Recently, I’ve come across two books that have gay romances at their heart, but those romances aren’t the sole purpose of those books. Somehow, I’ve never read queer historical fiction or any fantasy with queer characters as explicitly defined in the text (although it was blindingly obvious to me, at least, that Dumbledore had a thing for Grindelwald). This is something I absolutely have to correct. So let’s take a look at the thieves at the heart of both of these books.
Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be… Luck in the Shadows.
Just look at that cover–it reminds me of the second level in the independent bookstore in my home town, which is packed with used mass market copies of books. The font, the art–it just feels nostalgic to me. I tripped across this recommendation while browsing through AfterElton, I think, in response to a direct question about queer characters in fantasy. Add in thieves and rogues (in love!), and I’m sold for at least this book. (It’s a series. Oh, fantasy.)
Reviews seem to be of a singular mind–it’s solid fantasy writing with the added intrigue of a gay romance, says Kade Bond P. Hutchinson at SFFWorld, although there’s pacing problems and the world-building can be a little dense. Sara at Seized by the Tale agrees, especially noting the occasional narrow escape that’s a little too narrow. Good enough for me!
Luck in the Shadows was published on August 1, 1996.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves — fingersmiths — for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives — Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of — passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.
With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways… But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
The New York Times Book Review has called Sarah Waters a writer of “startling power” and the Seattle Times has praised her work as “gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and the senses.” Fingersmith marks a major leap forward in this young and brilliant career.
Nobody does repression better than the Victorians. Plot is run on conflict, and nothing says conflict like girls in love across class boundaries in Victorian England. This book has popped up a lot recently on book blogs that I particularly enjoy, which is where I picked up the recommendation. There’s even a film adaptation (God bless the BBC!) to make the deal even sweeter.
I usually seek out reviews for books after I’ve selected them for The Literary Horizon, but I decided to read Fingersmith after seeing Trisha’s and Teresa’s reviews recently, at eclectic / eccentric and Shelf Love, respectively. Trisha loved it, especially the romance, although she notes there’s a bit of a slump towards the end. Teresa, despite an earlier aversion to Sarah Waters, loved it just as much, especially praising Waters’ command of language and the sheer amount of themes she covers in depth in the novel. Out of the two books I’m talking about this week, I think Fingersmith will be better than Luck in the Shadows–not because Luck in the Shadows will be merely adequate, but because Fingersmith will be so very good.
Fingersmith was published October 1, 2006.