Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Queering Classic Fantasy Stories

New year, new queer! If that’s not a catchphrase somewhere, it ought to be, and—as you may have guessed—queerness is the element that unites the stories I want to talk about this week. The presence of queer women in the stories I read is becoming so delightfully frequent as to begin to feel unremarkable, and I’m really enjoying this current state of affairs. It’s not something I feel I can allow myself to get used to, because it was a rarity for years.

I was too late to read Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Merry Happy Valkyrie in time for the Christmas it sets itself around. Mathilda is the only town in Australia where it always snows at Christmas. Weather in Tasmania is famously weird, but not usually that weird.

Lief Fraser’s a TV weather presenter, and when her bosses discover she comes from Mathilda, she’s sent home to report on this peculiar weather event. Lief’s got seriously mixed feelings about going home for the holidays—with a camera crew in tow. As a local, it’s her duty to protect Mathilda’s many magical secrets, and several people disagree with her decision that the best way to do that is to let people report on the weird weather. Also, her ex-girlfriend is the mayor. And then another of her ex-girlfriends arrives in town—Audrey Astor, there to shoot a romantic Australian Christmas movie with her film crew. Secrets start to fall apart. Magical danger shows up. And Lief is put in the awkward position of having to tell her co-worker and her ex just why exactly it is that it snows in Mathilda in midsummer…

…and face down a dragon.

This is a short and wonderful novella, playful and brisk, and I recommend it highly.

I can also highly recommend Katharine Duckett’s Miranda in Milan (due out in March), another excellent novella.

Miranda in Milan takes the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest as its starting point, and brings Miranda to the strange and confusing world of Milan, where everyone seems to fear her and no one will talk to her—except for the foreign servant girl (and witch) Dorothea. Miranda has a lot of things to discover about her family history and her father, and a number of choices to make with regard to what she means to do.

Lucid, tense, with finely-drawn characters and an interesting approach to the problem of Prospero (shitty father and shittier duke), Miranda in Milan gives us a Miranda surrounded by other women, and one presented with a personal dilemma in the form of her new relationship with Dorothea and what it means for her future—and another personal dilemma in the form of her father’s plans for her, and for Milan. It’s a very enjoyable novella, and you all should check it out.

And then there’s Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta’s Once & Future (also due out in March), a space-opera-type Young Adult science fantasy with a reborn Arthur (now a teenaged girl called Ari, whose childhood crush Gwen is now queen of a medieval fairground planet) and an aging-backwards teenaged Merlin thrown up against a repressive monopolistic corporate regime in the interstellar future.

I can’t be quite as enthusiastic about Once and Future as I’d like to be—its worldbuilding isn’t as deep or as complex as I’d like, and in many ways strikes me as a series of missed opportunities—but its characters are enormously fun, bringing Merlin, Morgana (incorporeal and really angry with Merlin for tying them both to an endless cycle of reincarnated Arthurs), Kay, Perceval, and Guinevere out to play, and offering fast space ships, theme park knighthood, and Merlin with shiny explosive magic.

It’s an entertaining ride, and I’ll be looking out for the sequel, when it comes.

That’s what I’ve been reading recently. What are you guys digging in to? Looking forward to anything in particular?

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 was nominated for a 2018 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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