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My week: I read an 800 page epic fantasy in four days and then wanted to turn around and re-read it immediately. This derailed my continued journey through the Hilarious and Violent Adventures of October Daye and Crew of Supernatural Misfits, but I'lll be hopping back on that joyride soon enough!

cover of Black Wolves

I reviewed Black Wolves for Barnes & Noble last week. This is my favorite part of my review:

Dannarah keeps pushing long after a sexist culture would have silenced or erased her. Although the story belongs to Kellas as well, as he seeks to atone for the mistake that cost him Atani and their plans for the future, the book revolves around the women who have to make tough choices at every turn, for their families and their own safety. This is the type of epic fantasy I wanted as a girl: it sets up a dangerous political situation in which women are players, not simply objects to be moved around the field of engagement. The men can't dismiss them because they're an inextricable part of the world, with agency of their own. They must be reckoned with.

But reviews over there are by their nature shorter than my traditional "ramble for 8000 words", so I had to leave out all the wonderful, intricate details Kate Elliott included in the book in favor of focusing on the more thematic/overarching issues and characters like Dannarah and Kellas. There's also Sarai and her restrictive culture, and how she twists circumstances to acquire freedom through what looks like a prison of an arranged marriage. There's Lifka, who has to struggle with being a brand new reeve, jessed suddenly to a giant eagle after her life and family are threatened by an oppressive government and religious order. There's Gil, whose whole storyline is dedicated to tilting to the young man's standard heroic fantasy narrative on its head, especially how it concerns marriage, sex, and the consequences of adventure on the people around him. The way all the character's were tangled up with each other were excellent. I also love how the book takes pretty standard social/cultural/religious issues often seen in epic fantasy and manages to make them tense and fraught.

I've read Spirit Gate and co-reviewed it with Jodie, which I liked (I didn't love it as much as I wanted to, although the characters made me interested in going forward to the next book). It's really interesting to read into an author's back catalogue and see how they've grown and changed as a writer, and the differences between Spirit Gate and Black Wolves (which are set in the same world) are stark. There's the same attention to detail, nuanced characters, epic scope, and exploration of social details introduced in shades of gray with no easy answers, but the experience Elliott has gained since Spirit Gate are readily apparent, especially when it comes to pacing and communicating the social and cultural issues she's created. I struggled a bit in Spirit Gate, but Black Wolves pulled me along readily. I bet having read the entire Crossroads trilogy would make it even more entertaining; I really want to finish that trilogy and reread Black Wolves.

This is the kind of epic fantasy I want; where women and men are all important to the story, where they all have impact all the way the narrative unfolds that doesn't have to do with who is fucking them or who they're fucking, and where things are dark but there's still hope and happiness amid the grind.

AND I GUESS I'll admit that I got a lot of pleasure out of the way this book drags privileged dudes and put them in their place over and over, because so often I used to read fantasy where all dudes were All Awesome, All the Time, even when treating people around them like garbage. But it also gives a few glimpses of non-privileged dudes and their stories and how it's clear that in some alternate reality they had a story written about them where they were the hero. But this story is the epic fantasy skewed just enough that the people who otherwise would be side characters become the main characters: two people over 50 (a woman! over 50! as the central protagonist of an epic fantasy!), two very young women, and an apathetic man who only starts feeling grounded and hopeful once he has a loving, supportive marriage. I WAS SHOCKED, TOO. A loving, supportive marriage!!!! Where the woman is all, "Let me show you all these great sex acts I learned from my girlfriend." and there a deliberate framing of all sexualities and consensual sexual experience as valid and not shameful at all. AMAZING.

Quick spoilers for people who like trigger warnings, so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want some details about an event late in the book. There is a semi-graphic M/M rape scene that sneaked up on me and shocked me so much I had to step away from the book for a few hours. It's not treated like a non-issue by the text and it's not just a one-off thing for a quick shock value, but something that happens and keeps coming up as characters deal with it. I'm pretty sensitive to these with women and apparently also with men, too! So be warned that it's there! If you need more details about character/page number just let me know and I can send it to you. Stay healthy, friends! ♥

Obviously, I'm on team "READ BLACK WOLVES!" especially if you've been looking for epic fantasy that deals with cultural/social issues but doesn't go full-on grimdark featuring LADIES. It comes out on November 3. Keep an eye out, friends, because it's super.

Leslie Knope saying you might as well be a pile of leaves because you're about to get blown away

cover of Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine

Bitch Planet: Vol. 1 was recced to me months ago after the first two issues came out, but I only got around to it recently. That's a shame because it's so brilliant. The art is wonderful and I always love DeConnick's writing and how incisive she is about gender issues.

So for everyone who knew about this but like me didn't know specifics beyond "noncompliant women who get sent to a prison planet", the story is about Kamau and the request the prison officials make to her to form a team made up of inmates to play in a game that's popular back on Earth (which only men play). Someone, for some reason, wants to pit some of these women against professional sports players. On top of this we see ways in which this system is utterly oppressive and broken, corrupted by greedy, misogynistic men who see women as objects and capital to invest or discharge.

Interspersed between the main storyline are backstory issues about the main characters — these show up every three issues, so there was one about Penny Rolle, who is a large black woman who gives absolutely zero fucks about what you think of her. She's often the most viciously violent toward the prison officials while also managing to be hilarious and heartwarming even as she's yelling. I loved her immediately and am terrified something might happen to her. Kamau is less of an open book but Valentine De Landro did such an excellent job with the art that she manages to say quite a bit if you pay attention to her nonverbal communication.

The single issues come with personal essays that weren't in the trade I picked up. This is one of those cases where single issues are extremely worth the price because the backmatter is rewarding: letters from Kelly Sue, lots of communication with fans, and essays on feminism and intersectional theory. It might be harder to find the first three issues in floppy, but the content is there digitally, too.

Date: 2015-10-27 11:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hmmm. Okay. Good to know about the rape scene. I will bear all of this in mind. I do want to try Kate Elliott though. You and Memory have been talking her up soooooort of a lot.


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