I’m not exactly well known for my appreciation of the romantic comedy genre—it tends to grate—but like so much else, a really well done example can overcome all my objections. Especially if it’s short.
Cassandra Khaw’s Bearly a Lady (Book Smugglers Publishing) is short, and if it doesn’t overcome all my objections, it makes a pretty good go of entertaining me anyway. Zelda’s a werebear who works for Vogue, has a vampire roommate, and is attracted to both her neighbour, werewolf-with-extreme-abs Jake, and her coworker, the entirely human Janine. When her boss asks her to play bodyguard to spoiled and speciesist fae prince who wants to get into every woman’s pants—and who has no compunction about using his fae magic to batter down people’s defences—Zelda’s life, and her lovelife, gets extra complicated.
It’s a little surprising to find Khaw as the author of a romantic comedy. Her previous form, including the goretastic Food of the Gods (a collection of novellas starring “Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef,” out from Abaddon Books) and the modern-Lovecraftian horror Hammers on Bone (Tor.com Publishing) are, each in their own way, rather harrowing books. Food of the Gods is blackly funny, but you wouldn’t exactly call it light. But Bearly a Lady is light, fluffy, one might even say frothy: tonally speaking, Legally Blond meets paranormal romance.
One thing that distressed me about Bearly a Lady (and distresses me about much in the genre of chicklit and romantic comedy in general) is the protagonist’s self-consciousness about her size. I really don’t like it—although I understand why it happens; hell, it happens to me—when large women, or really any women at all, use a tone of dissatisfaction when speaking about their own bodies.
But apart from this minor quibble, Bearly a Lady is good fun: hectically fast, full of incident, and delightfully entertaining.
Stephanie Burgis’s Snowspelled is also very entertaining. Set in an alternate England-like country (Angland) where magic is the province of men and rulership is the province of women in a council called the Boudiccate.
Snowspelled’s protagonist, Cassandra, was the first woman to attend the Great Library, the place where magicians train. She was an excellent magician in both practical and theoretical terms, until she overreached herself. Now to do magic at all will kill her. She broke off her engagement with fiancé Rajaram Wrexham, and retreated to her family home, where her brother Jonathan and sister-in-law Amy have helped her to come to terms, as much as possible, with what happened.
When the whole family attends a house party—at the end of which the Boudiccate will reaffirm their existing treaty with the fae nation—Cassandra volunteers to help search for a group of young people lost in an unseasonable snowstorm. While out searching, she makes an unwise but binding promise to a fae lord to discover who is causing the unnatural weather: unnatural weather that is disrupting the faes’ hunts and harming their pets. If she fails, she will forfeit herself to the fae lord—something that will almost certainly damage the fae-Anglish treaty.
Wrexham witnesses her promise. He still loves her. She still loves him—she broke off her engagement because she didn’t want to hold him back, and because she thought he would not her without her magic. She keeps trying to avoid him, but eventually decides they work better as a team. Matters come to a head both romantically and politically in very satisfying ways.
I liked Snowspelled less for its romance and politics, and more for Cassandra’s discovery that the loss of her magic does not need to define her. When another young woman at the house party asks her for tutoring in magic—because this young woman must become a magician, or she will never be able to marry the woman she loves, as members of the Boudiccate are traditionally partnered by magicians—Cassandra finds a purpose and a reason to fight for her future. She can teach the young women who would otherwise be excluded from magical learning. But only if she lives long enough.
Snowspelled is a fun short novel, and I look forward to its sequel.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign