Interview with Author Freya Marske

Freya Marske lives in Australia, where she is yet to be killed by any form of wildlife. She writes stories full of magic, blood, and as much kissing as she can get away with. Her short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways, and several anthologies. In 2020 she was awarded the Australian National SF (Ditmar) Award for Best New Talent. Her debut novel, the queer historical fantasy A MARVELLOUS LIGHT, is available now in hardcover.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! I’m Freya Marske, a writer and podcaster based in Australia. I’ve moved through various flavours of geekdom in my life (shout out to my high school self, who was passionately into anime and also first in line for the opening screenings of the Lord of the Rings movies) but I’ve always been a reader of fantasy, so I’m delighted to have my debut fantasy novel published this year.

Where did you get your start in writing? How did you realize you wanted to be a storyteller?

I can’t recall a conscious choice being involved; I had a poem published in the newspaper at age 5, and never looked back! By which I mean I wrote on and off for years, including a lot of time in my twenties writing fanfiction and building my skills before I actually finished my first original novel.

Where did the idea for your latest book, A Marvellous Light come from?

The first seed of an idea that grew into the book was the question of who would liaise between a hidden magical society and an unmagical civil service, and what would happen if the wrong person ended up in that job. Because I always knew it would be a romance, too, I began to build the two protagonists—their backgrounds, their personalities, their relationship—at the same time as building the plot outwards from that initial idea.

What was the process like working on this story? Did you consult any resources while developing the background of your Edwardian magical fantasy?

I did quite a bit of reading about Edwardian society at the time, especially the daily life of the upper and upper middle classes and the kind of country manor house party that the book features. Plus I had to look into a lot of nitty-gritty details as they arose: the sort of cars that were popular, what the London Underground looked like in 1908, what a young man in mourning for his parents would have worn, etc. I enjoyed the process of learning about that time period and then weaving my own magical worldbuilding through it!

Regarding magical systems, oftentimes writers will build one based off familiar magic systems used in the past, i.e. magic schools, or fuse it with various other ideologies or systems, like Maggie Tokuda-Hall, author of The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea, fusing her magic system with marine ecology. Which makes me wonder how di you approach your worldbuilding?

…improvisationally.

Honestly, the magical system was the part I had the most fun with during the drafting process. I’ve always enjoyed those magic systems that don’t necessarily come easily to practitioners, and which have rules or constraints on what can and can’t be accomplished, but which also allow for creativity and wonder. The idea of using cat’s cradle string as a building block for gesture-based magic was my own, and I enjoyed teasing out the implications of it as I went through the book.

In a genre like historical fiction (much less historical fantasy), it can often be tough to describe queer identities without the queer language we have today. How did you work your way around that?

Absolutely—neither of my protagonists would describe themselves as gay, the word homosexual was I believe only just coming into English parlance, and they would feel uncomfortable with the word queer as it was used then. Despite having sexual experience with other men, neither think of themselves as part of a queer community, and a lot of their awareness of their own sexuality is around the necessity of it being secret. With all of that said: I wasn’t interested in telling a story about internalized homophobia or shame. Robin and Edwin take some time to recognize this aspect of one another, but once they do, the barriers to their love story unfolding are related to who they are as people, and the ways they’ve been hurt in the past. Not the fact that they’re both men.

What are some of your favorite parts of the writing process? What do you feel are some of the most difficult or frustrating?

I love the very beginning: when the outline is done and I’m leaping into a first draft, wrapping prose around my ideas and characters for the first time. And I find the final round of editing to be very satisfying, too. As an over-writer, I will always end up needing to trim unnecessary sentences and stray words, and I enjoy the process of making the end product as lean and punchy as possible.

There’s always a frustrating time for me around two-thirds of the way into a book. Now that I’ve written a few, I’ve learned to look out for those 66.6% doldrums! Somewhere around there I will become convinced that the book is terrible, I’m terrible, the entire thing is a waste of time, and nobody will ever enjoy it. It always passes. I just have to grit my teeth, trust the process, and write through it.

What can we expect from the main characters of A Marvellous Light?

I’ve been affectionately referring to Robin Blyth as a ‘sunshine himbo jock’, which tells you most of what you need to know. He’s good-hearted and straightforward and spent his university years on the cricket pitch or the river rather than studying hard, and he sincerely believes in punching his problems.

Edwin Courcey, the magician assigned as his liaison, is prickly and self-protective and vastly prefers books to people. With an analytical mind and a weak magical gift, Edwin has always been both interested in how magic works and frustrated by how little of it he can do.

Aside from writing, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

In my spare time I can be found having strong opinions about wine, gin and whisky, lurking in art galleries, and figure skating. Everyone always seems keen to hear about that last one—it’s certainly an unusual sport to have chosen in Australia! But I did it as a kid and then picked it up again as an adult. I love how it calls for the slow improvement of individual skills, but also demands musicality and performance.

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring writers?

Don’t give up! You’ll write thousands upon thousands of words as you’re honing your craft, and you’re always going to be looking ahead at the people who you admire and want to emulate, and feeling frustrated with where you are in comparison. It’s human nature. And remember that any book you read has been meticulously revised and polished: first drafts are allowed to be, supposed to be, a bit of a mess! Let yourself have fun discovering your own stories.

And finally: write exactly the kind of book you most want to read yourself.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked, as well as the answer to that question?

Hmm! Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked which books I’ve reread the most times in my life. I’m a huge comfort rereader, and there are some books I return to again and again. Topping the list are: Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia, and Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about?

I’m about to get started on book 3 of the Last Binding series; I can’t say much about it yet, except to say that one of its protagonists appears briefly in A Marvellous Light. But I’ve also written a couple of contemporary romance novels which my agent has just taken on submission—it’s very exciting to be back at the beginning of the process in a new genre!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?  

This year alone I’ve really enjoyed Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo (m/m Southern gothic horror with fast cars and revenants) and The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (engrossing high fantasy with a central f/f pairing). In the romance sphere, married cowriters Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta brought out an amazing celebrity fake-dating story in The View Was Exhausting, and my favourite romance author KJ Charles finished up her Will Darling Adventures (a 1920s adventure series with stabbing, spies and m/m romance) with Subtle Blood.

However, to finish us off: one of my favourite books of all time—Regeneration, by Pat Barker—is a historical novel set just after the time period of A Marvellous Light. It’s about gay war poets, and trauma recovery, and no magic beyond that of kindness.

Interview with Author KD Edwards

KD Edwards, author

K.D. Edwards lives and writes in North Carolina, but has spent time in Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, New Hampshire, Montana, and Washington. (Common theme until NC: Snow. So, so much snow.)

Mercifully short careers in food service, interactive television, corporate banking, retail management, and bariatric furniture has led to a much less short career in Higher Education.

The first book in his urban fantasy series THE TAROT SEQUENCE, called THE LAST SUN, was published by Pyr in June 2018. The third installment, THE HOURGLASS THRONE, is expected in May 2022.

K.D. is represented by Sara Megibow at kt literary, and Kim Yau at Echo Lake Entertainment for media rights.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Of course! I’m the author of The Tarot Sequence series, an urban fantasy that reimagines a modern world with a very real Atlantis. The series is built around several broad concepts: LGBT+ inclusion, found family, humor, tarot card imagery, a lack of toxic masculinity, and lots of immersive world-building in a society that blends science fiction and fantasy.

Congratulations on your upcoming book, The Hourglass Throne! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

It’s the third book in a continuous series and is being released May 17, 2022 – I actually have nine planned books (three trilogies). My largest motivation for the series was to create a wildly different type of society free from many of the biases in our own culture. There is no “gay” or “straight” – Atlanteans operate on a very broad spectrum of gender and sexuality. I wanted to tell a story that honors urban fantasy greats – like Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher – while also featuring a cast of characters that I would have wanted to read as a young gay man.

As a writer, what drew you to writing fiction/fantasy?

I read SFF almost exclusively as a teen, and then moved away from it in my 20s and 30s. When I hit 40, I decided the world…. Well, the world kind of sucks at times. So I turned my back on contemporary fiction and dove whole-heartedly into escapism. I want people to ENJOY these books, and escape from the grind of doom scrolling. I want people to laugh, and care about the characters, and get lost in the wonder of this city I’m creating – a city built from teleported human ruins from across the world. I love that element of SFF. It can be uplifting, and can present a World we deserve. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters featured in your books?

In the beginning, I thought I was something special for having a book with a lot of gay men. My readers – my very kind, awesome readers – disabused me of that. Since then, I’ve taken it as a point of pride to really explore the depth of the queer community. My main character, Rune, is demisexual, and in a relationship with a man. Quinn is Asexual. Layne, who was introduced as a 15-year old male teen, now identifies as gender fluid and uses “they/them” pronouns. One of my newest central characters, Lady Death, has had relationships with women in the past. I’m only getting started, too.

Were there any books or authors that touched you or inspired you growing up? 

I have a complicated relationship with the books I read growing up. The SFF was so important to my development but, looking back, I can see how homogenous the material was. And how male. It’s so powerfully obvious that those stories lacked diversity. Some of those series I cannot even talk about – especially the ones where the hero’s journey is built on raping others or violence against women. 

The urban fantasy stories I read as a young adult fare better. JD Robb’s In Death series; Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson; Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels…. I really adored a lot of the early urban fantasies. 

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

I can’t even remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer. Ever. I think the ability to escape this world and live in another has always been the draw, for me.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

One of the ways I manage a 9-book series is having huge, tent pole ideas for each book. That satisfies my craving for different sub-genres within SFF. For instance, I’ll have my Natural Disaster novel. I’ll have my Kaiju novel. I’ll have my Roadtrip novel. 

But given the constraints of the series I built, there are still stories I wish I could tell. I want to write a space station book. I want to write a post-apocalyptic tale….

What inspired you to incorporate Tarot cards and it’s mythology into your stories?

My own writing has always involved archetypes. I’ve been working on Tarot Sequence for close to 10 years, but the archetypes of Rune and Brand pre-date that by many years. That’s what I love about tarot cards – they’re built on human archetypes and appetites, like Love, Fortune, Nature, Death. My focus is on the major arcana cards, in particular. Given the unique identity of each major arcana card, it seemed like a good idea to build a nobility system around it. My main character, Rune, is the sole remaining heir to the fallen Sun Throne. These novels represent his journey in reclaiming his birthright.

Your last short story collection placed your characters into the COVID pandemic and under lock down. How did your own experiences during that time inspire that work?

Oh my God, those stories SAVED ME. I was just as lost and scared as everyone else during the start of the Pandemic. Putting Rune and Brand through quarantine was my way of coping with it. And it snowballed from there – the response I got from readers also looking for a distraction, or meaning, was fantastic. So I decided to make the stories canon – and haven’t regretted it.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

The Pandemic has changed everything. I moved from a workplace-based day job to work-from-home status. (And I love it.) I also stopped reading books in favor of watching international TV. It really opened my eyes to how perspectives change globally. It expanded my tastes, and gave me new ideas and ideas. I really, really need to get back to reading – but the TV habit still persists for now.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

Hah! If you knew my readers, you’d know that there are very, very few unexplored questions. My readers are amazing, and supportive, and vocal. I am so freaking blessed. They exchange ideas with me, ask questions, make artwork, provide music recommendations… So I’m honestly at a loss at what question I haven’t been asked.

I suppose one question I don’t get often: The series is based in New Atlantis, formed after the fall of Atlantis during the Great Atlantean War. Every now and then a reader asks if I ever intend to take the story back to the abandoned homeland. And the answer? Oh yes.

Finally, what LGBTQ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I am really loving David Slayton’s Adam Binder series. TJ Klune is one of my favorites. Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner books. Gideon the Ninth is magnificent. I know I’ll regret not spending more time on this list….so many suggestions that they bottle-neck in my brain. Oh! Hero by the late Perry Moore remains hugely influential for me. Gregory Ashe is a prolific sci-fi and mystery writer, and I love his Hollow Folk series.

Interview with Author Abigail Hilton

Abigail Hilton finished her first novel when she was fifteen and never stopped writing. She has a science background and a day job in healthcare.

She frequently travels for work, but comes home to the Pacific Northwest, where two elderly tabbies and two Japanese bobtail cats maintain her home in perfect condition. (Haha, j/k; they try to wreck it.)

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi, fellow Geeks! Thanks for having me. “Novelist” has been near the top of my personal identifiers since I was young. I’ve worked hard to build a life with books at the center. I started podcasting my novels back in 2008. I narrated the books myself at first, then moved on to elaborate fullcast productions, all of it “for the love.” Around 2011, Kindle upended things in the publishing world. I discovered that people would pay for my books, which made it easier to justify the massive amounts of time I was spending on them. I moved into ebooks and paper, then into more professional audio. Along the way, I’ve dabbled in all kinds of commissioned illustrations, promotional art, and comics.

My Abigail Hilton books all feature non-human characters. I love the biological sciences and xenofiction. However, I finally realized that most humans would rather read about other humans. I launched my A. H. Lee pen name in 2017, partially to publish steamier titles, but also to see whether I was right there being a larger audience for human characters. Sure enough, that pen name did really well. I still write under both names, though, and I publish everything from children’s books to adult romances. All of my books are some flavor of fantasy, and I gravitate to high fantasy/epic fantasy. Queer characters have been showing up in my stories since that very first novel.

Congratulations on your upcoming series release, Pirates of Wefrivain! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the books came from?

Pirates of Wefrivain is a redemption story about a couple of dudes who realize they were working for the evil empire and try to switch sides. They fall in love and fight dragons. That’s the first 2 books. Then it opens out into a broader epic, following some of their friends and enemies through war, nautical adventures, and airship battles. All the plot-lines converge in the final book. This series goes to some very dark places (all the trigger warnings), but I promise I am not a nihilist, and you’ll get a happy ending if you stick with me.

Unfortunately, Pirates has a confusing publishing history. The first book was published in 2010. It was originally published as two separate, interlocking series, and the tale spills over into a couple dozen short stories, which were originally published separately and on Patreon. With the publication of the last book, I have repackaged everything into 5 volumes and put it all under the Pirates of Wefrivain series title. New readers can skip all the confusion.

You asked where the idea came from. No clue. The Elder Gods. Lord Frith. Somewhere beyond the Ninth Gate. Sorry, ideas are mysterious and complicated, and I’ve been writing this series for over a decade. This was my second series set in the world of Panamindorah, so it’s not like the world itself was new to me.

What can you tell us about your most popular series, The Knight and the Necromancer? Where did the inspiration for these books come from?

This one is a little easier, because The Knight and the Necromancer (K&N) was fully planned and completed before anything was released. (I had a lot more publishing experience by then.) K&N did not develop organically over many years like Pirates. K&N occurs in my Shattered Sea universe, which I had already fleshed out in The Incubus series. In that way, I guess it is like Pirates. It’s the second series I wrote in an already-established universe.

The Knight and the Necromancer is about the titular characters, who meet under false pretenses, find that they like each other, and then learn that they are natural enemies. Then they have to solve a problem together. This is a well-trod setup, but it’s one that I particularly enjoy, and I had a lot of fun coming up with all the necromancy magic.

The world was influenced by Garth Nix’s Abhorsen books, all things D&D, a little HP Lovecraft, Jonathan Stroud’s massively underrated Bartimaeus trilogy, and many things I’m probably forgetting. Also, don’t judge me, but James Harriot (I mean, for the farms and farmers and livestock-related plot points). The character dynamics were influenced by C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince, KJ Charles’s entire catalogue, probably a bit by T. Kingfisher, and perhaps even Terry Pratchett. 

As a writer, what drew you to writing fantasy, especially epics?

This is another of those “where do the ideas come from” questions. I write the kind of stuff I like to read. I feel like there isn’t nearly enough gritty epic fantasy with queer characters who are allowed to have happy endings.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters featured in your books?

I most enjoy writing gay and bisexual men. Most of my books include at least one gay or bisexual male couple, frequently (though not always) in the lead. But I also like variety. There’s a trans man who is a stealth favorite in K&N. My Hunters Unlucky xenofiction epic includes a lesbian couple, as well as many gender-bending species. There’s an MFF triad in my Pirates of Wefrivain series, in which one of the ladies is on the ace spectrum. I like writing polyamory, although I’ve come to realize that the market for it is limited, so I feel pressured to write about monogamous couples. But my Incubus Series is unapologetic MMF.

How would you describe your writing process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?

Write something before bed. Even if it’s just 200 words. If you go to sleep thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it. Sometimes you solve a problem in your dreams.

As an author, what advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Nothing will ever be as fun as writing the novel and sharing it with your friends. Making money, being approached by publishers, seeing positive reviews – all that stuff is nice, and you think it will make you happy, but that happiness lasts, like, 5 minutes. Writing the book is the fun part – that state of creative fugue, where it feels like you’re taking dictation. Second most fun is sharing it. Receiving related artwork comes in as a close third, whether it’s art you commissioned or fan art. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do the fun stuff.

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your writing journey? 

I wish I’d known that I would eventually “make it” in the sense that I have an audience and make a living wage. I spent a lot of time worrying about failure in my teens and twenties. I’m not usually a jealous person, but I felt insanely jealous of traditionally published novelists back then. It turns out, I was already doing the fun stuff! And I would eventually get paid for it, so I needed to just cool my jets.

Are there any new projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?

I’m currently writing some follow-on novels to my Hunters Unlucky series. That’s one of those not-at-all-commercial projects, haha. But they have been insanely fun to write, and a small group of (the coolest) people are excited about them along with me.

The next thing I’m planning to write that I think a large number of people might want to read is a new series that I’ve been calling the Sleipner-verse. This is a new setting, where sailors hunt Lovecraftian monsters for their magic, chasing them through multiple universes in world-hopping ships. The story is about a young man from a wealthy, magic-wielding family, who befriends a lower-deck sailor from one of the slipper ships. They proceed to get into all kinds of trouble. 

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

Entertaining my cats, growing carnivorous plants, reading (of course), hiking in out-of-the-way places, and using my passport as often as possible.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

What formats are my books available in?

ebook, paper, and audio. You can get most of my audiobooks in many places besides Audible. You can buy them directly from me on my website, which is generally the cheapest way (coincidentally, I also get paid the most). You can also get them on some library platforms.

Finally, what LGBTQ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

My first experience of gay fiction was Marry Renault. I still return to her work sometimes. She probably seems stilted to a modern audience, but the language is so beautiful, and she can get a sentence wound so tightly that it twangs. Her Alexander books, including the non-fiction biography, absolutely broke my heart. Scenes and lines from those books stick in my head to this day.

I really like KJ Charles. She’s most known for her historicals and her historical urban fantasy. However, my favorite book of hers is neither. It’s The Henchmen of Zenda, which is a queering of the classic Prisoner of Zenda. The book is full of quote-able lines and genuine wisdom. I rarely see anyone recommend it – an under-rated bit of her work.

I’m sure everyone reading this already has an opinion about C.S. Pacat, so let me pitch something of hers that you might not have read. Her short story, “Pet,” is maybe my favorite thing she’s written. It’s set in the Captive Prince universe, but stands on its own, and you can tell that she’s bringing everything she learned from writing CP to the table. It’s deft and understated, gentler than CP, but still has some teeth.

Themes of Revolution in The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince recently dropped a 3rd season on Netflix, and continues to break ground in its diversity of representation, which is as vibrant, unique, and exciting as its fantastical setting. But it also teaches some had lessons which other children’s media shies away from.

Sapphic Queens in the Dragon Prince’s World History

The first season gave us a mixed-race royal family in which a black man is the king. In pseudo-medieval fantasy settings, this is almost unheard of, unless the nation is exclusively made up of dark-skinned people. It also gave us a particularly loveable female knight who is hearing impaired – though I’ve found that every character in this series is loveable, even the antagonists. What brought particular joy to me was watching this character speak so expressively through sign, sometimes without another character vocalising for them, and never with any subtitles. The incredible effect of this is that the viewer begins to learn her sign, and when it is not translated, is excited to learn it. I can only imagine how exciting these extra bits of dialogue are to viewers, especially children, who communicate through ASL themselves and almost never see themselves represented.

Season two introduced a character with lesbian parents, who’s heroic demise is shown in flashback. Though this certainly falls into the Kill Your Gays trope, it doesn’t make them any different from most of the parental figures on the show, who are either heroically dead, toxic, or estranged.

This third season gave us something which is extremely rarely seen in children’s media – a male couple who are not just wholesome chaste companions, but shown sharing a passionate kiss. The Dragon Prince has a few ley lines which connect its various characters, arcs, and history. These are:

Questioning Deeply Held Beliefs. It is established from the start that humans are appropriators, who steal and corrupt magic because they cannot wield any on their own. There is nothing in the continuing establishment of the lore to refute this. Yet, one of our main characters discovers he is capable of innate magic through study and concentration. At this time, there is no explanation as to why this has happened. There is no Chosen One motif, no mystery of his birth – simply a passion to learn, and to question the status quo.

A symbol of shame for those who refuse to fight in a war they do not believe in, then turned into a symbol for a cause.

Being the First Generation to Break a Cycle of Violence. The main premise of The Dragon Prince’s politics involves a small group of young people trying to stop a war which has been perpetuated by the generations that came before. But it appears in other places too – for instance, the child queen who lost her lesbian mothers is told that her parents would have wanted her to arm her nation for war, and answer the call of her allies. She agrees. Yes, that is what her mothers would have wanted. But they also raised her to be her own person, and her own judgement was to say no to war. It is not a betrayal of her family’s values, but her own way of expressing her independent ones. Before there is ever any hope for peace, The Dragon Prince shows us an assassin refusing to kill in cold blood, a child caring for a baby dragon who is the offspring of the dragon who killed his mother. A regiment of soldiers who lay down their arms and are branded cowards for refusing to fight a war they do not believe in. The show shines with small acts of gentleness that require great bravery.

Recognising Toxic Behaviour in a Loved One. Season three takes on a topic which is almost never handled by children’s media with any subtlety or realism: Being gaslit by a toxic parent. In Disney’s Tangled, our heroine needs to be a naive, isolated shut-in to be duped by her mother and not considered a complete idiot. The mother is earmarked for villainy to the audience from the very beginning, and therefore they learn nothing about how to spot a truly manipulative adult. In The Dragon Prince, Lord Viren is not depicted this way. He is styled as a villain by his profession and color palette, but so are Claudia and Soren with their respective dark magic and bullying. The three of them are depicted as more complicated than just the colors they wear. Viren’s two children are accomplished young adults with their own careers and passions, and yes, it is the cleverer one who remains trusting of him even when he has slowly turned into a monster. This is another valuable lesson – when you are the favorite child, it can be more difficult to see the warning signs, and easier to dismiss the alarm of your less-loved sibling. That is perhaps the most difficult lesson The Dragon Prince manages to get across – someone can truly love you, and be a villain too.

The pattern the antagonists in The Dragon Prince go through is almost a mirror opposite of Steven Universe, which presents binary evildoers and slowly reveals there is more to them, and inevitably, gives them all a chance to redeem themselves. The Dragon Prince Begins with a vast array of characters from different sides of a political conflict, some with duties to their nation, their race, their profession, or their family. As the plot develops, decisions need to be made, and lines in the sand need to be drawn. Some give up duty to better serve their moral compass. Some manipulate their position to achieve their goals. Characters who were once troublesome to the protagonists come to fight for them, and some who were beloved turn into radicalised monsters.

It is very rare that a piece of media for children should pull no punches when it comes to the hard lessons one learns when growing up. Your nation is not always good. Your family is not always right. And sometimes being kind is the hardest thing you can do.

All images from thedragonprince.com

Review: The Red Threads of Fortune

The Red Threads of Fortune by nonbinary queer Singaporean author JY Yang picks up four years after the events of The Black Tides of Heaven and centers on the prophetic twin Mokoya. Where Black Tides was a coming-of-age story that takes place over several years, Red Threads is a story of grief and redemption told over the period of a few days. The sharp contrast in structure between the two novellas enables the exploration of different themes and accentuates the contrast between the twin protagonists.

 

Through much of book one, Akeha’s perspective of Mokoya’s life was that she was lucky. She had her prophetic visions, a beautiful loving partner in Thennjay, and a purpose in their mother’s protectorate. Early on in book two, it is revealed that the prophecies were always more of a curse as far as Mokoya was concerned. She was able to see visions of the future and yet nothing she did in the present could ever change the outcome. Ultimately it just made her feel helpless; as though she lacked any agency over her own life. In spite of all of that, after the accident and her daughter’s death, she finds herself missing the prophetic visions that no longer visit.

 

At its core, The Red Threads of Fortune is a story about the complicated and often contradictory ways that people deal with grief. The loss of a child is a particularly acute form of trauma, and four years after Mokoya still has not really moved on. She used Slackcraft to graft her daughter’s soul onto a raptor whom she aptly named Phoenix. She left Thennjay and spends her days recklessly hunting naga. She is paralyzed by unpredictable and overpowering memories that seem to come and go at will, much like her prophetic visions once did. It is within this context that she meets Rider.

 

Rider is a practitioner of Slackcraft from the Quarterlands who rides a tamed naga. When Mokoya meets them in the Gusai Desert, they are on a secretive mission of their own. When a massive naga attacks the Mechanist stronghold city Batanaar, both Mokoya and Rider are pulled into the thick of the conflict to save the city. As their unique bond develops, Mokoya is forced to confront her own feelings of helplessness that have plagued her since childhood.

 

The Red Threads of Fortune takes an unflinching look at grief and its lasting effects. Mokoya is in many ways a prisoner of her past, and before that she was a prisoner of her prophetic visions of the future. While the story takes some unexpected turns, the plot itself is resolved in the end, and the underlying themes left me with some resonating questions: How much control should we allow a past we can’t change to hold over us? How many of us believe we are powerful enough to change our fate? They are the sort of questions that individuals must answer for themselves, just like Mokoya had to.

 

It’s with this powerful theme, built on the world-building foundation of Black Tides, that The Red Threads of Fortune elevates the Tensorate series to a whole other level.

 

Next up: the third novella in the series: The Descent of Monsters.

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven

 

The Black Tides of Heaven by nonbinary queer Singaporean writer JY Yang is an impressive feat of both subtly and depth. While fantasy isn’t usually known for its brevity, Yang manages to deliver a richly textured world packed with fascinating characters in a single 236-page novella. Thankfully, this is the first of three  in the Tensorate series.

 

The story focuses on the twins Akeha and Mokoya, and spans 35 years from beginning to end. Akeha and Mokoya are the children of the Protector, a ruthless matriarch who rules her Protectorate through intimidation and bloodshed. The plot begins to take shape when Mokoya has a series of prophetic visions, which prompts their mother to try to use her child’s gift to her own advantage. While both twins are featured heavily in the early chapters, the narrative is driven primarily by Akeha’s journey. With all the attention on Mokoya, Akeha eventually flees their mother’s protectorate to forge his own path.

 

One of the most fascinating details of this world that Yang has created is that children are not assigned genders at birth. We see this play out in a number of unique ways throughout the story. Some children choose very young, others wait until much later, and others still choose to remain somewhere in between. Both Akeha and Mokoya, for instance, each use gender neutral pronouns for the first two parts of the book.  The cultural norm is to recognize gender as something that comes from within, and that in and of itself is a beautiful thing.

 

Beyond its fluid beliefs on gender, the society within the Protectorate suffers from massive wealth inequality. The greatest source of power in this world is the Slack, which draws its energy from different parts of nature. The way people wield this power is reminiscent of the Force in Star Wars, but as the story goes on, Yang gives a sense that it’s much more complex than an energy that binds the universe together. While most secrets of the Slack are kept secret by the Tensors, they are facing an uprising from the resistant Mechanists. The seeds of this war are sewn in the early chapters and gradually take route throughout the story.

 

Although the book is short, the story itself is large and expansive. The details are intricate yet never overwhelming.  Yang has managed to bring to life a vivid world by only showing us exactly what we need to see. Lucky for us, there are two more novellas after this one: The Red Threads of Fortune and The Descent of Monsters, coming in July from Tor.

Review: Letters for Lucardo

Iron Circus Comics has been steadily publishing a slew of critically-acclaimed anthologies and graphic novels primarily created by women that focus on queer themes. Among their titles are the collected print edition of the acclaimed webcomic The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal and the sex-positive “by women for everyone” erotica collection Smut Peddler. Their latest, Letters For Lucardo by writer and artist Noora Heikkila, was [successfully Kickstarted last fall and began shipping this spring. It tells the story of an interracial, inter-generational queer Vampire/Human couple, and does so with the tenderness its subjects deserve.

I’ll be the first to admit that vampires are not what drew me to backing this Kickstarter. While it isn’t a subgenre I read regularly, it didn’t deter me either. I didn’t realize there were vampires in it at all until after the book arrived. Though the vampire mythos is impossible to miss once you start reading, the word vampire (to my knowledge) is never spoken. Instead, what we get is a fully realized world in its own right, distinct from the well-known genre tropes. The religion centered around the Silent Lord and ruled by the Night Court is as creepy as it is fascinating. What really drives the plot, however, are the two central characters Ed and Lucardo.

Ed is a 61-year-old scribe working for the Night Court, of which Lucardo is a member. Lucardo hails from a powerful family of ageless aristocrats, and develops strong feelings for Ed in spite of his family’s misgivings. While this is erotica, and the sexual tension is present right from the first scene, the story takes its time to build up to the sex scenes. Each one is approached with a mix of tenderness and raw primal force that is often brought out by love and mutual attraction. It’s through these scenes that we see both characters at their most vulnerable. They help set the tone for dramatic turns outside of the bedroom, making them all the more resonant and powerful.

At its core, this is a story about loving someone in spite of societal boundaries. While the world that Ed and Lucardo live in is not a direct parallel to ours, they experience many struggles resembling those interracial queer couples face. Lucardo’s place on the Night Court grants him a life of privilege unlike anything that Ed has ever known. He starts out largely oblivious to Ed’s struggles, only to realize through the cruel pranks of his siblings and disrespect paid by his father, just how powerful those societal pressures can be. Without dropping any spoilers, it is these very pressures that come to a head and leave the reader eagerly anticipating Book 2.

The physical copy of the book is available now for pre-order, and digital copy can be purchased now from the Iron Circus Store. You can also check out a 10-page preview on the Iron Circus Tumblr.”