Tag Archives: gender fluid

Book Review of Dalí, by E.M. Hamill

I purchased a copy of E. M. Hamill‘s Dali. I believe I got it straight from the publisher, Nine Star Press.

Description from Goodreads:
Dalí Tamareia has everything—a young family and a promising career as an Ambassador in the Sol Fed Diplomatic Corps. Dalí’s path as a peacemaker seems clear, but when their loved ones are killed in a terrorist attack, grief sends the genderfluid changeling into a spiral of self-destruction.

Fragile Sol Fed balances on the brink of war with a plundering alien race. Their skills with galactic relations are desperately needed to broker a protective alliance, but in mourning, Dalí no longer cares, seeking oblivion at the bottom of a bottle, in the arms of a faceless lover, or at the end of a knife.

The New Puritan Movement is rising to power within the government, preaching strict genetic counseling and galactic isolation to ensure survival of the endangered human race. Third gender citizens like Dalí don’t fit the mold of this perfect plan, and the NPM will stop at nothing to make their vision become reality. When Dalí stumbles into a plot threatening changelings like them, a shadow organization called the Penumbra recruits them for a rescue mission full of danger, sex, and intrigue, giving Dalí purpose again.

Risky liaisons with a sexy, charismatic pirate lord could be Dalí’s undoing—and the only way to prevent another deadly act of domestic terrorism.

I gotta admit, it took a while for me to get into this. The beginning felt a little like I’d been dropped into the middle of something. (I actually double checked this wasn’t a sequel to anything.) But once it got rolling, I really enjoyed it. I liked Dali. I liked the side characters. I liked Rhix. I liked the plot. I just basically enjoyed it.

Other than feeling lost in the beginning, my only complaints are that there were a number of convenient coincidences and I really wanted more resolution on the Dali/Rhix front. Those seeking romance might finish this disappointed. I however, am hoping there might be a second book coming at some point.

Review of The Tiger’s Watch (Ashes of Gold #1), by Julia Ember

I received a copy of Julia Ember‘s The Tiger’s Watch from Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a inhabitor, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, and Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.

Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi discovers a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander—a side that draws them to Xian.

When their spying unveils that everything they’ve been taught is a lie, Tashi faces an impossible choice: save their country or the boy they’re growing to love. Though Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn’t question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabitor’s bond to their animal is for life—if Katala dies, so will Tashi.

Hated it.

I had really high hopes for this fantasy with a gender-fluid protagonist. But if failed me on almost every level, except that the writing is mechanically and editorially fine.

Point one, the gender-fluid protagonist was a heroine. I don’t mean to force an identity on anyone in real life, but in fiction there are certain behaviors, character traits and tropes that show up almost exclusively with YA female characters and YA male characters. And while Tashi waffled about whether they’d like to wear pants or a dress and while the author scrupulously avoided ever discussing secondary sex traits, Tashi behaved 100% like your average, unlikable, angsty, YA heroine. And I hate those heroines. In fact, I’ve largely given up YA literature at all to avoid them.

I simply did not feel Tashi was gender-fluid in any way other than that the reader was told so and a brief discussion on pronouns. And if an author is going to use gender-fluidity without engaging in it, I don’t feel it’s being respectfully handled.

But even outside the common YA characteristics, I just plain couldn’t like Tashi. They were supposed to love one man, but lusted over another that they’d just met, even as her love was dying. How does that make a believable plot? What’s more, they’re weak, small-minded, selfish and a traitor. There is no excuse for the ill-thought out, selfish actions they took. Even if it all works out in future books, that doesn’t excuse what they did in this one. I actively hoped for them to die at the end.

Then there was the interplay between them and the enemy captain. For one, they somehow coincidentally got chosen to serve him. How convenient for the plot! But nothing about their interaction was believable. They were chosen as a servant to an invading army’s captain. But the two of them bickered and fought and treated each other like equals. WOULD NOT HAPPEN. Nothing in their situation was believable.

Then there was the psychic human-animal connection. I loved this idea. But it was barely ever utilized. In fact, we hardly even got to see it. Such a let down.

Then the darned thing ended on a cliffhanger. The only reason I haven’t given it a one-star, is that the writing is fine, as I said.

Book Review of An Unsuitable Heir (Sins of the Cities #3), by K.J. Charles

I received a copy of a copy of K.J. CharlesAn Unsuitable Heir through Netgalley. I reviewed the first books, An Unseen Attraction and An Unnatural Vice earlier this year.

Description from Goodreads:
On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.

Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.

But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

So, Pen is non-binary/gender fluid and Mark is pansexual, in a time when such language didn’t exist. I imagine this last fact made the story a difficult one to write, because I found the lengths to which the characters had to go to describe themselves without the words sometimes didactic and difficult to read. But honestly I really quite enjoyed this conclusion to the series (a series that happily contains more representation of varied identities, bodies types and abilities than the collection of several other authors put together).

I enjoyed it, but it was my least favorite of the three. I don’t mean to be dismissive of Pen’s situation, because it was horrible, but I got tired of his panics. Further, I felt he was frequently stressing over being unable to express his more feminine aspects, with the understanding that he’s sometimes perfectly happy being perceived as male. But I don’t once remember him being satisfied in his more observably male appearance. It felt ill-balanced. And obviously I understand that one of those would have been considered normal and not noteworthy, while the other stress-inducing because it would have been considered deviant. But throughout the whole book he never seemed to have a good body day, which readers were meant to understand he did have sometimes and I’d have liked to see.

I cannot express how much I loved the way Pen and his sister refused to be bullied or bow to the aristocracy, however. Loved it. Further, I think we all deserve a Mark in our lives, someone 100% accepting and willing to have the awkward conversations that eventually make us more comfortable. I adored him. We got brief cameos of all the other characters in the series, which I liked. But the first half of the book is almost entirely recap of the first books or seeing scenes we’ve already witnessed from the point of view of new characters. I found this a tad tedious, but the last half was all new and exciting.

I did see the side pairing and eventual solution to who should become Earl coming very early on, but I didn’t figure out the larger mystery of the murdering mastermind. So, I was held in suspense until the very end and liked it. I found it really quite satisfying in the end.

All in all, I ended the book and this series happy and, as always, look forward to more of Charles’ writing.