The Goblin Emperor

Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.

I hate to copy someone’s review but yes: if you’re about court stories, intrigue and politics in a fantasy setting, this one will do you real good. No need to call it Game of Thrones but with goblins: there’s not enough mass slaughter and incest for that. It (looks to be) is a stand alone as well, which doesn’t happen to often in fantasy either. And how often do goblins get their chance in the sun?

Well, in this book not all the time either. These are elvish countries after all, and freshly made emperor Maia is …not like the usual people in charge. He’s far from prepared for his new role, and there’s little people eager to help him out.

That’s where politics and intrigue come in. Sometimes there’s so many names and roles that it’s best just to cling to the story line, but it never turns into a list of characters. The glances at the world throughout make you long for more; another main story line about ordinary life in this steam punk-ish world would have been welcome.

All in all, it’s a solid, traditional built and written fantasy with some freshness coming from the steam punk elements (could have been more, but that’s world-building-loving me) and goblins in the spotlight.

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison, Tor 2014

After the Party

When I came out of prison my hair was white.

When we don’t learn from history something something repeat something something. Who would have thought that a book about fascism would be all too relevant again in the twenty-first century? Look, it even has women and children being brainwashed through children and ‘good people’ while parroting that above all “it’s about patriotism!”.

The title can be interpreted in two ways, I realise only now. Protagonist Phyllis returns to England when the second world war is just a spot on the horizon. She joins her sisters in a world of high(er) society, and so what if there’s stories about a very charismatic Leader whose party will take care of making Great Britain greater (I kid you not)? Parallels, anyone?

The time-hopping kind of spoils how Phyllis’ story goes, and I would have appreciated more focus on details about this “patriotic” party and their place in society. Now it’s mostly a slice-of-life look of a certain people and how easily they step into the “we just want the best (for people like us)” trap. A study of humanity – and their refusal to learn from history.

After the Party, Cressida Connolly, Viking Press 2018

Sweet Bean

113 min.

This is such a delicate, kind little movie (I tried hard not to use ‘sweet’ there). I’m sure that Asian entertainment has dumb blockbusters, sappy, clichéd romances and downright disgustingly bad films as well, but those that find their way here, to our cinemas and televisions, have yet to disappoint. Maybe it’s in the cinematography, maybe because the script writers don’t seem to be afraid about keeping things small. Anyway, Sweet Bean.

Sweet bean posterThe movie is about food, but not just about it. How food is betrayed in Asian cinema is another thing that always tickles my fancy, by the way. Those people care. In this case, it’s about a man in a dorayaki (look them up for enjoyable pictures of food) stand, and an old woman that likes to help out. There’s a small plot line about a teenage girl as well, and in some way they’re all brought together by food.

Under that current develops a much harsher story, but the director manages to keep the balance between sweet and melancholic impressively well. This way, it’s not just something you watch and forget, you take it with you as a gathering of soft musings. And possibly with a craving for dorayaki.

Sweet Bean, Aeon Entertainment 2015

Booksmart

102 min.

What a surprise: female teenagers can be shortsighted, crude and bad decision makers as well! With this film coming from the people behind Superbad and similar material, I was honestly a bit surprised that there weren’t more nudity, body-parts, and/or poop related jokes.

Booksmart posterIn Booksmart two very devoted school-going and study-religious female teenagers and best friends are shocked when they discover that you don’t need to deny yourself a life to achieve the best grades and highest accolades. Even students that *party* turn out to have great grades, which means that the two feel like they’ve wasted their high school years and need to correct it before university. Luckily there are plenty end-of-the-year parties, and a party is what will change everything (they’re still teens, after all).

What follows are American Mr. Bean-like situations that sometimes go on too long, but at the very least gives the young women involved (and one man) room to show that they’re people with flaws and ups and downs and that sometimes you have to do something to discover if it’s someone you are/want to be or not.

That’s also what gives the film its charm: stereotypes are (slightly) dismantled and there are enough believable situations and actions that won’t make you wonder how far away writers are distanced from teenagers and high school.

Booksmart, Annapurna Pictures 2019

Crosstalk

By the time Briddey pulled into the parking garage at Commspan, there were forty-two text messages on her phone.

“You were so busy discovering if you could, that you didn’t spend time wondering if you should”, to paraphrase a certain fictional character involved with dinosaurs. Another subtitle could have been ‘Communication, are you sure it should be endless?’

And all that while I was recommended this novel as good representation of the romance genre. Maybe I should have known better, this author wrote Doomsday Book.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t any romance (although it’s a spectacular slow burn), it just means it’s surrounded by the scientific element of getting an implant that will make you sensitive to the emotions and moods of your loved ones. Sounds like a bad idea, right?

It turns worse when some things happen that shouldn’t and some shouldn’t that should. Willis spends a lot of time on lore, which a bit too often leads to “I can’t tell you that right now!” cop outs. It’s the only frustrating thing about the novel, and the only thing that brings the tempo down.

Honestly, with certain elements going haywire, you could even use this book as an argument for taking internet- and social media use down a tad. The romance, and the lore, are bonuses.

Crosstalk, Connie Willis, Gollancz 2016

 

Internment

I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.

Looking back after having finished this novel I realise how naive and privileged it is of me to have thought “well sometimes she’s exaggerating a bit”. Something about how we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, etc.

In this case the lesson is ‘Do not imprison innocent people for the sole reason that their religion, skin colour and/or ancestral background is different from yours’. Shown in the Second World War, the States did it with Japanese Americans, and Samira Ahmed does it a few decades later with American Muslims. Because in Internment a president – very alike of the one the USA has right now – comes in power, and he’s much more effective in getting his racist ideas turned into actions. American Muslims are put into camps on American soil.

And just like before, there are plenty euphemisms going around. None can cover up that the camp is surrounded by barb wire, that every guard has a weapon and that any sign or sound of protest is violently taken down. Here comes my conclusion from the first paragraph in: isn’t this put down all a bit too extremely? I should know better. We all should.

It’s good that the novel is less than 300 pages, because there’s no escaping the terror the characters are put through. Not just the mental and physical torture; also the shock of seeing how fast people get used to it. Again, as we should know.

All this makes for a bitter pill that as many as possible of us should swallow.

Internment, Samira Ahmed, Little, Brown & Company 2019

The Woo-Woo

“Miss Wong, you’re seriously ill,” the neurologist in a midtown office said, preparing to offer me a sympathy tissue.

Has it been more since a month since my last use of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’? Because Lindsay Wong’s truth is far stranger than fiction. A Chinese-Canadian woman that grows up in a family that is rife with mental illnesses and superstition, but completely refuses to acknowledge the first one and follows the second one in (self)destructive ways.

It’s always interesting to have a look behind someone else’s door, and I always try to learn more about contemporary Asians (immigrant or not). In this case, I felt like I was just gaping a lot at the page, because is this how it goes? Or is this solely the impact of the denial about mental illnesses? And is it bad that I laughed (in disbelief) so often?

Because there’s drug dealing neighbours that pay their neighbour’s children to hang out with theirs, disgusting-sounding meals, insults viewed as different level of endearments and barely a plain, ordinary family member with an ordinary, healthy life around. Lindsay isn’t easy to love either, but gosh darn it, no-one should grow up in such an environment. And I don’t ask for it often, but: I’d definitely read a sequel.

The Woo-Woo, Lindsay Wong, Arsenal Pulp 2018

Once & Future

Ari was hiding out in the Middle Ages.

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth, but a lot more queer for everyone involved. It’s also a Young Adult novel, and Arthur in this case is a teenage girl (and this isn’t the only thing that’s flipped). Just in case you thought you couldn’t be surprised by that myth any more.

Capetta and McCarthy keep up the tempo, until they suddenly don’t. The evil overlords, dubious witch and wizard, the romances and family-relationships are so abruptly put on hold that I almost felt like I shouldn’t bother with the rest of the short novel. But before all that you get an entertainment park-like novel with a lot of roller-coasters and themed exhibitions.

This combined with the gender-flip, the amount of queer characters without it being turned into a fuss and/or characterisation, makes Once & Future appealing to both the fantasy/sci-fi crowd as those that will vacuum up everything related to the King Arthur myth.

Once & Future, Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy, Little, Brown, and Company 2019

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

On that day in 1914, a young girl banged on the door of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde in Montreal.

Boy, does this author love her metaphors like a dog likes a bone. Don’t use them as a drinking game, you will end up in the hospital. Even though it’s becoming quite noticeable after a while, I have to admit that they add to the fairy-tale like feeling this story already has. The development and rise of orphans in Great Depression North America, involving clowns and mobsters, maybe they deserve a metaphor every other sentence.

Main characters are Pierrot and Rose and share the chapters whenever they are together or apart. They’ve got very different views on life and what they want from it; making the fairy-tale like feeling disappear before it can give a (happy) end.

Besides that, there’s the surroundings this plays out in. Montreal with its alive snow, New York with the buildings full of possibilities and risks. It’s all written very visually, which neatly distracts from the small plot holes or just hiccups it provides. This story is pretty and enticing; everything else is subordinate to it.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill, Riverhead Books 2018

The Talented Ribkins

He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn’t pay off his debt by the end of the week.

Now how to talk about this one. There’s a fantastical element in this story (several, if you consider all the individuals involved), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a story from the fantasy genre. Maybe more magic realistic? Anyway, these talents can come in quite handy, but brought ruin to almost every owner – every member of the Ribkins family.

The Ribkins are a black family, with one generation starting out as activists (during the Civil Rights Movement) but seeming to have ended up in crime. Each of their stories rub against historical facts, which makes the people with extraordinary powers trope so much more realistic, and keeps the focus on those people, instead of what they do with their powers.

This is combined with a playground (Florida) that somehow manages to make all of it more surreal and real at the same time. Of course the main character needs to dig up money he hid around the state, of course their last name has a wonderful background. Ladee Hubbard bakes all of it together, and it tastes strange, but good.

The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard, Melville House 2017