A Sapphic Marriage of Convenience Manga: I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Naoko Kodama cover

Buy this from Bookshop.org to support local bookstores and the Lesbrary!

Machi has been going along with what other people want for as long as she can remember, but she’s so sick of her parents nagging her to find a husband that she’s ready to marry someone they’d hate to spite them. She wasn’t expecting her (female) best friend Hana to volunteer for the role, though!

Yep, we’re skipping the fake dating and going straight to marriage, that’s how we roll here.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a fast, tropey read with a really cute art style. Machi and Hana have been friends for a long time, and work as a classic “the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one” pair, so their teasing and support for each other is lovely! And while the relationships starts off feeling unbalanced due to Hana’s pushiness and Machi’s passivity, its gradual evening out is fun.

I have so many mixed feelings about Hana’s pushiness, by the way; she’s mostly a cheery and flirty character, with her arc being all about revealing the serious core beneath that. But her response to Machi’s internalised homophobia (or what looks like homophobia) is sexual aggression that borders on harrassment. It’s presented as her issuing a challenge in the face of Machi’s previous knee-jerk reactions, and she always backs off without needing to be told, but it’s such a weird off-note with the rest of the manga. The manga’s tone is mostly funny, with jokes about boobs and playing with the stereotypes of heterosexual marriage! Hana pinning Machi to a bed to prove a point didn’t fit with that, to me.

But there is a serious core to I Married My Best Friend, in the form of Machi’s character arc—it’s my favourite part of the book. Machi grows so much as a result of living with Hana. She starts out completely detached from her own life, only doing what’s convenient and never actually thinking about what she wants. Her growth is entirely realising that there are things she cares about, and she’s allowed to say so! Whether that’s asserting herself at work, standing up to her homophobic mother for the first time, or trying to move from fake dating Hana to really dating her, she’s growing and changing for the better!

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is a lot of fun. If you’re in need of some f/f fake dating in the new year: this is a good place to start!

Caution warnings: homophobia, sexism, parental abuse

Susan is a queer crafter moonlighting as a library assistant. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, reviewing for Smart Bitches Trashy Books, or just bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

How to Un-Princess: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

the cover of Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower

Amazon Affiliate Link

When I first picked up the fantasy novella Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir in 2020, I knew that I’d be coming back to it for more. Because I’m more of a science fiction person, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bought it; I knew I liked Muir’s writing, and the premise sounded fun, so I took a chance. Given that this story has been read more than once, I’d say it paid off.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower follows Princess Floralinda as she tries to escape the tower a witch has trapped her in. She starts out the book as storybook princess as a princess can get. She dutifully watches for princes to come and save her from her fate, she obediently remains confined to her room, and she doesn’t make any attempts to free herself at first. A diamond-scaled dragon guards the bottommost level of the tower, and Floralinda waits and listens as each and every prince is gobbled up until the princes and their horses stop coming.

Now, in a different fairy tale kind of story, the princess might continue to mope about, doing nothing to try and free herself from her tower prison. A prince might finally come and save her…or she might end up like the princess who came before Floralinda, flinging herself out the window. Floralinda, however, starts shucking off the role of princess in order to become something bigger than that, beginning by leaving her room to check out the thirty-ninth floor. This story, while at first appearing to be a fairy tale, is actually a story about change. Floralinda changes throughout the book, so much so that other characters make mention of it. I found myself on this read trying to tally up every time Floralinda grew, little by little, into something that no longer resembled a princess. The Floralinda who ends this short book is not the same as the Floralinda who starts it, and I was constantly cheering her on because of it.

Her fairy companion changes alongside her. The secondary main character, Cobweb, is a fairy who gets blown into Floralinda’s tower during a storm and is forced to stay until the next full moon comes, due to the storm having ripped one of their wings off. The biggest change in this character comes when Cobweb chooses to become a girl because Floralinda asks them to do so. At first, Cobweb is referred to using “it” or “they” pronouns, but Floralinda presents them with the choice to either be a boy or a girl because it’s easier for her to wrap her head around it. Cobweb doesn’t want to be a girl; she expresses more than once that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. But she chooses to become one, at least for a little while, joining Floralinda in her metamorphosis. Both of these characters grow tremendously from where they start, and it’s so much fun as a reader to watch these changes unfold, especially as a queer reader who understands the idea of choosing how to present in front of other people. Cobweb is an almost refreshing take on a character who is nonbinary or genderqueer, and was also a big surprise to me on my first read because I did not expect to encounter a character like Cobweb in this short of a piece.

Because it is a novella, Princess Floralinda has a lot to cover in its short length. The world is expansive, the monstrous threats that wait for Floralinda and Cobweb on every level of the tower are both intriguing and confusing, and it could have become a much longer work if Muir had not reigned it in. While the pacing does feel off at times—we spend the first half of the novella stuck on the first two floors, then run through three floors in one short chapter later on—I found myself being okay with it because of the way the pacing reflects Floralinda’s character development. Floralinda rolls through the story like a boulder down a hill. Once she receives the initial push towards change, she loses bits and pieces of her princess-hood at an exponential rate. Muir keeps the focus of the story on Floralinda’s journey to un-becoming a princess, leaving some of the world around her unexplored in order to maintain that focus. If you’re looking for a story that gives you tons of lore on the universe and that doesn’t move at breakneck speed, this maybe isn’t the novella for you.

The romance between Floralinda and Cobweb was handled in such a good way too. At the point in their relationship that Floralinda realizes she is in love with Cobweb, she betrays her in a very specific way in order to keep her close. Reading them navigating that relationship after Floralinda’s betrayal was so riveting and interesting to me as someone who reads a lot of enemies to lovers. While I won’t go so far as to say that Floralinda and Cobweb are enemies, their dynamic after this scene mirrors that sort of romance and fleshes out both characters in ways that they could not have been fleshed out without exploring these feelings. If it was hard to see Floralinda as a complicated, well-rounded character before, from this point on, Floralinda is no longer a princess archetype and is instead a character capable of much more than was first expected of her. When I say that she changes, I mean that she changes. Through her relationship with Cobweb, her life experience grows, her ability to defend herself grows, and she finds herself transforming in ways she would not have on her own. Their growing relationship is not something Muir shoehorned into the narrative or put there just to have it in the story; their relationship to each other is the basis for both of their metamorphoses, and it is as important to the novella as the tower itself is.

Something else worth noting is the way the story is written. The narrator has fun telling this story. There are so many lines that had me laughing, not because they were necessarily funny, but because they were so specific and aware of the story that was being told. The narrator knows that this is supposed to be a princess story, but it’s like Floralinda is steering it off a pre-determined course. Floralinda finds her way out of the fairy tale destined for her, and the narrator tells the story to us with a bit of an attitude about it. Having read Tamsyn’s Locked Tomb series, it was refreshing to get a taste of her playful prose again in this novella. Her narrators usually hold some sway over the way lines are delivered to the reader, and I enjoyed having more of that in this story.

All in all, this novella is probably one of my favorite stories I’ve ever read, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see the role of princess get turned on its head.

Trigger warnings for: death (both human and creature) and some gore to go along with it. Floralinda also gets an infection in her hands that is described in detail, so be mindful if reading about infected wounds makes you squeamish.

Queerness is a Radical Act: Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

the cover of Some Desperate Glory

Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh is a wild ride of coming of age story, personal growth story, and dystopian sci fi. Gaea Station believes itself to be the last bastion of humanity that hasn’t sold out to aliens since Earth was destroyed. Every resource is carefully allocated and everybody is assigned their place to gather their strength until the day humanity can take their revenge and become a free species again. Kyr and her twin brother have always been considered some of Gaea’s best hopes, with their carefully planned genes, their connection to the station’s commander, and their aptitudes. Segregated to a girl’s training unit, Kyr has had to work twice as hard to receive almost none of the recognition her brother Magnus has but she’s determined that her cohort will do their absolute best and that her and Magnus will do their duty and humanity proud. But the day of their graduation from their youth cohorts to their adult assignments leaves Kyr reeling from multiple heavy blows to her pride and faith in everything she’s known. Torn between different loyalties and faced with unwelcome family revelations, Kry sets off on a desperate journey to save her honor and discovers that the wider universe is bigger and more complex than she ever dreamed.

What I loved most about Some Desperate Glory, is that it is somewhat rare for me to find a character so insufferable at the beginning and then be rooting so hard for their personal growth by the end, but main character Kyr is, in this as in many things in her life, an exception. Her worldview starts out so incredibly narrow—she’s bought into her station brainwashing so hard, she doesn’t even question what topics she should be questioning, and she’s an incredible asshole to everyone around her who isn’t as conforming as her. Plus she’s been raised as the pinnacle of all the station’s hopes (and breeding programs). Even the other people on the station find her insufferably brainwashed. But it’s conversely because Kyr is so by the book that she grows. When presented with evidence, she does change, because she’s been trained to evaluate tactical situations. When faced with people different than her, she is bewildered when she experiences flashes of empathy. Begrudgingly, and with much protesting, her character arc is a hard-earned battle every step of the way. Just the fact that she starts out so unlikeable and yet remained compelling was wildly interesting to me. In a sea of unlikeable hard-edged cult members, Kry should have been just another footsoldier, but she became so much more. I was rooting for her so hard.

Kyr was so brainwashed that she didn’t even allow herself to think about a relationship she would actually want until the possibility was shoved in her face. On Gaea station, there was only Nursery, and the planned breeding program to bolster the station’s gene lines, and everything else was extraneous. Certainly being queer was prohibited as nonconformist. Kry had closeted herself even to herself, covering up her revulsion at the idea of rotations in Nursery with platitudes about duty. In the light of such things as saving the universe, humanity, and the people Kyr cares about, coming to terms not just with her own queerness but also it’s acceptability outside the station may seem like a side plot at first, but it was important to Kyr’s development and it was important to me as a reader. Queerness was something Gaea Station stamped out hard in order to enforce conformity, but Kyr included it in her rebuilding of her own self-image. Her queerness was also key to her character growth, as she realized that having feelings wasn’t just a waste of time and divided loyalties, but something worthwhile and pleasant. Something for herself rather than the greater good. Kyr’s vision and hope of having a girlfriend isn’t just a romantic subplot, it’s a radical act that sets her on the path to tearing down a fascist regime.

In conclusion, Some Desperate Glory is a fantastic sci fi adventure that explores multiple compelling themes. The world building and characters were great, and I was wildly drawn to the main character. Emily Tesh once again proves to be an incredible story teller, and that she can jump genres from fantasy to sci fi with ease.  Definitely add this one to your to read list, sci fi fans.