The Audacity of a Point of View: Opinions by Roxane Gay

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In Opinions: A Decade of Arguments, Criticism, and Minding Other People’s Business, Roxane Gay (she/her), author of New York Times bestsellers Bad Feminist and Hunger, delivers an expertly curated collection of her opinion writing on a host of different topics from approximately 2013 to 2023, or what she describes as a “decade of massive social upheaval.” 

At the outset, I acknowledge that me sharing my opinions about Gay’s Opinions where she shares her opinions is confusing and meta. Stick with me anyway!

Opinions is timely and thought-provoking. It consists of sixty-six pieces separated into seven sections: Identity/Politics, The Matter of Black Lives, Civic Responsibilities, For the Culture, Man Problems, Minding Other Folks’ Business, and Solicited Advice. Each section contains several relevant pieces in order of original publication date. I really appreciated the way the book was organized because it set the tone for each piece before I read it and allowed me to experience the evolution of Gay’s thought process over several years. I also loved that each piece was between two and nine pages. It made the process of reading and absorbing each of Gay’s opinions much more manageable.

Opinions is provocative; Gay pulls no punches. Some of my favorite titles included: “No One Is Coming to Save Us from Trump’s Racism”; “You’re Disillusioned. That’s Fine. Vote Anyway.”; “I Don’t Want to Watch Slavery Fan Fiction”; and “I Thought Men Might Do Better Than This”. But Gay doesn’t just pen witty titles—her writing style is sharp and insightful. In “Cops Don’t Belong at Pride”, she discusses the history of Pride and her opinion that law enforcement should respect the boundaries of the LGBTQ community and not attend. In “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylan Roof”, Gay opines that Black people forgive because they need to survive and asserts that some acts are so terrible, they are beyond forgiving. In “Can I Enjoy Art but Denounce the Artist”, Gay weighs in on the longstanding debate of whether we should support the work of artists who behave badly.

Gay is bisexual and Haitian. As a fellow queer woman of color, I was so proud to read this book! Although I do not agree with every view Gay espouses, I respect her deeply as a pillar in the LGBTQ community and feel incredibly empowered by her audaciousness. Opinions is an engaging and worthwhile read that you can sit with and reflect upon over time.

If you want to get a flavor for Gay’s writing style, check her out on Twitter, where she shares her 280-character point of view on anything and everything, and on Goodreads, where she succinctly reviews her own books, as well as books from other authors.

Trigger warnings for all of the subjects of social upheaval in the last decade, including: child sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, abortion, police brutality, mass murder, school shootings, racism, homophobia, and misogyny.

Raquel R. Rivera (she/her/ella) is a Latina lawyer and lady lover from New Jersey. She is in a lifelong love affair with books and earned countless free personal pan pizzas from the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program as a kid to prove it.

An Anti-Capitalist Murder Mystery in Space: Stars, Hide Your Fires by Jessica Mary Best

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You ever read something that you really really want to love but can’t? That was Stars, Hide Your Fires for me. I’m a huge sucker for political sci-fi/fantasy, and while I more often read heftier adult novels, I do occasionally browse the young adult section of my local bookstore. From the back-cover blurb to the first few chapters, it really seemed like this one was a shoo-in for me, but ultimately I found it lacking.

Cass is a pickpocket and con artist who grew up on Sarn, a backwater moon in the Helian Empire. Her family is desperately poor, barely surviving by selling salvage and trinkets stolen from the tourists leaving Sarn’s single resort, but she has a plan to get them out: sneak and lie her way into the emperor’s ball, nab as much fancy jewelry as she can while chatting up the aristocrats, then buy tickets to anywhere but Sarn and a lifetime of not having to worry about the next meal for everyone she cares about.

Her plan gets royally messed up, however, when the emperor is murdered just before he was expected to name his heir, and someone slips the evidence into her pockets. Now she’s trapped and has to work with the mysterious Amaris, a member of the rebel Voyria, to find the real killer before it gets pinned on them both.

Best’s worldbuilding is stellar (pun very much intended). “Young Person from Bad Planet goes off to take down the Evil Empire” is hardly the most obscure setup, but there’s lots of detail that gives it a distinctly anti-capitalist vibe that I found very compelling. Sarn is a barren world, reduced to a wasteland by corporations shipping all of their fertile soil off to other planets for private gardens, and its economy is barely kept afloat by a single luxury resort offering exotic vacations to the wealthy. One of the aristocrats Cass steals from is very proud of how she’s saving silkworms by underpaying workers to harvest silk from dangerous spiders that can destroy their hands. The emperor keeps a cadre of exact clones around just so he can have organ transplants on demand. There’s a war going on far away in the background, but this story cares less about the external conflict and more about the internal inequality of the empire, which I really liked.

The plot is promising, but doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the setting. The mystery is particularly obvious in a way that found me groaning in frustration when the characters went after the red herrings. The pacing can also get a bit weird at times—multiple chapters are spent setting up Cass’ situation on Sarn and planning her heist, but when she’s forced to execute her plan early because a dangerous fence found out she conned him, that situation gets pushed past in just a couple pages. This is a pattern that is repeated several times throughout the book, and it makes the potentially lethal threats feel somewhat less lethal by how fast they’re dispatched in favor of moving things along.

Where I felt the book really let me down was the characters. I so desperately wanted to love thief-with-a-heart-of-gold Cass, but while she’s very charming and easily likeable, she comes off kind of flat. I kept expecting what I thought was her fatal flaw—overconfidence despite being in a completely unfamiliar environment—to come back to bite her, but it never really does. She takes risks constantly and most of them just kind of work out. Amaris is similarly lacking a character arc, and by the end of the book I felt like I was looking at the exact same people as I was at the beginning.

The romance is… not really there. In a way, I appreciate that, because the meat of the story where the two are together takes place over what I believe is the span of a few hours, so there’s not really a lot of time to build a meaningful relationship, but the few moments that there are feel just a little forced. I wouldn’t say it’s bad, exactly, but just don’t go in expecting too much.

Overall, I suspect that Stars, Hide Your Fires is, despite what I was hoping, just not for me. I know plenty of people who care significantly less about character arcs and more about cool settings and fun plots, and if that’s what you’re in for I think you’ll probably really enjoy it.

Content Warnings: a brief reference to a side character’s eating disorder early on, police brutality

Shakespeare, Fae, and Orisha: That Self-Same Metal by Brittany N. Williams

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At the age of sixteen, Joan Sands possesses exceptional craftsmanship skills that she employs to create and maintain the stage blades for The King’s Men, a theatrical troupe led by William Shakespeare. Joan’s remarkable blade-crafting ability is rooted in her magical power to manipulate metal, bestowed upon her by her guiding deity, the head Orisha, Ogun. Hailing from a family blessed by Orishas, the Sands have always been attuned to the presence of Fae in London.

Normally, this awareness entails little more than observing the subtle luminance enveloping the Fae as they attempt to assimilate into London’s social fabric. However, recently, there has been a noticeable rise in violent Fae assaults. When Joan injures a formidable Fae assailant and rescues a nobleman’s son in the process, she becomes entangled in the intricate web of political machinations spanning both the human and Fae realms.

This is a captivating story! Joan’s journey is portrayed with such depth and authenticity that she feels like a genuine person, navigating the complexities of being forced to grow up too soon while still grappling with relatable teenage experiences. Joan’s confidence in her bisexuality, coupled with her witty humor about her romantic encounters, adds a layer of realism that’s both endearing and relatable. In avoiding making Joan’s sexuality a central point of conflict, the author’s depiction of her as a casually queer person is remarkably refreshing. The near absence of queerphobia is a commendable aspect of the book. Rather than being related to her sexuality as a whole, Joan’s central romantic conflict involving her strong feelings for two people at once, which brings a rich complexity to her character, as she grapples with matters of the heart.

Similarly, while Joan’s Blackness is not used as a central conflict point, this book deftly addresses complex issues of race and class. Joan and her family are accepted within their immediate circle, but the author skillfully exposes the insidious racism perpetuated by the upper classes. The narrative masterfully highlights the disturbing tendency toward fetishization, as well as the harmful notion of there being a “correct” mold for a Black person. By shedding light on these often-overlooked aspects, the book invites readers to confront uncomfortable truths.

Finally, the portrayal of the Fae lore is a standout feature of this novel. Rather than the typical romanticized depiction, the Fae are presented as gritty, malevolent creatures, much more in keeping with their mythological depictions. The exploration of their darker aspects adds an intriguing layer of tension and suspense to the narrative. Similarly, the incorporation of Orisha into the story is a brilliant addition that sets this book apart. It’s refreshing to see the inclusion of elements from a lesser-explored mythology, and I’m eager to learn more about Orisha in the upcoming sequel.

All in all, this novel successfully weaves together multifaceted characters, captivating Fae lore, and unique mythological influences, creating an immersive and unforgettable reading experience. I am greatly looking forward to what the author has in store for us in the sequel!

Content warnings: racism, sexism, murder, dismemberment, blood, some gore.

Empire for Beginners: The Splinter in the Sky by Kemi Ashing-Giwa

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The Splinter in the Sky by Kemi Ashing-Giwa is a debut science fiction story about Enitan, a teamaker and scribe who finds herself thrust into the heart of the empire that controls the moon village Koriko after her sibling Xiang disappears. Her on-again-off-again girlfriend, the governor of Koriko, turns up dead while attempting to help Enitan find Xiang, leaving Enitan with only one solution: volunteer to be the village’s hostage for the empire and try to find them herself. Along the way, she becomes involved with a group that seeks to undermine the same system Enitan wants to destroy. She learns more about the new Imperator, the empire’s figurehead, and the way the government really works than she ever thought she would.

I really thought I would like this book. “Characters who dive into the meat of the empire and attempt to destroy it from the inside” has been my favorite kind of story for years now. I’ve loved most versions of it that I’ve seen. I just didn’t love this one. If I were to recommend this book to anyone, it would be to someone who is first stepping into books like this and doesn’t want to go into the deep end yet. This story doesn’t push the boundaries of what an empire can do to its people, and as a reader, this was frustrating and an aspect of the book that lost me because of how unrealistic it is. It’s like the empire is there, looming over the horizon, but it never quite pushes its way past the narrative. It exists because the story needs it to exist, and that is all. If a reader doesn’t think they’re ready to encounter the worlds of A Memory Called Empire or The Traitor Baru Cormorant, then The Splinter in the Sky is a way to gauge how they feel without investing much emotion into the story.

Spoilers below.

This world feels less oppressive than it’s supposed to be. People walk around with enamel pins on their chests that showcase their gender identity. There is no imperialist issue that comes up due to Xiang’s use of they/them pronouns or due to Enitan’s sexuality. Enitan literally stumbles into the answers she needs on multiple occasions. There is no conflict regarding the Imperator as a love interest because Enitan does not feel any particular way about her until the end, after the reader knows the Imperator is fully on Enitan’s side and that she has clearly been smitten with Enitan from their first meeting. The characters use “therapy speak” in a way that feels unnatural and confusing. None of the stakes are real because there is no threat of permanent consequences. Xiang is gone, then Xiang is back. Enitan is ridiculed as the “Imperator’s mistress” due to the attention the Imperator shows her, and Enitan never strays or deals with the ramifications of making that claim a reality. Enitan goes into danger; the Imperator always, always gets her out, and if the Imperator isn’t there, then Xiang is, filling the same role.

To be blunt, Enitan doesn’t do much as a main character. The interesting things happen around her, and half of them, we never even get to see. Throughout the whole book, I couldn’t help wondering what this story would look like told from the Imperator’s perspective, in the point of view of a figurehead ruler who falls in love with their quasi-political hostage. The Imperator is the one who contributes the most to the plot, and we don’t even get to see her do it except when Enitan notices. I kept expecting the book to deliver on its premise, and it never did. If I am reading a book whose pull is that it is a sapphic criticism of empire and imperialism, I want it to give me that, and I want it to hit me where it hurts. This book did not meet any of my expectations. I was rooting for it to pull me in. A couple of my favorite plot movements were used in this novel, and I felt let down every single time. I never once feared for Enitan; I never feared for the Imperator or really for Xiang either, and Xiang’s disappearance is supposed to be the entire push into the novel. Enitan is written as the main character, but she is held at a certain distance from the ravaging of the empire for the entire book, even when we are supposed to believe she is not.

So: if you’re scared of stories that focus on a character’s infiltration and destruction of an empire, you can start here without worrying about a thing. Everything is easy, and coincidences appear for Enitan throughout the whole story. The three main characters you follow will always stay alive, and they will always get the things that they want. If you’ve read any heavier takes on empire before, though, I would suggest skipping this one.

For trigger warnings, this book includes military violence, xenophobia, and derogatory terms for sex workers.

Evil Gods, Murder, and Angry Women: The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

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Tara Sim’s The City of Dusk has been on my to-read list for a while now, and with the second book in the series—The Midnight Kingdomhaving just come out, now seemed a great time to get around to it.

This dark fantasy novel follows the four heirs of the noble houses of Nexus: Taesia, Risha, Angelica, and Nikolas. The members of each house are descendants of one of the four gods, who have left them behind and sealed their own realms behind a barrier. This event, known as the Sealing, has left the world in a dire stateit is slowly dying without access to the other realms, and as such, the heirs are desperate to find a way to break the barrier and reopen the portals. As if that wasn’t enough trouble, Nexus’s king has no heir and is expected to announce the heir of one of the houses as the next ruler.

The heirs themselves are both the book’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. While each of them has a distinct personality and unique ambitions and are all a delight to readdespite some of them being morally dubious, at bestthe book simply does not have enough time to spend with all of them. Taesia is clearly the favorite: she gets the most screen time, and her character arc is the most complicated and most complete. I frequently found myself wanting for more time with the others, especially Angelica, who was my personal favorite but probably has the least amount of writing. This disparity extends to the protagonists’ supporting characters, as well: Taesia’s sister is an important character who shows up often and even has her own POV section. By contrast, Angelica’s apparent romantic interest is barely around at allthere was an intense emotional section later in the book that was undercut somewhat by the fact that I genuinely forgot who this person was.

Speaking of romantic interests, though, I do love an ensemble cast where every member is some manner of queer, and that does seem to be the case in The City of Dusk. Taesia and Nikolas both express interest in men and women, Angelica has multiple intimate scenes with other women, and I believe Risha is asexual. These identities don’t play a major role in the story, however, so don’t go in expecting any romance.

By far my favorite part of this book was how downright furious the female leads are. I feel like fiction doesn’t allow its female characters to be genuinely angry outside of emotional climaxes, but that is decidedly not the case in The City of Dusk. Taesia and Angelicaand Risha, but to a lesser extentare upset at their circumstances, at their families, at the political machinations of the people who have power over them, and at the gods themselves, and the story does not shy away from letting them show it. I would not say that any of them handle their anger particularly well, but they are allowed to feel it and show it and own it, and it’s incredibly satisfying to read. I found myself cheering them on even when they were making objectively awful decisions, because it was just impossible to not empathize with that level of righteous fury.

It feels weird to say that a book with a word count of 150k could have been longer, but that was the feeling I was left with by the end of it. The plot progresses at a very rapid pace, which is great for maintaining interestsomething that I find a lot of political fantasy really struggles withbut it doesn’t leave enough breathing room for the characters to just exist.

The final act of the story is especially hectic. There are at least five different schemes that all come to a head in the same climax, and the action gets really confusing. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that my ebook did not show any breaks between POV shifts mid-chapter, and I don’t know if this is true of a physical copy, but it still felt like there was a little too much going on. There were several twists involving characters that barely showed up in the story before the end, and it didn’t feel like many of them were foreshadowed particularly well. I’m willing to give it a little more leeway as it’s the first of a trilogy and is setting up the sequel, but it’s still kind of messy.

Complaints aside, however, The City of Dusk still managed to captivate me all the way through. The characters really drive this story forward, even if they left me wanting just a little. I’m still very much excited to get my hands on The Midnight Kingdom as soon as I can.

Content Warnings: a good amount of violence and gore but honestly not too extreme for dark fantasy barring one especially brutal scene involving cannibalism, some suicidal ideation, loss of bodily autonomy

Court Intrigue at the Heart of an Interstellar Empire: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is an elegant space opera that artfully ties together themes of empire, identity, and cultural dominance. It makes you consider all of these while drawing you into the characters and the complex political intrigues. 

The book follows Mahit Dzmare, a newly appointed ambassador to the powerful, galactic spanning Teixcalaanli Empire after the mysterious death of her predecessor. She represents Lsel Station: a few space stations on the edge of Teixcalaanli space, containing some tens of thousands of humans. With such a small population, they use a device called an Imago that allows them to access the memories of their predecessor, eventually merging to become a single entity. The previous ambassador’s Imago is decades out of date, however, and she has trouble working it besides. As a result she has difficulties navigating the physical, social, and political landscapes of the Teixcalaanli imperial court—all of which present dangers aplenty.

Mahit, like her predecessor before her, is in love with the culture of the Empire. Their culture (in the form of stories, language, and even modes and forms of thinking) is as much a tool of their domination of the known galaxy as their unstoppable fleets. I feel like the dedication at the beginning sums this up beautifully: “This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever fallen in love with a culture that was devouring their own.” Mahit seems caught in the conflicted state of being a foreigner who wishes she were Teixcalaanli, while also being a lover of Teixcalaan that wishes to protect her station from the Empire. These conflicts are a constant theme throughout this book.

The culture of Teixcalaan itself deserves special mention. Arkady Martine has a PhD in history with a focus on the Byzantine Empire as well a Master’s degree in Urban Planning, and it shows in how believably intricate the Teixcalaali Empire is. The empire seems to draw inspiration from the Byzantine, Aztec, and Chinese empires, but overall it feels wholly unique. The most prevalent feature of their culture is the obsession with literary works, both the words and the content of the stories themselves. The average Teixcalaanli seems to constantly reference stories and poems in their everyday speech, and two separate poems become strongly relevant to the progression of the plot. This probably sounds like it would overwhelm the reader as much as it does Mahit, but the author does an amazing job at grounding you in the context of the Empire. As you read through the little blurbs from in universe written works that begin each chapter, you really start to feel immersed in the culture.

The sapphic content in this book is limited, but on reread there are many more clues than I initially caught. It is a cute love story, even though romance has a relatively minor impact on the plot. The relationship does develop somewhat in the sequel, however, and I’m eagerly looking forward to where things go in the third book.

As an aside, this book has some surprising parallels to both the Machineries of Empire series by Yoon Ha Lee and the Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie. If you enjoyed either, I’d recommend this book wholeheartedly, as well as vice versa (though the Imperial Radch is definitely my least favorite of the three—certainly good, but not as incredible as the other two). All feature characters grappling with existing inside oppressive empires, and all explore fascinating ideas regarding identity. (Oddly enough, all also involve the merging or splitting of consciousnesses).

Lastly, I want to praise how clever this book is overall. The plots are intricate and everything is tied together beautifully, of course, but it’s more than that. The use of language, both within the dialogue and without, is precise and brilliant. By the end you get a sense of the characters and how they think—almost entirely alien to us in a believable way. You come away feeling satisfied and clever for having understood it.

Kelleen reviews An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

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I am in the middle of THE most epic reading slump this summer. I haven’t been reading a tenth of what I usually do, and the genres and storylines that usually capture my attention just aren’t doing it for me right now. But I’ve read these books 3.5 times so far in 2022 and I can’t imagine it won’t be more. There’s something about alien invasion and ultra-mega-creepy levels of instant fame that my soul finds very comforting right now.

This duology follows one 23-year-old woman, April May, as she accidentally makes first contact with an alien life force and then even more (or less, depending on who you believe) accidentally becomes wildly internet famous. With her band of friends and enemies and frenemies (including her ex-roommate/girlfriend), April must navigate these hitherto unreckoned dimensions, trying to save the world without losing herself.

The most remarkable thing about these books, in my opinion, is not the aliens or the internet but April herself (at least in the first book). Hank Green writes with such a strong, precise, compelling narrative voice with a narrow, central first person narrator who is so charming and funny as to make you forget how utterly unreliable she is. Especially when read in audio, the whole experience feels like April is telling you a story, directly into your ears, and the intimacy of that narration is electrifying. Hank writes complex, sympathetic, human characters whose humanity is the crux and core of every terrible decision and beautiful triumph. The story is fresh and exciting and dynamic, and then he breaks open all the doors in the sequel lending nuance and dimension with each distinctive POV.

I found myself so invested in the (beautifully executed) intricacies of plot, but even more invested in the humanness and complex hope of each of these characters. In this story, good conquers evil, but not easily. We see the full complexity of humanity, which makes each choice and each word less wholly good or wholly evil, but rather leads us to the only logical conclusion: that on the whole, human beings are good, and with intention and empathy, we can and must save the world.

April is a bi woman, and her identity feels present and honest without being didactic. And the journey we take with her relationship with Maya, the (very low) lows and the (very high) highs is so central to the complex and well-wound project of this story as a whole. It’s hopeful and messy and honest and absolutely essential.

Every time I think about these books, this story, I long to immerse myself inside it once more and then I remember that I am inside it. I live in a world eerily approaching an alien-invasion-meets-socio-political-internet nightmare. And I know there’s reason to be afraid, but I also know there’s more.

On second thought, perhaps it is the overwhelming hope that my soul finds very comforting right now.

DFTBA.

You can read more of Kelleen’s reviews on her bookstagram (@booms.books) and on Goodreads.

Marieke reviews Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Content warnings (for the book not the review): graphic violence, death, and murder

This review focuses on the relationship between the two main characters and occasionally touches on other story elements. Gideon The Ninth is so many different things at once that it would be impossible to include them all here, and I highly recommend you check out other reviews for their takes–and also because the literary content makes for really hilarious reviews. For slightly more of an inkling you can check out my bulletpoint review over on my booklr blog letsreadwomen. Still, because I am certifiably shit at summarising anything, I will share the lay down as per @droideka-exe: “Gideon the Ninth is about a himbo lesbian swordsman accompanying her sworn enemy lesbian necromancer to a haunted gothic castle to solve a whodunnit murder mystery in space.” It is written from Gideon’s point of view, and is set in a universe of nine planets which may or may not be the future version of our own galaxy. Alright, that should do it, let’s dig in!

The book is divided into five acts, with Act One being the toughest for me to get through. It’s big on setting the scene, worldbuilding, and introducing the main players of the story: Goth Sword Jock Gideon and Goth Necromancer Nerd Harrow. It also comes with a lot of background story for those two characters and introduces a bunch of minor characters who we never actually see again in the remainder of the tale, but who are referred back to on a regular basis–so pay attention. Cramming all of that into Act One means it’s a slow start to a story that immediately picks up the pace and ratchets up tension as you head into Act Two and never lets up from that point onwards. So, really, this is just a general warning to push through if you don’t like any of the elements mentioned above, as you will be rewarded very richly indeed.

Another reason why Act One is a tricky one, is because it seems to give Harrow the upper hand in her relationship with Gideon. It’s stated pretty explicitly in the text that Harrow is keeping Gideon at the Ninth House (their home planet) against her will, as they have literally been fighting each other for as long as they can remember, with Harrow sabotaging every single one of Gideon’s eighty-seven (!) escape attempts. This dynamic creates a clear power imbalance between the two of them. This is always a red flag for me in any type of relationship, but especially when the relationship also happens to be the main backbone of the story. Again, this dynamic changes dramatically as soon as you roll into Act Two, when they go off-world for the first time in both their lives, and are faced with people not from the Ninth House. From that point onwards there’s a lot of ongoing give-and-take between the two characters, but I wouldn’t say that the imbalance is ever truly resolved: even if in certain moments it swings more towards Gideon than Harrow, that is still an imbalance. Still, that continuous back-and-forth of them adjusting their boundaries by using their words makes for fantastic reading.

Which brings me to the development of their actual relationship → there is no explicit (as in graphic) intimacy between the two, and when they are physically intimate it is quite tame in terms of sensuality, but the tension is always there and always on high. Their physical intimacy is similar to that one Hand Flex in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice movie: short-lived but with extensive ramifications and Lots Of Tension. It has multiple sources and is definitely not solely sexual in nature (if it ever really even is), lots of it starts out as unresolved emotional tension and most of it becomes resolved before the end– so expect a number of confrontations and corresponding catharses. At the same time, both characters are absolutely capable of edging up the tension even while they are resolving some elements: it is a wild cocktail, I tell you.

All that said, there definitely is some sexual tension, even if it’s not super explicit. One of the many reasons I enjoyed the story is because in this universe sexual orientation is not a big deal, and not in the way of the straight utopia where it is no longer a big deal and fully accepted and therefore invisible and just another thing in the background you can forget about. No, sexual orientation is not a big deal because everything else is already so goddamn weird, so you might as well be attracted to a female Goth Nerd who you also hate. There are no labels and no one ever explicitly states what genders they are or are not attracted to, but even so Gideon is clearly sapphic and this is never portrayed or perceived as being odd or unusual. Gideon’s sexuality expresses itself as her becoming distracted as soon as a pretty woman walks into the room, as her doing anything said pretty women ask her to do, and also her becoming fully tongue-tied and / or putting her foot in her mouth in those self-same moments. Her sexual orientation also expresses itself through her unwilling bond with her necromancer, who she ostensibly hates and cannot stand but is also bound (in various ways) to protect onto death itself and even beyond (I cry).

In conclusion, it’s everything you ever wanted, go read it now.

Marieke (she / her) has a weakness for fairy tale retellings and contemporary rom coms, especially when combined with a nice cup of tea. She also shares diverse reading resources on her blog letsreadwomen.tumblr.com.

Danika reviews Drag King Dreams by Leslie Feinberg

I loved this book. I still have yet to read Feinberg’s classic novel Stone Butch Blues, but I definitely am motivated to now. I read Drag King Dreams for an English class of mine, and I can see why it would be assigned: there is a lot here to tease out.

[mild spoilers] On the one hand, and probably the reason I enjoyed it so much, Drag King Dreams is a deeply political novel. Not just because it deals with subjects that are always politicized (trans people and racialized people, especially), but because it is about Max’s political reawakening.

Max, as a visibly gender nonconforming person, spends the beginning of the novel just attempting to survive, just trying to get through day by day in a world that is largely hostile to hir. Throughout the novel, however, Max reconnects with hir activist past. I totally understand that there’s sometimes when the only thing we can do is just try to survive, but when that’s all you’re doing, every day, it becomes nearly impossible to do without losing momentum. In rediscovering activism, Max finds a reason to do more than just struggle to survive day-to-day, and I feel like that’s such an important message. [end mild spoilers]

There is more than just queer politics in Drag King Dreams, however. Max’s aunt, despite not being there physically, is a constant presence in the novel. Max’s experiences with virtual reality weave throughout the novel–though, arguably there are never really resolved. Max’s Jewish identity is explored. The war in Iraq plays a part in the novel.

It is odd that, despite Max playing on a computer, and despite the prominence in the novel of the war in Iraq, Drag King Dreams still felt like a timeless story to me. It explores, I think, the endless struggle in being part of an oppressed group. I really recommend this one, as long you’re okay with your fiction having a heaping dose of political opinion, and now I can’t wait to read Feinberg’s previous novel.