cest_what: (Default)
Cross-posted from Tumblr.

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Historical queer YA.

Seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove’s ambition is to be a doctor. A post as companion to the sister of one of her brother’s friends is a far fall from that, but when Louisa reaches what she thought was her new position, she finds something much more terrible. Her destination is an asylum for the insane, and they greet her there as Lucy Childs, a new patient. Protesting that that’s not her name only appears to confirm them in their opinion of her madness. Her only ally is Eliza, a young attendant who seems to believe her story. Louisa is determined to escape by one means or another, but she’s beginning to realise that it’s no accident that she’s here, but a betrayal.

Oh, this is good. For the first half of the book it didn’t seem as though it was really going to be a love story, or only peripherally, despite the tagline (Treachery locks her away. Love is the key). And it is primarily the story of Louisa’s incarceration and escape. The terrible stifling panic of losing liberty and voice – when nobody will listen to her and other people’s versions of reality are believed over hers – is difficult to read at times, but made a lot less so by three things. One is that the tagline lets you know some kind of escape is coming, of course. One is that the asylum scenes are interspersed with flashback scenes of her life before, which despite being in an awkward font help make Louisa’s medical ambitions as important a part of the story and her character as her current incarceration. (And also contextualise her queerness.) But most of all, despite the increasing constriction and confinement and silencing that’s closing around Louisa, this is not a passive narrative, or a passive heroine.

The cover is actually terrible, even though it’s quite pretty, because it doesn’t suggest an active or vigorous story and heroine at all. Louisa is affected by the asylum and its petty and great tyrannies, she’s not special, she doesn’t have any extraordinary ability to resist that the other patients don’t have. But she acts, and she thinks, and she tries, and the story is shaped by all the little and big ways she’s trying to think and act her way out of this. There’s suspense and excitement and yes, at about the halfway mark there begins to be romance.

Subverting the spirited heroine trope )

Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones

Children’s/YA fantasy.

Twelve-year-old Gair, middle and most ordinary child of famous parents, has been brought up to fear and hate the other two peoples who live on the Moor: the water-dwelling, shape-shifting Dorig and the warring Giants with their strange magic. But thanks to a wrong done to a Dorig by their uncle when he was a boy, everybody on the Moor is living under a curse of misfortune. And Gair may be the one with the key to lifting it.

I remember reading this at the same time as The Homeward Bounders, about ten years ago. At the time I liked it better because it wasn’t horribly sad (my tolerance for sad things: even lower ten years ago than it is now), but I can see why it took me so long to reread it, all the same. It’s a little bit of a mess. (Not that I reread books a lot in general, but Diana Wynne Jones books are a special case.)

I really like the first half. DWJ does family so well, and the three siblings have a lightly drawn but wonderfully believable dynamic with each other and with their parents. The tone is great too: the realism and humour of the character voices melded with a more folkloric kind of world than DWJ often writes reminded me a bit of Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen or Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books.

The tone is the problem, though )

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Folkloric fantasy.

(Also apparently YA? I would not have classified it YA, but the Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlist would not lie to me.)

Miskaella’s island village has a heritage it doesn’t talk about. In times past there were men who took sea wives: enchanting women drawn out of seals. There are still children born with the look of the seal women about them. Unlovely Miskaella is one, and she grows up a pariah as a result, within her family and the village, friendless and loveless; and even more so on the day she wakes to find that she has a new, terrifying awareness of the world around her. Among other things, she can see now how you would take a woman from a seal. And in it, how she might make her village pay for its treatment of her.

This is a disarmingly lovely story. The themes are ugly – rejection, revenge, abduction and coercion, selfish cruelty in love – but somehow the human sympathy and the imagery keep it something beautiful all the way through. When a seal woman is drawn from the sea for a man, the spell of love is cast both ways, and is almost as costly for both. As a result, at the centre of this story is a knot of love and misery and yearning. The abducted seal women yearn for the sea and can never be happy away from it, but are trapped first by love for their abductor-husbands and children, and second by their husbands concealing their shed skins so they can’t return to the waves. The husbands of the island are also trapped by their love and can’t bear to let their wives go, but see and keenly feel their unhappiness and are helpless against it and unhappy themselves. Minor spoilers here )


cest_what: (Default)
c'est what

October 2014

192021222324 25


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 24th, 2017 10:32 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios