Friday, February 28, 2020

The Ward of Nightingale Hall by Ennis Rook Bashe (Review)

Image:  A couple stands in a shallow pool of water made by a cascade in the background.  Surrounding them is lush, green vegetation. The woman has long, red hair and is wearing a white dress.  The man has on black pants with no shirt.  They are embracing each other.  The title of the book and author are written in white at the top of the cover.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from the author.

Genre:  Alternative-History/Fantasy/Romance
TW:  Psychological (somewhat physical) abuse

Henry, after suffering psychological and magical scars from his ex-betrothed, is assisted in healing by a ward of his family (Ivy). When Henry is kidnapped by his evil ex years later, Ivy must rescue him. Can she also free his heart?

At first, I wasn't sure if I would like this book.  The descriptions of Henry's ex were cliché (creamy skin and all).  When Raella (the ex-betrothed) turned cold towards Henry, I felt like it was an abrupt, cardboard villain scene with little to make her behavior seem even slightly plausible.  The book is short (around twenty-eight pages), so that might be why certain elements aren't fleshed-out.  There are a few typos.

Fortunately, I kept reading past my initial impression.

The magic system in this book was interesting.  Henry is a transman and a Catalyst, a mage who produces magic to be siphoned.  Raella and Ivy are Channelers, people who can pull magic from Catalysts and manipulate it in various ways.  There is a mention of wizards (who seem different than mages).  It made me want more stories set in this world.

The year was never stated (to my recollection), but there are appropriate markers (fashion, automobiles) to give readers an educated guess.

Henry needs a mobility aid and can tire easily at times.  His levels of magic have a real impact on his body to the point where he also needs medication.  Basically, he's a spoonie and doesn't always know what each day will bring.  The book deals with this aspect well.

Henry and Ivy complement each other nicely.  Their history is given enough time on the page for the reader to understand their connection.  There is a sex scene at the end, but it isn't explicit.

Overall, it's a book worth your time.

Biography:  Ennis Rook Bashe is a nonbinary graduate student from New York who loves their rescue cat, making cosplay TikToks, and watching horror game streamers. Find them on Twitter at @ennisrookbashe. Follow their newsletter at :D

Friday, February 7, 2020

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc (Review)

Image:  Illustrated, green leaves with black lines cover the picture.  In the leaves, there are other images, the largest is a black and green house with white windows.  There is also a foot, a hand, an eye, an ear, and a crutch, which are all white with black outlines.  On the bottom left corner, there are three small purple squares. A big purple square on the bottom right says the title and author of the book in white letters.

Note:  I received an ARC in order to write a review.  The launch date was the fourth, but some places are having delays.

Content Warnings for the book:  Rape (in Sleeping Beauty), murder, ableism, and suicidal ideation.
Once upon a time, a disabled woman wrote a book about disability representation in western fairy-tales...

Part author origin story, part fairy-tale history, and part disability activism—this book does a lot in 235 pages.

Quote:  "Fairy tales and fables are never only stories: they are the scaffolding by which we understand crucial things."

Each chapter weaves tropes found in fairy-tales around something in real life, whether it's stereotypes enforced in modern media, filicide, an event in the author's life, or the history surrounding certain countries as fairy-tales came to be. The chapters are broken into chunks to make then easily digestible.  The pace of the book is sprightly, though the author's research seems extensive.  It's balanced well.

Quote:  "Why, in all of these stories about someone who wants to be something or someone else, was it always the individual who needed to change, and never the world?"

The fairy-tales discussed in this book aren't just the cheerful, Disney versions but the dark originals as well (with some being summarized in-depth).  There were tales I never heard of before like The Maiden Without Hands, Hans My Hedgehog, and Riquet With the Tuft mixed in with stories including Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty.  And, it isn't just historical fairy-tales looked at—the author looks at modern tales like Shrek and adjacent stories like Marvel's superheroes.

Quote:  "It isn’t a stretch to draw a line from the Grimms’ treatment of stories and storytelling as a nationalistic device through to Nazi Germany and the depiction of the disabled, othered body as something that needs to be extinguished."

This book taught me many things.  One of the most interesting/shocking to me was how Nazis glommed on to Grimm fairy-tales as an ultimate ideal because they erase so much diversity. Another fascinating tidbit was that ancient Greeks thought things (or humans) could only have true beauty if they were "useful"—excluding most disabled folks in (I'm sure) many abled people's minds.

The only issue I have with the book is that the writing can be a bit repetitive in spots.  Something I read once in chapter two will appear twice more by the time I finish the book.  Thankfully, it doesn't happen very often.

Quote:  "How much time does the disabled person spend trying to conform to society’s expectation of what it means to be a body in the world, when it would be so much easier to move through life without conforming?"

Disability activists are quoted throughout the text and/or thanked at the end.  The names belong to some of the most influential members of our community:  Inani Barbarin, Andrew Gurza, Grace Lapointe, Alice Wong, and more.  It made the book feel quite inclusive to me.

Current-day narratives are also talked about in the form of our hashtags/movements, projects, and articles.  We are shaping the world, and our stories, from the cold clay of the past.  Amanda Leduc honors both our past and future in this engrossing read.
Author biography:  Amanda Leduc’s essays and stories have appeared in publications across Canada, the US, and the UK. She is the author of the novels The Miracles of Ordinary Men and the forthcoming The Centaur’s Wife. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she works as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.