And I Darken

and-i-darken_kiersten-whiteTitle: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Historical Fiction, Alternate History, YA
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.0

For a stretch of about 30 minutes, I thought I might actually like this novel. Imagine: a novel about Dracula, but Vladimir is Lada, and Lada is ugly, and brutal, but ultimately sympathetic. Add that to the fact that the novel was super hyped by a bunch of book bloggers whose opinions I usually trust, and I jumped into this pit like there was a feast at the bottom of it.

To its credit, there are things that it does try to do well––Lada is certainly an unconventional protagonist. She isn’t likeable and she’s unapologetic about wanting power. There’s something I love about women who want power––it’s not so much that I think it’s empowering for women to take power, because it’s really not (see: Margaret Thatcher), but because I love that girls can be fucked up pieces of shit and still be worthy of having our stories told.

And insofar as they stay in Wallachia, the story felt nuanced: Lada’s self-hatred, the internalised sexism that she displaces onto her mother, her desperation for her father’s love and her frustration at his inability to protect Wallachia from Ottoman invasion.

Past this, the book goes so quickly downhill. Even if you weren’t concerned with diversity (which if you aren’t, yuck), the writing is extremely dry. There were a few pretty lines, but they felt incredibly false and formulated, just a bunch of words strung together to sound #empowering but lacking any real understanding of oppression or true subversive potential.

And once the novel hits the Ottoman Empire…yikes.

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The Agency Series (Y.S. Lee)

Title: The Agency
Author: YS Lee
Genre: Action, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ || 2.0 stars

In some ways, it’s deeply unfair to rate these books as a series. In others, it’s the only way to rate it at all. As individual books, they were mostly competent, interesting reads. I’m generally a huge fan of revisionist Victorian novels (particularly if there is a mystery element) that feature intrepid girls (particularly if they are intrepid girls of colour), but I found that the more I read the books, the more frustrated and impatient I became with them.

The Agency follows Mary Quinn, formerly Mary Lang, an Irish-Chinese girl who was saved from the noose to be given a second chance at life. She takes this second chance to turn herself into a member of the Agency, a covert all-female private detective agency that utilises stereotypes about women to go undercover as maids, companions, and governesses––all in the name of the case. In each of the four books, Mary is sent on a different case––uncovering the truth behind the smuggling of Hindu artifacts into England while posing as the paid companion of a spoiled young lady, solving the death of a bricklayer at the building site of the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower in the guise of a twelve year old boy, even enjoying a stint in Buckingham Palace as a maid chasing down a string of petty thefts in the palace. This setup allows for an almost infinite amount of permutations––Lee could certainly have extended the series indefinitely if she so chose, so it’s something of a minor miracle that she chose to complete it at four. This is also part of why I found myself enjoying the novels less and less.

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Sofia Khan is Not Obliged

25707621Title: Sofia Khan is Not Obliged
Author: Ayisha Malik
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Romance
Rating
: ★★★★☆ | 3.5 stars

warnings for: islamaphobia (in text), fatphobia (metatextual)

After Sofia Khan breaks up with her fiancee, she swears off dating. It’s too bad, then, that her colleagues at the publishing house where she works overhear her complaining about how hard it is to date as a Muslim, especially as a hijabi, in London, and think that writing a book about Muslim dating would be a good idea. Told in the form of journal entries, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged follows Sofia as she tries to figure out the finer points of online dating, of marriage, and of what she wants out of her life as she edges into her thirties.

Some of the comp titles for this novel have been Bridget Jones and Pride and Prejudice (if the former is a retelling of the latter, can they both be used as comp titles for a third book?) and I can definitely see elements of both of those in this. Sofia is a spunky protagonist with a bigger mouth than is probably good for her and more heart than she knows what to do with. Outside of that, though, Sofia is a character of her own.

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The Raven and the Reindeer

ravencoverfinalTitle: The Raven and the Reindeer
Author: T. Kingfisher
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Fairytale
Rating: ★★ || 5.0 stars

In the wake of a truly awful year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of queer fiction I want to see. I’ve actually been avoiding a lot of them, in part because some of them are written by straight people and I have No Interest, in part because some of it’s Issue Fiction and I have No Interest, and in part because, while so much fiction is escapist, I can never feel particularly safe, as a bi girl, even in fiction. We’re killed off for shock value, for “realism,” for shits and gigs. We’re killed off in real life and then we’re killed off in fiction and it seems like nothing, nothing, is telling us anything but that they don’t think we deserve to live and be happy. People dance around bisexuality like it’s a bad word and sometimes it seems easier to just disappear. To not exist, because no one wants you to exist anyway.

What does this have to do with T. Kingfisher’s new novel? Nothing, maybe. Everything, maybe. It’s a retelling of The Snow Queen with a bi protagonist and it’s everything that might encourage me to read more queer lit. Spoiler: the bi girl doesn’t die. Nor does her lesbian girlfriend.

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Blackhearts

blackhearts-9781481432696_hr

Title: Blackhearts
Author: Nicole Castroman
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ || 1.0

Anne Barrett is the mixed race child of a wealthy British merchant and an escaped West Indian slave. Edward Drummond is the privileged son of one of Bristol’s wealthiest men. Yet they are trapped under the same roof.

Following the death of her father and the subsequent loss of her fortune, Anne has been working as a servant for Master Drummond, secretly pilfering valuables from his house in order to save up enough money to sail away from England, to see the Caribbean homeland she never knew. Edward “Teach” Drummond, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to spend his life on the high seas, where his father had made his fortune. But all his father wants is for him to marry into nobility, to not take the risks the older man had to.

This is the story of the man who would be Blackbeard.

And it is so. freaking. racist. And sexist.

I don’t even know how to begin.

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