Marthese reviews Pegasi and Prefects (Scholars and Sorcery #1) by Eleanor Beresford

pegasi

“I take my questions and shining little badges with me”

Keeping in line with my recent reviews, I read another short fantasy book. This time, I read Pegasi and Prefects which is the first in the Scholars and Sorcery series. I found it to be a somewhat good introduction but it focuses more on the main character, Charley rather than world building. At times it seemed slow but I quite enjoyed that. The book is only 138 pages so a quick read overall.

The story is about Charley, who attends Fernleigh Manor, a school for gifted people which are people that possess talents that are somewhat different from each other as no gift is the same. Charley has an affinity to communicate with fabled animals. Her family has a business in raising fabled beasts and in fact, Charley has a pegasus named Ember. She is friends with Esther and Cecily who are quite popular and so by default but not only, is Charley. They are in their last year of studies and Charley wants a quite year but her year is anything but that as she is made a senior prefect and a games captain- a sort of peer trainer for all the years and hockey teams.

Charley’s year is also rocked when two new girls transfer in their last year at the Manor. She has to share a study room with Diana, who many people are charmed by but not Charley. Moreover, She has to be friendly to Rosalind, a very shy girl but in the end this would not be a problem as Charley develops feelings for Rosalind after the two girls take care of an animal together since it turns out that they both share an affinity to fabled beasts.

Charley is what could be called a tomboy and we see some gender relations and how different people treat her because of this- namely Esther, Diana and her brothers. Charley learns not to fall into prejudice and also learns to be less selfish. This seems also a theme about her love life, where she assumes things about Rosalind and is jealous but at the same time wants to be selfless.

World building is slow and sometimes confusing but things eventually got clearer. We get to know more about different animals and about the history of the reality that the characters live in. When reading fantasy I tend to assume that it’s a different world and so I was surprised when things like cars or hockey got mentioned but when they were, it helped me understand and relate better.

Despite it’s slowness, I found it to be a calming book and it also kept me interested and as such, I read it very quickly. I recommend it to people that like fantasy books but that are looking for something different from the usual epic battle or action theme. It is also suitable for young audiences and more focused on Charley’s self-reflection.

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 Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Elizabeth E. Lynn’s first novel, Watchtower, is a fantasy that won the 1980 World Fantasy Award for best novel. I haven’t read a lot of fantasy books, but I’m trying to broaden my horizon for the Lesbrary. Watchtower is about Ryke, a commander who defends Tornor Keep. When Tornor Keep is invaded (don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything, that’s on the first page) and the lord of the Keep is killed, Ryke does everything he can to defend the prince, Errel. Eventually he does this by joining two women travelling (aah, now you understand why I’m reviewing this book here). The women are clearly a couple, but although the characters are the second most important, after Ryke and Errel, their relationship isn’t fussed over much.

Most of this book was traveling. There’s a fight in the last 20 pages and the first 20 (or less) pages, but most of the rest is spent on horseback. I actually didn’t mind that, because presumably the book is mostly about developing Ryke’s character. The problem was that I didn’t really see it develop. In theory, Ryke learns new expectations about women and about the role of war, etc, but I never actually remember Ryke reflecting that. These opinion-altering things happen around him, but you don’t really get much of a sense of how he’s dealing with it. I liked that not a lot of emphasis was put on the fact that the women were in a relationship, and I liked how their personalities came out more and more.

To be honest, I had one big problem with this book: I felt that it was really choppily written. The sentences were so short, and consistently so, that I was distracted from the story by the writing style almost the whole way through, making it sort of a struggle to finish. For example: “They walked down a street, the only street. The well stood in its center. The village looked deserted. No children hung about the buildings. […] They walked into a cottage. A woman sat at a table. A square window opened at her back. The room smelled of dust and ink and light” (page 99). Maybe it’s just me, but the sentences seemed really abrupt, and the things that were described in detail seemed to be totally random, like a clip in some woman’s hair.

Have you read Watchtower, or any of Elizabeth A. Lynn’s other books? What did you think of them? Have you ever found a book a struggle to finish solely because of the writing?

Danika reviews Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Love as thou wilt.

Such is the precept of Elua, the most important deity of Terre d’Ange, where Kushiel’s Dart takes place. If that sounds like the perfect commandment for a queer novel, it pretty much is.

Kushiel’s Dart is the first of a trio of trilogies based in the same world, though only the first trilogy feature Kushiel’s Dart‘s protagonist, Phèdre. If I could describe Kushiel’s Dart in only two words, it would be sex and politics, but religion would be a close third.

This is a 900 page book, which makes it pretty much impossible to discuss without some spoilers, but I’ll keep them to the first 100 pages or so. This is the story of Phèdre, sold as a young child to a… well, it’s tempting to say brothel, but in this world being a sex worker is being a Servant of Naamah, a semi-spiritual, respectable life. After all, love as thou wilt. Anyway, Phèdre goes on to become a pupil of an intellectual, taught to listen and spy while exercising her unique talents as (minor spoiler) an anguissette: the rare trait of experiencing pleasure in pain. As such, Kushiel’s Dart has graphic, but tasteful, I think, descriptions of sex, including sadomasochism.

The first half of the novel builds slowly, with Phèdre reporting to Delauney, her tutor, the things she learns through being an anguissette. Personally, I found it difficult to follow all the names and politics, but I have a terrible head for that. It didn’t stop me from enjoying it, though. The second half is more fast-paced, with greater stakes. It includes conspiracy, love stories, and quite a bit of travel.

Phèdre may have the most involved relationships with men during the course of the novel, but she takes both male and female clients, like most Servants of Naamah, and perhaps the most erotic relationship Phèdre has is with a woman.

I’m sorry this review seems little jumbled. I liked Kushiel’s Dart, but it was definitely a thorough world-building, one that lost me few times, since I couldn’t always keep track of the names or politics. I won’t be picking up the next one, but I definitely enjoyed Kushiel’s Dart and I’m hoping to eventually re-read it.

 

Have you read Kushiel’s Dart or another lesbian/bi women/women-loving-women Fantasy novel? What did you think of it?