Tuesday, July 20, 2010

REVIEW: Ilario (The Lion's Eye) by Mary Gentle

Haven't got a lot of time tonight, but I wanted to take a few moment to post a quick book review.

Looking for something to redeem what I knew would be the vacation from hell, I brought a copy of Ilario: The Lion's Eye with me. My only regret is that I didn't bring the companion volume, Ilario: The Stone Golem, with me because I devoured The Lion's Eye on Saturday.

This is a book about art, gender, family, friendship, and politics . . . and not necessarily in that order.
First of all, let's talk art. The driving force behind the story is Ilario's quest to study the new art of painting the thing itself - the world as it appears to the naked eye, rather than the iconographic representation. It's odd to think of a time when realism and perspective were undiscovered concepts, and it makes for a fascinating story.

Look beneath the art, and the Lion's Eye is the story of a rather unique and unusual friendship between Ilario, the hermaphrodite artist, and Rekhmire, the eunuch book buyer (and, we suspect, Egyptian spy). Their relationship is handled so beautifully, and so naturally, almost as if they were siblings or best friends getting reacquainted after a long absence. There is a lot of good-natured ridicule of their respective gender identities, but it's just that - good-natured and friendly. By the time we're introduced to Neferet, the feminized eunuch book buyer, her gender identity is almost a non-event.

Lastly, this is a book about politics and family. Poor Ilario must contend with the mother who left her 'freak' infant to die in the cold, the adopted parents who raised him and sold him to be the King's freak, and the father who returns from the Crusades to discover he has a son-daughter. If I could have chosen my parents, I don't think I could have even asked for a father as loving, understanding, and fiercely dedicated as Honorius. Oh, and just to round out the theme of family, Ilario must also contend with the fact that he-she is pregnant!

This is not the book I expected it to be, and that is too its credit. I must say, the ending is quite a cliff-hanger, but knowing there is a second volume eases some of the worry for lovely Ilario. Here's hoping The Stone Golem is a worthy conclusion to the tale.

Monday, July 19, 2010

REVIEW: My Lady of Sapphires by H.B. Kurtzwilde

Set in Victorian times, My Lady of Sapphires is the tale of a young woman named Suzanne Thatcher who is rescued from her life in a pottery factory to be the muse for Anthony, a rakish young artist. What Anthony does not initially realise, however, is that Suzanne is actually a young man who ran away from his family to live the life he has always craved . . . that of a woman. Once he discovers this secret, Anthony is more determined than ever to establish Suzanne as both a proper lady, and his wife.

Although I adored Suzanne, particularly the way she was presented as a fully realised woman (not some boy in drag), all of her development is previous to the story. She has already escaped, transformed, and established herself as a woman before we ever meet her. As for Anthony, his character definitely had potential, but everything about his presentation is awkward and confusing, almost as if the author didn't know who Anthony really was.
I must say, however, that the writing of this book is of a much higher calibre than I would have expected. A clear effort was made to match the style to the Victorian plot/setting, and (for the most part) it worked. The opening few pages, especially, were very well done. While the style weakened a bit towards the end, I certainly applaud the effort.

Not the greatest story ever told, but worth a quick read.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

NEWS: 2010 LGBT Rainbow Awards

OMG! I have some super exciting news to share. Elisa, over at The Rainbow Awards, has chosen yours truly as one of the judges for 2010!

You can read my "official" bio below:

A close friend once accused me of being a bookslut. She meant it in jest, but humour is always strongest when it contains an element of truth. A tattered copy of Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, hidden beneath the bed and read in secret, first sparked the imagination of a 10 year old boy. Years later, a pristine copy of Clive Barker’s Imajica, carried proudly and read publicly, ignited the literary passions of a teenaged transsexual. The only thing I love more than curling up with a good book is sharing one with friends and watching them fall in love. That’s why I started http://bibrary.com, and why I continue to spend far too much time digging through used bookstores for those hidden gems that positively embrace the LGBTQ community.

Elisa has already sent me my 5 books to review, and it's an interesting batch. I have 1 book from each of the following categories:
  • Historical - Bisexual / Transgender
  • Mystery / Thriller - Bisexual / Transgender
  • Paranormal / Horror - Gay
  • Contemporary - Gay
  • Fantasy - Lesbian
Definitely looking forward to getting started on my reading!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

REVIEW: The Tamir Trilogy by Lynn Flewelling

The Tamir Trilogy is truly a ‘proper’ trilogy – that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of self-contained, interconnected books.


Book 1 (The Bone Doll's Twin) sets-up the story and sends us on our way. In an age of plague and war, a girl child is destined to take her place as the rightful Queen, to reunite the people, and to bring peace back to the land. To thwart this prophecy and ensure his continued rule, the King carefully monitors all noble births and arranges to have the female children murdered.

When a daughter is born into the king’s family, the odds of her escaping notice (much less death) are decidedly bleak. However, there is another child – a boy – sharing their mother’s womb. Sadly, for one to live (and rule), the other must die. An act of darkest magic binds the twins together, concealing Tobin's true gender with that of her brother. Fittingly, for night of such dark magic, events do not go as planned. The boy child, who was to be declared stillborn, draws a single breath before his life is cut short.

That bleak mistake leaves the future queen tormented by the angry ghost of her death brother, drives their father into near-exile, and sets their unwitting mother on the path to madness and death.

This is a dark, creepy, and deeply unsettling story that will have you questioning whether the end ever really can justify the means. Prince Tobin is brought up believing herself to be a boy, with only her father, her nanny, and a trio of wizards privy to the truth. We watch as she grows up, alone, isolated from the world, trapped in the confines of a gothic castle.

Perhaps not surprisingly for an author who so tenderly dealt with the intricacies of bisexual romance in her Nightrunner Series, Lynn Flewelling does an absolutely masterful job of handling Tobin’s growing gender conflict. As readers who know the secret, the very subtle cues as to Tobin’s true gender are as clear as they are heartbreaking, even while it remains completely conceivable how others can remain oblivious. Transgender readers especially will sympathise with Tobin’s plight. For us, the cure may be surgical rather than magical, but we are no less trapped in the wrong sex than her.

Book 2 (Hidden Warrior) continues the story, as Tobin tries to fit in at court with her cousin, the Prince, the other noble children, and their squires. By this point in the trilogy, Tobin knows the truth about herself, leaving her to not only to cope with her own destiny, but to struggle with a secret that threatens to change everything and everyone around herself.

While not as dark and gothic as the first volume, this one is equally as bleak. We see a young ‘boy’ struggling with the knowledge that he’s really a ‘girl’ inside, and fighting the thoughts and feelings of the one, which do not mesh with the other. Confusing matters further is Tobin’s awkward relationship with Ki, his long-time, faithful squire. By the end of this second volume, it’s clear that they have feelings for one another, even if one can’t express them and the other can’t really understand them. In Ki, we find the friend every tgirl craves – never have I loved a supporting character more.

Once again, for transgender readers, Tobin’s emerging conflicts really hit home, and are handled beautifully. It’s a heartbreaking struggle to witness (and to share), but there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. We get the sense that the truth truly will set her free.

Book 3 (The Oracle's Queen) brings all the threads together for a triumphant conclusion. War comes to the kingdom, forcing an end to the awkward stasis that has plagued the land. When the King is slain, Prince Korin must take the throne, having already proven himself a poor choice to lead the land in battle. In order to save the realm from Korin's failings (and the greater failings of his court wizard), Tobin must reveal herself to the world and declare herself Queen Tamir.

Even though we, as readers, know it’s coming – it's inevitable, in fact – the dissolution of the magic, revealing Tobin as Tamir, is absolutely breathtaking. It’s bold, it’s beautiful, and (for the sake of regal legitimacy) it’s very much public. This is an act that needs to be witnessed, and witnessed it is! If her coming out doesn't leave you in tears, then you have my condolences for your absent heart.

Sadly, this magical moment does not mark an end to Tamir’s suffering. If anything, it adds to it. Many across the kingdom refuse to believe it, either accusing her (ironically) of being a boy in drag, or simply distrusting the magic used to disguise her for so many years. I have no idea whether Flewelling has any transgender friends, or whether she intended to so accurately mirror the experience of a modern day transsexual, but she does a magnificent job.

I don’t want to go much further than I already have with the spoilers, other than to declare my love (once again) for Ki – the best friend a tgirl could as for. Suffice to say, I loved this trilogy more than I could have hoped, and strongly recommend it. It’s not just a great transgender story, it’s a great story . . . period.