When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.
There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.
Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.
Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?
A fantasy written from a queer, female perspective that explores race and social justice featuring the common trope of multiple parallel worlds.
The basic plot is an intertwining of two common to fantasy: 1) there’s multiple parallel worlds 2) political intrigue warring societies etc… These are both done to a level I appreciate. They make sense without overwhelming me with world building and pages of explanations of how a society that doesn’t really exist works.
Both of these basic plots are used to explore queer viewpoints, feminism, and race, all through the lens of social justice. How much you’ll enjoy this lens depends upon the reader. I think the queer part is fairly well-done with a broad representation including: bisexual (by name!), lesbian, trans*, and polyamory. I’m not big on polyamory plots but I thought its inclusion in a parallel world made sense and was clearly not written from a perspective intended to purely titillate, rather, the emotional aspects of these relationships was explored. I do think the explorations of race lacked some of the subtlety present in the explorations of queerness. The white Australian girl being thrust into a parallel world where the majority race is black who is guided by another “worldwalker” who similarly fell through but decided to stay because she’s black and this world is better than Thatcher’s England struck me as a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic. I’m also not sure how I felt about the black character being put into a secondary role as guide. I kept finding myself thinking how I would have preferred to have read her story. (You quickly find out she stayed in the world, gained some power, joined a polyamorous marriage, had a child, and more! What an interesting life!)
All of that said, I don’t often enjoy traditional style non-urban fantasy, and this one did keep me reading and interested. It’s fun to read a book about political intrigue and multiple worlds dominated by women, touched by dragons, and with no male gaze. I doubt I will seek out the second entry in the series, though, because I feel I’ve already got everything out of the story I’m going to get.
4 out of 5 stars
Mo and Lesley, girlfriends since they were teenagers, have spent the last two years apart awaiting their Chosen papers. Meanwhile they both continue to pursue their careers. Mo as a pilot and Lesley as a member of the Interior, ensuring Rymellans continue to follow the Way. When their Chosen papers finally arrive, they think the uncertainty is finally over. But what they reveal is just another form of it.
I enjoyed the first book in this series so much that I picked up the second immediately. The first book ends on a cliffhanger, and I just had to find out what happened with Mo and Lesley next. Would they be each other’s Chosen? Would they defy the Way to be together? Was a giant revolt coming? The answer was definitely not what I was expecting, and it certainly keeps the series unique.
While I continued to be deeply invested in Lesley and Mo’s relationship (on pause as it was during much of the book), I was disappointed to find that this book doesn’t explore deeper into any of the questions I had in the first book. I feel that the second book, particularly with its context of Lesley and Mo waiting for papers and both of them in adult jobs with more power and access to information, lends itself perfectly to explaining more about Rymel. Yet this exploration and information reveal never happens.
My questions in the first book revolving around where Rymel comes from, why it’s so not diverse, and the origin of the Way were only added onto. Who is this enemy Rymel is always preparing for? What about the bisexuals? If Rymellans aren’t actually related to us (Earth humans) at all, that’s fine. They might just only have monosexual identities. But if they are related to us, the lack of the Chosen Way dealing with bisexual/pansexual attractions is frustrating. For that matter, what about trans* people and gender non-conforming people? How exactly are children handled in the same-sex couples? People keep mentioning same-sex female couples having daughters but no one talks about how. And what about same-sex male couples? It’s such a fascinating world, and I found myself like a thirsty person a desert wanting to know more about it and how it works.
The plot goes a direction I really was not expecting. That’s not a bad thing. It surprised me and kept me engaged. There are two aspects of the plot that were unexpected. One isn’t a spoiler so I’ll talk about that first. It’s fairly clear early on in this book that Mo and Lesley aren’t the rebelling sort. They’re going to kowtow to this dystopian regime, and they believe that’s the right thing to do. It’s a different perspective to get. Usually there’s rebellion. But that doesn’t always work out for people in the real world. A lot of people choose to live their lives in safety obeying the state to stay safe, and it’s interesting to see that reflected in literature.
The Chosen Council puts Mo and Lesley together, but in a Triad. A third person, Jane, is Joined with them. Triads historically haven’t succeeded, and they are extremely rare. But they do exist because sometimes the perfect match actually goes three ways. The Triad is extra complicated because Jane’s parents were famous for committing a Chosen crime (they committed adultery). They were killed and Jane was orphaned young due to this fact. Many Rymellans believe the apple won’t fall far from the tree, so Mo and Lesley being matched with her is controversial. On top of that, there’s an allowance where if two of the three believe the third will cause the Triad to commit a Chosen violation then they can say so and have the third member killed before the Joining Ceremony. That puts interesting added pressure on the group. None of this was a plot I was expecting, but also the acknowledgment of non-monogamous people was something I could see a lot of readers enjoying seeing represented in literature. Plus, it’s a good conflict to add!
Ultimately, I was still happy I read this because I was desperate to find out what happened to Lesley and Mo (and continued to be at the end of this book), but I was disappointed not to find out more about Rymel and its history here. Readers primarily interested in the romance who don’t mind the world-building being pushed to the side a bit will most enjoy the direction this series is going.
3 out of 5 stars
Lesley and Mo can’t imagine life without each other. If it were up to them, they’d settle down, raise daughters, and lead happy, fulfilled lives. But they live on the planet Rymel, in a strict society that selects life-mates for its citizens and executes those who violate their life-bonds. Girlfriends since their teens, Lesley and Mo know they should break up but can’t let each other go. They dread the day the state summons them to meet their selected mates.
This type of book is exactly the reason I collect review requests year-round from indie authors and publishers and then select a few to review the next year. It gives me a bookstore style shelf of indie books to browse through, letting me find unique books that i might otherwise have missed. This read like feel-good chick lit, only set on another planet in a strict society with a female/female main romance, and the ending left me clamoring for the next book in the series.
One thing that really stuck out to me in the book was that the central issue coming between Mo and Lesley isn’t that their (let’s face it, totalitarian) culture is against same-sex relationships. Same-sex relationships are endorsed and seem to have been part of the culture for quite some time. Potentially forever. No, what is coming between our main couple has nothing to do with homophobia, but instead everything to do with marriages arranged by the state. It’s not that Mo and Lesley can’t be with a woman. It’s that they can’t be with a woman the state hasn’t chosen for them. While plots about homophobia keeping people in love apart are valuable and needed, we also need plots like this that have nothing to do with the sexual orientation. People in same-sex relationships deserve to see themselves in a crazy scifi world where their problems come from the scifi world and not their orientation.
The book starts with Lesley and Mo in high school and falling in love. In their culture, at the age of 18 people receive notification of whether or not they are a Chosen. When they get older (sometime in their 20s….I can’t recall the precise age), from a certain age onward they could receive their Chosen Papers at any point. So basically, everyone expects Lesley and Mo to break up at that age or sooner to be fully prepared for their Chosen. Obeying this law is just one of several ways in which Rymellans follow The Way. The Way is supposed to protect Rymellan culture and make the society the strongest it can be. There isn’t just pressure to conform to The Way. Those that don’t, as the subtitle of the book suggests, will be executed. This is a totalitarian regime after all.
Beyond the relationship and world set up, I also liked how the book follows Lesley and Mo through their young adult choosing of career paths. This transition from high school to career preparation felt very new adult in a good way. Plus, Lesley and Mo both end up choosing career paths that I feel aren’t often represented in literature, and I liked seeing that career path both shown and respected.
Throughout the book I felt compelled to keep reading for two reasons. I was really rooting for Lesley and Mo to be together, and I wanted to know more about this society. Why is The Way such a thing? Will they end up fighting it? What is the big enemy that Rymel is so afraid of and lives constantly preparing for fighting? Are Rymellans related to people from Earth? Are they humanoid aliens?
Readers should be aware that this is what would be considered a clean romance. The feelings the characters have for each other are central and no sex is shown, although it is assumed that people have it and kissing is seen.
Part of these questions were driven by a lack of racial and cultural diversity in the book. I can’t recall there ever being a non-white character or a non-European last name. It made me wonder if this planet was colonized by a small group of white Europeans exclusively, and if so, why? The lack of diversity on such a large planet and in locations with what one would presume is a cross-section of Rymellans did bother me but I also assumed that there was a world-building answer for it. Additionally, the Rymellan culture struck me as so evil and awful that of course the lack of diversity would later come up as one of the many awful things that The Way had enforced, and I eagerly anticipated (in an oh gosh that’s going to be an awful scene way) seeing the answer to this question.
Of course, the book ended with no answers to these questions, which didn’t surprise me since it’s the first in the series. In fact, I would say it ends on a cliffhanger and left with me with even more questions, but of course I then just felt compelled to immediately pick up the next book in the series.
Readers looking for a female/female clean romance with a scifi setting and something keeping the characters apart that isn’t homophobia should pick up a copy right away. If there was some way to send out a bat signal to precisely that demographic, I would, because I know people looking for that often struggle to find it in among the many options of f/f books. So, if that at all describes you, pick up the book! And if it describes the reading preferences of a friend, tell them about it. I’m sure they’d be grateful to you. And the author.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
This giveaway is now over. Congrats to our winner!
There were 3 entries, all via twitter. Random.org selected entry 1 as the winner, and the first to tweet the giveaway was @helenadamop. Congrats to Helen!
Thanks to the generosity of the author, one lucky Opinions of a Wolf reader can win a copy of this ebook.
How to Enter:
- Leave a comment on this post stating if you would trust Rymel to pick a spouse for you.
- Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter. Retweets do not count:
Enter to win RYMELLAN 1 by @SarahEttritch, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/1rnSyjP #ff #scifi #romance #lesfic
The blog comment gets you one entry. Each tweet gets you one entry. You may tweet once per day.
Who Can Enter: International
Contest Ends: May 18th at midnight
Disclaimer: The winner will have their book sent to them by the author. The blogger is not responsible for sending the book. Void where prohibited by law.
I know quite a few of my readers are into new f/f fiction and romance, and this is a lovely intersection of the two. I particularly like that Michelle cares so much about creating a f/f story where the central conflict isn’t coming from the relationship itself. Take it away, Michelle!
In the rare moments when Deanna Scott isn’t working as the moderator for Wolf’s Run, an online werewolf role-playing game, she wanders the local forest trails with her golden retriever, Arthur, and daydreams about Jaime, the attractive, enigmatic woman who lives upstairs.
As Wolf Run’s “den mother,” Deanna is accustomed to petty online drama. But when threats from an antagonistic player escalate, Deanna wonders if her awesome online job could be riskier than she’d ever imagined—and if her new girlfriend knows more about this community than she had realized.
Genre: paranormal romance, f/f
What makes this book unique in its genre?
The Better to Kiss You With is a paranormal romance with queer girls, werewolves, and gaming! It is set in Vancouver, BC, and tells the story of Deanna, who is the moderator of an online werewolf role playing game. She lives and works in a tiny one bedroom apartment with her dog Arthur, and falls for the attractive and mysterious woman who is her upstairs neighbour. When a player from the game Deanna works for escalates his threats, Deanna shrugs them off, but her new girlfriend has reason to believe that the player’s bite is worse than his bark…
What was one important thing to you at the center of writing this book?
It was important to me to write a F/F romance where the source of conflict didn’t come from within the relationship. As I was writing The Better to Kiss You With, GamerGate was in full swing, and I was reading over and over again about women who were experiencing serious online threats, harassment, and stalking. It infuriated me that these women were experiencing very real terror but had had so little recourse, while the perpetrators of the threats faced with little to no consequences for their actions. Thanks to these men, because it’s important to note that the perpetrators of this kind of violence are primarily men, I didn’t have to look too hard to find my bad guy.
Thanks so much for being featured here on Opinions of a Wolf, Michelle!
Would you be interested in being featured on New Release Friday? Find out how here.
New Release Friday is a sponsored post but I only feature books on New Release Friday that I believe would interest readers of this blog. Book reviews are never sponsored. Find out more about the sponsored post policy here.
Hello my lovely readers!
I hope you had wonderful Marches and enjoyed welcoming spring. Boston’s weather was very all over the place. Spring-like one day and snowing the next. I can tell you that shoveling snow another time when I’d thought I was done with it was *not* one of my favorite things this month! Lol.
Turkey Cordon Bleu
I have a severe food intolerance to chicken (something that took years to discover and before you ask, trust me, it’s gross, you don’t want to know). Back in the day, chicken cordon bleu was a favorite meal of mine, and I’ve really missed it. One day the thought struck me that hey, I bet I could make this with turkey. I discovered that it is possible, although turkey tenderloin is much larger than chicken breasts. You have to cut them in half width-wise, or they’re too wide, and you have to sometimes cut them down by size even more to make the pinwheels the right size. However, after that cutting, the rest of it is pretty much just like chicken cordon bleu. Using low fat swiss cheese and high quality ham slices along with minimal shallow pan frying in ghee kept these a low-calorie dinner….., and we ate them at least twice this month. At least.
So the American Eagle Foundation has had a mated pair of bald eagles in the National Arboretum since 2014. They are named Mr. President and First Lady, and this month they hatched two eaglets, and you can watch the mated pair care for their eaglets 24/7 on a pair of live cameras at the nest!! This has honestly been a bit of a time sink for me, and I don’t care one iota.
Who Is Calling Me – A Short Documentary by Olivia Nevius
My littlest sister-in-law is a cinematographer and photographer, and this month she completed this short documentary about their family and their love of ham radio. My husband and his whole family have ham radio licenses, which I think is quite the unique family hobby. (Before you ask: yes, I intend to get my license too). We’d heard rumblings of the documentary, and I was vaguely around while various filming was being done (most particularly, I was cooking dinner the night she interviewed my husband for it via Skype…she lives in Chicago, and we live in Boston). I was really excited to get to see the final product and very proud of her.
Bunny Leggings by CowCow
These bunny leggings arrived just in time for springtime mountain biking with my husband. I was worried since they’re white they’d be see-through, but they actually are opaque, no worries about that! They’re a stretchy, slippery fabric that is just right for spring temperatures.
And finally, my favorite book since the last episode.
Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death by Sarah Ettritch
This is one of my 2016 ARCs, and it left me on the edge of my seat so much that I immediately read the next two books in the trilogy. The first entry has a dystopian-style military regime that may pull the f/f couple apart (for non sexual orientation reasons). I got so invested in their relationship that I just had to find out if they end up together.
That’s it for March. Be sure to tune in next month for episode 3 of Wolfy’s Favorites!
What were some of your favorite things in the month of March? Did you have a favorite read? Have you tried out any of the things I’ve mentioned? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
Seventeen-year-old Sahar wants three things in life: 1) to become a doctor 2) for her widowed father to come out of his depression and be the Baba she once knew 3) to marry her best friend Nasrin. The problem is, she lives in Iran, and she and Nasrin could be imprisoned and beaten for just their stolen kisses in private, let alone if they tried to marry each other. When Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged a marriage for her to a well-to-do doctor, Sahar is heartbroken. Nasrin thinks they can continue on as they have been, but Sahar wants to love her exclusively, and she is determined to find a way.
This book was all the rage on GLBTQ book blogs a couple of years ago, and it’s been on my tbr pile ever since. When I saw it on Audible and heard a clip of the narration, I knew it was time to read it. I found an interesting, unique piece of YA.
First, let me say, if you at all enjoy audiobooks and have the chance to listen to this rather than read it in print, please do so. Farsad’s narration adds so much to the book. From her light Persian accent to her unique voice for each character to her perfect pronunciation of Persian words and Iranian place names, her narration made the reading of the book much more immersive than it would have been if I had read it in print. Plus, at just over 5 hours, you can read it very quickly. I finished my copy in under a week, thanks to commutes and runs.
Let’s start with the things in this book that really worked well for me. First, I really appreciated seeing a teenage girl’s relationship with her single father at the forefront. It’s difficult to find a YA book talking much about a girl’s relationship with her father, let alone a single father. The book pushes beyond even this though and addresses how a parent’s depression affects a teen. Part of why Sahar is so desperate and attached to Nasrin (bare in mind, they are only 17), is that her mother died and her father fell into a depression. He is there every day but it doesn’t feel like he is. At one point, Sahar skips school and says that her baba will not even notice. And he doesn’t. Until the school calls him directly. Her father’s depression is situational, not genetic or chemical, but it still affects him and their relationship, and I thought this and its resolution was well depicted.
The depiction of a non-western culture and issue in a book marketed to western teens is well-handled. Iran is not demonized. The good and bad sides of the country are depicted (and of course there are good and bad sides of every country). Teens who may not personally know someone from the Middle East will benefit greatly from seeing things like the fact that even Sahar’s mild father will sneak a bootleg copy of a DVD to watch but also will be intrigued by and appreciate elements of Iranian culture such as the well-protected oasis-like back yards. Farizan also does a good job establishing things like recent wars in Iran, how the current political situation came to be, etc… without infodumping.
While I sometimes found myself rolling my eyes at the level of emotion Sahar was showing, it was to the appropriate level for a teenager. Also, other people in Sahar’s life clearly see that she is acting like a teenager and attempt to lovingly and understandingly speak with her about what is going on.
Before I move into speaking about what didn’t work for me, I’d like to talk about the trans content. It’s no plot spoiler that Sahar seeks to keep Nasrin to herself by pursuing a sex reassignment (I am not calling it a gender confirming surgery because for her it is not). This is in the official book blurb, just not mine. Essentially, in Iran (and this is still true), having same-sex attractions is haram/forbidden but being transgender is not. The state will even pay for having the treatment and is known for pushing people with same-sex attraction to get a sex reassignment. Sahar meets Parveen, a transwoman, at her cousin’s party, and this plants the idea in her head that she could marry Nasrin if she gets the surgery. Now, I’m not a transperson, but I do think that the author does a good job depicting real trans people and contrasting that with Sahar’s rather adolescent idea to get to be with Nasrin. Sahar tells Parveen she thinks she’s trans, and Parveen brings her to a support group where most of the people are actually trans, except one woman, who we later find out was forced to get the sex change. Thus, both the genuine trans experience and the forced sex change experience are depicted in the book. Iran is lauded for its support of trans people (there is even one passage talking about how trans people have to pay for their own surgeries in the US unlike in Iran) but also it is clearly shown how harmful it is for the state to demonize same-sex attractions. Additionally, the trans characters do talk about how while the surgery is supported by the state, culturally they still face discrimination from some of their families, when dating, and when looking for jobs.
So what didn’t work for me? I get it that Sahar and Nasrin are adolescents, but I just could not get the appeal of Nasrin to Sahar. I felt I would have been much more empathetic to the whole situation if Nasrin hadn’t been so selfish and annoying. To be fair, multiple characters point out Nasrin’s selfishness to Sahar, and Sahar even at one point questions why she’s willing to risk so much for Nasrin. There is one scene that I believe is supposed to redeem Nasrin of her bad behavior, but I still struggled to like her or feel empathy for her. It bothers me that Sahar never tells her father about her sexual orientation, in spite of him being depicted as quite modern and understanding. I also felt that the ending didn’t push things far enough, compared to beginning of the book. I wanted more from and for Sahar. Perhaps the ending is more realistic, but it did disappoint me.
Overall, this is a unique piece of YA showing the GLBTQ experience in a non-western culture that will elicit both an understanding of a non-western culture and empathy for other life situations and experiences from YA readers. Readers will identify with Sahar’s genuine adolescent voice, which will draw them into the perhaps quite foreign-feeling situation.
4 out of 5 stars