telling, and I love how this book is structured. From the page layouts to the narration, the design and writing of this book perfectly fits its story, even when it deviates from the norm. A book that starts with a creation story of “In the beginning there was the world / And it was weird” is going to immediately jump in my estimation. I haven’t read the previous book, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, but this book stands on its own–while dropping enough hints that I want to pick up the earlier book to get an even richer understanding of this story.

The framing device here is that Cherry’s husband has made a bet with another man, Manfred, that he can’t seduce Cherry in 100 nights. In order to save Cherry from being forced into this arrangement, Hero (her lover and maid) tells Manfred stories over the course of these nights, with the promise that once he seduces Cherry, the stories will end. These stories are engaging in themselves, and resemble folk tales. They revolve around women, often sisters, and as those characters tell their own narratives, the nesting story structure grows.

Although there’s a timeless, folk lore feel to the story, there’s also some moments of great, clever humor thrown in, including the narrator cutting in for commentary, and Hero and Cherry using vocabulary I was not expecting! Mostly the humor is dry, feminist wit.

And, of course, there’s the romance. The unapologetic, unshakable love between Cherry and Hero. The moment that really made me trust this story was when it describes the two women getting into bed together and then cuts to after, with the narrator interjecting “No! Of course I’m not going to show what happened then! What kind of a book do you think this is?” It was setting up for a voyeuristic look into two women’s sex life, then makes a hard left and questions the reader’s expectations.

This a beautiful, epic love story that centres on two women. That fundamentally respects women and their love. This is a story that respects storytelling, that believes that stories can change the world.

This is the queer feminist mythology we deserve.

Danika review When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai

when fox is a thousand

First things first, don’t read the back cover of When Fox Is a Thousand. At least not on the 2004 reprint by Arsenal Pulp Press. The plot points it describes don’t come into play until near the end of the book.

This is a slow burn of a read. It’s beautifully done: it’s told through three alternating viewpoints, all indicated by a symbol in the beginning of each section. One is the story of the fox, who is nearing her thousandth birthday, which will bring her greater powers and knowledge than she has known in her long lifetime. Sparsely scattered through the book is the story of Yu Hsuan-Chi, a real-life poetess from ninth-century China. Lastly is Artemis’s story, a young woman in modern-day Vancouver.

When Fox Is a Thousand is told like folklore. Even Artemis’s story, which is primarily about struggling with relationships of all kinds as a twenty-something while dealing with sexism and racism, has an undercurrent of magic and the surreal. The narrative keeps creeping forward, but embedded are many short fable-like stories, inspired by Chinese mythology.

Each narrator sets a different tone in her story. I was most intrigued by Yu Hsuan-Chi’s story, who falls for a woman during the T’ang dynasty, and that without even realizing until the afterword that she was inspired by a real person. I picked up this book unsure if it actually had queer women content or not, and was surprised to find that each of the three narrators has relationships with other women.

Artemis’s story was the hardest for me to read. I think it’s very true to being in your early twenties, especially if you’re involved in a social justice-type group. (Though that is entirely my own bias.) She has relationships with multiple women throughout the novel, but they seem to always end up toxic, even just as friendships. They discuss politics and activism without applying the underlying assumption of compassion and respect to each other. I found it painfully honest at times.

There isn’t a clear resolution at the end of this story, but that’s not the point. It’s immersive and atmospheric, unfolding at a languid pace while enveloping you in the poetic language. This is a book that I think would benefit from rereading, and to be honest, I can’t believe this isn’t a classic of lesbian fiction. It’s beautiful and challenging. Definitely worth the read.

Marthese reviews Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

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Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a novella based on Chinese mythology that takes place in modern Hong Kong. This was an interesting premise and although I found it somewhat different from the fantasy that I usually real, it came recommended by a friend, so I gave it a go.

The story follows Julianne Lau, a 24 year old Hong Kong native. She lives with her two aunts, Houyi and Chang’e who to be clear are married to each other not related! This story starts with Julianne meeting a viper, a creature that looks like a human but isn’t. The viper is draw by the divine aura around Julianne which was acquired with her living with goddesses. The viper, called Olivia or Xiaoqing tells Julianne who she meets a couple of times that she wants a meeting with Chang’e, her aunt. Grudges among divine creatures last very long and there are a lot of enemies or past enemies for such a short book.

Julianne has body image issues, self-esteem issues and had encounters with depression. However, she is trying to be better. Like her aunt Chang’e, she is kind and she tries to control her sense of wanting attention sometimes with consequences.

There are some interesting relationships in the story. First off, I want to mention that we see some of Julianne’s past and about to be past relationships with women. For being such a short recount, it’s very queer.

Chang’e and Houyi have a good relationship based on affection and trust and so Julianne takes them as role models for her love life. Houyi buys Chang’e candies dates even when Chang’e is abroad and she picked her up from the airport in a tuxedo. That’s the level of sweetness that their relationship has. Despite this, they do not spend that much time together as their divine jobs take over a lot of time. Their past as well is tangibly full of sorrow apart from love.

Interesting was to see Houyi’s relationship with Julianne. Although she is technically only an in-law, she seems to be the main ‘caretaker’ while Chang’e, with her kindness takes over soothing roles when needed.

The relationship, as abrupt and like staccato as it was, between Xiaoqing and Julianne was also interesting. Xiaoqing shows Julianne that demons are complex and tells Julianne her story, after which she says she wants Julianne for who she is. Julianne for her part doesn’t care for what her partner looks like and learns to not judge people by the myths that are on them.

‘Demons’ , in this novella, are not villanized instead they are shown to be flawed and wanting to survive but also very diverse and complex with a system of their own

The writing is very descriptive, sometimes like poetry but I felt that at times it was just stretching too much. There are some styles that I liked such as sentences with only one word to describe routines. At times, as there were two sets of names being used, it is very easy to get confused especially if you are not familiar with the myths involved. It also takes a while to make sense after the beginning of a new segment as there are time and special hops, without much explanation.

We see the briskness of Hong Kong. I think this novella captures the metropolitan feel with its description of people and business and billboards.

This story takes on elements from myths such as the gods of sun and moon and the white snake and queers them up. Apart from the queer spins and retellings, it is heavy laden with gender issues and thought. Needless to say, but I will just in case, that this story being based on myth inherits all the strange gore that myths tend to have, so beware!

To end, I thought it was interesting reading a queer retelling of Chinese mythology by a Thai author no less,  instead of British, Canadian or American. I think the style would need some time to get used to, but it’s worth to read it. It lulls between complexities of plot and gender and the easiness of long descriptions that relax you (like one of those relaxation classes).

Amanda Clay reviews About a Girl by Sarah McCarry

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There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.

Tally is a girl who knows a lot about heaven. She knows a lot about a lot of things and she doesn’t care who knows it. She has her future mapped out: a degree in physics, then a career in astronomy, observing the heavens through a telescope’s lens.  Her adoptive family and her best friend Shane are behind her all the way, but the summer after graduation her life takes on a life of its own.  A night of unexpected passion with Shane is followed by excruciating silence. Disappointed and embarrassed, Tally seizes on the sudden opportunity to leave New York for Washington state in pursuit of a reclusive singer who may or may not be her father. She meets the man, but he offers no answers. Nor can anyone explain the peculiarities of the island: the crows that follow Tally around, the mysteriously hypnotic singers in the local bar, the way that Tally can’t keep ahold of her memories, why she’s even thenre. More importantly, she meets beautiful, mysterious Maddy, and before too long the two of them are wrapped up in each other as time slips away. But Maddy, like everyone on the island, like the island itself, isn’t what she seems. Learning the truth about her sets off a chain of revelations about who Tally is and where she comes from.

This book was an interesting experience, though I feel the need to preface this paragraph with a major spoilers alert. Consider yourself warned!  When I learned about this book I was eager to read it and dove into my copy, gobbling it up in just a few days.  What I did NOT know is that it was the third book in a trilogy, a trilogy called the Metamorphosis Trilogy, which when I learned that, cleared up a lot of my questions.  The story is very good—gorgeously written and full of rich, round characters. Tally is smart and funny and flawed, very relatable and easy to root for. Maddie is brooding and sexy and their whirlwind romance is both sweet and hot.  HOWEVER, I was entirely unprepared for the sudden, radical, incredibly supernatural turn the story took after Tally arrived in Washington.  As they mystery built, the little magical things didn’t seem out of place. Her forgetfulness and the chummy crow just seemed like texture for Tally’s journey. When we progressed to the hypnotic song of the bar-band sirens I frowned a bit at the overkill, so by the time Tally walks across the moon-path to visit her mom in Hades I was full on ‘What the hell is going on in this book?!” This is my fault for not doing my research on the author, but I also think that picking up an interesting title without knowing of another context is not that unusual (my copy had nothing on the cover to inform me otherwise). While I still recommend the book wholeheartedly, my opinion improved only after learning of the rest of the trilogy.