Not without us

Recently the final book of a romantic fantasy trilogy was released. I had already read and enjoyed the first two books, which had come out a year apart; the third book took two more years. So when I bought the third book, I went back and re-read the first two, back to back, then plunged into the third.Recently the final book of a romantic fantasy trilogy was released. I had already read and enjoyed the first two books, which had come out a year apart; the third book took two more years. So when I bought the third book, I went back and re-read the first two, back to back, then plunged into the third.

The further I went into the story, the more difficult and the less enjoyable it became. While the first book introduced a pair of potential lover protagonists I liked and set up some delicious sexual tension between them, the second book separated them until the final chapters and ended on a cliffhanger. The third book took little if any time to resolve the sexual tension with a reunion and plunged into politics, intrigue, and battle. I vaguely remembered that when I bought the first book, I had thought of it as a romance, where the focus would be on the character development and emotional arc of the protagonists falling in love. Instead, the author became increasingly interested in the big picture, in world-building, and in magical and mundane fight scenes.

When I finished the trilogy, and contemplated having followed the hero and heroine through three books only to see them denied anything but a post-mortem happiness, literally, a reunion in a faery paradise, I was pretty disappointed. The author’s writing was good on the surface, but the story did not hold together well, and the romance had curdled by the end. There was something else nagging at me, however, which took a couple of days to surface. When I pinpointed it, it bothered me more than the deferral of the lovers’ happiness.

There was not a single queer character in any of the books. Not one.

Not a major character. Not a minor character. Not amongst the weird and decadent faery race. Not in the opera house where the heroine spent most of the second book. Not even a queer-coded backstage manager with flamboyant manners. Nobody. An entirely heterosexual world.

That, gentle readers, struck me as far more unrealistic, far more fantastic, than the premise of an arranged marriage between a human girl and a faery prince.

I thought back to two other novels I had read with a similar premise, Grace Draven’s Radiance and Eidolon. Again, an arranged marriage between a human woman, Ildiko, and a powerful prince, Brishen, member of a nocturnal, reptilian race called the Kai, leads to unexpected romance, as the protagonists transcend their races’ mutual repulsion at one another’s appearance. Ildiko and Brishen get lots of witty banter and steamy sex while the politics and magic of the plot roil around them. Moreover, many of the secondary characters, both human and Kai, are explicitly bisexual, with relationship histories involving members of both sexes. What is truly “queer” in this fictional universe is precisely the love which the protagonists have for each other, an attraction which crosses species boundaries and, on the physical side, might even be called kinky.

I’ve made a decision, then. I’m not reading any more fiction without queer people in it. Because I’m a queer person and I’ve no interest in living in a world without people like me. I’ve never lived in a world without queer people; such a thing doesn’t exist. As a child, my involvement in amateur theatre with my mother and the Episcopal Church on my own introduced me to gay men and to elderly women who were perfectly happy never having been married. Even when I was happily married to a man and identified as a heterosexual (well, sort of), we were surrounded by gay friends and lesbian co-workers. I certainly saw and interacted with trans people throughout my adult life, even though I didn’t make friends with any until recently. Tumblr is full of young nonbinary folks who happen to be interested in the same things I am, like pet birds or the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To bring back an old slogan, we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. I won’t accept stories where part of the world-building is erasing people like me. I’m not particularly interested in stories that erase Black, Latin, Native, Indian, or Asian people, either, because the world I live in has always contained those folks, too. Fiction should be richer than the real world, not poorer.

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A Prayer for the Dead

My only sister died suddenly last Friday. She went to the emergency room on Thursday for severe stomach pain, went into cardiac arrest while being examined, and was resuscitated. After being on life support for about twenty-four hours, she was released, authorized by her daughter and her husband. She died soon after the machines were turned off, in the presence of her husband, her daughter, and her five-year-old grandson.

My sister and I were never close, partly due to the eleven years between us (she was the older). This still comes as a blow, in a year full of blows. A number of people close to me lost family members in the past ten days. As it happened, I had an invitation to a dinner party for Saturday night that included a brief Remembrance Day ritual. This had been planned and scheduled weeks ago; the friends who hosted it were friends of my ex-husband also and had sung for him. So we had this dinner, made offerings to the dead, told the bees in my friends’ hive, and sang some choral music in memory of my ex. I wrote this text for the ritual.

The dead are neither present nor absent.

They are neither near to us nor far from us.

They live in us, in our speech, in our hands, in our memories.

We die in them, the parts of us that go with them into the dark.

If they are hidden from us in the shadows,

we are hidden from them by the light.

Yet from time to time we come together

and join hands across the great divide.

They remember us no less than we remember them.

If they are forgotten, they, too, may forget.

Let us not forget our forefathers and foremothers, grandparents and parents,

children born or unborn, spouses and friends, mentors and teachers.

Let us take hold of what they left to us

that we may pass it on before we go.

Let us say their names and offer them our continuing love.

Current round-up

Reading:

  • Doreen Valiente, Witch by Peter Heselton, a biography of the great foremother of contemporary witchcraft; still in progress
  • Sacred Band, a novel with queer superheroes that I plan to review soon
  • Humans Wanted, an anthology of science fiction short stories inspired by a discussion on Tumblr, which I also plan to review soon

Writing:

  • The Naos Antinoou is in the midst of celebrating the Sacred Nights of Antinous’ death and deification, and I’ve been posting poems for the holy days at Antinous for Everybody.
  • I’m working on a new piece of fanfic, have completed a short original story, and am contemplating a novel related to the short story.
  • Have you read my mythfic about Hades, Hel, and Persephone, “A distinguished visitor from the north”?

Listening:

  • The Sacred Nights have a lot of musical associations for me: To begin with, Hedwig & the Angry Inch
  • the music of Dead Can Dance, particularly their album Spiritchaser
  • I was also listening to the masterful jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery; my father introduced me to his album A Day in the Life, which opens with a cover of the Beatles song, when I was a teenager

Viewing:

I finally got around to watching two movies on my list, Rogue One, the Star Wars prequel, and Ant-Man, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I enjoyed both of them; Ant-Man, in particular, was a better movie than I expected, which subverted a good many superhero tropes. Rogue One was, in a lot of ways, the Star Wars prequel I wanted and didn’t get when the first prequel movie was released; it gave me characters I could care about and led directly into the events of the first film.

Series Review: Fae Out of Water by E.J. Russell

I read a lot of romance, really; not what you’re probably thinking when I say, “I read a lot of romance.” I don’t read very much historical or paranormal romance, Austenesque Regency courtship dances or alpha werewolf shenanigans. What I do read is a lot of fanfic, much but not all of which is romantic, much but not all of which is slash, featuring two male characters in love. When I turn to pro writers, I tend to go for m/m romance with fantasy or science fiction settings. I read a lot of romance, really; not what you’re probably thinking when I say, “I read a lot of romance.” I don’t read very much historical or paranormal romance, Austenesque Regency courtship dances or alpha werewolf shenanigans. What I do read is a lot of fanfic, much but not all of which is romantic, much but not all of which is slash, featuring two male characters in love. When I turn to pro writers, I tend to go for m/m romance with fantasy or science fiction settings.

I think the first book in this series, Cutie and the Beast, came up on my Amazon recommendations. Despite wincing at the title, I found the cover art appealing and the sample excerpt engaging, so I bought it and dove in. I found not just a clever riff on “Beauty and the Beast” (one of my favorite fairy tales), but the introduction to a trilogy featuring three brothers, three romances, and the fate of the faery realm in the modern world. Russell weaves together faery lore from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to create an Otherworld in which the surviving fae of different lands have united politically under one Queen and her consort, but an endless jockeying for power and position goes on and the old resentments between different tribes of the Fair Folk are far from dead. The Kendrick brothers, Alun, Malcolm, and Gareth, must negotiate their places in the human world and the faery world both while coming to terms with their feelings for the unexpected lovers who complicate their lives and interfere with their self-imposed noble suffering.

There are some delightful twists that make this series fresh and not just a recycling of tropes. For one thing, it’s set in the Pacific Northwest, and given the stories I’ve heard from friends, I have no trouble believing there are doorways to the faery realm out there. For another, the suffering fae brothers share the mundane world with other magical beings–werewolves, vampires, more-than-human druids, and even a dragon shapeshifter. Alun, the eldest brother and protagonist of the first book, works as a psychologist/therapist who specializes in counseling other supernatural beings. One of the most charming scenes in the series occurs in the first novel, when the reader discovers what the solemn little boy who is actually a dragon wants for his hoard, instead of the traditional gold and jewels.

I definitely recommend Fae Out of Water if paranormal romance, m/m romance, faeries and faery lore, and humor along with passionate sex scenes appeal to you.