Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Spec-Fic Romances With Ladies Who Love Ladies

You may remember that I like to keep an eye on the latest in F/F romance with a speculative element. As you know, Bob, there are a couple of publishers of what bills itself as “lesbian fiction” (it is usually very lesbian, since I can count on one hand the number of bi protagonists or otherwise queer women I’ve encountered among the “lesbian fiction” subgenre, and usually, alas, also very white), and sometimes these publishers include speculative romance.

I’m glad that queer protagonists are becoming easier to find in the offerings of traditional SFF publishers (Angry Robot has done quite an interesting lot this year, and I can count volumes from Tor, Saga, Harper Voyager, Orbit, Ace, and Solaris/Rebellion without having to strain my memory), because in general, one has to grade fiction from the lesbian romance small presses on a curve. And sometimes you don’t want to be locked in to a romantic arc. But when you do want an SFF romance between ladies? There are three solid and fun books out from Bold Strokes Books this September and October.

One of them is apocalyptic fantasy with elves and humans and a creeping grey horror threatening everyone’s survival. One of them is a science fiction romance involving the last survivor of a colony ship who arrives late to her colony and finds that society there has devolved into the rule of the strongest. And one is a story with time travel, aliens, and Atlantis—probably the best Atlantis story I’ve read in years.

In Barbara Ann Wright’s The Tattered Lands, young alchemist Vandra is not living up to her potential. An expert on syndrium, the magical substance that powers the ring of pylons that keep back the threat of the tattered lands and their form-twisting mists and contamination from the last of the human-inhabited world, her first experiment to transmute other substances into syndrium worked. But none of her subsequent experiments have worked since. When one of the pylons fails—a failure that puts her entire society at risk—Vandra is sent by a politician acquaintance to investigate in secret. Accompanied by her younger siblings, twins Fieta and Pietyr, she sets out… and on the way her path crosses with the seelie (for which we may as well read “elf”) Lilani, daughter of the last seelie queen, and youngest of her race. Lilani is fascinated both with humans and with the pylons, believing that the future of her people is linked to them both, and she finds it easy to become fascinated with Vandra as well—a fascination that’s soon reciprocated. But furthering their acquaintance is complicated by politics, intrigue, and a conspiracy that spans both their peoples: a conspiracy that wants to bring down all the pylons and let the tattered lands have full reign.

This is a fun, entertaining novel. The characters are interesting and appealing, and Wright deploys plain, unadorned prose to good effect. I enjoyed it, and if you’re looking for light and fun, this is definitely a good bet.

I didn’t enjoy Missouri Vaun’s Proxima Five as much. The physical worldbuilding is interesting—a tidally-locked planet with a narrow inhabitable strip along the terminator—but the social worldbuilding—a society ruled by the strongest, in which the weak are property or otherwise exploited—is full of tropes that have been used rather too frequently, and in this case the social worldbuilding isn’t detailed or intricate enough to make up for the faintly shopworn air. Leah Warren, a geologist, wakes up as the sole survivor of a colony ship only to find the planet she was supposed to be helping colonise has been inhabited for generations already. The other colony ships arrived centuries ago. She’s rescued from the desert by local military commander Keegan, and so begins what’s essentially a reprise of the abduction-romance/warlord-romance trope based on intense inexplicable physical attraction, one whose power dynamics are only reversed when local politics send Keegan into exile.

While the story is entertaining enough, the power dynamics aren’t handled as sensitively as one might hope in a narrative of this kind, and ultimately I found the romance aspect and final resolution unconvincing.

That brings us to Jane Fletcher’s Isle of Broken Years, a novel that opens at sea in the middle of the 17th century. Catalina de Velasco’s voyage to her affianced husband in New Spain is interrupted by pirates, who decide to hold her for ransom. Aboard the pirate ship, cabin boy Sam is actually a young woman in disguise, and tries to make Catalina’s life easier—a task not helped by Catalina’s loathing for any and all pirates. But when they’re cast away on an uncharted island, they discover the world is a stranger place than they’d imagined: the island is home to castaways from all across time, from prehistory to the 21st century, because the island travels through time. Cut off from everything they knew, with strange mechanical beasts threatening to kill them, Sam and Catalina learn that few of the castaways live long lives—and that none of them know how to escape. In order to survive, they have to work together, and in working together, they discover that they have feelings for each other.

Then they discover that escape may be possible after all. But it will be a perilous endeavour, and not everyone will make it.

Fun, fast, and deeply entertaining, Isle of Broken Years is one of the better uses of the Atlantis myth I’ve yet seen in fiction. I enjoyed it a lot, and I feel confident in recommending it.

What are you guys reading lately?

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. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and is nominated for a Hugo Award in Best Related Work. 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, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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