dolorosa_12: (matilda)
One of the unfortunate side effects of having a depressive episode for most of March and early April is that my ongoing reading log sort of dropped off the radar. This is a shame, as I've read a lot of great books during that time.

I'm going to leave The True Queen by Zen Cho and Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan for later, longer reviews over on my reviews blog, as they were definitely the high points of my recent reading.

Other than those, I read a little bit of short fiction - 'Old Media' by Annalee Newitz (featuring characters from her book Autonomous trying to navigate relationships and consent in a world inhabited by robots and indentured people; meandering and character-driven, but a bit lacking in substance), 'Rag and Bone' by Priya Sharma (creepy horror story set in an alternate nineteenth-century Liverpool where the rich can use the poor for body parts), and 'Miranda in Milan' by Katharine Duckett (what happens to Miranda when she leaves the island after the events of The Tempest; The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare play, so I was very much looking forward to this, and I was not disappointed). The first two works are free to read on, while the second is a novella, and not free.

In terms of novels, my library holds on The Wicked King by Holly Black and Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor finally came through. Taylor is very hit and miss with me. I think she writes fabulous, atmospheric settings, but her writing style usually doesn't work for me, and I think her stories generally lack in substance. I mean, her usual theme is that kindness, imagination and love will save the world, which is unobjectionable, but, as I say, I usually feel that all her effort goes into setting and the general feel of intricate weird quirkiness, and this was definitely my impression from Muse of Nightmares. On the other hand, I adored The Wicked King. Holly Black is a very iddy, indulgent writer, and thankfully her id and mine tend to align. I love what she's doing in this newest iteration of her fairyland setting — she plunders the best bits of European folklore about the otherworld, emphasising in particular the lore that fairies can't tell lies. I love that her fairy characters regard human beings and their ability to lie with fear and horror, and how truth, lies, and circumlocution (and all the other tricks that beings who can only speak the truth employ to avoid speaking truths they don't want spoken) become weaponised. The plot gallops on at a mile a minute, and the twist at the end was fantastic. I'm very much looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.

Sadly, the final book I've read in this recent burst of reading, Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear, was a big disappointment. I've enjoyed Bear's books set in her Karen Memory universe, and particularly appreciated how character-driven they were, so I had expected her space opera to take a similar approach. Instead I found flat characters, lots of engineering/physics info-dumping, and a story that felt like a trial to read. It picked up a bit after the first twenty per cent or so, but convinced me that I am best sticking to Elizabeth Bear's steampunk, unfortunately.

Which recently read books have you enjoyed?
dolorosa_12: (quidam)
Thirty Day Book Meme, Day 3: One with a blue cover.

I love that this is a prompt. My librarian heart is laughing and laughing.

Over the years I've no doubt read many books with blue covers, but I went with The Bone Season, the first in Samantha Shannon's wonderful dystopian series, because it's one of my favourites, and because its cover, inspired by the sundial in Seven Dials in London, is gorgeous. I reviewed the book some time ago, so rather than rehashing it again, I'll link to that review. The one-sentence summary is that it's a dystopian novel, whose heroine is captured from London (where she leads a double life as a government official's daughter by day and a member of a criminal clairvoyant syndicate by night) and taken to a prison camp in Oxford, where she learns about the terrifying supernatural powers really running things behind the scenes. I love the book for its setting — particularly the bits that take place in my favourite parts of London — its wonderful heroine (who is, I feel, realistically terrified by the situations in which she finds herself, and makes more morally grey compromises than I feel most dystopian YA heroines normally do), and the central romance (although your mileage may vary on this, as it's very Stockholm Syndrome-y with a massive power imbalance, but what can I say? the id wants what it wants).

The other days )

By a strange coincidence, I posted a review of another Samantha Shannon book today, her standalone epic fantasy The Priory of the Orange Tree. This is a very different beast to the Bone Season series — it's a sweeping epic fantasy, inspired by Elizabethan England and Tokugawa Japan, about the uses and misuses of history, with dragons. You can read my review here.

Other books I've finished or started this weekend are Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (a dizzying blend of various African myths and histories, a straightforward quest story about people with supernatural powers hunting for a lost child, but very tough going due to the meandering, nested style of labyrinthine stories within stories, suddenly starts to have a plot about fifty per cent of the way in, and extraordinarily bleak in its worldview), My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigerian noir novel about an older sister who finds herself repeatedly responsible for cleaning up the bodies of men killed by her younger sister; it's also about the double edged sword that beauty can become — at once a weapon, and something that can be wielded against you), and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark (another foray into his alternate, steampunk Cairo where djinn and other supernatural beings roam the streets).

It's been a pretty miserable, cold weekend, which I guess is what explains all the media consumption — as well as all the books, I watched BlacKkKlansman with Matthias (which I think was robbed in terms of the number of Oscars it ultimately won — it was excellent), along with various episodes of TV shows. It's been raining on and off, and, to be honest, leaving the house was not a particularly attractive prospect!
dolorosa_12: (newspaper)
First up, nominations have now opened for [community profile] waybackexchange, so if you're thinking of participating, you have until 20th February to get your nominations in. I've already used up all my nomination slots, but if anyone has any free, please do drop me a comment here (or a DM) as I have at least one other fandom I'd love to get nominated.

[personal profile] ladytharen has created a great new comm for Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows duology, so if you're interested, please do think about joining!

Join Here!
| Community Profile

This week's books )

This week's TV )

Other weekend stuff )
dolorosa_12: (mucha moet)
Three of the books I was most anticipating for 2019 were published in three consecutive weeks in January, so I've been having a fantastic time reading this month! All of them were utterly fabulous, and exactly what I hoped for — so they're going to be a hard act to follow. The books are The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (the final book in her Winternight Trilogy, historical fantasy that weaves mythology with the events of fourteenth-century Russia), The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty (the second book in her Daevabad Trilogy, a series about the political tensions in a djinn kingdom from the point of view of a girl who began her life as a scammer in the streets of Cairo during the Napoleonic wars), and The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (the first in a series of heist novels whose characters live in a magical version of Belle Époque Paris and essentially steal back the antiquities looted by colonial powers).

I reviewed all three books over on my reviews blog, and as always would love to talk with you about them in the comments either here or there.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
My weekend has been a bit of a mix in terms of activity. I spent quite a bit of time working on various Yuletide treats. So far I've got the main assignment and two treats pretty much finished, and one final treat that needs a bit more work. I would like to be able to manage a fourth treat, but I don't think it's doable in the time remaining, as I generally find it too draining to write after work during the week.

On Saturday I met up with [personal profile] nymeth for coffee, and we talked books, libraries, and migrant life. We met in a new-to-me cafe, which is always astonishing to me, as I always think I've tried every single independent cafe in Cambridge.

Today was mostly spent shopping in town. I normally avoid central Cambridge on weekends, particularly Sunday afternoons, as it gets really crowded with tourists and shoppers, but this couldn't be avoided. Matthias was collecting various new items of clothing that he'd ordered online and had sent to the shops, and we needed a few bits and pieces for the kitchen, and this was probably the last chance to sort all this out before the new year. We did take the chance to have Vietnamese food for lunch, and stop off for some beer (him) and mulled wine (me) at the temporary winter beer garden organised by one of our favourite Cambridge businesses, [ profile] thirstycamb. They had a fire pit!

Other than these various outings, I've spent the weekend watching my Tumblr queue to import to Wordpress (it's still queueing, but having poked around in their forums, it seems that it's taking about five days for the imports to start, due to volume, so I'm not particularly worried), and finishing off a couple of books. Thornfruit, by Felicia Davin, had intriguing worldbuilding, and a great central f/f relationship between a wild, confused teenage girl with mindreading powers and the ability to wound with direct touch, and another teenage girl who yearns for something more than her family's farm and market stall. They also live on a tidally-locked planet (their city is in perpetual sunlight, other regions in perpetual darkness), which I thought was really cool. It's the first of a trilogy, and I'll likely buy the other two to read when I'm in Germany over Christmas. The second book, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, was a loose Beowulf retelling where instead of a lone warrior fighting monsters, we have a band of dispossessed teenage girls seeking heroism and glory. It's an interesting exploration of female anger, monstrosity, and otherness, but I felt it was a concept that really screamed for at least one f/f relationship, and was weakened by this lack.

I'm now baking some salmon in the oven, and planning to spend the remainder of the weekend watching TV with Matthias. What have the rest of you been up to?

I'm also going to close this post with a fabulous fan art rec, which I saw linked at some point on my reading page and have had open in a tab ever since. It's an absolutely gorgeous work, depicting Esme Shelby from Peaky Blinders, leading a deathly, supernatural horse, and I love it to bits.

Chovihani (0 words) by motetus
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Peaky Blinders (TV)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Esme Shelby
Additional Tags: Art, Digital Art, Fanart, Extra Treat, Horses, ToT: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat 2016, Supernatural Elements, Trick Or Treat Prompts Challenge

Esme has a gift for taming horses.

dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I'm home sick with a cold, which unfortunately means I'll miss this year's annual Christmas party for Cambridge library staff, which is always a free event held in one of the local bookshops. However, it does mean I can do a quick catch up post on some of the books and short stories I've read recently, all of which I enjoyed, but don't feel warrant a full review over on my reviews blog. All are fantasy novels or short stories.

First up is The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner, an Eastern European fantasy novel in the vein of the Winternight trilogy, and Naomi Novik's Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Like the latter Novik work, it focuses in particular on the experience of shtetl-dwelling Eastern European Jewish communities, following the adventures of two sisters who are the inheritors of shape-shifting powers from the two branches of their family. Liba, the oldest, can transform into a bear like her father, while her younger sister Laya can shapeshift into swan form like her mother. Rossner blends Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' with a tale of suspicion and survival, and the sense of close-knit community — supportive of its own on the one hand, judgemental and interfering on the other — is beautifully drawn. I also loved the porous nature of the boundary between the human and supernatural worlds, and the relationship between the two sisters is simply wonderful.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan moves us from Eastern Europe to East Asia in terms of its inspirations (the author herself describes it as simply 'Asian-inspired'). This book is set in a strictly hierarchical society, with three castes (the demonic Moon caste ruling over the partially demonic Steel and fully human Paper castes), an imperial court seething with intrigue, and simmering rebellions breaking out all over a vast empire. All this is presided over by the Demon King, a thoroughly nasty individual who, among other things, takes a tribute of sorts in the form of a group of Paper teenagers to be his concubines. While this is supposed to be a great honour, in reality it's an act of violence and dispossession, and the majority of these girls — including the protagonist, Lei — do not go willingly. However, all is not as it seems in the court of the Demon King, and from the midst of a group of what appears to be the most disempowered individuals — the 'Paper Girl' concubines — a revolution is brewing. I have a personal preference for stories about girls and women who suffer trauma, have their agency taken away from them, and carve out spaces of survival and hope in the ruins, so this was always going to appeal to me, and the fact that it features a f/f love story (with a happy ending!) was just icing on the cake to me. However, it probably goes without saying that a premise like Ngan's is going to depict and address sexual violence, and although this is mostly done in a fade-to-black kind of way, if that's something you'd prefer not to read I would advise you to give this book a miss.

The next book, Sarah Tolcser's Song of the Current, is a much more lighthearted affair. Its characters and plot are, in my opinion, pretty standard fantasy fare (a lost royal heir on the run, a tomboyish lower class girl swept up in political intrigue, pirates causing problems, and scheming grand vizier types seeking power for themselves), but its setting is marvellous. Its heroine, Caroline Oresteia, is the daughter of a wherryman — the captain of a river boat — and has spent her life travelling the lakes, rivers and canals, transporting legal, and less than legal, cargos. I loved Tolcser's community of wherrymen (and women), the sense of a life lived on the water, and the legends and folklore and unspoken rules of this world on the margins of land and river. Nothing in the plot surprised me, and indeed I could see most twists coming from a mile away, but it was a gentle, soothing, diverting book and I am keen to read the sequel.

Zen Cho's latest short story, on the other hand, surprised me immensely. The story, 'If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again', is available for free online at the Barnes & Noble website (and can also be freely downloaded to ereaders), and is about a hapless wannabe dragon, an astrophysicist seeking tenure, and the messy, complicated tangle that is life. When I read Cho's works I expect humour, and this story is hilarious, but it's also powerful, devastating, and beautifully hopeful as well, and I had not been expecting that. The story is about the danger of being fixated on and overwhelmed by dreams, and missing the other opportunities that pass us by when we're too singlemindedly focused. As someone who had gone through two career changes before she was thirty (leaving behind the possibility of work in two fields which I had thought of as my 'dream job(s)'), this resonated deeply with me. I highly, highly recommend this short story, and am now even more impatient for the follow up to Sorcerer to the Crown!

Has anyone else been reading anything good recently?
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I often talk about needing more hours in the day, and on the one day of the year where that is possible, I certainly made the most of it. I've been able to get a lot done, in addition to the usual bits of grocery shopping, cleaning and so on that I always do on the weekend.

Saturday poured with rain, and it was freezing to the point of almost being sleet, so I stuck close to home, apart from a quick trip into town to the market. Matthias spent most of the day writing an assignment for the cataloguing module of his librarianship degree, so I elected to spend Saturday writing as well. It was lovely and companionable to sit there, typing away at our respective assignments. In my case, this was Yuletide. I always aim to write multiple treats, and this year the sheer volume of fandoms I love in the tagset makes me even more enthusiastic about this. It will be hard to narrow it down!

So far I've written one (completed, but not uploaded) treat, about a third of my main assignment (along with an outline for its remainder), and done a lot of very weird research for another treat. I normally finish assignments before working on any treats, so I will not be touching the second treat beyond this preliminary research until the assignment is finished.

I also did one of my periodic sweeps of Ao3, where I check if any new fic in my main fandoms (all of which are tiny, inactive book fandoms, most of whose fic, if it exists at all, has been written by me). Normally this is an entirely futile exercise, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had written Warden/Paige fic for the Bone Season series. I've been requesting fic for this pairing in exchanges for several years without success, so it was a wonderful treat to find this there unexpectedly. I don't think there are any Bone Season fans here among my Dreamwidth circle (the only people I know who like it are people on Tumblr, and a handful of my real-life friends), but I link to it here in any case.

J'attendrai (2459 words) by LaReinadeEspadas
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Paige Mahoney/Warden | Arcturus Mesarthim
Characters: Paige Mahoney, Warden | Arcturus Mesarthim

I looked for any other signs that he knew the significance of the day, but unsurprisingly found none in my Rephaite cohabiter. It’s not like immortal beings had any reason to celebrate birthdays.

Reading the fic reminded me how much I love the series, so I've spent most of Sunday morning curled up on the couch in the sunshine, rereading The Song Rising. I'm not sure the story of a brave, doomed revolution brought down by the inability of disparate groups of oppressed, dispossessed people to make common cause was a wise choice, given the state of the world, but it seemed to be what my brain wanted.

Now Matthias and I have just come back from running, and I'm sitting here with a cup of tea, catching up with Dreamwidth and trying to decide between doing a bit of yoga (probably not), or getting started on the chicken and dumplings (this Smitten Kitchen recipe) I'm planning to make for dinner.


I can't talk about what's going on in the world. In the country of my birth, the country in which I grew up, the country which is now my home, anywhere, everywhere. I just can't. Words recoil from it. I return, as always, to Calexico, who, as always, have the words to give voice to this horror. Everywhere you look you only see red, indeed.
dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
It's got to the point where I have had to actively avoid all sources of news, including most social media platforms, because it's so overwhelmingly awful that I was on the verge of tears at work, and on my walk home. As I said to my mother when we chatted on FaceTime this morning, it's one of those weeks (months? years? decades?) which just makes you feel worthless as a woman.

My solution in the face of all this is (once I've ensured I'm still registered to vote in the three countries in which I am eligible) is to turn my attention to things resolutely domestic. I find it soothing.

And so, this weekend, I have turned a full fridge of groceries into meals that will take us through to Tuesday (I always find it particularly satisfying to cook a roast chicken, because I always get at least one second dinner and several lunches worth of leftovers out of it, and then make about a litre of stock from the bones, so it feels very efficient), planted four purple and pink heather plants in the garden, cleaned the bathroom, done two loads of laundry, and gone back and forth to the market to buy all the food I'll need to cover the week ahead.

I returned to a comforting old series of books — a series I've loved since I first read it as a ten-year-old — for yet another reread. The series has five books, and I'm on to the fourth. I possibly would have made more headway if not for all the time I spent scrolling through the Yuletide tagset trying to figure out what to offer, and watching comments appearing on the Yuletide letters post to see if other participants' prompts might help nudge me in a particular direction.

And I've been fairly active over on my reviews blog, posting reviews of two books/series that absolutely blew me away and which I'm pleased to see made it into the Yuletide tagset (I didn't nominate them myself, but I'm so happy to be able to request them).

The first is Katherine Arden's Winternight series, my review of which I have linked to before:

Arden makes much of the everyday labour of women: preparing food, sweeping hearths, embroidering elaborate headdresses, assisting in the birth of children. The lives of these women may be circumscribed, lived within a narrow space, travelling between hearth, bathhouse, and church, but they are not inconsequential. This is a series in which the labour of a mother giving birth to a child is of greater supernatural significance than the outcome of a battle, where a girl slipping bread crusts to household gods does more to forge alliances than the political machinations of men in Moscow palaces.

The second review is of Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, which I absolutely adored:

This is a world in which women save themselves — and each other — using the tools at hand. It is a world in which the work of a market stall seller, or a noblewoman presiding over a rowdy feasting hall, or a girl feeding chickens is given equal weight to magical powers. Indeed, it’s a world in which supernatural beings view prosaic, human skills as having a kind of magic of their own.

Looking at both quotes together, I seem to have very clear priorities in the kind of historical fantasy I want to read. In any case, I highly recommend both books.

I've just finished doing a bit of yoga (I'm so happy to have found a good Youtube channel with yoga classes to follow for free at home, since I dropped regular yoga classes after their times and locations became too inconvenient), and I'm just about to start cooking tonight's dinner (an Ottolenghi recipe which, miraculously, doesn't have a million ingredients that need to be bought in specialised supermarkets). Matthias and I will probably finish off the weekend by watching the last two episodes of the second season of Luke Cage, which I've found enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure.

I'm not sure how sustainable it is to continue to insulate myself in a news-free, cotton wool-like existence, and I feel a lot of guilt for being able to do so, but I am glad this weekend that it gave me these little, quiet moments, where I could be small, and calm, and gentle.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
By way of a life update, have a few scattered bits and pieces from the past week or so.

It's autumn, at last! Autumn is my favourite season of the year: scarves, gloves, coats and blankets, the cold bite of the air, the smell of the changing, falling leaves, and that indescribable quality of the light. The northern summer just went on and on and on, and I'm so relieved to finally experience some cold weather. It hasn't spread across all of Europe — my mother, sister, and parents-, sister-, brother-in-law and nephew are all in Italy (not together — my sister's at a wedding in Lake Como, my mother is in Verona, after which she and my sister will meet up in Milan, and my in-laws are all on holiday together near Lake Garda), and it's still very summery there, but it is well and truly autumnal in Cambridge, and I am very happy about it.

Apart from a quick foray out to the alumni event for my former academic department (it happens this weekend of September every year, and mainly consists of drinking glasses of wine in the departmental common room, and generally the only people who go are people who still live in Cambridge, such as Matthias and me, [ profile] ienthuse and her husband, and those who are still affiliated with the department as postdocs), I barely left the house, and have spent most of today curled up in my chair reading Naomi Novik's glorious Spinning Silver, which I think I like even more than Uprooted, although I'm only about a third of the way through. Normally I read a lot faster than this, but I've loved it so much I've been deliberately slow in order to savour the magic. Novik's Temeraire books really don't work for me, but I adore her fairytale-inspired fantasy.

Reading-wise I seem to be all about the Eastern European inspired fairytale retellings at the moment; last weekend I devoured the second of Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy books, which are set in a fantastical version of fourteenth-century Russia and seem written to my exact specifications. I posted a review of the first two books in the series here, and highly recommend them.

Matthias and I binge watched the entire first season of Killing Eve, which I adored. The whole lot is on iPlayer if other UK people want to watch. The plot and premise is frankly ridiculous, but if you accept that it's taking place in a sort of melodramatic, soap operatic reality, it's very enjoyable. The two lead actresses are great, the soundtrack is excellent, and there's a lot of gorgeous scenery porn in various picturesque European cities. After all our travelling this summer, it's been good to be back at home and just spend some time binge watching TV. I'm not sure what we'll move on to next — possibly the second season of Luke Cage, which should give you some idea of how behind we are in terms of TV series!

The weekend is drawing to a close, and the last few hours of it will be spent cooking a cosy and delicious Polish goulash, watching the last episode of Bodyguard (which I've liked, but not loved as much as Line of Duty, partly because the acting and writing in the latter is just a bit sharper), and reading more of Spinning Silver. I feel like I need a third day off to be fully refreshed after the work week (huge amounts of teaching and lots of wrangling of confused new medical students) I've just had, but alas it is not to be.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
The [community profile] fic_corner collection went live on Sunday.

I received an absolutely gorgeous Galax Arena fic: dark, and quietly devastating, and exactly the way I like the Presh/Allyman relationship to be written. I'm absolutely blown away by it.

Missing the Moon (1275 words) by Morbane
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Galax-Arena Series - Gillian Rubinstein
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Characters: Allyman | Allan Manne, Presh
Additional Tags: Missing Scene

Allan's view of the last act of Galax-Arena.

I wrote a Six of Crows fic. It's Matthias Helvar/Nina Zenik, post-series and canon-divergent.

A Road Made of Stars (5647 words) by Dolorosa
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Six of Crows Series - Leigh Bardugo
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Matthias Helvar/Nina Zenik
Characters: Nina Zenik, Matthias Helvar
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, Post-Canon

Having survived Ketterdam, Kaz Brekker's various schemes, and the assassination attempts of powerful people from at least four different nations, Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar have embarked on their most dangerous mission yet: to bring about peace between Ravka and Fjerda. While they knew this wouldn't be easy, they were at least expecting their journey to be uneventful.

They were wrong.

Post-Crooked Kingdom.

dolorosa_12: (matilda)
This weekend I managed to find exactly the right balance between social events with friends and hibernating at home, and between doing various bits of housework and finding time to read, rest and relax. It was great!

After work on Friday I joined Matthias, [profile] ienthuse, her husband, and two of our other friends for the reopening of Thirsty, a wine/beer/spirits seller whose shop also doubles as a small bar. They closed for a month to renovate and expand the bar area, and Friday was their first night open. It was extremely busy and crowded, but we were able to get a table. It was a bit loud to be able to talk properly (I can never hear in bars or restaurants, and generally don't even attempt to have proper conversations), but it was nice to see everyone. One of our friends has just got a new postdoc which would see him leaving the UK — he's Italian, and he and his (British) wife have been trying to leave since the EU referendum result, making them the sixth and seventh people I know who have chosen to leave the country specifically because of Brexit — so my happiness at his new job was tempered with sadness at Brexit chasing so many of my friends out of the country. I suppose it will be nice to visit them in Vienna, at least.

Our night out at Thirsty also marked the beginning of what would be a weekend of foodtrucks: [ profile] GuerrillaKitch were out Thirsty, and we followed that up with pizzas from Neapolitan Street Food at a tiny Cambridge brewery on Saturday. It was rainy and freezing, but Calverleys (the brewery) was still packed, though quieter than Thirsty and thus possible to actually have a conversation. I was there with the same friends as on Friday night. We moved on to another nearby pub to watch the rugby (which I don't care about, but Matthias and our friends do), after which we had curry for dinner and then headed home in the rain.

Today I've stuck much closer to home, cooking meals for the first few days of next week, pickling vegetables, and reading. I read two short stories in the latest issue of Lightspeed, 'Four-Point Affective Calibration' by Bogi Takács, and 'The Quiet Like a Homecoming' by Cassandra Khaw. Although they're very different stories, they both had this undercurrent of anger running through them — a righteous fury at injustice and dispossession and cruelties done to their narrators — which turned them into something of a linked pair.

I also read Robin McKinley's Chalice, which I would describe as a very, very McKinley book, with a lot of her tropes (a bookish, competent heroine overwhelmed with the enormity of the task at hand who focuses on her vocation — in this case, beekeeping — as a way to ground herself and give shape to her interactions with other people; a practical, earthy magic system; a monstrous main male character) and weaknesses (everything ambles along at a leisurely, dreamlike pace, and then rushes towards a hasty, inconclusive conclusion), and, like all her work, is essentially a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, but it was diverting enough for a grey Sunday afternoon.
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
Not much to report this week, just two novels read - Runemarks and Runelight by Joanne Harris. These were solidly written, with nothing obviously wrong with them, and yet both failed to grab me, and I read the second more out of a sense of duty than interest.

I think I'm going to have to say that Harris' interpretations of Norse myth simply don't work for me. I read her Gospel of Loki last year, and it, like these two books (which imagine a Europe shaped primarily by Norse, not Roman influence, in which Ragnarök has already happened), failed to resonate. I think part of the problem is that in books about gods (whatever the mythology), I'm wanting something very specific which most authors either fail to deliver, or aren't interested in writing. I touch on it in this review of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, which does what I want in terms of supernatural-human interactions. Basically, what I want is a reflection on humanity, intense, complicated relationships between humans and deities, and, if possible, some kind of tense readjustment of human characters' moral landscapes once the beings they worship as fairly distant, abstract ideas become part of their world as physical realities. (If this happens in reverse - if gods and supernatural beings are forced to adjust their understanding of human beings once they spend time in close proximity to humans - then so much the better.)

I realise this a very specific requirement, and that I'm basically taking Harris to task for failing write the story I wanted to read, so if post-apocalyptic retellings of Norse myth are your thing, I advise you to read other reviews rather than taking my word as an accurate evaluation of the qualities of these books. For me personally, however, they were a disappointment.
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I read a lot of fabulous books this (northern) summer, and I've written reviews of three, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard, and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine.

You can read them over at Wordpress.
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Ambelin Kwaymullina talks about diversity in Australian YA literature.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 'Fear of causing offense becomes a fetish'.

Here's Daniel José Older on diversity, power and publishing.

Laura Mixon talks about building bridges and healing divisions.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz talks about self-care and 'staying in touch with the child-self'.

Aidan Moher discusses writing military SF without combat.

Astrid Lindgren's Second World War diaries have been published in Sweden.

Ana of Things Mean A Lot reviews Pride in the light of the recent UK elections.

I love this review by Electra Pritchett of Stranger and Hostage by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith:

If I had to pick a post-apocalyptic YA society in which to live, I'd pick the community of Las Anclas hands down, warts and all: rather than a hierarchical dystopian society where something random is outlawed and the government controls something else crucial to society, Las Anclas represents a kinder, gentler post-apocalypse. It's not quite a utopia, except in the sense that everywhere in fiction is, but that's precisely what makes it a believable and desirable place to live: its busybodies and jerks are notable because they're not the only kind of people in the town, and dealing with them would be a small price to pay in order to live in such a supportive and inclusive place.

The upcoming publishing schedule at The Book Smugglers makes me so happy.

I am really looking forward to the publication of Tell The Wind And Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan's latest book.

Via Sherwood Smith, listen to the oldest (recorded) song in the world.

Happy Friday, everyone!
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Welcome to what I hope will become a regular feature here: weekly posts of links to wonderful things. There are no criteria for inclusion: the links will just be things that have caught my eye in any given week, but I'm trying to focus on positive and/or thought-provoking material from a diverse range of perspectives. This is all part of my goal of collaborative and community-building writing for this year.

It was a great week for SFF podcasts. I particularly enjoyed Amal El-Mohtar and Natalie Luhrs on Rocket Talk with Justin Landon, talking about all things blogging and reviewing.

Fangirl Happy Hour is a new project by Ana of The Book Smugglers and Renay of Ladybusiness. Their second podcast is on sex and romance in science fiction, nominations for the Hugo Awards and The Very Best of Kate Elliott (which has rocketed to the top of my wishlist).

Renay also wrote a fabulous, heartfelt post about being betrayed by stories that the rest of your community has universally praised. Read the comments too.

A. Merc Rustad's short story 'How To Become A Robot In 12 Easy Steps' is something I didn't realise I'd been wanting until now. Almost anything I could say here will be a spoiler, but I feel I should provide a content warning for depictions of depression.

Amal El-Mohtar's short story 'The Truth About Owls' hurt my heart in the best possible way.

No Award is not a new blog, but it is new to me, and is a breath of fresh air. I'm often frustrated by the US-centrism of the online conversation on media and social justice, so I'm thrilled to find a blog by a pair of Australians tackling these issues from an Australian perspective.

Finally, I really appreciated Foz Meadows' epic blog post on Teen Wolf. I don't agree with all her conclusions, but I am particularly happy about her comments on Scott McCall, whose gentleness, kindness and adoration of powerful women goes against all the usual stereotypes about boys raised by single mothers.

I hope you all have fabulous weekends. Since Eurovision is officially upon us, why not generate your own Eurovision song title?

This is a mirror of a post on my Wordpress blog. You can comment here or there.
dolorosa_12: (ship)
Day Twenty-Nine: A female-centric fic rec

Most of the fic I like is female-centric (the same goes for original fiction), so it was quite hard to make a choice here. I've narrowed it down to three fics.

The first is 'Rabbit' by [ profile] sanguinity. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with a focus on Jesse Flores. It's such a melancholy, emotional piece of writing, and captures a lot of the tone of the show itself, with its focus on destiny, free will, and the unbearable weight of history and time-travel.

'Mother Tongue' by [ profile] elle_dritch is Earthsea fic focusing on the different women of the series, and on the notion of quiet, unnoticed 'women's work' that Ursula Le Guin explores in the Earthsea books.

Finally, have my favourite piece of fic ever: 'Words In The Margins' by [ profile] Jenwryn. It's a character study of Orihime from Bleach (and I think is fairly canon-divergent), and it's hard for me to explain exactly why it appeals so much. I never watched or read Bleach, but I went through a phase of reading a lot of fic for it about five years ago, and something about this fic really caught my attention. I love that Orihime doesn't apologise for her choices, that she admits privately that she can't explain them even to herself, and that that's okay. I love that it's about monsters and humans, about monsters falling in love with humanity, and humans made monstrous. It's wonderful.

The final day )
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
Day Twenty-Two: Favourite female character you love but everyone else hates

Katrina Crane (Sleepy Hollow)

I've been waiting for this day to come around almost since I started this meme. I have so many feelings about Katrina, and have always been utterly infuriated at how she is received by Sleepy Hollow fandom.

It's sort of understandable, since she's very inconsistently written, and in the first season in particular she wasn't given all that much to do, but the amount of vitriol leveled at her is still, to my mind, disproportionate and unjustified. Unfortunately, I fear poor Katrina has found herself on the wrong corner of a fandom love triangle. In other words, she's the victim of shipping preferences.

One of the elements of fannish culture that I find most frustrating is the way it always seems to sell female characters short. If they're not being ignored altogether, there seems to be an oddly Highlander-esque attitude to female characters. In other words, there can be only one. Only one 'well-written, strong female character', only one object of the male lead's affections and so on. This is both inconsistent and extremely transparent. Female characters who aren't interested in the male leads or likely to be shipped with them (siblings, lesbians, older women) never come in for this treatment.

Katrina has the misfortune to be married to the male lead of Sleepy Hollow, but the majority of the fandom would prefer to see him with Abbie Mills, the brilliant young policewoman who is, like him, a Witness to the end times. As a result, fandom's hatred of her is intense. If they're not complaining about her uselessness they're loudly wishing for her to turn evil. (The transparent motives for fandom's hatred are immediately obvious given that Abbie's sister Jenny, who has no interest in Ichabod, is never discussed in such terms.)

I resent this fannish tendency to make everything a zero sum game. I resent the implication that if one woman is strong and beautiful and clever all others must by extension be weak, useless and ugly. I want no part of a feminism that needs to tear one woman down in order to build another up. There is room enough in Sleepy Hollow, in all fandoms, in life itself, for more than one woman to be amazing. There is love enough for Abbie Mills and for Katrina Crane.

ETA: It has been pointed out to me (with a great deal of aggression, and somewhat proving my point) that I spend this whole post whining about the fandom and don't really talk about why I like Katrina. I will concede that I probably should have done that.

So. I like Katrina because she's an example of a particular character and plot trope that I really enjoy. Namely, a woman working on the side of good, undercover in the bad guys' camp, feeding information back to the good guys. But it goes further than that. What I like in particular is how this kind of female character plays on the arrogance and delusions of the bad guys and highlights the depths of their self-deception. If they stopped to think for a single second they would realise that these women have no possible reason to love or respect them, and are disgusted and appalled at having to hang around with them. But they're so deluded and overwhelmed by their own power that they can't see this. (Other characters of this type: Marion in the BBC Robin Hood series, Noriko and Marala in Romanitas, Sansa Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones, Nina in The Americans. Sally Lockhart has a moment like this at the end of The Shadow in the North. I'm hoping Kore in Spartacus is this type of character, but I suspect not. As you can see, they don't always a have particularly happy time of it.)

Often these types of characters — Katrina included — have very little choice about the situations in which they find themselves. I really enjoy watching the way she finds little pieces of power, small spaces that she can carve out and exist in, in defiance of the forces arrayed against her. Sometimes indirectness, circumlocution and a kind of slantwise assertion of control can be a powerful complement to direct confrontation, and I like that Sleepy Hollow has characters who embody both types of defiance.

But I must admit that the real draw of characters like Katrina is the moment in which they throw off the mask, choose their battle and declare themselves to the villains. 'How could you possibly think I could love you?'/'For what other reason do you think I was hanging around?'/'I have always been working against you!' and so on. It's a moment of cathartic justice, although unfortunately in most stories it never ends well for the woman revealing her loyalties.

Katrina is a particularly unsubtle example of this character type — after all, Sleepy Hollow is not exactly subtle itself — and her ruse is so clumsy that her captors look particularly stupid. I do think the writers made an error when they had Katrina escape and join Abbie and Ichabod — why spend an entire episode grappling with how the three of them work out how to work as a team, only to send Katrina away again once they'd solved this problem? — and the less said of the mystical pregnancy trope the better. Ultimately I think Sleepy Hollow would work better as an ensemble show with Abbie and Ichabod as clear leads and Jenny, Irving and Katrina as their sidekicks (i.e. more along the lines of Buffy than The X Files). But if we can't have that, I would like Katrina to continue to run rings around her captors (well, at least around Headless; Henry seems to know her game), and to save up her wrath for that one moment when direct confrontation becomes unavoidable.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
Day Twenty-One: Favourite female character screwed over by canon

Kendra (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The thing that frustrates me most about Kendra is that of all the show's wonderful recurring tertiary characters, she's the only one who feels as if she was just written to give Buffy character development and feelings. Buffy is generally excellent in terms of recurring characters - even if they only appear in three or four episodes, they feel fully human, with understandable motives, fears and developed personalities.

But Kendra is something of a blank slate. She has only two obvious personality traits: her fondness for the rules, and her lack of social ties. In other words, she is only remarkable in the ways in which she differs from rule-bending, social butterfly Buffy, and she serves to illustrate that Buffy is right in her choices. Kendra's rule-following makes Buffy look intelligently flexible and adaptable, while Kendra's apparent disconnection from other human beings makes Buffy look warm and protected by the support of her friends and boyfriend.

Now, Buffy is the protagonist, so other characters are always going to be used to move her plot forward and help her develop as a character, but Kendra is the only character who gives the impression that that's her sole purpose. And there's no reason why she had to be written in this way. Faith, the slayer who follows Kendra, is also written as a foil to Buffy, but the show also manages to show us why she is the way she is, and why she makes the choices she does.

As it is, Kendra shows up for a couple of episodes, makes Buffy feel inadequate before reinforcing the rightness of Buffy's choices, and then dies in order to illustrate the seriousness of what Buffy faces in the season finale. It's a profoundly unsatisfactory character arc - if arc is even the right word - and I can't help but feel that the character was a wasted opportunity.

The other days )

Also, I have been thoroughly enjoying the late autumn weather here in Cambridge, so have a few photos of yesterday's frost.

Photos behind the cut )
dolorosa_12: (buffy)
Day Ten: Favorite female character in a scifi/supernatural show

Tara Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

I know, I know, another Buffy answer. I have tried to write about a broad range of shows, but it's hard to avoid doubling up for some of these. It took me a long time to warm to Tara, and I think the first time I watched Buffy I didn't think much about her one way or the other, but over the years (and after many rewatches) she became my favourite. In a show where most of the other female characters are loud, dynamic and assertive, it takes a while to notice Tara's quiet strength, but in many ways she's the strongest and most stable character in the whole show.

Three Tara moments really stand out to me. The first is when she confronts her abusive family, who have shown up in Sunnydale to try and take her away, claiming she's going to turn into a demon and needs to be in their care for her own protection. Surrounded by her friends, secure in the knowledge they will protect her, Tara finds the courage to turn her back on her family. The second is in Season 6, which took many narrative missteps, but which came through in this particular instance. Tara has drawn certain lines in the sand with regard to her relationship with Willow, and once Willow crosses one such line, Tara emphatically walks away. I've always loved that her central moments of strength involve asserting herself towards loved ones, rather than enemies, as I think this requires a very specific type of courage.

The final thing that really solidified Tara as my favourite was that Buffy — who is not particularly close to Tara at all — comes to her to open up about her depression, her relationship with Spike, and her self-destructive feelings. Buffy is a character who always thinks her emotions are a burden to other people and finds it increasingly difficult as the series progresses to share her fears with others, so it's always spoken very highly of Tara to me that Tara is the one Buffy trusts to share this information. And Tara's response is full of understanding and compassion, giving Buffy what she so desperately needs at that moment: a non-judgemental listener.

I'll be forever bitter about how Tara's story ultimately went down. I sometimes feel like the writers never really had a complete handle on her, and always thought of her as Willow's girlfriend alone, rather than a character in her own right (as opposed to Anya, who never seemed defined solely through her relationship with Xander), and so only sought to use her story as a tool to make Willow feel various emotions. The three moments I've outlined above offer frustratingly brief flashes of the hidden depths of Tara's character that could have been explored further.

The other days )


dolorosa_12: (Default)
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