Monday, 28 September 2015

The Privilege of the Sword Revisited - the audiobook

I’ve just finished listening to the Privilege of the Sword’s audiobook and even though I already reviewed the book back in 2012 there are some new (and old) considerations I’d like to make.  

First of all, the production is amazing. It’s part of the “Neil Gaiman’s presents” audiobook label and because of that it’s been given the luxury treatment. First class dramatizations, original soundtrack, sound effects, the works. I mostly appreciated one of the two main narrators, Barbara Rosenblat, who I’m only after realising played freaking Rosa in Orange is the New Black! O M G. According to Neil, she’s the Meryl Streep of the audiobook world and I can see why. She’s got this beautiful, deep, rich voice that suits both men and women, and it just makes you feel you’re in safe hands. All you need to do is let her voice paint the words in your head and enjoy the ride. Ellen Kushner narrates the parts in first person, from Katherine’s point of view, and that works well too. Although I was expecting more dramatized scenes, like in Swordspoint. Felicia Day plays Katherine and I wish she had done more. You sort of forget she’s supposed to play her, until every now and then you hear her voice reading a letter or saying a couple of lines. That’s the only disappointing thing about this audiobook.

I listened to Swordspoint first, which meant I had now a better understanding of the mad Duke and his relationship with St Vier, which definitely added layers to his story. But as much as I enjoyed the first book and as much as I missed the scheming Duchess Tremontaine, my interest is all for Katherine. I can never have enough of her awesomeness and I really wish Kushner wrote more books about her. It feels like we’ve barely started to know her when the book ends.

This time around I didn’t notice the flaws in the writing style as when I read the book. I don’t know if I was particularly harsh the first time around but in the audiobook format the writing just flows naturally and I was never bothered by it.

And this time I did feel the romance between Katherine and Marcus. It felt like a beautiful and natural continuation of their friendship. And Marcus is such a wonderful person and a perfect match for Katherine in every sense, how could I not see this before. I was probably hoping Katherine’s bisexuality would steer her toward a girl, but there weren’t any available, really. Artemisia is not right for her, and the Black Rose, as much as I wish she could be, isn’t interested in a teenager with a crush on her.

Aside from my new perspectives, I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. I still think Katherine's character development is wonderful. I love that she shows her age in her complete idealism, in her love for drama and tragedy, and in her undying will to defend women's honor to the death, but also in her love for mishief and adventures. I love that she's shown loving aspects of both the women and the men's world. She still love all her gowns and frills and laces, but she also loves swordfighting and swashbucking, and sneaking out with Marcus, keeping secrets from the Duke and generally getting up to no good. 

I wish there was more fanfiction about Katherine. There’s plenty about Alec and Richard, but virtually none about Katherine and whoever (I’m not picky. Even just Katherine would be fine). Or maybe I don't know where to look? Anyone care to direct me toward them?

I already miss her and everyone else and I really wish it had been double the length. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Carol by Patricia Highsmith VS Odd Girl Out by Ann Bannon

Somehow I have found myself reading two lesbian novels written in the ‘50s one after the other. I had both Ann Bannon’s and Patricia Highsmith’s books under my radar for quite some time, but only the news recently come to my attention that a movie based on Carol was coming out soon prompted me to finally read it (or listen to it, rather). After Carol, I craved more lesbian fiction and I turned to Ann Bannon. Both books being published in the same era, only few years apart – Carol in 1952 and Odd Girl Out in 1957, they ask to be compared to each other.

Now, I don’t know how strict the publishers were at the time when they were asked by the Censorship to avoid any positive final outcome of lesbian and gay relationships, but somehow Carol, or the Price of Salt as it was originally named, managed to overcome those limitations and get away with a relatively happy ending. It’s well known for that, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because I have the feeling I would have appreciated the ending more if I hadn’t known that. As it happens, I did, and I wish it had been happier. But I had little or no knowledge of how the lesbian fiction of the time was, so of course I didn’t have any terms of comparison. Now I have read another one, Odd Girl Out, and compared to it, it seems like a celebration of all things lesbians, of EVERLASTING and TRUE LESBIAN LOVE. It’s even more surprising, knowing that it was published five years earlier than Ann Bannon’s novel. Could it be that its New York setting made it more permissive or more realistically open to different kinds of love than the conservative microcosm of a Midwestern University? Perhaps, but for whatever reason the two books are strikingly different.

Carol is the story of Therese, a 19-year-old stage designer who, at the beginning of the story, is working in a department store for some extra cash at Christmas, and of Carol, a charming woman in her '30s, about to get a divorce. One day Carol comes to Therese's desk to buy a doll for her daughter and Therese quite literally falls in love with her at first sight. She sends her a Christmas card later and Carol replies by inviting her out for coffee. They start an intimate friendship that later on becomes a love affair. There are complications though, as Carol is going through a divorce and the husband is not ready to let go of their daughter’s custody without a fight.

I enjoyed the writing in Carol. It’s quite beautiful and perceptive. The story is as much about Therese’s complete entrancement with Carol as about Therese’s struggle to find her place in life. To find meaning and fulfilment.
I loved the age gap between the two women and I was fascinated by Carol as much as Therese was. Their relationship isn’t one between equals, though. Carol has way too much control over Therese and never seems to reciprocate the younger woman’s feelings in equal measure. For a while it seems Therese is merely a distraction, a way of taking her mind away from her bigger problems in her life. She’s guarded and cold, always keeping Therese on the edge, never fully letting her in and embracing their romance without reservations. This was the only reason that kept me from falling in love with the book completely. I wanted to see more passion from Carol. I know it was there, she just never let herself show it. I understand her pain and fear of losing her daughter were clouding her ability to show love to Therese, but it made me weary of her, and I never fully trusted her. I didn’t trust her even if I knew how it was going to end. 

This said I am really excited that Cate Blanchett is playing Carol. She seems perfect for the role and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing her.

After Carol, I was craving a true, passionate lesbian romance and I turned to Ann Bannon. Ha! Little did I know.

At first, I thought the budding romance between young and timid Laura and confident and charming Beth was really cute. I loved how protective Beth was of Laura, how despite her teasing, she never means to hurt her. This, however, proves to be her biggest mistake. I never fully warmed to Laura, until the end, when she surprised me, by showing how much she has grown and how much Beth had underestimated her. I found Laura throughout the book to be annoying and spoiled and whiney. I liked Beth at first, I liked how sure of herself and fearless she was. But as soon as she starts falling in love with a guy, I started losing interest. This was supposed to be my steamy, forbidden, lesbian story! What was happening? Alas, heteronormative was happening. Of course, Beth hadn’t met the right guy yet. And of course, Charley was finally that right guy. Who tells her that lesbian relationship can only happen during childhood, that women should like men only, otherwise they are refusing to grow up and to accept reality.

Thankfully Laura is having none of this shit. Even though it takes a while for her to stop acting all confused and clueless about who she is. I liked the ending, which is supposedly a bad one for their romance? Except it’s the best ending that I could have asked for. I couldn’t wait for Laura to get rid of Beth. It took her way too long. That ending gives me hope. And it’s the reason why I will keep reading these books, and hopefully, finally, get my steamy, forbidden, lesbian story.

Compared to Carol, there was a lot more talk about how homosexuality is wrong and illegal and how it can stop a woman from growing up. Surprisingly in Carol, Therese never questions herself about her love for Carol. It just happens and she accepts it completely. She might have posed for a moment to consider how society viewed her sexual inclinations, but she never lets them affect her. The only time the issue is raised is by a man, who is speaking out of hurt and disappointment. It’s never raised after that. It’s not Carol and Therese’s concern to judge or hate themselves for what they’re doing, which is beautiful. Of course, there are consequences to pay, because they are still lesbians in the ‘50s, but I loved how self-hate or denial was never even a thing for them.
In Odd Girl Out, the issue is raised again and again. Mostly by men, but also by Beth, who does really think that lesbianism is a thing to outgrow, and by her friend Emmy, who doesn’t even begin to comprehend how a woman could find another woman attractive. ‘What’s there to want?’ she says. But as much as she doesn’t understand it, she doesn’t judge it either.  The only one who isn’t affected by this is Laura, and that’s her redeeming quality. Like Therese, she never questions her feelings, never doubts them and never betrays them. Which is something to admire in both of them.

I probably will never find the passionate, Tipping-the-Velvet kind of romance I want from these books, but I will keep reading them. I love the vintage setting, I love to read lesbian stories that were genuinely written at that time, and I love to see how much they dared, and how much they could get away with.

And hopefully Carol the movie will be as satisfying as that trailer promises to be.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Lair of Dreams - Libba Bray

I’m so glad this was a New York Times # 1 best seller. Mostly because it’s the sequel of one of my favourite books I’ve listened this year. But also because there is so much diversity, it might explode.

See what I did there
The Diviners’ strength was in its tight plot, its charming characters and its 1920s New York allures. The sequel, Lair of Dreams, seems to have a less tight plot at first, because there is so much going on, and not all is part of the main story. There is an underlining arc that continues from the first book which doesn’t resolve here, so I’m expecting at least a third instalment for that to unravel. And if at first I thought I wasn’t going to love it as much as the Diviners, I ended up doing just so.

I loved how the book’s attention stretched onto other characters. Evie is not the main ‘diviner’ anymore. I absolutely adore Evie and loved every second we spend with her, but I was happy to get to know Henry more. I didn’t realise how much of a charmer he really is. I adore him too. And I love Ling. I looooveeeee her. She’s snarky and smart and she’s into science and stuff. She’s also half Chinese, half Irish. And she also has infantile paralysis so she’s disabled. And she’s also kinda gay.


 Oh, and she’s also a dream-walker, like Henry, so she’s one of the gang now.  

Then there’s Theta, who is still super cool and beautiful and in love with Memphis, but I wish the two of them had more screen-time. Or at least I wish Theta had. I love her and she needs a better storyline. Anyway, her relationship with Memphis is another tick on the diversity box as Memphis is black and in the ‘20s it was still a big no-no.

Then there’s Henry who is totally gay for Louis, who is a boy, so let’s tick another box. Their romance is so painful and real and so heart-breaking and just


And then there’s the underlining theme of the constant racism our characters have to face on a daily basis. How the Chinese and the Irish and the Italians are made to feel foreign in their own homes. There are mentions of the KKK and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Of the hardships their parents and grandparents had to face to arrive to America, only to be faced with hatred and abuse when they arrived there.  

It deals with politics, eugenics, science. With homophobia and xenophobia and classism. But also with love and loss and shattered dreams and pain.

I love that there’s a diviner gang now. I hope they gang up more in the third book. And I don’t even care that it’s completely unlikely that so many diviners happen to be friends with one another. I choose to believe that it’s their powers that brought them together (which it might well be, who knows). Because at this stage we have Evie, Sam, Henry, Ling, Memphis and Theta, all divining away. Even Memphis’ brother. The only one who hasn’t been outed yet is Theta, but I figure it’s going to happen soon enough. (relatively speaking, we might have to wait another three years. Oh God.) Then there’s Jericho who is also kinda superhuman in his own way. The only poor normal sap is Mabel. I don’t know what to feel about her, she doesn’t have much to do, aside from mooning over Jericho, who still moons over Evie, who moons over both Jericho and Sam.

Which brings me to one of my main point of interest in the book. The Shipping.


There has been some major shipping going on, of the boy/girl kind. MAJOR. I mean, I already shipped Evie and Sam in the first book. Instinctively, I felt they had a lot of chemistry and I did not see the Jericho factor at all. There was no build-up to it. But this time, oh boy. Libba used an all-time favourite trope of mine, the fake-couple. In this case fake-engaged, instead of fake-married, but it works just as well. Top it up with tons of chemistry and brilliant banter and secret flips of the stomachs that MUSTN’T happen but do happen because the heart can’t listen to reason, and there you have it, perfect shipping material. Not to mention the fact that they’re made for each other. I just wish we didn’t have to deal with a love triangle. I fucking hate love triangles. I hope Jericho really falls for Mabel and that’ll be the end of it. This sequel definitely seemed to steer in this direction anyway, although it threw in some good ol’ angst between Sam and Evie for good measure. So we’re left with oozes of UST and Angst but no resolution. Which is fair enough, as it’s only the second book. But please let them be endgame. I ship them so hard, you guys.


I haven’t even mentioned the main plot yet. And the main villain. Which turns out to be really spooky. Not as flat out scary as Naughty John. This one was more layered with emotions, but still creepy as hell. There really was a terrible death. So, so terrible. I can’t even think about it, it’s the true stuff of nightmares. And then there are more terrible deaths, and people disappearing in the tunnels, and there are more ghosts and sleeping sickness and creepy dreams… I didn’t realise how scary the story was until I listened to it at night. I realised I had skipped some parts so I went back to it, so happy to have another hour or so still left. But I made the mistake of going to bed first. Do not make the same mistake. I started being scared of the dark, of creepy veiled women with a music box lurking in the shadows, telling me to dream with them with their demonic voice. Of smiling ghosts with sharp teeth running after me.

Just don’t read or listen to this after dark. You’ll be fine.

Now I only need to sit tight and wait for the next book. I need to know about Project Buffalo, about the mysterious men stalking the museum, about Will and Sister Walker’s secret mission, about Sam’s mother, about those cards in that office and what they mean, about Blind fucking Bill and when he’s going to be found out and stopped, about the man in the Stove Pipe Hat and about the eye with the lightning strike over it.

And I need to know if Sam and Evie get their shit together.

And I also want a new boyfriend for Henry and a girlfriend for Ling.