Stuff and Nonsense


6.24.2020

Pride Month: The Queen of Ieflaria


Princess Esofi has made the long journey to Ieflaria to wed Crown Prince Albion, someone she has been betrothed to since childhood. Although they have never met, they have exchanged many letters, and Esofi is looking forward to her marriage … or, rather, was. The prince has died, leaving Esofi and Ieflaria in precarious positions. Esofi does not want to return to her homeland (from my reading it seemed almost as if she couldn't) and Ieflaria doesn't want her to go, as they need her magic to fight off the dragons pillaging the countryside.

Esofi needs to marry someone royal to stay in Ieflaria. Someone like Adale, Albion's sister. And that would be an excellent solution to everyone's problems ... except Adale never expected to be the heir, is upset by the idea of replacing her brother, and is set on doing a runner at the first opportunity. Happily, there is an alternative to Adele -- the Terrible Cousins. Except, well, they're terrible.

I liked Adale and Esofi -- both very different characters, but each interesting and compellingly-written. Their romance grew slowly from an initial tentative liking into something tender and sweet and rooted. They were so cute together. Every scene with just the two of them getting to know each other left me grinning like a goof and wishing for more. Indeed, I would have been perfectly content if the entire novel had just been a series of scenes in which Adale and Esofi exchange amusing banter while wearing fabulous clothes.

I do wish the secondary characters were a bit more fleshed out. Most were very one-note -- for example, Lady Mireille was snotty, "Lady Lisette" was sneaky, and Adele's friends were akin to a mass of drunken puppies. The world-building was a bit uneven -- Esofi's interior monologues sometimes bordered on infodumps and, yet, I also frequently felt as if I was being tortured with hints of Things That Might Be Important But Will Go Unexplained. But, hey, The Queen of Ieflaria is both a debut novel and the first in a series -- I expect the world-building will improve as Calvin goes on and concepts/subplots that are unclear will become crystal.

Ultimately, while I feel The Queen of Ieflaria does need just a little more polish, it was still an extremely enjoyable read. Hooray for kissing, kittens, floofy dresses! Hooray for happy pansexual princesses! Hooray for a fantasy universe in which sexuality is not A Big Deal or even a Thing.

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin. NineStar Press, 2018. Kindle edition.

6.17.2020

Pride Month: Alice + Freda Forever


1892. Two young people are in love and secretly engaged to be married, but then, due to family interference, the engagement is broken and all contact between the two is stopped. A tragedy, yes, but these things happen. Except one of them isn’t going to give up on the engagement -- it’s marriage or death. Well, that happens.
And they’re lesbians ...

So, yeah, there’s that. Would I read a historic crime book about a nice straight, white Memphis boy who killed is ex-fiancé in 1892? Probably not. But give me a crime history with lesbians and I’d fight every library patron on the eastern seaboard to get my hands on it. Yes, I can feel you judging me. I judge me.

Alice + Freda Forever is one of those reads I’d definitely recommend to people looking for nonfiction that reads like fiction. There’s just so much of Alice and Freda’s story that seems impossible or improbable and yet is undoubtedly (and heartrendingly) true. A lot of that has to do with how lesbianism was viewed in the 1892 -- which is to say it wasn’t, because it simply didn’t exist (for anyone who wasn’t one, obviously).

That Alice and Freda planned to run away together, get married, and live as husband and wife was just so far beyond the ken of any reasonable person -- who could have grasped the possibility? Even Freda’s own brother, when he waited up with a shotgun that elopement night, was convinced there was really a man at root of the elopement scheme and that Alice was merely a pawn. If the girls were actually serious in their love, then clearly one or both of them had to be insane. And that’s what Alice’s trial is about. Not whether she killed Freda, but whether she’s sane enough to be tried for murder.

Although I frequently had to put the book down to facepalm over Alice’s painful dramatics (someone get the girl a therapist) and awkward machinations (she’s about as cunning as your average thwarted-in-love teenager, I guess), I absolutely adored this book. The story, while deeply tragic, was endlessly fascinating and I wanted more. (Indeed, I’d love to know why more of Alice’s testimony isn’t included. Is it destroyed or missing? And what of the poor patsy, Lilly Johnson? What became of Lilly after the trail?).

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest Books, 2014)

6.10.2020

Pride Month: My Brother's Husband, Volume 1


My Brother's Husband is a sweet, tender manga about family, parenthood, love, and loss. Brothers Yaichi and Ryoji had grown apart as adults, with Ryoji eventually emigrating to Canada and marrying Mike. Some time later, Ryoji dies and big, burly, bearish Mike travels to Japan to visit Yaichi and his daughter.

Initially Yaichi's homophobia causes him to struggle with fulfilling his host and familial obligations to Mike, but gradually -- as he sees how warmly and kindly everyone else responds to Mike, how much his daughter Kana loves her new Canadian uncle, and how much Mike is clearly grieving for his husband -- Yaichi's heart opens and he becomes less prejudiced. His transformation is not flawless, but deeply human.

So there's all that heavy-sounding plot going on and yet it is lightly and gently told. There's a great deal to empathize with, as well as some amusing light-hearted moments, cross-cultural teasing, and a sweet domesticity to the whole thing. I greatly enjoyed My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 and I look forward to reading the Volume 2. I only wish there was a Volume 3 ...

My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 written by Gengorah Tagame w/ trans. by Anne Ishii. Pantheon Books, 2017.