Heiresses of Russ 2013 edited by Tenea D. Johnson and Steve Berman
Among the many hideous tactics Joanna Russ outlines in How to Suppress Women’s Writing, isolation is perhaps one of the most insidious, severing creators from their own community. For instance, Jane Austen is often people’s go-to classic female author, but when was the last time you heard about Jane Austen being influenced and inspired by the works of Fanny Burney? Once you start looking at Austen in the context of her contemporaries and influences, you suddenly realize that she’s not an Excepto-girl—she’s an heiress.
The Letter Q edited by Sarah Moon
Obviously, it’s rather tempting to start off this review with a brief note to my younger self, mimicking the entire concept of The Letter Q, but you can’t fit a punch in the face in a letter, even a letter to the past. (Look, between a punch to the face and two years of Debate, I would have sprung for the punch in the face. It would have served the exact same function in my development.) I think I first heard of this collection via Malinda Lo, even though she’s not a contributor (EDIT: she is!), and I knew I wanted to read it—besides being a treasury of good advice, David Levithan, Gregory Maguire, and Erika Moen contributed pieces.
Which non-series book would you most like to read the sequel to? Do you have any wishes for what might happen in it?
Despite being a huge speculative fiction fan, I’m not actually a huge series fan. I mean, I read series, of course—I’m planning to read A Feast for Crows over spring break, per the demands of a friend of mine who needs someone to talk to about it—but there’s such a difference between books that are part of closed series, books that are part of open-ended series (which I tend to shy away from), and books that are one-shots, to borrow a term from fanfiction. I just feel like an after-the-fact sequel rarely adds to the narrative power of the first, unlike a planned series. I believe it can be done, of course—I think anything can be done well—but it’s not something I would seek out on my own.
That said, I wouldn’t mind a short story about Ash and Kaisa being adorable set after the end of Ash, but as Malinda Lo herself says, “I feel that Ash’s story is complete, and I won’t be writing a sequel. (Also, I’m pretty sure Ash has a fairly boring — though very happy — life after the end of the book. There really wouldn’t be much to write about!)“. And I think that really nails it on the head. Stories are about the most important moments in a character’s life; what happens after is probably not as exciting and dramatic.
Huntress by Malinda Lo
I really loved Ash, but I was somewhat slow to pick up Huntress, Lo’s sophomore outing. It was somewhere between forgetting about it—the premise feels more traditional fantasy than the hook of “queer retelling of Cinderella”, so it tended to get lost the mental filing cabinet—and wanting to save it for the right moment. The right moment arrived, and my local library here at school came through admirably. (I always feel like my two public library systems are competing with each other, so I keep a very close eye on the pros and cons of each.)
Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?
Absolutely! Age is just an arbitrary number. (And yes, I realize I say this as I’m over the moon that I’m no longer a teenager.) That’s why I added my handy dandy audience categories—children, young adult, or adult. In fact, Malinda Lo’s Ash was originally written for an adult audience—I don’t believe she mentioned a particular reason, but with anything non-hetero getting slapped with a mature rating for even showing two characters of the same sex kissing, I think I know why. But her publisher decided it was a better fit for the young adult market, and it was marketed accordingly. So the difference between a young adult novel and an adult novel is actually pretty nebulous and arbitrary; there’s no reason to scoff at either audience.
To be wholly honest, I don’t read a lot of children’s books and I don’t read picture books; novels are my bread and butter. But if there’s a good one recommended to me, I’m not adverse to picking them up.
Ash by Malinda Lo
Ash is a book I’ve been meaning to read for what feels like forever. I don’t even remember where the recommendation came from; heck, I might have just stumbled across it on my own. The novel is advertised as a queer retelling of “Cinderella”, which immediately caught my attention—queer romance in fantasy is, I feel, fairly rare. I think the only other example I can give is Lynn Flewelling’s Luck in the Shadows, which doesn’t focus so much on the romance rather than on the adventures—hence why I just had to read Ash.
What’s the most romantic book you’ve ever read?
(Mind you, I don’t mean the hard-core stuff you hide in plain wrappers under your mattress. I mean True Love, Romance, deeply emotional, heart-tugging, and all that stuff.)
And, secondly, did you like it? Is it your usual kind of reading, or did it take you by surprise?
Argh—love≠sex, people. (And romance≠smut.) It’s too early for me to just let that one pass. This is probably why romance as a genre doesn’t particularly attract me, as an asexual woman; too many unnecessary sex scenes. (I’m not saying all sex scenes are unnecessary—I liked Tipping the Velvet—but for books specifically marketing themselves as romance, like The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, they usually are.)
Now, to actually answer the question—I’m going to go with Malinda Lo’s Ash as the most romantic book I’ve ever read. (The review’s going up on March 2.) Not because it’s deeply emotional or heart-tugging—although it certainly can be—but because it’s rational and organic. The titular character has to choose between an idealized and extremely unbalanced (in terms of power) relationship with a supernatural being and an organic and earnest relationship with the King’s Huntress, which is still above her new station in life. The way Ash navigates this and begins to understand the rules of her world were great, and her ultimate choice made my heart sing. Also, it can be read as a commentary on the slew of unbalanced relationships with supernatural beings currently invading young adult fiction—just look at this—and proving that real love, organic, earnest, and true love, will always win out. Fantastic.
This week on The Literary Horizon, we deal with a Cinderella in love with a huntress, and Queen Elizabeth I as Nancy Drew.