Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Very Different, Very Good Books

This week I want to talk about books by three different authors—all very different to each other, but all very good.

We Rule The Night is a debut novel from Claire Eliza Bartlett. It came to my attention because Marissa Lingen blogged about it: A fantasy novel set in a world at war, it’s very strongly influenced by the idea of the Russian Soviet Night Witches in WWII, the female fighter pilots in elderly planes whose skill and daring remained under-acknowledged for decades after the war. We Rule The Night tells the story of two very different young women who dislike and distrust each other but are forced to work together in a new flying squadron—and who are each trying to protect themselves in a dangerous world that could easily see them condemned for treason. Eventually, they become allies—perhaps friends. We Rule The Night is well-written and well-characterised, but its narrative shape follows the enemies-to-lovers arc so closely without ever hitting the lovers end of the curve that I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. But that’s on me, not it.

P. C. Hodgell’s By Demons Possessed is the latest installment in her Kencyrath Chronicles series, after The Gates of Tagmeth. It’s a return to the weirdest roots of this weird and wonderful series, even as it brings things a few steps closer to the final confrontation with the Kencyr’s ancient enemy, Perimal Darkling. Jame Knorth is drawn back to Tai-tastigon, where the gods are in turmoil and many of the inhabitants of the Lower Town have lost their shadows—and with their shadows, their souls. The new leader of the Thieves’ Guild wants Jame to find the soul of his dead brother, and if she fails to do as he wishes, people she cares for will die. In a deeply-realised, rich, and complicated world, Hodgell tells a story filled with wry humour and weird vigour. I loved it.

I first heard about A. J. Demas’s short romantic novels due to a mention on noted romance author K. J. Charles’ Twitter feed. There are two of these available, One Night in Boukos and Something Human. They are both set in a world strongly influenced by ancient Greece (in particular, the Classical period), and Demas’s affection for and detailed interest in the ancient world comes through strongly in her writing.

Both One Night in Boukos and Something Human centre on romantic relationships, and two-thirds of the romantic relationships developed in these books take place between men from different cultures and backgrounds. In Something Human, two relatively young men meet in the aftermath of battle and save each other’s lives. One’s from a city, the other’s from a tribe attacking it, but while they’re hiding out in an abandoned temple to recover, friendship and affection grow between them. But they each have secrets and concerns of their own, and have to return to their own people. Will their connection survive separation and silence?

I’ve already told you it’s a romance novel, so you know the answer’s yes, but the real tension is in the journey. Demas’s prose is sharp and evocative, her writing humane and deeply felt. Something Human is measured, thoughtful, atmospheric—and ultimately triumphant.

One Night in Boukos is a rather twistier, funnier, delightfully ridiculous part-mystery part-romance. It may bear comparison to A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, not necessarily for its events or its tone, but rather for its characters’ acquaintance with unexpected (but not unhappy) coincidences and consequences. One Night in Boukos focuses on the household of a visiting ambassador, who’s come to Boukos from Demas’s equivalent of the Persian empire. This ambassador is in Boukos to negotiate a trade agreement, but he goes missing during the run-up to a festival honouring Boukos’s Dionysiac god of revelry and sex.

It falls to two men from his entourage—a eunuch who serves as his secretary and the head of the ambassador’s bodyguard—to track him down and retrieve him from whatever trouble he’s fallen into. Over the course of a night and a day and a night, both of them find romance in unexpected places. They find the ambassador, too, in the last place anyone would think to look.

Demas writes really interesting romances. She showcases relationships (and attitudes to sex and relationships) from the point of view of characters of different cultures and backgrounds, and she explores the connections and compromises that are needed to make relationships work across those cultures.

As novels, both Something Human and One Night in Boukos work really well. I enjoyed them, and I recommend them.

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 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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