Last month, I went looking for comfort reading. It turns out that my comfort reading at this point in time can be divided into two: pulpy space opera after the manner of David Drake’s RCN novels, and SFF stories in which queer women feature prominently and get to be a combination of (a) successful, (b) happy, and (c) in relationships with each other. I’m going to talk about a couple of the latter today, because although I’ve looked high and low…
…Well, there’s not much that combines the two, is there?
On Twitter, Stephanie Burgis (author of Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets) recommended Effie Calvin’s The Queen of Ieflaria to me. Princess Esofi has been betrothed to the Crown Prince of Ieflaria for most of her life. A powerful battlemage, she’s been preparing to share in the rulership of her betrothed’s country her whole life, especially as she has no desire to return to her natal country. Ieflaria needs Esofi and the contingent of battlemages that forms her dowry: they’re suffering from incursions by dragons in which crops and towns are destroyed, incursions that are pushing closer and closer to the capital. Unfortunately, Esofi arrives in Ieflaria after the Crown Prince has died in an accident. She’s willing to marry the next closest heir—which turns out to be the Princess Adale.
Unfortunately, Adale’s a bit on the feckless and irresponsible side, never having expected the role of heir to fall to her. If her cruel and ambitious cousins can convince Esofi to marry one of them instead, that person will be named heir in Adale’s place. As dragon attacks grow closer and Ieflaria’s capital suffers unexpected upheaval due to a sudden awakening of god-given magic gifts, Adale must convince Esofi—and herself—that she’s a worthy partner and a worthy heir to the crown. And Esofi has to deal with unexpected feelings. And dragons that are smarter than anyone imagined they would be.
This is short novel, briskly written. It’s not deep, but it is fun. I look forward to seeing Calvin develop as a writer.
I didn’t expect to like Roslyn Sinclair’s The Lily and the Crown as much as I did. It’s straight-up F/F romance in space, with very light attention to worldbuilding and more explicit sexual activity than I usually prefer in my fiction, but the voice is very easy to read, and the character combination of young, naive, reclusive botanist Ariana—awkward with people, the daughter of an imperial lord—and the nameless, elegant, impossible-to-read older woman with whom she falls in love is strangely compelling. (Nothing wrong with on-page sex, I hasten to add, but I prefer my sex scenes to do more to illuminate character and drive forward atmosphere and plot than the usual run of them actually do.)
Ariana strongly disapproves of slavery, but when her father gives her a personal attendant captured off a pirate ship, she can’t really argue. She finds herself falling in love, because her new companion gives her attention, respect, and affection that… well, no one else in Ari’s isolated life has offered. Her new companion is hiding secrets, however—secrets that Ariana won’t uncover until it’s too late.
The tropes of this story resemble some I’ve seen more often in fanfic than in regular fiction. The power dynamics are a little weird and uncomfortably troubling, but on the whole, I found the story surprisingly entertaining.
I wasn’t surprised by how entertaining—and how good—I found Heather Rose Jones’ story “Gifts Tell Truth” in Lace & Blade 4. Set in her Alpennia universe (understated Ruritanian/historical fantasy), it’s part fantasy of manners and part spy story. Years before the events of Jones’ Daughter of Mystery, during the Napoleonic occupation of Alpennia, young noblewoman Jeanne starts a relationship with an opera singer. But the opera singer may be a spy, and Jeanne may find more than her affections can be hurt by her liaison. Precisely written, with a great sense of atmosphere, this is one of the stories in Lace & Blade 4 that I wholeheartedly enjoyed.
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, was published in 2017 by 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.