The Plot Thickens, Yet Another Post on J.K. Rowling

I originally wanted to add a paragraph or two to my original post on the JKR controversy, but it became too long, so I decided to just make another post.

So, in case you’re living under a rock, J.K. Rowling continues to be transphobic. Her latest book involves a cis man dressing up as a woman to kill cis women. This is an transphobic trope that was already problematic in Silence of the Lambs. However, JKR is not an idiot who’s just being ignorant and she knows exactly what she’s doing: in her infamous essay, she states that this is exactly how she views trans women.

That’s on top of her past tweets, the deal with blocking Stephen King because he said ‘trans women are women’, and the whole ordeal with the Harper letter. Also, did you know that JKR shares the very pen name that she uses for her crime novels featuring Cormoran Strike, Robert Galbraith, with a psychiatrist who did conversion theraphy on homosexuals and ‘frigid women’? She has failed to address this, and her new transphobic book is published under this very pen name. It could be a coincidence, but it certainly doesn’t help her case.

I largely stand by my original post. We do not need to collectively trash our books, dvds and merchandise (unless you want to; then, by all means, have at it — I get it!). We do not need to stop reading Harry Potter. I realize well that the franchise has been formative to a lot of people and it’s impossible to erase these memories or the support/escapism we might’ve gained from the Wizarding World or the fandom. Whatever you do with your current books and merch is a personal decision and completely up to you. Whether you would still like to reread the series is also completely up to you.

However, as time progresses and JKR keeps spouting her beliefs left and right, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate author from book. I’ve stated this in my original post, as well as why declaring ‘death of the author’ doesn’t really work. I would like to add, however, that we should think critically what sort of effect posting about Harry Potter (or her other books) and buying her books/merch has. If you really care about trans rights and you want to support the trans community, there are some issues you need to think about.

Buying JKR’s books

As stated in my previous posts, her books do not exist in a vaccuum, so separating book from author is complicated. Buying books or merch lands money in her pocket — even if you make a donation to a trans-supportive charity organisation to compensate. We live in a capitalist society, and if we no longer buy her books new, we convey a signal that her bigotry is not okay. In the US, Harry Potter book sales have already been declining. If you do buy her books, however, you’re effectively telling her (and her publisher) that her transphobia doesn’t matter.

Moreover, posting about her books promotes her and thereby enlarges her already significant platform. It can cause more people (who might be unaware) to buy her books and merch, and spreads the word that there is no issue.

Remember that there are still plenty of people who kiss the ground she’s walking on simply because she’s J.K. Rowling and Her Word is Law. This makes her doubling down on throwing an already very vulnerable group that faces discrimination under the bus even more problematic. So, if you still want to buy/read one of her books, go second hand or borrow them from a friend.

What am I conveying?

The second thing you need to think about is about what message you are communicating when posting about Harry Potter. What are you conveying to others by happily posting a Return to Hogwarts post with your books and merchandise on September 1, as if nothing happened? What are you conveying by listing your Hogwarts House in your bio on Instagram or Twitter, or still retaining your HP related username?

They say that silence is compliance; though you may not intend it, it signals that you don’t care that she’s being harmful to the trans community, and that showing off your love for a book series is more important than real life issues. Is that what you wish to convey on your blog or social media account?

Of course, the trans community is not a single-minded monolith and I’m cisgendered. Some might be triggered by Harry Potter related content, some might not be offended by what’s been going on at all. Still, these are some things to think about.

Freedom of speech

But what about freedom of speech? Well, you have freedom of speech. So does J.K. Rowling — she hasn’t been thrown in jail or killed for her opinions (though she received death threats, which I obviously do not condone — just unfollow her, block her is you must, but do not send threats). She isn’t censored and she has a large platform to speak. However, similarily, others are free to call her out on her ‘opinions’ and do with Harry Potter what they wish. That means they are free to decide to cancel JKR, burn all their Potter items, or use the books as toilet paper if they so desire. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences. If I decide to publically spout negativity on social media about previous jobs, for example, I shouldn’t be surprised that this will bite me in the ass when applying for a new job in the future (or even puts my current job in jeopardy). JKR is no exception.

So you’re free to post what you want, I’m not here to police you, and others can’t police what you do or don’t post, or what you do or don’t read. Perhaps you don’t really care, well, then this post is obviously not for you. This post is for people who haven’t considered the implications of their Back to Hogwarts posts or showing off their fancy new edition of The Chamber of Secrets. I’d like to raise awareness: think and reflect about what sort of effect your posts and Harry Potter hauls have.

And, perhaps, that means maybe not buying yet another fancy new edition or maybe not posting about Harry Potter on September 1 next year.

On a more personal note

As for me, upon further reflection I decided to remove my past review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from this blog, as I do not want to promote her unnecessarily. I am still on the fence whether to leave my post about the Harry Potter exhibit online. It’s a post from 2017 with pictures; I suppose it at least allows people the opportunity to get an impression without having to buy any tickets? I’ve added a disclaimer for now.

I haven’t gotten rid of my books or films. Yet. As I’ve said, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the author from the work, and Harry Potter is giving me a bad taste in my mouth simply by association with its author. I have good memories reading them back in the day, which are difficult to erase (despite some more issues regarding portrayal of race and anti-semitism coming to light). If anything, I will not be rereading them soon and I put them somewhere at the bottom of my shelves. I did get rid of most merchandise, including my Slytherin scarf. I also got rid of the Cormoran Strike books a while ago.

I do have a cute plush of a cute random snow owl that I bought years ago on a vacation in London. As of now, it’s mysteriously without a tag. It had a different name, but it’s now called Yuki.

Review: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo
Dean Atta

Publisher: Hodder
Publishing Year: 2019
Pages: 364
ISBN: 9781444948608
Language: English
Genre: poetry, contemporary, young adult
Rating: 4.5/5

In The Black Flamingo, we follow Michael who struggles with multiple aspects of his identity, starting from his younger years. As a mixed Jamaican, Greek-Cypriote Brit, he not only has to navigate racial issues, but also his more ‘feminine’ interests and his gay identity. Michael eventually finds the freedom to express his identity through drag and poetry, but getting there was a journey.

Atta narrates Michael’s coming-of-age journey through poetry, which not only makes for a playful and interesting way to tell the story, it also adds a lot of weight to what’s a very personal experience of the POV character — it’s like you’re reading Michael’s diary! We see him experience childhood, with an absent father and his wishes for a Barbie doll like his sister, through high school to eventually his college days. By the end of the book, you can’t help but root for Michael as he first sets foot on the stage in drag, and the way he eventually finds his freedom through drag and poetry is beautiful and satisfying. The format really adds to the story, considering Michael himself is a poet.

The format also allows for stylistic playfulness; there are not only several illustrations, but Atta has also played around with typography — it not only adds to the diary experience, but it also makes certain poems (and subsequently, events) even more striking. Though The Black Flamingo deals with some heavy themes of gender identity, racism, homophobia, micro-aggressions, and sexuality, it never becomes a heavy read partly through the format, and partly that there are still wholesome elements to the narrative to compensate. There is a message of hope and self-acceptance throughout this book.

The format might be a turn-off if you’re like me and don’t really get along with poetry. I might admit that I didn’t know this book was written in verse before ordering it. I’m glad I had missed this, however, as I might’ve not picked it up if I had. The poetry is accessable and not difficult to understand, without becoming like you’re being talked down to. It goes to show never to judge a book by its format, and I find myself struggling to find a negative point. The Black Flamingo might still not be for everyone, but do not let the format stop you from reading this. And if you do like poetry, well, definitely check this one out as well.

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

We’re currently having a heat wave in the Netherlands, so let’s compensate with a review of a winter-y book!

arden-bearandthenightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1)
Katherine Arden

Publisher: Del Ray
Publishing year:
2017
Pages: 410
ISBN: 9781785031052
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2/5

Vasilisa lives with her family on the edge of the Russian wilderness, where the spirits shield them from the harm that comes with the long and cold winter nights. When Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father eventually marries a devout Christian wife. Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids the honoring of the spirits and wishes to have her wild stepdaughter either married off or send to a convent. However, the decreasing presence of the spirits is more dangerous than one would initially think.

The Bear and the Nightingale has a promising start, introducing Russian folklore and the tension with Christian characters. The writing style also makes this a quick and accessible read, never getting overly descriptive.  Unfortunately, this turns out to be a double-edged sword; the writing completely lacks the atmosphere you might seek when picking up a book with a fairytale-like setting such as this. The presence of folklore is also quite minimal; the elements are there for the sake of the plot, but are never developed.

Instead, the book focuses on the main character, Vasilisa. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, but unfortunately, she is a very bland character. Through the descriptions of the other characters, she is defined by being wild and ‘not like other women’, and she doesn’t want to marry or go to a convent. Beyond the ‘look how feminist this character is’, she’s not fleshed out and does not get any character development, because she’s already right and perfect and doesn’t make any mistakes. Ugh. It doesn’t help that she’s repeatedly described as ‘not pretty’ ,yet male characters still find themselves attracted to her because she is unconventional and wild.

The other characters are, unfortunately, no better. The Christian characters are bad because they are Christian; neither the stepmother nor the priest that appears later (who, of course, lusts after Vasilisa because she is wild) are developed, reducing them to annoying caricatures. Frost, the winter demon, is a mysterious potential love interest, but has no personality or chemistry with the main character to speak of. He just saves her from the cold, gives her a place to stay, and has a past with the villain. Speaking of which, the story’s villain is no better; motives are hardly fleshed out, but at least he does some things to drive the plot forward?

With such a bland cast of characters, it might be no surprise the plot is nothing to write home about either. It would’ve been servicable, hadn’t it been for some ridiculous climax near the end, when Vasilisa, along with some other characters, finds herself facing the villain. Without spoiling everything, the climax basically felt like it was trying too hard to be epic, but it only managed to fall flat with the characters having generous amounts of plot armor; a character appearing out of nowhere to save the day didn’t help matters. It wasn’t the only event that had my eyes rolling, but it stands out the most.

Some people might still like The Bear and the Nightingale if they have a thing for fairytale-like settings; because the setting is definitely interesting. It’s just unfortunate all other aspects fall completely flat. If you want something winter-y and fairytale-like with folklore and strong female characters, I’d recommend Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik instead.

Harry Potter and the Death of the Author: Another Person Talking about J.K. Rowling and Reading ‘Problematic’ Authors

Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere on Mars, the news that J.K. Rowling turns out to be a TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) probably hasn’t escaped your notice. Her various Tweets have rightly caused massive shitstorms. I will not discuss the multiple transphobic tweets and comments in detail here; various other people have already provided a better analysis on Rowling’s posts in detail than I will be able to provide. However, it is unquestionable that Rowling is using her platform to repeatedly make tweets that are hurtful and even harmful to a group that’s already incredibly vulnerable. The worst part? She genuinely seems to think she’s doing the right thing, which makes her unlikely to change.

As a supporter of LGTBQ+ rights, this, of course, begs the question of what to do with Harry Potter. It’s an understatement to say that the franchise has been formative to a lot of people, and as Rowling continues to happily tweet, it becomes increasingly more difficult to separate the author from the work. So here’s another person with some thoughts about this whole issue. Sit tight for a behemoth of a text that I pretty much decided to write and post on the fly.

The Death of the Author and a Dead Author

Jokes on Hatsune Miku having written Harry Potter aside: in the context of this shitstorm, there are many people who advocate for ‘death the author’. Originally coined by Roland Barthes in an essay of the same name, the idea is to ignore the author’s intentions, identity, and biographical/historical context when analyzing the meaning of a given text. This, of course, can make perfect sense in academia when you’re writing a literary essay. However, this becomes messy in in ‘real life’. Disregarding the underlying themes and messages that an author has consciously or subconsciously put in a text for now, a text does not exist in a vacuum. Moreover, you also can’t consume a given text in a vacuum.

Of course, this is less of an issue when the author is dead. H.P. Lovecraft, for example, is still very influential in the horror genre. Unfortunately, he was also a massive racist. Though this might be present in his work (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t personally read it) and the knowledge could subsequently influence your perception of his texts, buying any given title penned by this man will not land any money in his pocket because he’s, well, dead (and doesn’t have Twitter). The same could be said for, say, Marion Zimmer Bradley (author of The Mists of Avalon), who is accused of sexual child abuse, but she’s also dead so she will no longer reap the profits from her books. The publisher even donates the profits made from booksales to charity. The book is still terrible, so I’m not sure why you’d want to buy it anyway, but I digress.

The issue becomes a bit more messy when the author in question is still alive. To illustrate my point, let me mention another SFF author: Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game. He’s not only extremely anti-gay publicly, but also uses his money, platform, and resources to actively rally against same-sex marriage. In other words, buying a new copy of Ender’s Game allows for your money to end up in his pocket, money that he actively uses against the LGTBQ+ community. Indirectly, you’re supporting his anti-LGTBQ+ cause by buying his work. Moreover, if you happily gush about Ender’s Game to your friend, they might also buy it. If you post about it on your platform, others might be enticed to buy it as well.

Another example occurred in the manga industry. A couple of years ago, the creator of the popular manga Rurouni Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki, was charged with the possession of child porn — which he quite likely bought with the money gained from publishing his manga and the subsequent royalties for the anime adaptation. Of course, things are a bit more complicated with what’s legal in Japan and he has been tried by the law, but I still have obvious ethical concerns. On a side note, I was actually gifted the manga after this news came out, and though I gave it a chance, I dropped it after the third volume and passed it along to someone else. I just didn’t enjoy it — and I admit this was likely influenced by my disgust of the artist having a preference for child porn. My opinion of the series might’ve been different had I not known, or read it earlier, but who’s to say?

Anyway, does this mean we should cancel ‘problematic’ people like J.K. Rowling and Scott Orson Card, burn their books, and pretend that whatever effect their works might have had on our lives does not exist?

Cancel Culture

Though I am all for calling authors out on their bullsh*t, I am generally not an advocate for cancel culture. In my opinion, it doesn’t leave room for learning from your past mistakes and growing as a person (Brandon Sanderson is an example of a person who has since apologized, adjusted his views, and even put LGBTQ+ representation in his work, though he might not be entirely there yet). In the worst case scenario, cancelling something can potentially become toxic and be counterproductive to change and diversity. It also reminds me of censorship, which makes me very, very, very uncomfortable. Also, older works are often a product of their time and societal views held during the time they were produced, and pretending these issues did not exist doesn’t teach anything to anyone.

That said, though you might not agree with an author’s problematic views or actions by simply reading or talking about a book, it is undeniable in the case of living authors that, through consuming their work, you’re also supporting the person themselves. In the case of J.K. Rowling, she is still very much a part of the Harry Potter franchise (even if the fandom feels like something completely separate); she’s involved in creating the Fantastic Beasts films, for example, and I’m pretty sure she still receives royalties and such from the sale of official merchandise and the books themselves. So if you care a lot about trans rights, it ethically does not seem right to further support J.K. Rowling.

Of course, outright cancelling Harry Potter completely disregards any personal feelings you might have about the franchise. Like I said, the franchise has been formative for a lot of people, and no matter how much bigotry Rowling spouts on Twitter, people still might be attached to Harry Potter and what it meant for them during their younger years. Whatever happens, that influence cannot be erased. Furthermore, the movies also include the hard work of other people — Daniel Radcliffe, for example, has distanced himself from Rowling’s views. Do the people who also worked on the movies need to be punished for Rowling’s tweets?

No Right Answer

So after this text wall, I have no real conclusion. This is a very complicated issue that does not really have a right answer, and probably differs on a case by case basis and from person to person. Right now, I think the decision of whether to let go of Harry Potter or not is a personal one and depends on what you’re personally comfortable with. Some people are better at separating the work from the author than others, and are not equally affected by bigotry.

Regardless, I do think that, if you continue to support Rowling (or Orson Card, or any other ‘problematic’ author), your decision should be an informed one. You do not need to be lying in the bushes across their home watching their every move, but as a responsible consumer, you should be conscious of where your money and attention is going to (which goes for more than just books, really). This goes double if you have a platform with followers. Alternatively, you could resort to second hand or fanmade.

As for me, well, the -1 ticket sale for the next Fantastic Beasts movie on my part will probably not matter much, because there are tons of people who will still watch it. The same goes for the books and merch. However, though I have chosen not to trash the books (though I understand people who do, or don’t), on an ethical basis, I personally do not feel comfortable further supporting the franchise in any way. I will no longer buy merch, future books, or movie tickets in relation to the franchise (or whatever else Rowling releases). I will leave my past two blog posts where they are for now*, but I will not post about Harry Potter in the future. Maybe if she ever apologizes or changes her viewpoint, but considering she seems to genuinely believe she’s right, I don’t think this is likely to happen.

Furthermore, I think that Rowling’s views will likely influence my enjoyment and view of Harry Potter were I to reread the books sometime in the future, and that’s a damn shame.

Some extra content on the matter that inspired this messy blogpost:

Death of the Author 2: Rowling Boogaloo by Lindsay Ellis (YouTube video);

Reading Books by Problematic Authors by Seji from The Artisan Geek (YouTube video);

List of problematic SFF authors/comic creators created by Artsymusings on IG, in case you want to lower your TBR. Includes links and screenshots.

*Added September 2020
I wrote another post about the issue. Upon reflection, I’ve deleted my review on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’m still on the fence about my Harry Potter exhibit post.

Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor-BintiBinti (Binti #1)
Nnedi Okorafor

Publisher: Tor Books
Publishing year:
2015
Pages: 90
ISBN: 9780765385253
Language: English
Genre: Science fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

The Himba people have always lived rather isolated lives. When Binti is the first of the Himba to be accepted into the prestigious Oomza University, she runs away from home to pursue her dreams When the alien Meduse attack the spaceship that’s meant to take Binti to Oomza Uni, however, she is thrown into a situation that puts her very life on the line.

Binti is an easy character to root for. Pursuing your dreams even if your family doesn’t approve is a theme that easily resonates. Nonetheless, Binti also offers the perspective of a marginalized person; the Himba are discriminated against in the world Okorafor portrays; their customs that are not respected or understood. The book shows this through people being insensitive or even rude to Binti. However, the underlying theme is one of reconciliation and acceptance, which is exemplified through the Meduse and Binti’s interaction with them. Speaking of the Meduse, their attack on the ship is very tense and well written, somewhat reminscent of a horror story. Through my description, it might seem that the horror undermines the previously mentioned themes, but that is hardly the case.

Okorafor’s writing is very efficient and she’s wonderful at building atmosphere. The worldbuilding was wonderful in this book, but here is where its length becomes a double-edged sword. I wished there was much more of it, both of the Himba culture and the world beyond Earth’s surface. I also feel that the situation at the end was wrapped up a bit too neatly. I’ve read the sequels, Home and The Night Masquerade, so I do know that the next two installments address my issues. Finally, because it was so short, I had a bit more difficulty connecting to the characters and the world. I think this is a personal issue, however, since I usually prefer slow burns with a lot of pages.

That said, Binti is perfect if you want a quick science fiction read that’s fast-paced but still explores themes of racism, being marginalized, and acceptance. And if you’ve felt a tiny bit lukewarm about the first book, do know that the sequels address some of the concerns I’ve mentioned. As for me personally, I will definitely check out Okorafor’s longer works, because this has been a great introduction to her works!

Amplifying Black Voices: Books by Black Authors

Even in Europe, it’s hard to miss what’s currently going on in the United States. I’ve seen the video of George Floyd’s murder, I’ve seen videos of peaceful protests that are not reported by media, and I’ve seen videos of the police harming peaceful protestors. George Floyd is one name among the many who have suffered under police brutality, and this horror is part of systematic racism that BIPOC have to deal with on a daily basis.

As a White European, it’s easy to say that racism is something that ‘happens in the US’, but that’s wilful ignorance. In my own country, the Netherlands, there is racism. It’s different from the US, but it’s there. That said, sharing my outrage and creating awareness on Instagram stories is, though imporant, easy. Signing a list of petitions and donating is also important, but easy. And yet I look at my bookshelves, and see there are primarily White authors — reading a lot of fantasy is no excuse. My list of posted reviews? Same story. Furthermore, I know very little of the racism of even my own country.

I want to do better, and I want to educate myself. I decided to post a list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, by Black authors that I’ll be checking out. This not only amplifies Black voices, but might also be helpful to others who want to educate themselves and widen their perspectives. My intention is to also review more diversely in the future.

Don’t get me wrong: reading and reviewing a few books and watching a documentary or two doesn’t mean that I’ll be done, but I figured it’s a good place to start.

I’ve tried to summarize what these books are about in one or two sentences. However, I haven’t read most of them yet, so I’ve also linked their respective GoodReads entries.

 

Nonfiction

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Exploring a wide range of issues of race in the UK.

How to Be Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi
Kendi talks about different issues to discuss how an antiracist society might look like.

Hallo witte mensen (Hello White People) – Anousha Nzume
This book explores racism and White privilege in a Dutch context.

White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race – Gloria Wekker
Another book about racism and colonialism in a Dutch context.

 

Fiction

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (YA contemporary)
About police brutality and #blacklivesmatter

Let’s Talk About Love – Claire Kann (YA contemporary, LGBT+)
About an asexual biromantic Black girl that explores emerging adulthood and friendship.

The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta (YA contemporary, LGBT+)
A coming-of-age about a mix-raced gay teen who learns to embrace his identity through poetry and drag.

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan (historical)
A historical book taking place in Canada about slavery.

Binti – Nnedi Okorafor (science fiction)
I actually did read this one recently, but I want to read the two sequels as well, so I’ve decided to mention it anyway. It’s about a young POC woman accepted at a prestigious university on another planet, but she has to deal with fellow humans not understanding her customs and wronged aliens before even getting there.

My Sister, the Serial Killer– Oyinkan Braithwaite (fiction)
About a woman who helps her sister, a serial killer, dispose of the bodies and remove the evidence. Until her sister has set her sights on a doctor she has fallen in love with.

Fifteen Dogs – André Alexis (fiction)
Two Greek gods grant human intelligence to a pack of dogs.

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin (fantasy/science fiction)
This one is tough to summarize, but it’s about a dying world and a woman whose husband has murdered her son and kidnapped her daughter. To save her daughter, she must travel across a dangerous and hostile land.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I will do further research, but feel free to share recommendations in the comments.

Review: Lancelot by Giles Kristian

kristian-lancelot

Lancelot (The Arthurian Tales #1)
Giles Kristian

Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publishing year:
2018
Pages: 661
ISBN: 9780552174008
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, historical
Rating: 5/5

The world Lancelot is born in is turbulent. The Saxons want to conquer Britain and the king, Uther Pendragon, is dying. During his secluded youth, Lancelot meets proud and beautiful Guinevere and he falls in love with her. Lancelot has a talent for battle and he comes to serve Arthur, the hope of Britain. The tides can turn quickly, however, especially when there is treachery and betrayal.

Retellings of the Arthurian Legend aren’t particularly known for their happy endings. Hardly a surprise, considering it often ends with the fall of Camelot and a lot of dead people. So even when going in with these expectations, Lancelot by Giles Krisitan managed to punch me in the gut.

This is largely due to the very, very detailed and introspective character work. Lancelot is often a rather bland character in the retellings, mostly being there to be the strongest knight ever and to commit adultery with Guinevere while the focus remains on other characters. Though this version of Lancelot is also the strongest, he is a very flawed character. He’s short-sighted, arrogant, and possessive of Guinevere (even though he eventually realizes she’s her own person, what a twist!). Despite this, he’s still sympathetic. Kristian has accomplished this through not only showing Lancelot’s childhood, adolescence, and adult life, but also through the introspective writing style.  The book is very much focused on Lancelot’s thoughts and viewpoint during events, which really allows you to experience his emotions as a reader.

This makes Lancelot a very slow burn. Though I personally love slow burns, others might regard this book as meandering. Another downside of this book are the other characters. Though Guinevere is a remarkable and character, headstrong and proud, the nature of this story still causes her portrayal to be framed by Lancelot’s perspective, which doesn’t make her as wellrounded as she could have been. Mordred was also an interesting and even tragic character, but he wasn’t as developed as I would have liked. The other characters are just sort of there and aren’t fleshed out at all. The main offender is probably Arthur himself — he was actually unlikable, which made it somewhat hard to see why Lancelot would adore him so much. That said, I do understand that this was Lancelot’s story, so complaining about the lack of focus on other characters kind of seems nitpicking.

Lancelot is a bit different from most Arthurian retellings due to its introspectiveness. It also has very minimal world building. The setting is more historical; magic is as a ‘blink and you miss it’ implication at most with Merlin and refences to a ‘gift’. Even the plot takes a back seat to the character focus. If you’re into action and more plot-driven narratives, you’ll probably find this too long-winded and meandering. If character-driven slow burns are right up your alley, however, you’ll likely find this as beautiful as I did.

Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

eames-kingsofthewyldKings of the Wyld (The Band #1)
Nicholas Eames

Publisher: Orbit Books
Publishing year:
2017
Pages: 494
ISBN: 9780356509020
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

The golden days of the mercenary band Saga seem to be long past. They used to be the most renowned band to tour the monster infested Heartwyld, but nineteen years later they’ve grown old and have gone their separate ways. Former member Clay Cooper has settled down with his wife Ginny to have a cute daughter and a dog. One day, the former frontman of Saga, Gabriel turns up at his doorstep. Gabe needs the help of his ex-bandmates for what can only be a very, very desperate mission. As the blurb on the back says: it’s time to get the band back together!

So yes, we’ve got a bunch of old men going on an adventure. Clay and Gabe start out on their quest with just the two of them, but one by one the former bandmates will also end up coming along. The party consists of the reliable and down to earth Clay, the seeming ghost of his former self frontman Gabriel, the eccentric wizard Moog, the fun-loving Matrick, and the battle hungry Ganelon. They might’ve gotten old and a bit out of shape (most of them, anyway), but they’re still a very lovable bunch and their banter is very entertaining. Clay is the narrator of this story; his personality makes him the sane man of the group, which contrasts nicely with some of the crazy and sometimes awkward things that happen to these men. As much as the humor made me laugh out loud, however, Kings of the Wyld also has some heartfelt moments. Yes, expect to be hit in the feels from time to time. This is partly aided by the fact that the main characters each have understandable issues, whether it’s longing for home or the grief of losing a loved one. It never gets too depressing or sad, but it does add some emotional depth and relatability to what is otherwise a pretty fun adventure.

The mercenary bands in Kings of the Wyld also have a bit of a rock band theme going on. Mercenary bands are touring, they have a frontman, they have bookers and gigs. There’s money and fame involved, and some mercenaries have nicknames such as ‘Slowhand’ or ‘Skulldrummer’. It’s a fun take on mercenary bands, which makes it a bit more lighthearted. This, along with the aforementioned humor, adds a sense of self-awareness to this book that makes it even more entertaining

The writing itself is fast paced and flows nicely. There is some world building, but it builts on fantasy tropes that are pretty prevelent in the genre, ranging from a fallen ancient society with some surviors to all sorts of famous fantasy critters in this book. If you’re looking for an original fantasy setting, you won’t find anything genre breaking here. Due to the self-awareness, though, I think this book proves that one doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel in order to tell a good story.

For those who prefer super detailed worldbuilding or something grittier, then you might want to look elsewhere. If want a fun adventure in a fantasy setting with lovable characters and enough emotional depth to make you care about them, however, Kings of the Wyld is definitely a great choice for escapism while social distancing!

Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

russell-mydarkvanessaMy Dark Vanessa
Kate Elizabeth Russell

Publisher: 4th Estate Books
Publishing year:
2020
Pages: 372
ISBN: 9780008342241
Language: English
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 4/5

Trigger warnings: pedophilia/sexual predator, rape, sexual abuse

To Vanessa Wye, the affair she had as a fifteen year old with her forty-two year old English teacher Jacob Strane was the love story of her lifetime. Fast forward to when Vanessa’s in her early thirties, when sexual predators are finally ousted as a result from the #MeToo movement, the very same teacher is accused by another former student of sexual assault. Vanessa does not view her relationship with Jacob as sexual abuse and whishes to remain silent, yet the situation forces her to think about what the affair with her teacher truly was.

I got this book as an ARC through my former job as a bookseller, so I got to read it last December. I’m writing this review months later, because I had to think it over for a while. Due to the subject matter, My Dark Vanessa is a very, very uncomfortable book to read. This is not only because the author does not shy away from explicitly describing the sexual content, but also the clever way that Jacob manipulates Vanessa, who is an impressionable and naive teenager, and how he preys on her insecurities. It certainly underlines that, by default, such a relationship is unequal in terms of power and agency. The prose is detailed without getting long-winded, and does a great job of getting Vanessa’s thought process across.

The narrative moves back and forth between 2000, describing Vanessa’s relationship with Jacob, and 2017, which shows how Jacob is still a significant presence in her life. It’s heartbreaking how Vanessa is essentially a broken person as a result from her experiences. We get to see Vanessa’s insecurities and thoughts regarding her own agency in the affair and internalized guilt, and how she deals with her trauma. Though this can be difficult and at times even frustrating to read, this offers a nuanced view from the perspective of the victim and the choice to remain silent rather than testifying against a sexual abuser. Though Vanessa is not necessarily a likable character, she is flawed and understandable.

There are a lot of references to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, however, up to the point that the intertextuality felt a little too forced sometimes. Furthermore, the characters around Vanessa felt a bit flat and stereotypical.

My Dark Vanessa is an uncomfortable and difficult, even disturbing, read. Nonetheless, it offers a complex and important voice in what’s unfortunately still a relevant topic. It’s a novel that gets under your skin and makes you think, even after you’ve read the final sentence.

Want a Book? Shop Local, Especially Now!

Today, a news article appeared in the Dutch media saying that a third of Dutch bookshops are threatening to go under due to the Corona crisis, especially in the bigger cities (here is a link in case you’re interested — of course, it’s in Dutch). According to this article, most physical bookshops in the Netherlands are dealing with a significant plunge in profits, some even up to 80 to 90%!

The news is anything but surprising, especially because a lot of (small) businesses are struggling right now due to the (understandable) regulations the government has set to flatten the curve. Of course, this also isn’t just applicable to the Netherlands; the crisis is world wide, after all. Regardless, as a book lover and former bookseller, this still makes me very sad!

Bookshops, especially independent ones, have already been struggling a lot in the past years. People read a lot less these days, especially with so much other sources of information and entertainment available at our fingertips. A lot of the remaining readers order their books through the big webshops online, such as Bookdepository or Amazon (or Bol, the Dutch equivalent).

And then Covid-19 came along, forcing people to stay inside and causing shopping districts to become abandoned ghost towns — excluding places that sell toilet paper. As of now, bookshops are struggling even more or threaten to topple over altogether — after all, bookshops don’t tend to have an emergency fund to tide themselves over due to already previously declining profits. And unlike those big online giants, they might not be able to survive.

But once this is over, once we can leave our houses again, we’d still like to be able to go to a bookshop, right? We’d want to browse and ask the booksellers for advice to find a new gem. Thankfully, there is something we can do to help our favourite bookshops weather this crisis, and it’s quite simple:

Do you want a book? Shop local! 

A lot of bookshops, including independent ones, have a website from which you can easily order books. Your order will be delivered to your home through mail (though I’ve read of some shops personally bringing your order to your doorstep , provided you live in the neighborhood!). Need advice, or would you like to check if a book’s in stock? Some bookshops might have closed their doors, but they still have staff around to answer phonecalls, emails, and to ship out orders. Also, a lot of websites of these bookshops also sell ebooks, in case you prefer that over physical copies.

So, if you have the disposable income to afford books and you were already planning to order one (or two, or three, or more) anyway? Or perhaps you were looking for some entertainment to pass the time? Then please consider supporting your favorite physical bookshop by checking their website first, or give them a call. I’m sure they’ll be happy to fulfill your order!

Thank you for reading!