Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart

I wanted to make a joke about stocking up on your reading for when you’re under a two-week quarantine, but honestly, when 20% of people who contract COVID-19 require hospitalisation, it’s no joking matter. (Reminder: wash your hands! Wipe down your phones!) But I do have some recommendations for novels that might take your mind off the present, pressing, disaster. Delightful queer novels.

Claire Eliza Bartlett’s second YA novel, The Winter Duke, came complete with a description that’s basically catnip for me. Ekata survives a curse that strikes down her entire (murderous) family, leaving her as the duke of Kylma Above, and causing her to inherit her brother’s not-exactly-fiancée. Ekata wanted only to survive her family long enough to escape to university in the south, but now she’s in charge. If she can stay that way: her asshole former foster brother, as murderous as the rest of her family, is pressuring her to marry him. And he has an army to back up his suit. Dangerous politics, twisty magic, and Ekata’s growing case of The Feelings for Inkar, her inherited fiancée, combine in an alchemical mix that sweeps the reader along to satisfying—and unexpected—conclusion.

Princess of Dorsa by Eliza Andrews is the opening volume of an epic fantasy series. Its protagonist, Princess Natasia (or Tasia to her intimates) is the eldest daughter of a ruler in a relatively patriarchal society. Her father doesn’t have a son, and she’s long expected that her father will marry her to a man he means to groom into his heir. But an attempt on Tasia’s life changes his calculations. Suddenly Tasia finds herself heir in her own right, thrust into the middle of learning to rule—until her father’s death and a coup mean her whole country thinks she’s a treasonous would-be usurper. Magical threats—possibly existential ones—complicate the politics, and the politics complicate Tasia’s relationship first with her handmaiden, and later with her female bodyguard. An interesting novel with a compelling voice and solid characters, it’s well worth a look—though it ends on a hell of a cliffhanger, and the next volume is, at the time of writing, currently unavailable.

Jacqueline Rohrbach’s The Soulstealers is not quite as accomplished a novel as I might have hoped for. (Structurally and in terms of pacing, it’s a little bit broken.) But it sets itself in a world suffering from an ecological collapse that is, we eventually learn, magical in origin, and its main character is a woman of the privileged class—Arnaka Skytree—who devotes herself to overthrowing the ruling class into which she was born. Her journey, and her enemies-to-lovers arc with warrior Tamlin is where the novel’s real strength is. Despite its structural issues and some pretty dark moments, I found it a very fun read.

The Queen of Rhodia, the third book in Effie Calvin’s Tales of Inthya fantasy series (after Queen of Ieflaria and Daughter of the Sun) continues with the amusing, light, queer D&D-esque tone of her earlier novels—though there’s a touch of darkness here in a deeply unhealthy parent-child relationship. The Queen of Rhodia returns the now-married Princess Esofi and Princess Adale to centre stage, but also features the stars of Daughter of the Sun. This is a book with dragons, diplomacy, diplomacy involving dragons, discussions over child-rearing, resolving tensions within a marriage, a certain amount of derring-do, and standing up to abusive parents. It’s not a deep and serious book: it’s a lovely fluffy treat, and I enjoyed it a lot. Even better: if you have fun there, you can follow it up with The Empress of Xytae, the fourth book in the series, in which the youthful heir to an empire (a young woman who has the power to tell when people are lying) has to fight to reclaim her throne – while finding love along the way. It’s a completely unserious delight.

Lina Rather’s novella Sisters of the Vast Black couldn’t possibly be described as fluffy. Set in a space opera universe, its characters are a small, peripatetic order of nuns with various different attitudes to their faith, their calling, and their orientation to the world. (One of the nuns decides to leave the convent-ship and the religious order in order to pursue a relationship with a woman, which has been building via email for months.) There’s conspiracy and history, consequences and legacies, and a really well-drawn cast of characters. If you’re looking for a short, satisfying read, I recommend Sisters of the Vast Black.

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, 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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