Black Wings Beating by Alex London
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, September 2018
Reviewed from ARC
Plot Summary: Uztar is a land full of people who revere birds of prey, holding those with the skill for falconry in high esteem. Brysen wants nothing more than to become one of these highly respected falconers, and it frustrates him that his sister has a gift for it that she doesn’t want to embrace. The twins also need money, and their abusive father is certainly not paying the bills. Kylee can’t wait to get out of town, out of the whole business and away from her home, but Brysen puts the two in a precarious position just as the shadows of war are descending. The two end up embarking on an epic quest to find the elusive ghost eagle and hopefully turn the tide of the impending battle.
Queer Rep: London’s newest foray into fantasy is dark, complex, and contains an exciting new mythology focused on birds of prey. But beyond phenomenal world building and a pulse-pounding story, Black Wings Beating incorporates queerness in various ways, both subtle and explicit. Brysen is gay in the narrative, but without a coming out moment or the usual drama associated with the bulk of contemporary queer narratives. Kylee can easily be read as asexual, but there is nothing explicitly noted in the text to confirm or deny.
Though I know that not everyone is a fan of the sibling dynamics in this work, I do think they mirror much of the real-life dynamics in some family situations. Kylee is naturally talented while Brysen has to work his butt off for similar results, leading to Brysen’s selfish, reckless, and impulsive behavior throughout their epic quest. This, of course, leads to jealousy and conflict between the twins, and Kylee is often left to clean up the mess. Their dynamic is somewhat lopsided, but I feel that this actually makes their relationship even more real in many ways.
Brysen’s explicit queerness is not straightforward or necessarily the cute romantic kind that readers sometimes expect. He certainly has a thing for bad boys, which is kind of what puts the twins in their precarious situation to begin with. He falls for guys who are, to put it bluntly, douchebags with very few redeeming qualities, and this drives him to be unnecessarily reckless, but these moments drive the story forward in unexpected ways.
Final Word: I am curious to see how the committee will read this one, but I do think the text explores queerness within a fantasy context in a fresh and exciting way that exemplifies the criteria of the award. London’s writing style is exquisite, and I really hope this novel gets the love I truly believe it deserves.
Our guest blogger today is Dr. Rob Bittner. Rob (he/him) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the iSchool of the University of British Columbia, working with LGBTQ books for youth and children.
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