Archive for ‘YA’

January 11, 2010

Irene goes to school

A few of you know (and some have possibly guessed, considering the frequency with which they appear on this blog) that my masters thesis had something to do with school stories. I read quite a lot of the things, particularly the girls’ school ones, for various reasons ranging from mockery to genuine respect.


It’s something of a cliche (and one that is not appreciated by many fans of the genre) that girls’ school stories tend to be rather homoerotic. – Angela Brazil did not help things by calling a major character Lesbia. But I really enjoy that element of women looking at women that you see throughout the genre – I’ve long held that Antonia Forest is the writer who first taught me to look at women.

I was unprepared for this scene from L.T Meade’s A Modern Tomboy, though. I can’t find an exact date, but it’s somewhere before 1914.

Nothing could exceed Rosamund’s amazement, and a scream almost rose to her lips, when she entered and saw, curled up snugly in Jane’s bed, no less a person than Irene Ashleigh. Irene’s exceedingly bright face peeped up above the clothes. She gave a low, impish laugh, and then said slowly:

“Don’t scream. Keep your nerve. I climbed up by the wistaria. I have been in bed for the last hour, expecting you. I happened to be hiding just below the window, clinging on for bare life to the wistaria and the thick ivy, and I heard the conversation between you and Mrs. Merriman, so I knew that you would have your room to yourself, and decided that I would share it with you. Now lock the door, for I have a great deal to say.”

“But we are not allowed to lock our doors,” said Rosamund.

“You will lock it to-night, because I order you to,” said Irene.

“I shall do nothing of the sort. It is my room, and I will do exactly as I like.”

Irene sat up in bed. Nothing could be more picturesque than her general appearance. She was in the red frock that she usually wore; her wild hair curled in elf-locks all over her head; her eyes, bright as stars, shone in the middle of her little elfin face; her charming lips pouted just for a moment. Then she said in a clear tone, “What if I get up and strike you right across the face? Will you lock the door in preference to that?”

“I will not lock the door.”

Like a flash, Irene was out of bed and had struck Rosamund a resounding blow on her cheek. Rosamund felt the blow tingling, but she stood firm.

“Will you lock the door now?”

“No.”

“What if I give you a blow on the other cheek?”

“Here it is for your majesty,” said Rosamund, turning her other cheek to the foe.

Irene burst into a laugh.

“What a creature you are! But you know we are in danger. I have such a lot to say to you, and any one may nab us. Won’t you lock the door just to please me? I won’t slap you any more. I am sorry I hurt your dear cheek. I came because I could not help myself, and because I could not live without you any longer. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and no sign of you, and I just hungered for you. I am pining for you through all the days and all the nights, through every hour, in the midst of every meal; not speaking about you, for that is not my way, but just hungering and hungering, and yet you say you will not lock the door.”

“No, Irene; and you ought not to be here. What is to be done?”

Poor Rosamund had never felt more bewildered in her life. She had given her word of honor; and her word of honor was, to her, worthy of respect. She had never yet broken it. Should she break it now? Irene looked at her for a few minutes in wonder. The two girls were standing in the centre of the room, for, of course, Irene was fully dressed. Compared to Rosamund, she was a small girl, for Rosamund was tall and exceedingly well developed for her age. Irene was a couple of years younger, but she was as lithe as steel. Her little fingers could crush and destroy if they pleased. Her thin arms were muscular to a remarkable degree for so young a girl. She had not a scrap of superfluous flesh on her body. At this moment she looked more spirit than girl; and if Rosamund could have got herself to believe that there were such creatures as changelings, she might almost have given credence to Irene’s own story of herself.

…Before Rosamund could utter a word, Irene had sprung upon her, seized her round the waist, and compelled Rosamund to seat herself upon the side of the bed, which she herself had been occupying a few minutes ago.

“Now, darling,” she said, “you are not going to get away from me, and I believe in your heart you don’t want to.”

Poor Rosamund! a great wave of longing to help this queer child swept over her heart; but there was her word of honor. She was a passionate, head-strong, naughty girl; but she could not give that up. Besides, she could not do anything with Irene in the future if she did not conquer her now.

…”As a matter of fact,” said Rosamund, “I like you very much.”

“There, then, I am satisfied,” exclaimed Irene, and she flung her thin arms round Rosamund’s neck, squeezed herself up close to her, and kissed her again and again.

“Ah!” she said, “I knew that all my life I was waiting for somebody; and that somebody was you, just you, so big, so brave, so—so different from all the others. I should not be the horrid thing I am if the others had not been afraid of me. I got worse and worse, and at last I could not control myself any longer. I did things that perhaps I ought not to have done; but if you give me up I don’t know what will happen—I don’t know where things will end. Are you going to give me up?”

“I will tell you now exactly what has happened, Irene, and will leave it to you to judge how you ought to act for my sake at the present moment. You say you love me——”

“I suppose that is what I feel,” said Irene. “It is a queer sort of sensation, and I have never had it before. It seems to make my heart lighter, and when I think of you I seem to get a sense of rest and pleasure. When you are away from me I feel savage with every one else; but when you are near I think the best of others. And I think it is just possible that if I saw much of you I’d be a sort of a good girl—not a very good one, but a sort of a good girl, particularly if you’d manage mother and manage the servants, and tell them not to be such geese as to be afraid of me. For, of course, you know, I can’t help being a changeling.”

“Now, Irene, you must listen to me. I ought to be in bed and asleep. People will hear us talking, and I won’t allow the door to be locked, whether you like it or not, because it is against the rules.”

“Gracious!” said Irene, “couldn’t we both get out of the window, and climb down by the wistaria and the ivy, and reach the ground, and go and hide in the plantation? We could spend the night there, locked in each other’s arms, so happy—oh, so happy! By the way, I saw a little summer-house—we could spend the night in the summer-house, couldn’t we? Couldn’t we?”

December 24, 2009

Not a best books of 2009 list

Right, books published in 2009 that I am most likely to remember/think about/return to. It’s probably obvious from this list that pretty much everything I read this year was YA and/or SFF. That is, when I wasn’t reading school stories for the thesis.

In no particular order:

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. When I talked about this book a few months ago, I was speaking more about the book’s reception than the work itself. In case it wasn’t clear though, Lanagan is an amazing writer. The book is intense and lyrical (and never overwritten) dark and absolutely gutted me, and it’s going to be a long time before I read it again. But I will read it again, and I’m very glad I read it the first time.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Young adult, steampunk, alternate history, flying whales. I was expecting this to be really good no matter what. And I absolutely loved it; I love Westerfeld’s protagonists (Deryn more than Alek), Keith Thompson’s illustrations are fantastic (my laptop wallpaper is currently his map of Europe), and this just all-round worked. The only thing I could have asked for is more politics. But Behemoth, the next book in the series is out next year and as far as I can tell focuses on a diplomatic mission to steampunk Constantinople*. So it looks like I’ll be getting what I wanted.
Incidentally, Leviathan‘s on sale at the Waterstones website here.

Soulless by Gail Carriger. Another alt-history novel, set in Victorian England. Alexia Tarrabotti deals with her Italian ancestry, her big nose and her growing attraction to (werewolf) Lord Maccon while solving a mystery and fending off rogue vampires with her trusty parasol. If this was a best books of 2009 list this book would not be on it, much as I enjoyed it. I can see plenty of things wrong with it, it’s not that original, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t changed my life in any way (except maybe as a stepping stone towards getting my boyfriend to read Austen). I think you’d have to be a romance novel fan to really get how hilarious Carriger’s book is. But in a year when I discovered Loretta Chase (thank you, Pradipta), rediscovered Sarah Caudwell, and turned frequently to Heyer and Wodehouse for solace, Soulless really held its own beside all this other clever, funny fluff. Which is actually a pretty huge compliment.

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. It still amazes me that Pratchett manages to come out with a book a year, usually good and usually on or around my birthday. Unseen Academicals isn’t the best he’s ever written, particularly coming after last year’s amazing Nation. But it’s a good book, and I treasure each one of these now more than ever.

The City and The City by China Miéville. This is my book of the year. I love the genres it’s playing off, I love the concept, and I love Borlu’s voice. There’s a regular-size review of it that I wrote floating around the internet somewhere, so I’m not going to say much more. But it is amazing and if you have somehow managed not to read Miéville yet you must rectify the situation at once. Apparently next year we get Miéville + tentacles, which sounds about perfect.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton. I discovered Newton this year and spoke a couple of months ago about The Reef, his first novel. NoV appears at first a more conventional fantasy than The Reef. It’s a dying earth story and it is rather good. I still feel like Newton’s prose occasionally drops into clunkiness and some of the book’s subplots were a lot less original than others (*cough* Randur) – but I like how his head works and he has some serious world building skills. And so I’m pretty excited about City of Ruin, which comes out next year (and I love that cover more each time I look at it). 2010 looks like it’s going to be a pretty great year, bookswise.

The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness. Technically I read both of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking books this year, but only TA&TA was published in 2009. I’ve talked about it a little here, and I’m not going to add much to that except to urge people once again to read these books. They’re authentic and thoughtful and painful, and just incredibly good.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This is the only book on this list that I actually disliked. But I never said these were my favourite books of the year, and The Magicians really is a fascinating read. Because it’s about reading fantasy – right at the beginning of the book Quentin thinks about how the Fillory (Grossman’s version of the Narnia series) books function as literature, and Grossman plays around with that idea throughout. Which is great, and the sort of thing I was likely to enjoy even when the book made it a little too obvious. What ruined it for me were the characters. I don’t ask that my characters be flawless, and I suspect I’d be bored to death if they were. But I felt such a strong, irrational repulsion for Grossman’s characters that however much I liked the idea of what the author was trying to do it simply didn’t work for me. But The Magicians is here because it’s interesting, because it came very close to being something I could really enjoy, and it’s certainly worth reading.

2009 books that I still haven’t got hold of and really, really want to:

Finch, Jeff Vandermeer
Liar, Justine Larbalestier
Ash, Malinda Lo
You Might Sleep, Nick Mamatas


*STEAMPUNK CONSTANTINOPLE
!!!

November 4, 2009

WHAT

Just…what.

No, I have no comment to make on these products. Except that they appear not to be for sale at the moment, which almost makes me think there might be a god.

(Via Bookshelves of Doom)

November 3, 2009

Books what I

I’ve been reading stuff. Here’s some of what I have been reading.

Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld

Official review will be out in the New Indian Express at some point in the near future, but I loved this. I’m rather wishing I’d managed to get the edition with all the gears and suchlike on the cover, but the artwork really is phenomenally good, and Westerfeld is an amazing writer. I like his main characters (even more so on a reread) and from the hints given about the second book in this series, Behemoth, I suspect that it has been written entirely for my delectation. I cannot wait. Here’s the trailer, anyway. It’s rather amazing.

Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett

In recent years there has always been a new Terry Pratchett book on my birthday. This year’s seemed like it would be a good one: a return to the Discworld (after the rather awesome detour into Nation, his alternate history Victorian YA that came out last year), a return to the Wizards, who haven’t been heard of in a while, and some football. The Wizards are required for reasons of economy to field a football team – a task for which they are spectacularly unsuited, though the Librarian is an excellent goalkeeper. Luckily, Trevor Likely, son of legendary Dimwell captain Dave Likely, works at the University and is able to initiate them into the world of the Shove, where who you support (and how you show it) matters far more than the game itself, which most of them have never seen. Meanwhile, Trevor must also look after his friend Mr. Nutt who says he’s a goblin but is possibly Something Else altogether and looks suspiciously like Wayne Rooney on the cover. The Nutt plot is something of a return to the earlier Discworld books; Pratchett uses the character to take on an element of a classic work of fantasy (I’m trying very hard not to give the plot away). Unfortunately, while I agree entirely with the conclusions he seems to come to, it comes across as rather too earnest. Then there’s Glenda, who I ought to have all sorts of problems with – she’s fat and competent and has a secret weakness for romance novels, and when she gets her romance it’s with a character who no one else particularly wants. I love her anyway.

The Reef – Mark Charan Newton.

I’d been wanting to read this for a while, particularly since reading Newton‘s second book, Nights of Villjamur (which I really liked) this summer. I finally found it a couple of weeks ago in the secondhand section of Chapters and was unreasonably excited. The Reef is a coral reef that becomes the focus of a number of interconnecting plots involving scientists, terrorists and various forms of aquatic life including sirens, ichthyocentaurs, and (it’s not a spoiler if the cover illustration gives it away, is it?) a giant squid/kraken-monster. It’s obvious that Newton’s writing (and, I think, his gender politics but that’s another matter entirely) have matured considerably since he wrote this, the prose occasionally shifts from brilliant (luckily there’s plenty of that) to a bit awkward and it could have used more editing. However, in terms of ideas I found it richer and more ambitious than NOV. I’m not sure how far it’s supposed to be set in the same universe as his Legends of the Red Sun; elements (the Rumel, the random bits of old machinery lying around) from one seem to have made their way into the other. I’m hoping he returns to this setting at some point in the future (after the current series is finished with) – there’s a lot in it that is fascinating and that I’d love to see developed. In any case, I feel that the Legends of the Red Sun books would be vastly improved by the addition of a Squidbeast.

I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas – Adam Roberts

Like most people, I’m a bit sick of zombies at this point. Adam Roberts’ Zombie infested version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol sounded like a good idea had I not been suffering from zombie overkill. But the preface (in which Roberts hopes that the idea behind the book will “thump upon the boarded-up windows of [the readers'] houses pleasantly, and no one wish to remake it as a major motion picture starring Will Smith”) sold me, and with such gems as “the churchman’s nose was bulbous and red, a fleshy appendage, but Marley bit into it as eagerly as if it had been a ripe strawberry” on the first page, I assumed this would be entertaining. And it really is, but I don’t think you could read it all at once. In small doses, well spaced out, the zombie jokes are funny and the illustrations (credited to one Zom Leech) are hilarious. Read at a stretch, though, Queen Victoria saying “we are not Zom-used” might drive anyone to commit violence.

Things We Are Not – (ed) Christopher Fletcher

I’m no good at reviewing anthologies of short stories by different authors. But this is a really good collection of queer short fiction. The title story, by Brandon Bell, is probably the best thing about the collection; working within a whole set of popcultural references that delighted me, Bell still manages a story that is not about these references. Eden Robins’ “Switch” was another story that stood out for me, with the sort of nonchalant weirdness that I actually associate more with the beginnings of speculative fiction novels. Perhaps this is why I was so annoyed when it ended. Then there’s “Reila’s Machine” by Therese Arkenberg and “The World in His Throat” by Lisa Shapter; good, classic science fiction – and “Pos-psi-bilities” by Jay Kozzi that is a sort of coming-of-age story with a comparatively slight Sfnal element. It’s a fantastic collection, it’s available here or on Amazon, and I think you ought to read it.

The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness

When I read Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go in January I was rushing between continents (it was something I bought in an airport and read on a plane) and as a result I don’t think I ever officially gushed about it here. But I did thrust it at a lot of people I met – as dystopian, science fictional, gender-aware (it won a Tiptree award earlier this year) YA literature it was exactly the sort of thing I was likely to love. The Ask and the Answer takes off from the rather cliffhanger-ish moment that ended the previous book. Todd and Viola, Ness’ protagonists, are separated, and set to work in different parts of the town. While Todd’s work lies among the Spackle, the original inhabitants of the planet, Viola becomes entangled with a terrorist group of sorts, that wishes to remove the truly sinister Mayor Prentiss from power. As Martin Lewis says in this review, this is not an adventure story, but a war novel. I’d forgotten just how relentless Ness is sometimes; I don’t know when I’m going to read this again because it is emotionally so exhausting. I don’t know where the third book (which I expect will be every bit as brilliant as the first two) will take the story, but I can’t imagine it’ll be anywhere pleasant.

What have you been reading?

August 31, 2009

Pride/ The Crowded Shadows

September the first is Outer Alliance pride day.

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

Since I haven’t written any fiction (queer or otherwise) in a while, I’m going to to talk about someone else’s work instead. Some of you will remember this post a few months ago when I talked about being disappointed in the lack of gay men (or indeed women though men seemed more likely) in Celine Kiernan’s The Poison Throne. What I couldn’t discuss at the time was the rather important relationship between two male characters in the next book in the series. But The Crowded Shadows is finally out and I’m free to talk about it as much as I like. I should add that I asked Celine if I could write something about her book for today and she went out of her way (and she was away on holiday)to get it to me on time.

The first time I read The Poison Throne I stayed up all night and just gulped it down. It’s an incredibly fast-paced fantasy, there’s tons of political intrigue, and it’s utterly uncompromising when it comes to killing people off. I was expecting more of the same from The Crowded Shadows.

The second book in the series is a complete change of pace from the first, however. It helped that The Poison Throne was set in a relatively confined space, if you can call a castle confined. At the end of that book all three main characters leave to go out into a world that the reader knows very little about. Which is why, I suppose, so much of The Crowded Shadows is about world-building. It’s rather skilfully done, seeing that the entire action of the book takes place in the wilderness. But it does mean that the plot moves slowly – a large chunk of the book has the main characters travelling by themselves and by the end of it they still haven’t reached their destination. But then there are the sections involving the Loups-Garous where the text seems to pick up some of Christopher’s frenzy and rushes breathlessly through them.

The world-building itself is interesting. Partly because Kiernan bases the geography (and aspects of the culture) of her world so heavily on our own, making the minor differences particularly worth noticing. I’m not sure yet (and I can’t be until the final book of the trilogy) how uncritically or otherwise she’s doing this, but I have hopes. And as the book progresses we do finally find out more about these characters; about Razi and Christopher’s friendship, about Wynter’s family and why she has that awful name.

Plot-wise, as I’ve said, not a great deal happens in this part of the trilogy. Relationship-wise, it is fascinating. I was not particularly invested in the relationship between Ashkr and Sol on a first reading – on a second, knowing what is to come, it can be gutwrenching. And setting it among the Merron, where it is accepted with as little question as any heterosexual relationship works for me as well. It saddens me that that relationship is unlikely to play a role in the next book – the events of this one would make it seem impossible.

However, for me the most interesting relationship in this series is still the one between Chris and Razi. This is in part because Wynter’s relationships with the two men are relatively uncomplicated; and Wynter herself has so far not been particularly interesting to me. I don’t know if this is because she’s the narrator – we haven’t really had the chance to see her and what makes her interesting through the eyes of her companions. I’m hoping she will show some amazing diplomatic skills in the next book and I will be made to love her. The main male characters are both fascinating in their own right (Razi particularly so) and Wyn deserves a chance to be more awesome.

But my interest in Razi and Christopher is also because I still believe that in only slightly different circumstances that relationship could have been physical as well. I know the author doesn’t mean it that way, that it’s supposed to be “just” a very deep, intense friendship. But if either of these men were a woman I couldn’t not see it as an incredibly strong romance. If the author hadn’t made it clear in the first book that this was not the case, I’d think this was probably what it was.

So I guess even if it were not for Sol and Ashkr that this would be a queer review based on my reading of the text? I don’t know, and I suspect the author and I are never really going to agree on this, and that’s fine. But I like the book and if it didn’t make me lose sleep as its predecessor did, it did make me cry a bit.