Superhero

Webcomic Spotlight: SuperCakes

Cover of SuperCakes chapter labeled "Pancakes," featuring a half-Japanese girl and a redheaded white girl sitting at a table in a kitchen eating pancakes

Title: SuperCakes

Author: Kat Leyh

Genre: Superhero

Trigger Warnings: Nonrealistic violence (e.g. against ice monsters), mild body horror (characters dissolving into liquid/smoke)

Summary:

This comic is a  series of vignettes about super-powered girlfriends, May Ai and Molly LaMarck.

Review:

I found this on a Tumblr list of queer webcomics (which is where I seem to be finding most of my webcomics these days). It’s about two superhero girlfriends and their adventures as superheros and girlfriends. There isn’t really an overarching plot, there’s just a series of short, mostly-unconnected snapshots of their lives – May bringing Molly home for the holidays, for example, and the two of them fighting ice monsters while complaining that the ice prevented their pizza from being delivered.

Like all the webcomics I do in my webcomic spotlights, it’s super short. (At least for now – according to the comments section Kat plans to add more in the future, but as of now it hasn’t been updated since 2014.) And it’s fun and unique. Yeah the girls are superheros and have super powers, but it’s also kind of a slice of life, seeing them interact with each other and other people and complain about forgetting to put away the pancakes when they have to go do superhero stuff.

And it’s neat because sometimes you get epic superhero stuff like this:

Image of a girl in green with a green mask crouched on a fire escape with a girl in red who is partially made of mist flying above her

And sometimes you get cute slice-of-life stuff like this:

Two panels of a comic. The first features two girls lounging on a couch, a reheaded girl we can see clearly and a black-haired girl with her back to you. The redhead says "Ugh, I miss everything!" and the black-haired girl responds, "What? Are you joking? Crazy stuff happens in your lab All. The. Time." The second panel shows the same scene from slightly farther away. The black-haired girl says "Remember the time those alien spores made your cactus a quadruped? And carnivorous?" and the redhead responds, "Haha oh yeah. Killer Cactus Carlos."

Overall, it’s adorable, unique, and fun to read. And I for one am hoping it gets updated soon.

You can read it for free here!

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Dystopian

Review: Lizard Radio

Cover of "Lizard Radio," featuring a scale-like pattern of circles in varying shades of green with the silhouette of a large lizard and a short-haired person.
Image from Pat Schmatz

Title: Lizard Radio

Author: Pat Schmatz

Genre: Dystopian

Trigger Warnings: Gender-based violence, loss of a parent, death

Back Cover:

Fifteen-year-old Kivali has never fit in. As a girl in boys’ clothes, she is accepted by neither tribe, bullied by both. What are you? they ask. Abandoned as a baby wrapped in a T-shirt with an image of a lizard on the front, Kivali found a home with nonconformist artist Sheila. Is it true what Sheila says, that Kivali was left by a mysterious race of saurians and that she’ll one day save the world? Kivali doesn’t think so. But if it is true, why has Sheila sent her off to CropCamp, with its schedules and regs and what feels like indoctrination into a gov-controlled society Kivali isn’t sure has good intentions?

But life at CropCamp isn’t all bad. Kivali loves being outdoors and working in the fields. And for the first time, she has real friends: sweet, innocent Rasta; loyal Emmett; fierce, quiet Nona. And then there’s Sully. The feelings that explode inside Kivali whenever Sully is near—whenever they touch—are unlike anything she’s experienced, exhilarating and terrifying. But does Sully feel the same way?

Between mysterious disappearances, tough questions from camp director Ms. Mischetti, and weekly doses of kickshaw—the strange, druglike morsel that Kivali fears but has come to crave—things get more and more complicated. But Kivali has an escape: her unique ability to channel and explore the power of her animal self. She has Lizard Radio.

Will it be enough to save her?

Review:

I was going to wait to review this book until I had it sorted out in my head, but I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think I’m ever going to sort it out. So heads up for a somewhat confused review written by a somewhat confused reviewer.

After I finished reading this, I tried to explain it to my fiance, which involved me giving a tangent-filled, disorderly, and increasingly agitated account of the events of Lizard Radio that ended with him completely baffled and me not even sure what I was trying to say. This book is hard to describe and hard to even wrap my head around.

Let’s start with Kivali. She’s right in the gray area between bender (transgender) and not, but chose not to transition. (In this world, transgender people are fine as long as they choose to transition before age 10.) I think bigender would be the best way to describe her, but I’m not really sure since she never gives herself a gender label. But anyway. She grew up with her guardian, Sheila, telling her that she was left behind by the saurians, a race of lizard-like aliens (I think?), and she kinda believes it. At least, she identifies strongly with lizards, to the point where she believes she has a lizard skin protecting her and occasionally has trance-like states where she feels like she actually is a large lizard. She also has lizard radio, which is like a psychic/trance thing where she gets visions of lizards and they talk to her … okay, it’s really hard to explain in words. My fiance suggested she could be schizophrenic – on one hand, it would fit, but on the other, so much weird stuff happens that some sort of supernatural/alien explanation almost feels like it makes more sense.

I thought Sully was going to get more page time than she did. She got quite a bit in the beginning as Kivali was falling for her, but in the middle and end not so much. For most of it, the romance angle was more Kivali dealing with her feelings than actually interacting with Sully. But she also had a close friend in Rasta and grows a friendship with Emmett and Nona, so it’s not like she was alone.

Then there’s the world. It’s some variety of dystopian world where the government has a lot of power and the value of community and working together are heavily emphasized – to the point where children between 15 and 17 are sent off to camps (like the CropCamp Kivali gets sent to) to learn how to get rid of their own individuality to become a community while learning a trade that will benefit society. But you don’t actually get a lot of the world. The story starts when Kivali gets to CropCamp and ends when she leaves, so all you really get is a microcosm of the world, ruled over by Ms. Mischetti, governed by gongs that announce when you can do things, and subject to strict regulations.

This book leaves you with so many questions. Is Kivali human or actually a saurian? What is lizard radio? How does this world even work? Is there a supernatural/alien explanation or is Kivali just absolutely insane? What is actually going on here? The plot is slow to start, and in the beginning the questions are what keep you hooked – how does this work? What does that word mean? But there aren’t answers. There aren’t ever answers. The questions are just left hovering in the air like the tension between two people who love each other but know it’s better for both of them if they just walk away.

This book is weird. It’s strange and unsettling and doesn’t make any sense – but at the same time it’s fascinating and beautiful and makes perfect sense. It’s dystopian without any of the grit. It’s paranormal without any actual paranormal events. It’s nonsense, but it’s fascinating, engrossing, wonderful nonsense. It’s a dystopian novel and a fever dream and Alice in Wonderland if Alice was part lizard and Wonderland was an agricultural camp.

I don’t have the proper words for what this book is. It’s one of those books where if someone asked if you liked it, you’d answer with “Well, it was interesting.” But it’s also one you can’t stop thinking about. As I told my fiance after finishing it, “Sometimes you finish a book and you just have to lay on the floor about it.” And I don’t know what more to say about Lizard Radio than that.

Romance, Science Fiction

Review: Always Human

Title page for the first chapter of Always Human, featuring a futuristic cityscape in shades of blue

Title: Always Human

Author: Ari

Genre: Science Fiction/Romance

Trigger warnings: Dieting/diet talk

Summary:

This is a story about nanobots, genetic engineering, and two girls falling in love. No matter how technology changes us, we’ll always be human.

Review:

I found this on a list of webcomics on Tumblr, with nothing more about it than “scifi and very gay.” I started reading it because I got bored at work. And then I couldn’t stop.

The short description up there doesn’t tell you a lot about the story. The story is set in a futuristic world where people can live in space, virtual reality is a major thing, and everybody uses “mods” to change their bodies – including appearance, resistance to sickness, and even getting rid of cancer. It starts when Sunati, a recent college graduate and virtual reality engineer meets Austen, a college student with Egan’s Syndrome, an immune disorder that means her body rejects all mods.

And it’s adorable. The romance moves pretty quickly, but even though it’s very romance-oriented, it’s less about the romance and more about the characters.

First, there’s Sunati. She’s a recent college graduate and current virtual reality engineer with dreams of going into space (ideally to Mars), and she tries really, really hard to make everyone around her happy (or at least not be inconvenienced), which I could really relate to. A large part of the story towards the end is her learning that it’s okay to do things for herself sometimes.

Then there’s Austen. She’s in college for genetics – she hopes to cure Egan’s Syndrome so she and other people with the disease can use mods like everybody else – but school is really stressing her out a lot. She also diets (which gets addressed in a very healthy way) and spends a lot of time exercising and studying so she can keep up with people who use mods to help them with those things.

Though both girls have their own individual issues that they deal with, but the bulk of the story is them navigating their relationship, learning to communicate and take the other’s feelings into consideration while still being true to themselves, and building a strong and healthy relationship. It’s emotional and adorable.

It’s also set in an amazing scifi world that I really want to talk about, but also it’s just fun to learn about it as you go. The world itself is beautiful (the art is amazing) and the details – virtual reality games and conversations, lenses like contacts that provide a data interface, the classic visual-displays-hovering-in-front-of-your-face … it’s just great.

And have I mentioned it’s adorable? It’s one of the cutest romances I’ve read in a long time. (And I don’t usually like romance.)

Also, look at this artwork! It’s so cute and happy and gorgeous.

Art of a dark-haired girl and a redheaded girl tearing up with faces close to each other

Art in two boxes - the first box has a blue-haired girl looking into the distance like she's thinking of something happy; the second has a redheaded girl grinning with fuzzy edges like she's the one being thought about

I’m not usually into romance, but this one is great. You can read it online for free here!!!

Fantasy

Webcomic Spotlight: Princess Princess

Cover of Princess Princess, featuring a black princess in military dress and a blonde princess in a blue dress with a puffy skirt
Image from Strangely Katie

Title: Princess Princess

Author: Katie O’Neill

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: None

Summary:

Amira and Sadie are two very different princesses who decide to take their happily ever after into their own hands.

Review:

This webcomic is really short (44 pages), so I decided to make this more of a spotlight than a full review. Because I just can’t not tell you guys about it.

The best parts:

The art is adorable and the character designs are awesome.

Seriously, just look at these two.

The plot is absolutely amazing and there’s a happy ending.

It’s hilarious.

It subverts all the tropes in the most amazing way possible.

And it’s short, so you can devour it in less than half an hour. So seriously take a moment to read this. It is 500% gay, 5,000% adorable, and 50,000% worth the read.

You can read it for free here!

Superhero

Review: Sovereign

Cover of "Sovereign," featuring a silhouette of a short-haired female supherhero hovering in space with the earth in the background
Image from Tor

Title: Sovereign

Series: Nemesis #2

Author: April Daniels

Genre: Superhero

Trigger warnings: Extreme transphobia, rape mention, domestic abuse mention

This book is second in a series, so this review will probably contain spoilers of book one, Dreadnought.

Back Cover:

Only nine months after her debut as the superhero Dreadnought, Danny Tozer is is already a scarred veteran. Protecting a city the size of New Port is a team-sized job and she’s doing it alone. Between her newfound celebrity and her demanding cape duties, Dreadnought is stretched thin, and it’s only going to get worse.

When she crosses a newly discovered billionaire supervillain, Dreadnought comes under attack from all quarters. From her troubled family life to her disintegrating friendship with Calamity, there’s no lever too cruel for this villain to use against her.

She might be hard to kill, but there’s more than one way to destroy a hero. Before the war is over, Dreadnought will be forced to confront parts of herself she never wanted to acknowledge.

And behind it all, an old enemy waits in the wings, ready to unleash a plot that will scar the world forever.

Review:

After the difficult but absolutely fantastic story that was DreadnoughtI got my hands on this book as soon as it came out … a month ago.

I actually had to take a several-week break in the middle of reading this book. Remember how I said Dreadnought was “difficult” with all the transphobia? This book is worse.

So, if you remember Graywytch from the last book, she’s a major player in this one. With all of her TERF transphobia and man-hating. And I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here, but there’s a point about right in the middle of the book where really really bad things happen and there was so much pain and hatred and transphobia that I just had to put the book down and back away for a while. So heads up if transphobia is an issue for you – that section is going to pack one hell of a punch.

Once I came back to it after that, though, it was much easier and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some of the greatest things it has going for it:

  • The master plot was fantastic and there’s a massive twist and you don’t find until AFTER the final battle what the actual evil plan is
  • Relationship issues between Calamity/Sarah and Danny
    • Pros: Great tension in the story and they’d-better-figure-this-out tension for me reading it
    • Cons: You don’t get as much Calamity epicness in this book
  • Character development! Danny grows SO MUCH in this book and it’s amazing watching her mature
  • Superhero/law enforcement politics – yes, it’s a thing, and it’s kinda cool
  • A superhero secondary character who’s genderqueer/nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns

My only actual plot problem with the book was all the legal stuff. Danny gets involved in a lot of legal battles, and they wrap up a little more conveniently than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind – I was dreading getting through all the superhero action and then having to deal with frustrating legal stuff – the resolution just seemed to come out of the blue.

This book was really difficult, even more so than the first book. I kept anticipating transphobia around every corner, and it was hard when it showed up and a relief when it didn’t. But it came out to a happy ending with some cute romance and I’m glad I finished it. Sovereign wraps up neatly, but if there is an upcoming book three, I certainly wouldn’t object.

The Nemesis series:

  1. Dreadnought
  2. Sovereign
High Fantasy

Review: Of Fire and Stars

Cover of "Of Fire and Stars," featuring silhouettes of two princesses on a blue background with gold calligraphy text
Image from Audrey Coulthurst

Title: Of Fire and Stars

Author: Audrey Coulthurst

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, burning alive, torture mention

Back Cover:

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile nations. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire–a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses–and her teacher is the person who intimidates her the most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine–called Mare–the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms–and each other.

Review:

I never used to be into books about court drama, but Of Fire and Stars completely changed my opinion.

Honestly, I wasn’t super excited about this book–yeah, it was queer and it looked good, but it wasn’t at the top of my list. I ended up picking it up because I needed another book and this one was easy to locate at the library. And it totally blew me away.

First, there was Denna. She was brilliant. She’d done a lot of studying in her preparation to become queen of Mynaria, but she was still “I’ve looked at this map twice and now I have it memorized” brilliant. I can’t find the words for what else I want to say about her–besides brilliant, there weren’t a lot of characteristics that stood out–but she was an absolutely fantastic character and the kind of person I’d hope to be if I were a princess.

Mare was, as it says on the back cover, an unconventional princess. She would rather wear riding breeches than ball gowns and valued independence above all else … and she also did quite a bit of sneaking out of the castle to gather information from spies, which was awesome. In retrospect, she was the kind of stereotypical tomboyish don’t-want-to-be-a-princess princess, but she didn’t feel like that while reading.

The cool part is the story is told in alternating perspectives, so you get both sides and the inner thoughts and feelings of both girls. And the romance between them is built slowly but the chemistry is undeniable.

It’s been a long, long time since I read a court drama book–which is a lot of what this is. Yeah, there’s some sneaking out of the castle and some “who’s behind this assassination?” but there’s also a lot of social niceties (and trying to do non-princess-y stuff without betraying all of the social niceties) and arguing with the council and “you have to do your duty because you’re a princess” stuff. And it was honestly fantastic.

Also, you know the trope of “main character is so much more powerful than other magic users”? This book uses that trope. But differently. It kinda turns the trope on its head and I love it.

I don’t have enough good things to say about this book. The characters were great, the plot was awesome, and even the setting, though a pretty standard high fantasy setting, was cool. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And though the ending wrapped things up nicely and a sequel isn’t necessary, I would enjoy one.

Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Review: The Edge of the Abyss

Cover of "The Edge of the Abyss," featuring a girl dressed in black standing on the seashore with massive read octopus tentacles rising from the surf
Image from Emily Skrutskie

Title: The Edge of the Abyss

Author: Emily Skrutskie

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: Blood/gore, violence between sea monsters

WARNING: This book is a sequel and this review contains spoilers of The Abyss Surrounds Us!

Back Cover:

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Case dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and threatening the ocean’s ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

Review:

This is one of the best emotional roller coasters I’ve been on in YEARS.

So I loved loved loved The Abyss Surrounds Us, and as soon as I finished reading it I immediately reserved this book at the library.

It never made it out of the library. I had a break between work and yoga, sat down in a chair, and devoured the entire book in a single 1.5 hour sitting. I couldn’t put it down and really didn’t want to.

You get more of the great characters in this book, including some backstories and more about Swift’s history. Also some of Cas’s family towards the end. But most of what you get is Cas and Swift and their relationship, which is a beautiful, complicated mess and a total emotional roller coaster. Ups, downs, love, hurt … so many emotions. It was so raw and real and vivid and I loved the way it wrenched my heart around.

We also get a lot more about pirates in this book. How they work, who they are … even meeting a lot more of them. And it’s interesting, because they’re all scheming and piratey, but none of them seem quite as ruthless as Santa Elena. (And as a bonus, you get to learn a lot about pirate politics, which there is apparently a lot of.)

There is a plot, and a really good one – other set-free Reckoners like Bao are destroying the ocean’s ecosystem – but it takes a bit of a backseat to Cas’s emotional turmoil and her messy relationship with Swift and the reoccurring ethical conundrum of working for and with pirates. But the emotional plot and the plot plot blend nicely, and even though emotions are the focus, it doesn’t overwhelm the sea monster plot.

The only thing I wasn’t 100% a fan of was the final battle. Yeah, it was epic and there were sea monsters and stuff, but in my opinion it wasn’t quite as epic as the ending of book one. Don’t take me the wrong way, it was still pretty darn epic. The Abyss Surrounds Us just set a really high bar that The Edge of the Abyss didn’t quite meet. The ending after the final battle, though, makes up for it.

Overall, this was a great book and an amazing series. This review really isn’t doing this book justice. I loved it. It pulled my heart out and played with it and it’s one of the best books overall I’ve read in a while. I’m just sad this is the end of the series. Logically, I know it’s a good ending, but still. I wish there was more!

The Abyss Surrounds Us Series:

Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Cover of "The Abyss Surrounds Us," featuring an Asian girl standing on the deck of a ship with the giant eye of a sea monster behind her
Image from Emily Skrutskie

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Author: Emily Skrutskie

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/gore

Back Cover:

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. Shes been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the giant, genetically engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup and teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Review:

I first heard of this as a lesbian book recommendation on Tumblr and immediately reserved it at the library because heck yes scifi lesbians! I’m always complaining about there not being enough gays in speculative fiction. But anyway.

For some reason I thought this was set in space. Not sure how I got that idea. It was a little disorientating at first, because I’m expecting space and getting ocean, but once I got a couple chapters in I was hooked.

The Abyss Surrounds Us has everything I look for in a book.

The Characters: Fascinating! Cas is the protagonist, an East Asian girl from San Francisco who is just getting ready to take her place in the family business – which happens to be raising and training sea monsters. It’s pretty darn epic. Then there’s Swift, the pirate girl assigned to watch Cas while she’s training the pirate’s monster, who’s part badass and a tiny bit sweet and mostly just making the best of some crappy circumstances. Both girls have great character arcs, the romantic tension is obvious but built slowly, and you get cool minor characters in the pirates … it’s just awesome.

The Setting: So this is after a lot of global warming and stuff and the oceans have risen to ridiculous levels, countries have splintered into smaller countries, (hence why I put “post-apocalyptic” as a genre on this) and pirates run so rampant the only way legitimate ships could protect themselves is by genetically engineering sea monsters. It’s a great concept. The pirate ship that most of the story happens on is a combination of old-fashioned pirate-y stuff and modern technology, and there’s even a brief excursion to a floating pirate city which is also really cool. It’s just fantastic.

The Plot: The plot is really quickly paced, which I loved. It follows Cas, and starts with “what’s wrong with my Reckoner,” then moves into “survive the pirates/train the pirates’ monster enough that he looks trained/don’t actually train the monster because I don’t want to help the pirates because they’re evil.” But then she begins to wonder if they’re really so evil. And she starts getting to know (and kinda like) Swift. And what starts off so simply – survive the pirates, don’t help them, get home – suddenly gets super complicated with ethics and emotions and things.

The End: Holy crap, the end. An epic battle that made me feel Epic Battle Feelings that I haven’t gotten from a book in a long time. A twist I probably should have seen coming but didn’t. Romance that I did see coming but was still really happy about. And it wrapped up nicely while still leaving room for a sequel. There were no cliffhangers, just the confident knowledge that you’ll want to spend another book in this world with these characters. And I do.

One thing I will say about it, though, is it is pretty violent. (Hence the trigger warnings.) Some people do die, one death is described in somewhat graphic detail (even though Cas is disgusted by it), and there’s quite a bit of carnage in the final battle. So just be aware of that if that kind of thing bothers you.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the book was too short. (It’s less than 300 pages, which is short to me, and it feels shorter than it is.) But it’s paced perfectly, so I really shouldn’t complain. It was a fantastic book, and I’m super excited there’s a book two. Now, pardon me while I go reserve that one at the library …

(As a side note: If you’re a fan, you really should check out Emily Skrutskie on Tumblr.)

The Abyss Surrounds Us series:

  1. The Abyss Surrounds Us
  2. The Edge of the Abyss
High Fantasy

Review: Huntress

The cover of Huntress, featuring a black-haired girl wearing a black dress holding a long staff in front of her.
Image from Malinda Lo

Title: Huntress

Author: Malinda Lo

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Violence/blood/gore

Back Cover:

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Review:

I picked this up mainly because fantasy gays. (Seriously, I had been complaining to my boyfriend earlier that afternoon about how there weren’t enough fantasy books with gay people and discovered this on my trip to the library.) I’ve also heard good things about Malinda Lo, so that was also a plus.

Even though there are some chapters from Taisin’s perspective, most of the book focuses on Kaede (but then again, so does most of the action). At the beginning, she’s at a school for sages, but she’s not very good at the magic stuff and prefers to be out in the garden or throw knives with the groundskeeper – kinda the stereotypical tomboy misfit. She has a bit of angst going on, but she’s still a fun character.

Taisin is Kaede’s complete opposite, a quiet, studious, and extremely gifted sage. You don’t get to know her as well as Kaede throughout the book, but I got enough to feel almost protective of her – yeah, she’s crazy powerful, but she’s also just a sweet little innocent girl who’s not really cut out for all the dangerous adventuring. Her and Kaede are a classic case of “opposites attract” and it’s adorable.

As far as plot goes, it was actually a pretty creative one. Most of the story focuses on Kaede and Taisin’s journey to the land of the Fairies, and the adventures and mishaps that happen along the way.  …Put that way it sounds pretty tame, but it definitely was not. (In case you couldn’t tell from the trigger warning.) People die. Sometimes very violently. Our main characters also have to kill some things. It’s a lot darker than I expected, but in a good way.

Some things I’ve seen about this book (online and also on the back cover) talked about its “Asian flair,” but though I was excited about that, it really didn’t come through at all for me. There was nothing in the setting that I recognized as Asian, the fairy part felt very Western … if you stretch a little bit I suppose you could describe some of the settings as Asian, but I didn’t see any of the Asian flair it promised, which was disappointing.

One thing that was refreshing, though, was there didn’t seem to be any homophobia in this society. It’s made clear in the beginning that some students at Kaede and Taisin’s all-girls school had clandestine relationships, and no one seems to bat an eye when they discover Kaede is only into girls (except her father, but that seems to be only because he wants to marry her off to a man for political reasons). It was kinda nice that Kaede and Taisin could be awkwardly and adorably gay without dealing with disapproving people.

Also, if you’re looking for a happy ending, this is not your book. (But it’s still a good read despite that.)

The main plot wraps up really nicely, even if the very end seems a little rushed. But as I thought about it after I finished it, there were a lot of plot threads that were just left dangling and questions that are never answered. And as far as I know, there’s no sequel – you’re just left with the unanswered questions and wondering what happened to those subplots.

Overall, it was a good book. Not great, certainly, but solidly good. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I don’t regret this read.

Superhero

Review: Dreadnought

Book cover of Dreadnought by April Daniels, featuring a silhouette of a superhero standing on a hill with a blue cape blowing out behind her.
Image from Booktopia

Title: Dreadnought

Series: Nemesis #1

Author: April Daniels

Genre: Superhero

Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse (verbal and emotional), transphobia

Back Cover:

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero.

Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer – a cyborg named Utopia – still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Review:

I heard about this book on Tumblr somewhere when I was looking for some good novels with queer characters. And then I reserved it at the library because A) it was one of the only non-contemporary LGBT books I could find, and B) heck yeah trans girl superheroes!

I read the entire thing in one sitting. Which honestly surprised me because some parts were really difficult – but I just couldn’t put it down.

Not being transgender, I can’t say anything about the realistic-ness of Danny’s struggles, but holy hell were they heart-wrenching. Between her asshole “best friend,” her abusive father (just how abusive gets slowly revealed as the book goes on), and the rampant transphobia among the superhero league in the city, I just wanted to hug her and fix everything for her. And there were several times I found myself mentally screaming to her that none of it was her fault and she’s a wonderful person and … well, I got really, really attached to her.

(Side note: If you’re an abuse survivor, you may find some scenes difficult. I did, but for me it didn’t take away too much from the book – you might have a different experience, though, so proceed with caution.)

The other major character is Calamity, a “graycape” (vigilante) that Danny ends up doing superhero stuff with for a lot of the book. I really liked her – she was the kind of badass been-doing-this-my-whole-life type you’d expect from a book like this, and I liked how her and Danny’s relationship developed. My only problem was that Danny knows her as her alter ego, too, but we only get one (very, very short) scene with her non-superhero side so it felt like I knew a lot about Calamity but nothing about the girl under the mask.

The plot actually has a lot more going on than gets mentioned on the back cover. There’s a major question of “is the Legion Pacifica (the city’s superhero league) trustworthy or not?” There’s Danny and Calamity trying to find Utopia (because besides killing Dreadnought she doesn’t show up until the end). There’s Danny’s coming out to her family and standing up (or not) to her abusive father. And there’s figuring out her powers (which are pretty dang epic), and of course the obligatory rescues and fight scenes and giant mechas destroying the city …

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t obligatory. But it sure made for some awesome mecha-on-apparently-not-indestructible-girl battles.

Overall, some parts were really hard for me to read as an abuse survivor (and other parts would probably be hard for you if you’ve experienced transphobia). But it has a mostly happy ending, the potential for bit of romance in the next book (fingers crossed!) and I couldn’t put it down. I give it two hearty thumbs up and I’m really looking forward to book two!

The Nemesis series:

  1. Dreadnought
  2. Sovereign (July 25, 2017)