spindizzy: Raven looked shocked and appalled. (You what?!)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
By which I mean hi everyone, it's been a while. But I'm back, I have been pouring media into my face pretty solidly since you last saw me so I am ready to start yelling and keep yelling for a good long while!

(Q: Susan, how many books?
A: Look, I'm not saying that I'm on track to crack 150 books by August, I'm just saying 98 books is a completely reasonable number of books to have read by mid-March.)

In that spirit, welcome to all of this yelling. Housekeeping: I'd like to give the most grateful shout out to [personal profile] renay for getting my shit together for me with the images! She is a star! And I also wanna remind everyone that the asterisk in the list below is a marker for sexual assault/rape, so look after yourselves, okay?

Let's go!

  1. Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones [Jump]

  2. Princess Jellyfish Volume 1 by Akiko Higashimura [Jump] *

  3. Pandora Hearts Volume 5 by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  4. Pandora Hearts Volume 6 by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  5. Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall [Jump]

  6. The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman [Jump]

  7. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor [Jump]

  8. Home by Nnedi Okorafor [Jump]

Cover of Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones Cover of Princess Jellyfish Volume 1

1. Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones [Top]
(I am aware that I am blatantly breaking my own rule about length here; the copy of this I read was a review copy from The Lesbrary so I kind of owe them a proper review? But also I want it to have a fair shake here! So... Have this mess.)

I had heard a lot of discussions about Daughter of Mystery before I finally read it – lots of discussion on twitter, and [personal profile] renay's review – so I was honestly expecting something like a lesbian Privilege of the Sword, with any reference to sex and debauchery replaced by philosophy.

... This is not quite like that. Margerit inherits the majority of a Baron's lands... And also his bodyguard, much to both of their dismay. Barbara, a feared duelist, was promised freedom from the Baron's service and the truth of her parentage, which she is denied in favour of being bound to Margerit's service until they are eighteen. Together, they navigate intrigues, Regency-era Society, being women attending university in a patriarchal setting, and also ~Feelings.~

I think my main issue was that this book consistently confounded my expectations. Every time I thought I knew what I was getting, it turned out that I was TOTALLY WRONG. I knew that it was a romance with minimal physicality, which is cool, I knew that there was going to be philosophy – but! I somehow managed to completely miss in all of the discussions that this was a fantasy setting as well? And I thought "Oh, Margerit's going to university and into Society, so this is going to focus on her studies! Because that is her goal!" Oh friend humans, I continue to be wrong.

See also: I got to the end of the book like "People reviewing it talked about the philosophy a lot, did I miss it?" and then I had the realisation that oh, no, wait, it's not that I completely missed the philosophy, it's that I immediately went "Oh, that's the magic system" and promptly made no further demands of it? I paid enough attention to go "Okay, there's an internal logic to this!" and then... Moved on. (This habit is why me and Ninefox Gambit got on so well.). I do like what I understood of it, and the way it's presented is great. The tone of the discussions of magic has the correct sound for very technical, academic study, one that's being reconstructed from conflicting sources. As a history graduate: YES. THIS IS WHERE I LIVE. But also, fair warning, if you decide that that is not for you: there is a lot of it and it's slow.

But yes, I liked that Margerit's goal was to go to university, and the book didn't throw that aside. I'm kinda surprised that it didn't spent more time on the university business – it did enough to establish that she had found Her People, and that they were constructing a space to study the Mysteries together, and then it didn't really come up again. Hmmm.

There were a LOT of mysteries in this book (did you see what I did there, did you?) aside from just the Saint-related magic that Margerit is devoted to. There's the mystery of what Baron Saveze was scheming, the one of Barbara and who her family was, and which factions are working against Barbara, Margerit, or both. The resolution to the secrets around Barbara were particularly nicely handled, I thought? It was so good to see a book actually go into the reactions to a reveal like that, especially when it's too late for there to be repercussions for the secret-keeper? Especially when part of that is an explicit conflict in how both protagonists see a character – someone who Margerit regards as a benefactor can absolutely have retroactively have been an awful human to Barbara and I liked seeing that.

I absolutely adored the female characters in this, by the way; from Margerit's guardian getting into a relationship as an older lady, and her prickly fellow scholar (who I believe is the lead of the second book! EXCELLENT). But Margerit and Barbara! Barbara in particular is my favourite, and the book is very clear in using her in-between position (not quite a servant, not quite a noble, but the one who understands both worlds) as a contrast to Margerit's status (country nobility and new money, with no familiarity with the world she's been thrown into with her inheritance) to explore class and classism, for example through the way that Margerit thinks nothing of paying her fellow classmates to do work for her while Barbara argues that it would be offensive, or the genuine concerns for their romance across class boundaries.

The romance was very much what I enjoy, by the way. It was very sweet, running to a lot of unspoken longing, hyper-awareness, and trying to protect each other without letting the other know. I am here for that.  But also THESE GIRLS ARE SO BAD AT TALKING ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS, GOODNESS ME. Like, the ending was extremely melodramatic, in the way that could probably be (and in fact was!) solved with a five minute conversation! That is the level of bad at feelings we're talking about here! Like, I like melodrama probably more than the next person, but a five minute conversation. Plus, money and the truth did not solve all of their problems! It was good to see that explored! Even if some of the characterisation in that section is... Ropey.

(Also, shout-out to the poor steward who had to manage all of THIS. Bless his heart.)

Literally my biggest problem with this book was the pacing. It's a Regency book, and I'm used to those being off with the pacing, but there is a point in the book where literally all they do is sit around and wait for four months (Yes, four), while... Other people do plot? Okay, yes, and the romance happens more, BUT ALSO. I suppose that because it's a restricted point of view, the villains move in such different circles to our protagonists, and the schemes tend towards the Many Moving Parts, a lot of the drama happens behind the scenes? It was just... Very odd.

I am... Pretty sure I enjoyed it! I have managed to sell three different people on this one since I finished it! But I am yet another reader who was confounded by their own expectations though, which appears to be a consistent problem for this book with literally everyone I speak to about it.

2. Princess Jellyfish Volume 1 by Akiko Higashimura [Top]
Between finishing Princess Jellyfish and trying to take notes, I managed to lose my copy of it! #professional! Let's see what I can manage without my notes.

Princess Jellyfish is about Tsukimi and the group of young women she lives with (the Amars) in a building called Amamizukan; all of them are obssessed with their own niche interests — collecting kimonos, drawing BL manga, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, older men, and of course, Tsukimi's obsession with jellyfish — and live peacefully until two things happen in quick succession: a beautiful woman helps one of them save a jellyfish, and they find out that their home is going to be sold to developers.

Of course, the beautiful woman turns out to be a beautiful young man (who I believe does explicitly say that he is straight and cis) who enjoys crossdressing, make-up and fashion. And of course he uses this powers to help Tsukimi and the socially-awkward Amars against the evil developers! I am here for this.

I enjoyed a lot about the Amars as a group – they're all young women who can't really get jobs because the jobs aren't there, and they are presented as actually being really knowledgeable about the things they're interested in! (This seemed like women I know turned up to eleven, it was nice). But what I really liked is the framing of dressing nicely and wearing make-up as armour, as something you do to make people who'd otherwise dismiss you sit down and take notice. It's not that the girls CAN'T stand up for themselves, or that they need Kuranosuke (the guy) to speak on their behalf, it's that they don't know how to present themselves so they're taken seriously and Kuranosuke does.

There is also a side-plot about Kuranosuke's brother, Shuu? He is the victim of the developer – and I do mean victim, because apparently her modus operandi is to drug men, put them into compromising positions, and take photos so that she can alternately convince them that they're now having an affair with her, or blackmail them! Either way this is fucked up! Not... What I was expecting... From this premise... (Also, I am really hoping this doesn't try to do a virgin/whore thing with Tsukimi and the developer, because... No.)

Anyway, it was fun! I don't know that I'll buy the next volume, but it has cute art and distinctive characters, even the ones we don't see (like the BL manga artist who communicates ONLY through notes under the door), and it was worth a read.

(Okay, but CONTENT WARNINGS THOUGH: I remember there being a bit of transphobia and homophobia, but as I've lost my copy I can't check. There is a definite case of virgin-shaming, and also the whole fucking roofie-ing thing!)

Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 5 by Jun Mochizuki Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 6 by Jun Mochizuki

3. Pandora Hearts Volume 5 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume: we discover (some of) the (maybe) truth of the tragedy of Sablier and (part of) how it connects to Alice's past! Oz attempts to both murder Alice and remind her of how great she is and how much he admires her! Sharon gets kidnapped! Jack Vessalius makes a move in a way that Sure Has Consequences for Alice and Oz!

... This volume had a LOT of stuff going on, okay.

First of all, I think we need to start with a warning: this volume is legit gory, like full on "Vincent, why are you playing with cadavers like they're dolls?!" levels of gore, please bear that in mind if gore is an issue for you.

Second of all, I sure have feelings about everything to do with the tragic backstory in Sablier, from what happened to Alice (*SCREAMING CONTINUES, INTENSIFIES*) to Raven refusing to remember his at all – I think this might be the first volume that really stresses this difference between them, that Alice is doing everything she can to find her memories, and Raven is actively rejecting his. It's interesting. Especially considering... Vincent... (Oh god, Vincent, no.)

The other thing I really have feels about is Oz. From the panels of him promising to destroy Alice – with a smile on his face! Which is unnerving! – because that's what she wants, to the panels where he has to handle (emotionally) the mess that Jack made for him. Two things I particularly want to highlight: seriously, Oz can use Alice's powers without her even being there now?! I'm sure this gets explained in like ten volumes time, but what. Sure! Your most powerful character and most important female character! Can sure just have her powers used by someone else! The other thing is that I really love the staging and panelling for Oz as Jack; it's really dramatic! And I find it impressive that even though Oz's look doesn't change, the artist manages to make it clear that Oz isn't really there through the visuals of how he stands and slight tweaks to the shape of his eyes.

Also, I know that I'm reading this series for the melodrama, but I think that Pandora Hearts might... Actually be trying to have a moral? Or at least a lesson? The repeated point that it needs the characters to learn is "Don't say you're doing actions for someone else's sake; accept that your actions have consequences and when you're using other people as cover for things you want to do." (I think Break explicitly states that this is the reason he hates Vincent, which delights me unreasonably.)
Other things that are delightful: the man who leaps in front of Duchess Rainsworth as a lovely background detail that I can't explain for another... Volume and a half? Break being utterly bizarre in the background of panels and this going completely unremarked by everyone. The fact that it brings me my favourite low-key trope, which is everyone sleeping around someone's bed to be sure they're okay. IT'S LIKE THIS VOLUME KNEW WHAT I WANTED.

4. Pandora Hearts Volume Six by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
*pinches bridge of nose* Okay, hear me out. In this volume, Sharon is rescued from her kidnapped through ADDITIONAL CREEPING ON ECHO, Break remembers something unpleasant, and the adults who are not Raven (and therefore are slightly more sane) go "Man, it sure is weird that Oz hasn't asked about his sister since he came back. Better find the thinnest of pretexts to dress in school uniforms, break into a school, and go to visit her!"

... I mean, sure, it introduces more of the main characters and the major antagonists for the next... Six volumes?, BUT ALSO: thinnest pretexts to break into a school!

The emotions and the relationships here are great. Sharon and Break's relationship charms me, because it's a really nice bickering sibling relationship (I am INHERENTLY SUSPICIOUS of all non-blood family relationships in both manga and classic literature though, because so many times I go "look at this lovely familial relationship!" and then canon goes "lol married". SO MANY TIMES. DON'T BETRAY ME, SERIES.) But also Ada and Oz have such strong feelings about meeting each other again for the first time, and it's so lovely to see that they still feel so strongly about each other and seeing each other again. (*wails quietly in the background*)

On a similar note everyone reading Oz the riot act is very therapeutic; Alice wants to know why Oz can't tell himself the same things he tells everyone else, Elliot has strong opinions on the selfishness of self-sacrifice and refusing to try to stay alive. It's important and it's the start of Oz's actual character development and I really enjoy reading it.

(Oh yeah, the Baskervilles show up and nearly kill everyone, but we don't care about that! ... Do we?)

But as dramatic as all of the rest of it is, I'm not gonna lie to you. The true emotional rollercoaster of this volume is this: Oz gets back from the Abyss only to discover that there's been like ten more volumes of his favourite series! Yay! AND THEN SOME DICKHEAD GIVES HIM SPOILERS WITHOUT EVEN WARNING HIM, OH GOD. D: D: D:

Cover of Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall Cover of The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

5. Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall [Top]
Friend humans, this has been pitched to me repeatedly because you know what I really love in fiction? Fantasy, pulp/noir, and queer lit. You know what sits SQUARELY in the middle of that Venn Diagram? The Kate Kane series.

... Spoilers, I loved it to pieces and everyone who recced it to me was exactly right.

It absolutely won me over from the first few pages, because Kate Kane is a great combination of pulp and urban fantasy tropes. She is a hard-drinking, hard-living private investigator who's constantly on the verge of going bankrupt... Who also happens to be the daughter of the fae queen! Her life is an omnishambles! Her partner just died! Her luck in relationships is categorically awful and involves more vampires than you'd expect! And she lives in London, which is honestly a novelty for me with urban fantasy books with female leads.

Oh god, I don't know where to start with how much I loved this book. Kate is a human(ish) disaster and I love her? I mean, she has the classic combination of terribly unlucky in love (... And everything else.) while also being catnip to supernatural lesbians, who all want her involved in supernatural politics on their side. (In case you think I'm joking: NOPE. The heads of three of the main factions meet her and go "Yes, yes I WOULD like some of that." It's so refreshing to see that happen in a story that's not completely dude-focused? It's a change from the usual pulp detective/urban fantasy I pick up!

Okay, no, let me back this up, let me tell you the actual plot. Kate Kane, human disaster and daughter of the fae queen, gets hired to investigate the magic-induced death of a werewolf at a vampire nightclub in an attempt to stave off a very nasty supernatural war. It goes EXACTLY as well as you'd expect for an urban fantasy protagonist.

The tropes are strong with this one, both played... Comparatively straight and subverted in the world building. For example, there is a casual take-down of the Vampire In A High School Dating Teenage Girls thing, where the narrative explicitly goes this was creepy and has always been creepy, it's just that Kate was too young to see it at the time." (PATRICK IS THE WORST.) But the world building of the urban mages and how the politics all fit together is really cool! Even if none of the characters are quite what I expected.

(Julian, the vampire prince, has made terrible life choices and tells her life like a cheesy story and is very... Dizzying. The werewolf leader is literally an underwear model, which I'm fine with, but also a fucking rah, what the actual fuck. And Nimue is kind of a saint and kind of utterly terrifying, what with the phenomenal cosmic power and the I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream scenes. And Elise, who appears to be the Galatea of this story, just made me want to read the Felix Castor books again because I miss Juliette now.)

I mean, it's not perfect? Some of the developments were a bit out of the blue, and some of them were signposted in that "Oh, okay, you are clearly going to be plot later but I have no idea how" sort of way, and I cannot tell if that means it's working or not. The repercussions of characters actions are occasionally hand-waved away because... Reasons? The ending conflict is also a jumbled trainwreck as well, but it's a trainwreck that involves teamwork and everyone fitting into the tropes that you'd really expect from storming the castle! But it's fun and it's revisiting tropes that I know and making them queer, and quite frankly if you want my money? That is how you get it.

6. The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman [Top]
I STILL DON'T KNOW IF THIS BOOK HAS QUEER LEADS OR NOT, OH MY GOD THIS SHOULD NOT BE SO HARD TO WORK OUT. Like! The only person Irene specifically mentions having pantsfeelings for is Kai (and I am STILL really glad that she keeps going "Oh my god he is my apprentice this is NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN." even though I expect that resolution to die before the end of the third book), but she appears to be quite fine with a lady both hitting on and promising to seduce her; her objection isn't that the character in question is a woman, it's that the seduction is going to be a ridiculous dramatic fae thing! WHY IS THIS STILL DIFFICULT TO WORK OUT.

Sorry. Just. Needed to get that off my chest. It's fine. It's FINE.

In The Masked City, Kai has been kidnapped by a fae whose brain apparently works the exact same way as mine (no seriously, the scene where he is pitching villainous plans is HOW MY BRAIN WORKS but more evil) and is to be auctioned off to the highest bidder in a world is that is a) pretty much run by fae, and b) Venice caught in a permanent Carnivale. Irene has to go and rescue him, and everything goes exactly as you'd expect.

I don't know that I like this one better than The Invisible Library. On the one hand, my problem with the end of the first book was "Really, you're setting this up as universe-hopping librarian spies, and you're locking yourself into the obligatory magical gaslight setting?" and this book opens up those options a little more? Irene goes to at least... Three worlds in this book! Three whole worlds! With varying tech levels and degree of corrupted by chaos! This is definitely more than the previous book. On the other hand, it really double-down on the narrative convenience in the world building, because that was how the plot shook out. (Seriously, it got to the point where Irene was trying to work out her role in the story to work out what was going on – like "Okay, if I'm the protagonist I will have a critical meeting at this location; if I'm the villain, then something else is going to happen."

But it was also an interesting raising of the curtain, in a way, because in the previous book we were told that Fae embody an archetype, and their strength depends on how hard they embody it, right? But The Masked City shows exactly how much work goes into the role they take for themselves and how they have to know the roles of the people around them as well or risk getting their own role changed for them. It was cool and interesting!

The plot was... Not necessarily predictable? Because if anyone can make a story about a living train going to Venice full of mad magical bastards predictable, I will be shocked! But there were a lot of things that were telegraphed a little too clearly before they happened, such as what was going on with Vale.

(... Also I am kinda side-eying the depiction of the PoC characters in this book but I can't put my finger on why. Is it because they're pinging my stereotype alarm? Is it because not a single one of them is human? If it's that last one, I'm being unfair because I don't think we meet a single named human character in the book, but also.)

But it was an enjoyable book! I definitely had fun, and I've got the sequel next on my to-read pile, so clearly this is going to go well.

Cover of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor Cover of Home by Nnedi Okorafor

7. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor [Top]
Binti was my favourite of the month waaaay back in September, and I figured I should probably reread it as a refresher before reading Binti: Home. (I have no idea if I can talk about these without spoiling them ridiculously; Seriously, they're super short I am not comfortable spoiling something them because of it)

Binti is the story of a young woman, who is not only a gifted mathematician but also the first of the Himba people to attend Oomza University, a prestigious university IN SPACE. Her parents don't approve, but she is determined, and the journey is going GREAT right until it becomes a nightmare.

I think Binti is REALLY good. It's well-written, the descriptions are evocative, and the world-building is fantastic. The themes of culture and communication and being who you are when you've changed your place and some of the fundamentals of yourself come through really well. Binti solves most of her problems through diplomacy – her family are harmonisers, bringing harmony is what they do – and it's a nice approach that I don't get to see very often. The emotions of most of it are quite well-done – I agree with Jodie that the reactions to the big dramatic event in the middle feels muted in a strange way. Especially when paired with the friendship Binti forms at the end? But Binti's feelings really worked for me, and I do recommend this one?

8. Home by Nnedi Okorafor [Top]
See my review of Binti for "I am trying to keep this comparatively non-spoilery, so this might be brief!" I'M TRYING, OKAY, I AM TRYING REALLY HARD.

In Home, Binti finally feels settled enough in her new life to go home and visit her family, which goes better than her journey out to Oomza University on a technicality! Even though she's taking Okwu with her, and he's going to be the first of his species to set foot (tentacle?) on Earth in actual lifetimes.

Home addresses my major quibble about Binti by actually going into her PTSD and the after-effects of what happened to her! She has a support network and coping strategies and things set up to automatically help her when she's having panic attacks! This is so useful and I am really glad to see them built into the story. Her relationship with Okwu is also revealed to be super complicated (just like my feelings about their relationship!). They're friends... Despite what happened in the previous book. They don't or can't talk about important things, but she stops him committing a murder and he supports her when her family is awful and she takes him to the lake. It's complicated and I like it.

Also complicated: Binti seeing her family again, and that is amazingly relatable. (When Binti's sister started yelling I had to put the book down and walk away for a while because haha, one of my older sister did the exact same thing my first week at university.) It's hard! It's difficult to go back when everyone has grown and changed while you're apart and you have to renegotiate how you fit in those spaces! Especially when the changes are as big as what happened to Binti! And she tries and gets it wrong and realises she's got it wrong before anyone confronts her, and that makes it worse, I think. I just... The pride and the disappointment are hard to read, but really effective.

I also think that the revelations about Binti's heritage are really well done! It explores the degrees of connection and... Expectation? Prejudice? In a similar way to in Binti, but from a different angle. It's also interesting that with every story about Binti she becomes less and less who she thought she was, and she has to choose who she wants to be from here. I want to see who she becomes in book three!

... Also somewhere [personal profile] renay is still probably screaming about the cliffhanger at the end and I am sitting here judging every cliffhanger I see by the last page of Gangsta Volume 7 (where volume 8 might never be released NOBODY FUCKING TALK TO ME), and compared to that... It's not bad? It's fine? But there is a cliffhanger and if you hate those maybe give this a miss until the third one comes out.

Currently Reading

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (I am listening to the audiobook, because I apparently HAVE A PROBLEM, and my problem is a) this book, b) this ridiculous found family, and c) oh wow, they have a different voice actor for each POV character, and listening to each actor's interpretation of the characters is fascinating.)

  • The Angel Wore Fangs by Sandra Hill (Yes, it's still going, I am yelling at it a lot on twitter. We've just had a chapter from the villains POV and THAT was sure a barrel of laughs.)

  • The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman (Still no confirmation on the bisexuality thing, which is the important content I'm here for. Definitely confirmation of what was apparently supposed to be UST that flew straight over my head. Also we've done the thing that trilogies apparently do where they "And the second book was somewhere completely differently with whole new problems! Now back to the REAL plot from book one." *SIGH* It's fun, just disappointing me in niggly ways. MORE ADVENTURES PLEASE, SAVE THE KISSING FOR WHEN THERE ISN'T A HOUSE FULL OF FOOT-WIDE SPIDERS.)

Reading Goals

Reading goal: 24/150 (8 new this post) Prose: 12/50 (5 new this post)
New-to-me female authors: 5/75 (2 new this post: Heather Rose Jones, Akiko Higashimura)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 12/90 (3 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerasfuckbookclub: 5/24 (2 new this post; Daughter of Mystery and Iron & Velvet.)


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