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A clunky unedited book review!

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Sacred Band, by Joseph D. Carriker jr.
 
Where to begin? I am emotionally compromised, that’s where.
 
My favourite thing about this novel is the characters. I’ve been thinking about how best to describe them, but then, describing people has never been my strong suit. I describe characters well enough, using the labels assigned to them: troubled, gentle, loving, queer, trans, motherly, a person of colour, powerful, traumatised.
I struggle with describing the powers at play in this book because they’re not characters. They’re people. They’re alive and delightfully complex, each one more than their assigned archetype, each one richly developed with backstories that are not laid bare and tossed in your face for easy consumption. They tell you as much as any person would, and in ways that people do: in action, in small talk, in expression and emotion. Their defining traits aren’t tossed and jumbled into a single paragraph early in the chapter. They’re complicated in the ways I am complicated, or you are, or the ways the people you love are. They’re messy. They grieve. They get scared. They can be irrational and clingy. They can project their insecurities onto others. They also love and feel in a very, very real way, and that is the core of what makes Sacred Band so brilliant. A superhero is a symbol, a representation of a concept, and it’s important that you understand the face beneath the mask before you can begin to grasp the hero. These people are heroes, and not because of the (overly tight) outfits.
 
My second favourite thing about this book is the sheer diversity of cast. Gender, sexuality, race, and background mix and merge to bring people from various walks of life- with respectful appreciation of the reality of their existence- into eachother’s company. Each has different strengths and different obstacles. Sometimes they chafe, sometimes they soothe. Difficult situations are dealt with in unexpected ways, and I’m not just talking about the fight scenes. A friend of mine uses the phrase ‘A balm to my soul’ and that’s exactly what this story has been for me. Familiar struggles (especially the queer kind) played out on these pages are mysteriously lacking in mass-produced media, and although that issue is slowly improving, the representation of queer culture in these pages is so much more satisfying to me than the token gay characters popping up in our standard superhero fare. Here queerness is written the way most of us experience it. It’s every day life. It has events that mark our history, and sometimes they can define our personal narrative, but for the most part it’s just part of who we are. For the characters in Sacred Band, it’s just part of who they are, but within that, they give voice and power to the inherent rage against inequality and oppression common in the queer community.
We’ve all heard about those who are not so lucky as to be born into a safe environment. Those who have been disowned, discarded, abused and tortured and even killed for who they are. The fact that the novel begins in Ukraine and mentions the unrest in Russia hits a nerve. The villains in Sacred Band are real. We’ve all felt their touch, one way or another. From those who fought hard in defence of DADT to those who beat frightened transfolk and post the videos to youtube, we know these villains. The pain and anger in Sacred Band is all too real.
This novel gifts us with the superheroes that Hollywood pretends could never be: the queer, the underfoot, the outcasts, doing what they always have. What we always have. Fighting for our own, for the lives of those like us.
 
When I first settled down to read, I had no idea how sorely I needed that.
So yeah, I’m emotionally compromised. Read the fucking book. It’s worth it.
 

Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight

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I Shall Wear Midnight

By Terry Pratchett

Doubleday, 344 pp.

 

“A witch has to deal with what is in front of her…”

Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight is another instalment in his immensely popular Discworld series, and the fourth book centred around Miss Tiffany Aching, the fifteen-year-old Witch of the Chalk. Tiffany has been the heroine in the three previous books- tackling invisible monsters, faerie queens, and even Winter itself- with the company of the rowdy Nac Mac Feegle and other complicated and delightfully unique characters. While the story is full of brilliant comedic value and written in  light-hearted, casual language, the undertones of this book are deliciously dark, toying with concepts that are commonly ignored in traditional fantasy tales. This acknowledgement of reality in an unrealistic setting is Pratchett’s signature, and it is masterfully rendered in I Shall Wear Midnight.

Based heavily on real-world myths and legends, much of the detail added to the Discworld series- and particularly those pertaining to the witches- is half common sense, and half folk magic. Young Tiffany moves through the world with the poise and maturity of an adult, understanding the people she interacts with in her home town better than they usually understand themselves. The witches are observed with immense respect and more than a hint of fear, but safe from what Pratchett refers to as the ‘Rough Music’, the mindless rage of a frightened mob. I Shall Wear Midnight takes this concept and turns it on its head, as the people of the Discworld begin to lose their grasp on the fine line between fact and fiction, unable to determine the difference between the witches who nurse them to health and the witches who eat children, and this begins to have a disastrous impact on Tiffany’s life- especially when she is caught in more than one compromising situation.

The soil and the salt were an ancient tradition to keep the ghosts away. Tiffany had never seen a ghost, so they probably worked, but in any case they worked on the minds of people, who felt better knowing that they were there, and once you understood that, you understood quite a lot about magic.

Pratchett approaches concepts like mob mentality, death, folk magic, the power of belief, the effects of ignorance, and the subtle complexities of human beings with the same blithe approach as people do in everyday life, but also with an almost distressing clarity that brings to light the consequences and uncomfortable realities of the human herd. I Shall Wear Midnight demonstrates with childlike innocence how something as simple as a fairy tale can destroy the lives of those perceived to be, if only for a moment, different.

 

Five stars, darlings. Five goddamn stars.

Book Review: A Density of Souls

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Having not yet finished reading the book when I started writing this, I can only comment on what I have realised so far. When I have finished it, no doubt I’ll write some more. ^_^

The reviews for A Density Of Souls differ largely, fluctuating between 1-2 star ratings with bitter comments, and 5 star rave reviews. This book is a troublesome one that covers a lot of incredibly unpleasant realities, bundling up a dozen serious experiences that happen to people everyday, and then wraps them all up in a wonderfully written (if complicated) story. My guess is that the people who enjoyed the book are probably people who have experienced one or more of these- whether the destruction of friendships, the emotional damage of abusive relationships, the trauma of death and suicide, the difficulties of mental illness or the social otherness of being gay- and these people find themselves drawn to the characters they feel the most connected to. It takes a talented writer to involve the readers in what has been written, to absorb them in the story. I think those who didn’t like the book didn’t feel that connection, hadn’t felt those feelings.

When I picked up A Density of Souls, I expected Christopher Rice’s writing to be a pale imitation of his mother’s. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He has his own style and while some of the places mentioned are familiar to Rice fans, everything is somehow different. Intense and beautiful and ugly all at once, and sometimes, incredibly uncomfortable. I would recommend anyone read it, regardless of how they might feel about it. It’s certainly an experience to be had.

That said, they say that an author’s first published novel tends to be heavily autobiographical. The way some of this is written… Well. I wouldn’t be surprised.

5 stars.