We’re getting down to the wire with the ALA YMAs coming up in just over a week! Before they sneak up on us, we’ve got a couple more posts in store. This one takes a look some possible science fiction and fantasy contenders.
There are others that I know I’m remiss not to have included: Shaun David Hutchinson’s At the Edge of the Universe and April Daniels’s Dreadnought and Sovereign, especially. And more have been on MoMM’s radar, too: Julia Ember’s The Seafarer’s Kiss and The Tiger’s Watch (Ashes of Gold #1), Sarah Fine’s The Cursed Queen (The Imposter Queen #2), F. T. Lukens’s Ghosts & Ashes (Broken Moon #2), Linsey Miller’s Mask of Shadows (Mask of Shadows #1), Rick Riordan’s The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2), Tara Sim’s Chainbreaker (Timekeeper #2), and AdriAnne Strickland’s Shadow Run (Kaitan Chronicles #1).
Knowing that YA publishing has been a bit slow to catch up on queer representation in any genre that isn’t realism, I’m glad to see a decent number of sci-fi and fantasy books out this year. I regret that I can’t do this selection a bit more justice, but here’s what I’ve got:
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Flatiron Books, Sept 2017
Reviewed from hardcover
I adored this book. I’m not much of a reader of fairy tale retellings, mostly because there are so darn many of them and I feel like I hit my quota years ago. But this one was an absolute delight. It alternates between two close third perspectives. One focuses on Snow White-analogous Lynet in the narrative’s present. The other follows Evil Queen-esque Mina, beginning in her adolescence but catching up to the narrative’s present about midway through the book. Feminist through and through, it’s a study in transforming “power over” into “power with” and imagines the psychology of both characters with great depth, making them unique and highly sympathetic. While attention isn’t given to the race dynamics of this fairy tale world, it’s made clear that the characters are non-white. I appreciated that though most of the action takes place in an isolated castle among the royal elite, a significant piece of Lynet’s character development comes about through her recognition of the disparity between her life and that of the common people. The burgeoning romance begins from page one when Lynet sees Nadia walk across a courtyard in men’s clothing (swoon). I thought their relationship could have benefited from a bit more development, but hey, I’ll take it. The writing is rich and textured and immersive such that I felt like I knew every crevice of this dark winter castle and its inhabitants by the time I’d finished.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
Big Mouth House, Aug 2017
Reviewed from e-book
Sometimes I go for what feels like an eternity without reading anything funny, and when something genuinely, startlingly hilarious comes along, it’s such a delight I can barely contain myself. In Other Lands is character-driven, which is code for there “truly is no plot other than the main character’s coming-of-age trajectory.” Some people will hate that about this book, but I’m of the opinion that it pulls off what it’s trying to do with aplomb. This is an expert riff on the portal fantasy: Elliot leaves our world for the Borderlands, the edge of a magical realm where long-standing disputes between species make for ongoing war. He enrolls in diplomatic training at a school where warfare is valued far more. His two best friends, Serene and Luke, an elf and a human respectively, are warriors, and school story hijinks are interspersed with the grim outcome of battles. Elliot is very intelligent and an advocate for pacifism and cross-cultural understanding with clue how to convey his ideas to others without coming off as obnoxious, superior, and off-putting–which is a brilliant problem for a character to have. Elliot is also bisexual, and the novel has a lot to say against biphobia. Themes include navigating relationships, building healthy communication, and realizing that you can be worthy of love without being the center of the universe. My favorite thing about the novel is the elven society’s misandry, which is used to ridiculous effect to make evident just how absurd misogyny is, especially when rooted in biological essentialism. I’m critical of the way the book engages (and fails to engage) with race, though. While certain types of prejudice among humans get discussed, race doesn’t, and as in so many fantasy books, the logic of racism is mapped to speciesism instead. There’s also some casual ableist and amisic language throughout. But being the reader I am, I enjoyed this one thoroughly enough to be okay with it being a problematic fave.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston
Dutton Books for Young Readers, Oct 2017
Reviewed from ARC
This is a book that I know a lot of people love and I get why: it has a racially diverse cast, multiple queer characters, an intersex character, and a love triangle that ends in a polyamorous relationship–all things that are wonderful to see in YA. I’m just not sure they’re all handled well. The narrative takes place in an alternate future Canada under an alternate British Empire, where the royal family has intermarried globally, resulting in a multiracial society. This allows the book to have racially diverse characters in a setting that retains the trappings of British aristocracy. But this seems like a strange intervention, considering how much inequity else remains intact. The British Empire is, apparently, a “kinder” colonizer in this universe, but colonization as a practice isn’t interrogated. The picking and choosing at work is bizarre, and I have so many questions. But for this blog’s purposes, I want to focus on the intersex representation in particular. It’s exploitative for the plot of a novel to hinge on “surprise, this person is queer!” and that’s how the reveal about Helena hits. Helena is well past the age when a person would recognize the physical indicators that they are intersex. All of the technology of the story is imagined to keep that fact hidden from both Helena and the reader: the bizarre genetic matching dating app, the regulated hormonal treatments we learn Helena’s been receiving. The lack of agency Helena has over her own body is deeply chilling. And the narrative seems to expect the reader to take it all stride, and be happy that Helena and those closest to her are able to accept this new information. At this point, there’s so little YA with intersex representation, and even less that does it well. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced this one is much of a positive addition.
The Edge of the Abyss (The Abyss Surrounds Us #2) by Emily Skrutskie
Flux, April 2017
Reviewed from e-galley
The second book in a sci-fi duology, The Edge of the Abyss is a solid read with a lot of appealing elements: pirates! weaponized giant sea creatures! queer ladies! Thanks to the precise world-building of the first book, this one has strong legs to stand on, and the scope of the world and its conflicts are gratifyingly and intriguingly expanded. Cas reorients her life around what she now knows about the corrupt system in which she was complicit as a trainer of fighting aquatic beasts called Reckoners. Having joined a crew of pirates, Cas faces a new set of developing relationships and moral quandaries. The romantic tension built between her and female pirate Swift develops complicatedly, and this installation, thankfully, shows more overt awareness that their relationship isn’t healthy. The cast of characters is diverse: Cas is Chinese American, Swift is white and grew up poor, pirate queen Santa Elena is black, and the crew encounters a whole host of pirates of various identities throughout the Neo-Pacific. Differences of race, gender, and sexuality don’t seem to make as much of an impact as class does in this imagined future, though. The narrative reaches a satisfying resolution without wrapping everything up tidily, which fits its overall focus on the complexity of morality and interpersonal relationships.
27 Hours (The Nightside Saga #1) by Tristina Wright
Entangled Teen, Oct 2017
Reviewed from hardcover
This book is such a mixed bag in terms of the thoughtfulness of its representation. The plot and world-building are problematic, relying on an analogy for colonization that is devoid of indigenous viewpoints [see this review by Aimal of Bookshelves and Paperbacks]. The queer representation is where the narrative gets the most right , but even that’s not foolproof. One of the characters is trans, a supporting character uses they/them pronouns, and pretty much all the characters are not straight: Nyx is pan, Dahlia is bi, Rumor is bi, and Jude is gay. It’s gratifying to read a book where everyone is out and open and comfortable with their queer selves…except that there’s one character who isn’t. Though the novel imagines happiness for everyone else, it’s too allo-centric to afford the same acceptance to its ace character, Braeden, who struggles with not belonging and feeling “broken.” While some aspects of the writing are compelling, others leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes the book seems a little too in touch with a contemporary readership (references to current pop culture that are out of place in the futuristic setting) and sometimes way out of touch (little regard for the experiences of certain readers).
Have opinions on these? Think something not covered here has a strong chance? Let us know in the comments!