Diving Deep into Anne Bishop’s “Black Jewels” Novels

It’s not an exaggeration to say that these books really impacted me. At first, it was a negative impact. I couldn’t see what people saw in them, I thought they were too Darkedy McDarkDark, and some of the characters just came across as utterly ridiculous in their behaviour.  I could not understand what some of my friends saw in them.

Then I read them for a second time, and it’s no exaggeration to say the impact changed drastically.

It’s also no exaggeration to say that these books changed how I see life and some of how I interact with the world around me.

Black Jewels trilogyThey’re now comfort reads for me, and given the content, they really shouldn’t be. They’re disturbing. The violent. They’re filled with people I should want to avoid, and typically would want to avoid. And yet, the world remains one I frequently want to revisit.

Thus I wanted to take some time to really examine these books, slowly and carefully, and to talk about them here on Bibliotropic. Talk about why I love them, talk about problems I had with them, talk about things the books made me think about, talk about why, in a nutshell, they’re so freaking important to me.

Once a week, I’ll cover a chapter or two, depending on how much I have to say. If you haven’t read the books yet, I’ll warn you now, there will be spoilers. I’ll be tackling the chapters in order, but some things I want to mention at certain points will, by necessity, reference things that come later in the books. I’ll mark spoilers as best I can, but I wanted to warn people now.

But first, an introduction, some things you probably need to know about the overall world I’m about to jump headfirst into, at least as it pertains to many common issues that I know people will be concerned with.

Gender

Daughter of the BloodGender is a huge thing in these books, and yes, it is 100% binary. You’ve got male, you’ve got female, and you’ve got nothing else established. Caste is genetic and gender-linked. That’s a problem a lot of people have with these books, and I can’t blame them. It’s a huge erasure of transgender characters, and I dislike that.

I suppose it can be said that it’s never explicitly stated than trans characters don’t exist here. But they’re never encountered in text, and honestly, they’d face an even harder struggle than trans people do here, given the way the Blood work. There would be no transition, no escaping it. It’s in the blood, in the genes, in everything.

I suppose a merciful interpretation would be that self and gender are so inextricably linked for the Blood that they wouldn’t be born into bodies that didn’t match the soul’s gender to begin with. But while that’s a hopeful interpretation, the transgender experience is something of a unique one, and saying that nobody’s born into the wrong sex body still erases transgender people from the world, and leaves a lot of stories untold.

To say nothing of non-binary gender identities. I suppose, in some ways, there is no solid place for people like me in the Realms of the Blood.

Sexuality

Heir to the ShadowsSexuality is another incredibly important thing in these books, and yes, it is strongly heterosexual in nature. There’s strong implications that nothing’s really considered sex unless it involves a penis in a vagina, at least where some things are concerned. (Specifically, I’m referring to a woman’s Virgin Night, that make-or-break moment where, in having heterosexual penetrative sex for the first time, she risks having her power broken. Anything else I guess doesn’t count.)

That being said, I’m sure there are a number of characters who would disagree with that interpretation.

There are also multiple queer characters throughout the books, despite the strong hetero vibe of the Blood. Rainier is a gay man. Karla is said to not have an interest in men “in that way,” which most people interpret as her being a lesbian but honestly, could also mean that she’s asexual; nothing is ever clarified beyond stating that she doesn’t have an interest in having sex with men.

And then there’s Daemon, who is the very definition of demisexual.

A demisexual [person] is a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone.

If you have read the books, you’ll know that this fits Daemon, one of the main characters, right down to the core. This makes Daemon one of the few demisexual protagonists I’ve encountered in a fantasy series, let alone a fantasy series written in the 90s. It also makes him one of the few demisexual men I’ve encountered in fiction, SFF or otherwise.

So while this series could do a lot better with its queer rep, it does actually have some, and it’s got one of the best examples of an underappreciated and underrepresented sexuality that I’ve seen in fantasy fiction.

People of Colour

Really, most of the characters are not white. Most of them have skin that’s described as brown or light brown. There are some with paler skin (Jaenelle, for instance), but by and large, this is not another fantasy world populated solely by white people with just a few scattered non-white people from far-off exotic lands.

Which, again, for it having been written in the 90s, is actually a bit remarkable.

Violence

Queen of the DarknessOh boy, do these books ever contain a lot of violence. And a lot of it can be very triggering. You have general violence, like broken bones and open wounds; you see that sort of stuff in just about every fantasy novel and it’s barely worth a mention at this point, but I’m mentioning it here because it may still be an important factor for some people.

But the really disturbing violence is everything else.

You have sexual abuse, sexual slavery, all over the place.

You have the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of children.

You have rape and incest.

And contrary to some reviews I’ve seen of this series, none of this stuff is glorified. It’s portrayed as horribly as you’d expect, with clear statements about how sexual violence is wrong. Anne Bishop does seem to like clear dividing lines between the good guys and the bad guys in her writing. The closest thing we get to a sympathetic abuser is Kartane, who delights in breaking and raping women as a sort of payback to the way he was raped and abused by his own mother. You feel bad for what happened to him. You feel disgusted and horrified over what he does to others. It is made very clear in the text that he had chances to seek help, but he made his choice, and what he does is not condoned. He may be the closest thing to a sympathetic abuser these books give readers, but that does not mean he’s actually a sympathetic character and we’re supposed to forgive his actions.

Does that fact that this stuff is explicitly denounced make it any easier to read? No. No, it really doesn’t. And there are some scenes that can reduce a person to angry tears even if they don’t have a personal history of sexual trauma.


So. This is the series I want to take a long hard look at over the coming months. Do you see why I said, at the beginning of this post, that these probably should not be comfort reads for me? I’m not the sort of person who should find comfort in books that feature such horrific things!

And yet, there’s some unfathomable pull that makes me love these books, and the world and characters within them, to a very deep degree. If I say that these books supplanted the Valdemar books as my favourite fantasy series, I expect long-time readers of mine will probably get a sense of just how deeply my appreciation for Bishop’s work goes at this point.

So join me every Wednesday for the foreseeable future, as I take a deep dive into Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels, and, piece by piece, unravel the tangled web that has woven itself into my life.

 

Starlings, by Jo Walton

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 23, 2018

Summary: In this intimate first collection from award-winning novelist Jo Walton ( Among Others , The King’s Peace , Necessity ) are captivating glimpses of her subtle myths and wholly reinvented realities. An ancient Eritrean coin uncovers the secrets of lovers and thieves. The magic mirror sees all but can do almost nothing. A search engine logically proceeds down the path of an existential crisis. Three Irish siblings thieve treasures with ingenuity, bad poetry, and the aid of the Queen of Cats. Through eclectic stories, intriguing vignettes, inspired poetry, and more, Walton soars with humans, machines, and more than a hint of magic.

Review: It’s no secret at this point that I’m a huge fan of Jo Walton’s work, and I pretty much devour any of her writing that I can get my hands on. Starlings is her first collection of short fiction (and a few poems), and while she says she’s no good at that form of story-telling, I’d have to disagree. I wouldn’t say that the stories in Starlings is as good as some of her longer works, mind you, but that’s a far cry from not being good at all.

Like with any collection of short fiction, be it from multiple authors or just one, some pieces I like more than others. That’s to be expected, any as I say in just about any review of anthologies or collections, a lot of it comes down to personal taste rather than an indication of quality. I think the best example of this for me was the story, The Panda Coin, which is largely a collection of snippets from a multitude of different perspectives, detailing the happenings of people who have a particular coin in their possession at the time. Though not a hugely original idea, it was still well-written and interesting to see the diverse cast of characters that the coin passes to and from over time, but in the end it really didn’t stick with me as being one of the more memorable pieces. Just wasn’t to my taste, I suppose.

Others, though, absolutely were to my taste, and three in particular really made a lasting impression on me. A Burden Shared, for instance, features a mother who uses technology to take her daughter’s pain so that her daughter can better navigate through life without being beaten down by disability. It’s an exploration of the lengths that a parent will go to, and that they feel they ought to go to, in order to give their child the best chance at a successful life. But in doing so, the mother overlooks pain of her own that signals deadly illness in her own body, thinking it to be a sign of something wrong with her daughter rather than her own body’s way of communicating that there’s a problem. To me, it was a story not just of parental sacrifice, but a subtle warning about giving too much of ourselves and overlooking our own issues in the process of trying to make things better for someone else.

Turnover was the story of a generation ship, filled with people on their way to another planet. Being a generation ship, though, some people there had never experienced life outside the ship, and as such, a culture had developed that was rather specific to ship life, with art and expression and lifestyles that simply wouldn’t be possible once the ship arrived at their destination. It was a piece that really got me thinking about culture and intent, and how what we seek now isn’t necessarily going to be what the next generation seeks, even if our intent is to give them what we think they will want. Cultures and subcultures spring up around us all the time, with goals that are just as valid and worthwhile as the goals of the people who came before. Turnover questions the value of multi-generational intent and asks us whether it’s better to let some people go their own way even if that goes against the original plan, if those people don’t want to be part of a plan they had no say in.

But I think my favourite story in the whole collection was Relentlessly Mundane, which is about three people who once went to another world and saved it from certain doom. With their task complete, they returned to this world, and now have to live the rest of their lives as mundanely as the rest of us. Only it’s harder for them, because they know they were saviours in another world, special and lauded and with abilities that just don’t exist here, and so there’s a sense of trying and failing to recapture one’s glory days, making pale reflections of something to remind you that you were once great, once a hero, and now you’re just another face in the crowd. The story ends with them possibly being given the chance to become somebody here, too, or to help other people become somebodies elsewhere, which is an uplifting note to be sure, but what stuck with me the most was the sense of faded potential. Most of the time people express that at the end of life, but the characters in Relentlessly Mundane were adults in their prime, and already feeling like the best parts of their lives were over because they had a taste of glory and now that taste is just a memory. It really resonated with me, as did the pervasive feeling that where the characters are isn’t where they want to be, where they feel they should be.

Walton certainly does have skill at evoking and capturing emotions that I don’t always quite realize are within me until I see them laid bare on paper. I’ve only encountered a few authors who have done that, and she is most definitely one of them.

While there were some phenomenal stories within this collection, it’s not one that I feel I can really recommend to general SFF fans. This one’s more for people who are already fans of Walton’s work and want to see more of what she can do with a different medium. If you do like her writing, then absolutely pick up a copy of Starlings and dive into her collection of thought experiments with glee, the way I did. If you haven’t encountered her work before, though, this isn’t the best way to do it, and I’d recommend passing on it until you know if you like what she does, first.

(Received in exchange for review.)

In the Vanishers’ Palace, by Aliette de Bodard

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 16, 2018

Summary: In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

Review: When I first heard this novella described as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, only with two women, and also with a heaping spoonful of Vietnamese mythology, I was sold. Over the past while, I’ve learned that I really enjoy fairy tale retellings, and long-time friends likely already know that I love positive LGBTQA+ representation in media, so I was on board with what de Bodard had to offer here.

In the Vanishers’ Palace tells the story of Yên, who is given by her village to the dragon Vu Côn, as payment for Vu Côn’s healing magics. She expects to be killed, but instead of given the task of educating Vu Côn’s children, Thông and Liên. Which doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing, and definitely a lot worse than her expected demise, but living gives Yên time and opportunity to reflect on her feelings for Vu Côn. Feeling which the dragon reciprocates. But disaster looms, and everything threatens to fall apart when secrets are dragged into the light and things are revealed to not be all they seem.

I love the world in this story, inasmuch as anyone can love a ruined post-apocalyptic world. The reader is plopped down in the middle of it and expected to pick up things along the way, which honestly, is the best way of doing things. No, “Long ago, the Vanishers broke the world,” here. It makes for a bit of confusion in the early pages, but it’s a quick adjustment. Yên’s world is one of rot and destruction, of fear and ruin and scarcity, where gene-twisting diseases run rampant and danger lurks beyond the city limits. And the characters are all very much products of their world, shaped by the way life and society had to adapt and move and survive once the old ways were gone.

I’ll say here that one of the things that appealed to me about the world in which In the Vanishers’ Palace takes place is the way it doesn’t just feel like a world of thin metaphor for current problems in North America. I’ve read about enough post-apocalyptic worlds over the years to become familiar with common tropes, the general feel of how many writers envision the world after a cataclysm. And this is nothing like most of those worlds. Perhaps it’s because of the Vietnamese cast and cultural influences, which, rather than feeling superficially exotic, come across as breath of fresh air when compared to so many stale cookie-cutter post-apocalyptic worlds encountered elsewhere.

So much of this novella centres on healing and choice. Paraphrasing one of the characters, there’s always a choice. The choices might not be great ones, but there’s always a choice. And with choice comes the need to accept consequences, regardless of intent. Thông and Liên attempt to heal a very sick man without Vu Côn’s knowledge, believing they’ll have success and will have brought a bit of life back to someone and maybe found a new way to heal others… and it goes very badly. Their intentions were good, but the result was bad, and they had to live with and atone for the consequences of their choices. Vu Côn was forced to confront the consequences of her choice to make use of Yên’s scholarship to tutor her children, and her inaction in noting Yên’s illness and attempting to heal her. Yên made mistakes, and learned from them, and let that learning change her, and sometimes things worked out and sometimes they didn’t, but she always had her ideas of what should happen and tried her best to make those ideas a reality.

I loved that about Yên, really: she was determined and headstrong and wanted what she wanted, and she wasn’t about to let circumstance stop her from trying. In that was she was a great counterpart to the more reserved Vu Côn. Interestingly, it was headstrong Yên who was more concerned with traditional duty, and cool Vu Côn who was more of a transgressor, doing things because she felt they needed to be done rather than “the way things were done,” so to speak.

I mentioned healing being a central theme, and in this, I don’t just mean the obvious illnesses that Vu Côn heals (or attempts to heal), though that is part of it. Primarily I think of Thông and Yên. Thông must come to grips with a side of themself that they fear and hate, a side which is also feared and hated by others. There’s good reason for that fear, and a loss of self-control could prove deadly. In reading Thông, I felt they were a character with a deep soul wound, one caused by their nature warring with what they wanted to be. In Yên’s case, she was living with her heart in two different worlds, a self-divided, and in the end that proved to be a very literal thing indeed. They both had deep conflicts that needed to be resolved in order to fully heal.

And this healing doesn’t come about by the end of the novella. It’s not some neat pat ending where every single problems is nicely resolved. Trauma doesn’t go away so easily, and I like that the ending wasn’t some saccharine “happily ever after.” It was about as happy as it could be, all things considered, but it was made very clear that the journey isn’t over for these characters, that they still have work to do and healing to accomplish, but that they’ve started on that path.

There’s so much to enjoy about In the Vanishers’ Palace. Marginalized representation across multiple areas, brilliant writing, characters I loved reading about and sitting on the shoulders of. If you haven’t read any of Aliette de Bodard’s writing before, I consider this a wonderful introduction to her work, an excellent taste of the creativity and skill she brings to the table.

(Received in exchange for review.)

Not-A-Review of Son of Rosemary, by Ira Levin

Last week, I wrote a review for Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, and it’s safe to say that even if it wasn’t perfect (what book is?), I still very much enjoyed it. So when I found out that my local library had the sequel on the shelves, how could I pass up the chance to read that too?

…I really should have passed up the chance.

Before you read any further, WARNING – There will be spoilers for Son of Rosemary and Rosemary’s Baby in this not-a-review rant of mine.

Son of RosemarySon of Rosemary takes place in 1999, just before the turn of the millennium, and it turns out that Rosemary has been in a curse-induced coma for almost 3 decades. Now that the cursed has been lifted, she sets about trying to adjust to a very different world, and also to reunite with her son, whom she named Andy. Andy, who looks identical to the stereotypical Western image of Jesus, and who is beloved the world over for his work in reconciling and uniting all peoples, regardless of faith, location, experience, etc, under one banner. Andy swears he has nothing to do with Satanism or his real father anymore, that he works for the good of humanity, but as time passes, Rosemary gets increasingly suspicious that Andy’s organization is up to something sinister after all.

If you go into this book expecting the same kind of character development you found in Rosemary’s Baby, you’re going to be disappointed. Whereas a lot of Rosemary’s Baby was given over to character development via dialogue and snapshots of the characters living their lives, Son of Rosemary relies far more on narration to move the story along, and honestly… the narration doesn’t move the story along. Very little of interest actually happens most of the time, and when interesting things do happen, they’re rushed and seem more than a little convoluted and confused, like the author had too many ideas in his head and wasn’t quite sure how to get them properly down on paper.

The main convoluted point of the story is what Andy’s motive is, and the motive of his group, and whether or not Andy actually has as much control over himself as he thinks. He says he wants nothing more to do with Satan or Satan’s plans, and for the most part that seems to be true. The secret rituals he conducts are less Satanic and more… dark New Age, though honestly, enough people still get New Age and pagan practices confused with Satanism that I’m not legitimately unsure if anyone was meant to see it that way or just assume that it really is thinly veiled Satanism, regardless of Andy’s claims. Either way.

But the ultimate plan for the group is to distribute candles that everyone the world over will light at the same time, demonstrating humankind’s togetherness, only those candles… “The candles begin releasing a virus that’s suspended in a gas.” (pp 241) I’m not even going to attempt to critique the science behind that one. But this will wipe out humanity, as per Satan’s desires. Satan himself actually went so far as attempting to kill Andy so that he doesn’t tell Rosemary the truth, because Andy has known this was the end-goal all along, and Satan knew that Andy would want to tell Rosemary so that she could… be saved? Stop the Lighting? It’s not exactly clear.

Regardless, we’ve now got a situation where Andy was doing exactly what Satan wanted while saying he wanted nothing to do with Satan, attempting to work both for and against Satan’s plans, and honestly, none of it adds up. By the end, it’s impossible to see what Andy’s motives are, what he thinks, why he does anything. We see through the novel that he keeps his horns and claws and other demonic attributes hidden through a sort of glamour, and sometimes his control over that slips, so it’s possible to interpret the whole thing as Andy attempting to have nothing to do with Satan except that sometimes his diabolical heritage can’t be subsumed, and so he couldn’t help actively working toward Satan’s goals anyway.

Which makes me wonder how he didn’t sabotage his own plans during his moments of greater control.

Rosemarys BabyOf course, any inconsistencies can be easily be explained by the novel’s ending, which is that Rosemary wakes up from a terrible nightmare and discovers that it was all a dream.

And yes, I am wincing as I type that. Because wow. Just… wow. Everything that happened from the first page of Rosemary’s Baby was just a terrible terrible dream she was having.

She even comments to her husband that it all being a dream explains some of the inconsistencies between real life and what she experienced, so phew, isn’t it good that none of it was real? Only then they get a phone call from their long-time friend, Hutch, who informs them that he has a great proposal for them – a friend of his needs someone to house-sit for a year, in the very same building that inspired Rosemary’s devil-baby dream, and they could live there rent-free, so wouldn’t that be great? And Rosemary stares into the distance, wondering whether or not to put herself in the same place where the nightmare all started.

There are two ways to interpret this ending, and neither of them are particularly great.

1. At the end of Rosemary’s nightmare, Satan is literally taking her to hell, promising her an eternity of torment. When she wakes up, she comments to Guy, “It went on and on, and I slept, and it started again, and went on and on…” (pp 251) Which could be interpreted to mean that for Rosemary, by the time we’re seeing her wake up on the pages of the book, she has already lived the whole scenario more than once. “It started again.” So her dream wasn’t really a dream so much as a vague memory of the past, and she is stuck in an eternal time-loop in hell, where she keeps reliving the worst period of her life. Her rape, her abuse by a Satanic coven, people conspiring against her, being in a coma and losing decades of her life, seeing her son hurt, being helpless to stop the end of the world, being dragged into hell only to start the whole terrible scenario all over again. It was all real, and it will always be real.

The biggest point against this? Tannis. Tannis is the fungus that Rosemary was given through her pregnancy to help strengthen her baby’s demonic self. It’s clearly established as a fungus. In Son of Rosemary, it’s revealed to be related to cannabis, and can get people high. Okay… No. Because Rosemary ingested a whole bunch of that stuff when she was pregnant, and did not experience anything remotely similar to what ingesting or inhaling cannabis can do. Other than perfectly justified paranoia, anyway. So to assume that it was all real doesn’t explain this. It doesn’t explain any of the inconsistencies across the stories, nearly all of which come to light when you try to reconcile the first book with its sequel.

2. It really was all just a horrific dream. No more inconsistencies that can’t just be easily explained away by dreams being dreams and not always making sense. Bam. Everything’s fine.

Except that is the most weak and pathetic ending ever. I knew it was a weak and pathetic ending when I tried to use it as I grew bored with a 4th grade writing assignment, more than a year before Son of Rosemary was written. If a little kid knows it’s a cheap cop-out, a well-established writer should know it’s a cheap cop-out. “It was all a dream,” is a laughable ending, one that erases all the work that came before and signals to readers that the writer had no freaking clue how to actually end the story and so just negated it all.

Ultimately, there is nothing good I can really say about Son of Rosemary. It had none of the flair and originality of Rosemary’s Baby, the characters were generally pretty lifeless and uninteresting, and there is no positive or redeeming way to interpret that ending. I can see why so many people finish this book and are angry about it. Reading it felt like a waste of time. It’s one of the few books that I actively feel is best dealt with by pretending it doesn’t exist. It attempts to answer a “what if?” question that didn’t really need answering (sometimes ambiguous endings add more power to a story), and takes Rosemary’s story from being a compelling look at a woman in a very bad situation to a weak end-of-the-world thriller, and that does the first novel a great disservice.

I didn’t feel I could properly write a review for this book. You can call this a review if you like, but myself, I call it a rant. This was written purely to get this stuff off my chest, not to advise people whether or not it’s a good idea to read this book. From a reviewer’s perspective, I will say that if you enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby, then leave it at that. Enjoy the first book for what it is, but know that you’re missing absolutely nothing of worth if you don’t read the sequel.

Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 7, 2017

Summary: Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor husband Guy move into the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and mostly elderly residents. Neighbors Roman and Minnie Castevet soon come nosing around to welcome the Woodhouses to the building, and despite Rosemary’s reservations about their eccentricity and the weird noises that she keeps hearing, her husband takes a shine to them.

Shortly after Guy lands a plum Broadway role, Rosemary becomes pregnant—and the Castevets start taking a special interest in her welfare. As the sickened Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated, she begins to suspect that the Castevets’ circle is not what it seems…

Review: After watching the movie for the first time, I was thrilled to realise that my local library had a copy of the novel. I hadn’t even known it was a novel until randomly seeing it on the shelves. And since I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, I decided to see if I would enjoy the novel in the same way.

What I can say honestly is that without going into any other detail, if you enjoyed the movie, you’ll enjoy the book. It reads the very same way. It has the same content, barring the book’s few additional scenes when compared to the movie. Whether this was because Levin also wrote for the stage and thus knew what would adapt well between the novel and an acted adaptation, I couldn’t say. But if you’ve seen the movie, it’s nearly impossible to not hear the actors’ voices when you read character dialogue, and the dialogue itself was practically word-for-word between the movie and the novel.

On the plus side, that worked to make the movie one of the most faithful adaptations I have ever seen, and in a world filled with lousy movie adaptations, that’s saying something.

But enough about the movie. Let’s talk more about the book.

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into the Bramford, intending to live quite happily with the hopes of Guy getting more acting work and Rosemary being a stay-at-home mother. As you do when it’s the 60s. After meeting their rather eccentric neighbours, the Castevets, Guy’s acting career seems to take off while Rosemary, newly-pregnant and increasingly ill from it, develops strong suspicions that something is wrong with just about every part of her life, and somehow, it all traces back to the Castevets and their interest in her baby.

It’s hardly a spoiler at this point to say that their interest stems from the fact that Rosemary is pregnant not with Guy’s child, but with Satan’s. The Castevets and their friends are Satanists, and their involvement is part of a literally diabolical plot to bring about the Antichrist. Guy made a deal to give his wife to the Satanic coven for a night to accomplish this, not because he’s a long-time Satanist, but because he’s promised success in his career if he agrees. The typical devil’s pact, really.

Did Rosemary have a say in this? Not at all. In fact, she was partly drugged when her rape occurred, and it was only partly because she didn’t like the taste of the dessert she was given that was intended to drug her, and so she threw some away, not getting the full dose of what was meant to know her out and make her forget literally being raped by Satan.

In fact, much of what happens in this book is a testament to why women having agency is extremely important. With the story taking place in the 1960s (and being written then too, so you will often encounter what is considered today to be embarrassingly outdated terminology, especially for minority groups), Rosemary, despite being quite a determined character, is often overridden in her desires and need by the men around her. She is given to the coven by her husband, with no say in the matter — passed around like an object in order to further Guy’s career. She is pushed to changing obstetricians, with the new doctor telling her not to listen to her friends or to read books about pregnancy, only to listen to him, because “every pregnancy is different,” and getting advice elsewhere will just make her panic her pretty little head off. When Rosemary finally breaks and seeks out her original obstetrician in the hope of gaining safety from the coven, that doctor’s response is to lie, tell her he’ll help, and then calling both Rosemary’s husband and her new doctor to come and pick her up. Because a pregnant woman’s fears, even if they are about something most people would find unbelievable, are nothing in the face of getting her back with the men she fears are trying to harm her and her unborn child.

And quite frankly, it’s safe to say that the Antichrist wouldn’t have been born had someone treated Rosemary like a person with thoughts, worth, and agency of her own. I doubt this was Levin’s intention to convey, but really, it’s a message that’s easy to take from the story. Treat women like crap, and the Adversary wins.

Rosemary’s Baby is a book that feels both timeless and dated in different measures. The story may take place in the 60s, and there’s plenty of detail to demonstrate the place and time to really centre the reader in the scene, but it’s also a story that has been told many times before and after, the “what if?” appeal calling to people and making them question what could feasibly happen if the Antichrist really did come into the world. But rather than pull the focus back and have the story be about the huge earth-shaking ramifications of this, Levin zooms in and instead concentrates on the woman who would be a mother to said devil-baby. Who is she? What’s her story? How did it happen to her? What did she think and feel and do?

As for Levin’s writing, it flows quite well, and his strength really seems to be dialogue. The characters really come through in what they say, and Levin doesn’t rely on tonal adjectives to get things across, letting the reader figure it out from the words themselves. It works surprisingly well, though in fairness, I’m saying that after having watched the movie first, so I already had somebody’s interpretation of the lines in my mind as I read. Perhaps it might not be so clear if someone’s is reading this before watching the movie, I really can’t say.

But having the characters show through the dialogue still works quite well for streamlining a story. For instance, in a scene where Rosemary talks with her obstetrician about the pain she’s experiencing, and how she worries about an ectopic pregnancy, she explains to her doctor that she saw the term on a pregnancy book at the drugstore. One simple line of dialogue about where she got the idea encapsulates what could have been an entire scene, but wasn’t, and didn’t need to be. Levin takes away a lot of extraneous elements, boils things down until they can be conveyed concisely, and yet still manages to fit a surprising amount of detail into those short paragraphs.

Which brings to me to something that made me chuckle a bit. I read the 50th anniversary edition, which has an introduction by another author who, admittedly, I have never heard of. I’d like to share a short quote from that introduction, regarding said author’s praise of Levin’s attention to detail.

IMG_2263

This level of detail floors you? Have you tried reading, oh, I don’t know, just about any book ever? Levin’s writing has some wonderful detail in it, yes, little things that make so much of what he writes feel real and alive and so very believable, but the colour of someone’s clothes and the date on the calendar really are not the best examples of this. It’s so much glowing praise given to laughably simplistic detail, and it felt more like the author of the introduction was praising the concept of Levin’s skill rather than any actual skill.

I’m not sure I would class Rosemary’s Baby as horror, per se, since nothing in it was particularly scary, with the exception of the mundane scary stuff like women being treated like objects, or nobody believing you when you tell them there’s a problem. I think it’s better to say that Rosemary’s Baby was more of a supernatural thriller, though the supernatural parts, interestingly, stick close to the background. They’re essential to the story, yes, but most of the story’s tension comes from Rosemary’s thoughts and reactions, trying to figure out what’s going on in her life and coping with the fact that something she longed for is going so badly. The compelling elements come not from curses or dark magic malevolence, but from Rosemary moving through her life, short bursts of the mundane punctuated by suspicion, fading back to mundane.

Is it a good read? Yes, absolutely, and especially if you enjoyed the movie adaptation. Is it a must-read? I don’t think I’d go that far. It’s a bit of a classic at this point, famous in that just about everybody’s heard of it even if they haven’t read or seen the story, but as good as it is, as interesting and enjoyable as I found it, I have to conclude that it’s probably not for everyone. Some of the outdated terminology is bound to make people feel a bit uncomfortable, a lot of the general treatment of Rosemary will do the same (though Rosemary herself is quite a strong woman and I loved watching her fight back when she was pushed too far). This is one of the very few instances where I can say that the movie is as good as the book, and you don’t really miss or gain anything by picking one over the other, so really, if what you’re interested in is the story, pick whichever format appeals to you the most and have at.

Murder of Crows, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 4, 2014

Summary: After winning the trust of the Others residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

Review: Whereas Written in Red felt very much like a set-up book before the real meat of the series gets started, Murder of Crows felt like the true launching point. The introductions and initial world-building has already been taken care of in the previous book, and now the real story can begin.

The book picks up almost immediately after the ending of Written in Red, and introduces new street drugs that are making the rounds. The first, called “feel-good,” does exactly what you’d expect with a name like that. The other, called “gone over wolf,” turns the person feral and violent. On top of that, there are signs that someone (or multiple someones) are luring Crows into places where they will be hurt or killed, a deliberate provocation against the Others. Naturally, the terra indigene don’t want to take this provocation lying down, and doubly so when it looks like the key to both mysteries revolve around Meg, their resident blood prophet.

There are definitely shades of modern real-world political issues coming to play in Murder of Crows. In the book, the group known as Humans First and Last are a, well, humans-first organization, dedicated to pushing the terra indigene out of the land that is technically theirs, and taking it over so that humans can use it for whatever they want. The group wants an end to the limited cooperation between humans and Others, with humans coming out on top, able to go where they want and do what they want, when they want it. Best to sacrifice a few innocents if it results in human freedom, am I right?

It’s easy to see parallels between this and the rise of white supremacist movements today. Rather than seeking cooperation or equality, it’s all about one group coming out on top of the other. The difference is, weirdly, the HFaL movement does have something of a point, albeit in theory if not in practice. Humans are extremely limited in what they can do in this world. Traveling away from designated cities or roads can and will get them killed. They’re allowed a certain degree of industry and commerce, so long as what is produced is of benefit to humans and Others, or at least not harmful. It’s hard to imagine how human civilization progressed to the point of even having running water and electricity under conditions like that, let alone, say, the resources to mass-produce books of fiction for entertainment value, or movies. Both of which exist in the world the books set up. The amount of resources needed for that kind of entertainment goes well beyond not being harmful.

If you get bogged down in minutiae like that, you’re going to run your mind ragged trying to sort it out. It’s best to suspend disbelief a little bit, sometimes.

Now, I’m not saying that these restrictions are entirely wrong and should be lifted, because to be fair, humans are living at the forbearance of the terra indigene. Humans don’t own land but lease it, so the owner has the right to set the rules. The terra indigene place a greater priority on low-impact living than technological progression or human freedom. But this is where the moral quandaries come in. How fair is it to impose such restrictions just because you can?

That’s not a question to be answered here. That’s a question that can be argued to death, with valid points on all sides, and still not have a satisfactory conclusion. A lot of what we know about modern science has come about through practices we now consider utterly horrific and disreputable. Does that mean we should ignore that knowledge? Can we unlearn something and rediscover it in benevolent ways?

But this is what the Humans First and Last group thrive upon. That moral grey area. They would see a situation involving a boy getting drunk and wandering into the wilds and getting killed as grounds to strike back, because how fair is it for someone to be killed because they made an error in judgment? Those rules need to be changed! And in the course of crusading for changed rules, if somebody has to be slipped some “gone over wolf” so that they kill someone in an animalistic frenzy in order to frame the Others and create an argument for why they’re not to be trusted, well, the ends will justify the means.

And if luring a few Crows into danger will make the Others paranoid and seem even more unreasonable, even better.

Amidst all this, blood prophets everywhere, Meg included, are starting to see the same apocalyptic visions when they bleed, even when those visions seem to have no relevance to what they’re supposed to be prophesying about. War seems to be approaching, a war between humans and Others, and the Lakeside Courtyard seems to be at the centre of it all.

Many of the same issues I talked about in the previous book are still present here, such as the matter of self-harm, or the “for your own good” mentality. Similarly, all the things I enjoyed so much about the first book are here too, like a varied cast of characters, and some interesting world-building, however much I may have to suspend my disbelief over the level of technology present in daily life. There’s an aspect to this setting that feels oddly comfortable, like sinking into a warm bath. I think it’s that for all that there’s danger and tension and intrigue aplenty, the mundane aspects of life, at least for Meg, are heartwarmingly simple. She enjoys curling up with a good book, or learning to cook, or watching a movie with friends. It’s the simple joys of life that she appreciates, and there’s something refreshing about reading a character who is that particular kind of naive, child-like without being childish. I know it can be problematic when female characters are infantalized, but dammit, sometimes that mentality is exactly what I need when I want some comfort reading, because it reminds me that sometimes life does hold unexpectedly simple joys if I just remember to stop getting so bogged down in my own complexities.

So ultimately, even if there are still problematic themes in this series, I closed this book feeling compelled to continue with the rest of the novels, to see how the story all plays out in the end. I like the characters, I like the setting, and while I’m not overlooking the touchy subject matter, I am also taking some of it with a contextual grain of salt. Not dismissing it, but working through the issues as they come and trying to see if they’re valid for the setting (however uncomfortable they might be for me) or whether they’re just put there for shock value or some dark edgy tone. But people might still do well to be forewarned that some things in these books are potentially triggering, and nobody should hold it against anyone if what’s contained in these pages isn’t for them.

Written in Red, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 5, 2013

Summary: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

Review: Urban fantasy isn’t typically my go-to when it comes to preferred genres. I like it well enough… some of the time. But I find that a lot of the stories focus more heavily on romance than I tend to enjoy, leaving world-building and characters as secondary features rather than primary driving forces. That’s not to say that such books are bad, but they’re not typically my cup of tea.

Then along comes an author whose work I have enjoyed in the past, writing a series I’ve heard good things about, and my curiosity got the better of me. I had to give Written in Red a fair chance.

And I’m very glad I did.

The series takes place in an alternate world in which humans are not the dominant species, but instead live at the mercy of creates called terra indigene, earth natives, who are also known as the Others. We’d call them vampires and shapeshifters typically, which is typical urban fantasy fare, but it’s presented in such a unique way that although the story takes place in America, it feels enough like a secondary world that it was easy to forget, until place names were mentioned, that oh yes, this actually takes place on an alternate Earth, not some fantasy land or distant planet.

Written in Red tells the story of Meg Corbyn, an escaped blood prophet who has made her way to the city of Lakeside, seeking refuge in the section of the city run by the terra indigene known as the Courtyard. Inside Courtyards, human law does not apply, and as blood prophets are essentially slaves, Meg takes advantage of this to hide and keep her prior captors from finding her. She figures the danger of dealing with the terra indigene offers her a far better shot than returning to a captive life where she body and blood are bought by people who want her to speak prophecy for them, whether she wants to or not.

What surprises everyone is just how well she fits in with the Others in the Courtyard, making them want to protect her as though she were one of them and not a human. As a blood prophet, she had been locked away from the world for so long that her naivete gave her no real bad habits to unlearn when dealing with them, and to a degree that childlike nature of hers could bring anyone’s protective urges to the forefront. So when somebody finally does come hunting for her, she has a large group of very strong very aggressive companions to keep her safe.

If that sounds suspiciously like some aspects of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books, you’re not mistaken.

Bishop does seem to have something of a penchant for writing special young women surrounded by aggressive protective men, compounded by the woman acting as a sort of moral compass for other characters for the reader’s benefit. If a character is drawn to this special young woman, they’re a good person. If they dislike her, then they’re a bad guy, in no uncertain terms. It isn’t as though the reader can’t figure this sort of thing out on their own, mind you, but Meg the Moral Compass makes this painfully clear who we should be rooting for over the course of the novel.

Is this inherently a bad thing? No, not really. But of the 2 series I’ve read by Bishop, this character trope shows up in both series, and at that point, it does make me raise an eyebrow. Could we not have something more subtle? Could we not let the reader judge for themselves who to like and dislike without having their good-vs-bad nature spelled out for us on the page? There’s such a lack of nuance here, which is strangely at odds with the other nuances that I’ve gotten used to in other Bishop novels. It’s a weird mix of reading between the lines to see a beautiful and complex world with dozens of possibilities and implications, and bright neon flashing lights saying, “This one’s the bad guy, that one’s the good guy!”

I’m going to give people fair warning before getting into this series, there is a lot of touchy and problematic material to wade through here. I could make lists. In fact, I have. But the biggest ones to be aware of are the “for your own good” mentality of many characters, the borderline glorification of self-harm, and the very awkward subtle framing of North American Indigenous people as literal monsters.

Let’s start at the top with the “for your own good” narrative that runs through this book, and indeed, the rest of the series. When you’re dealing with a group of overprotective people, that’s going to come into play. “You want to go do the thing but I don’t want you to? Well, I’m going to stop you. Physically. Because you might get hurt. It’s for your own good.” It’s not like this protectiveness doesn’t have a reason, and it’s even a very good reason. When a blood prophet’s blood is spilled, she sees prophecy. She either has to communicate that prophecy and forget it but feel ecstatic pleasure, or “swallow the words” and remember the prophecy but feel excruciating pain. A blood prophet only has so much in them to give, and cutting across old prophecy scars can cause a confused jumble of images that will eventually drive a blood prophet mad. The terra indigene of the Courtyard want to keep Meg safe from that future.

Which brings up the issues of “benevolent ownership,” which comes up multiple times in the book. Blood prophets are slaves, property, in order to keep them safe, it’s argued. Better to control their prophecies and their lives than have them uncontrolled and unaware, risking madness and death because their own powers overwhelm them. Written in Red asks how much freedom is worth when it brings uncertainty and danger, and how much safety is worth when it comes at the cost of one’s freedom. But even Meg’s freedom from slavery has its drawbacks, with the terra indigene wanting to keep tabs on her at all times, wanting her to follow their orders so they can keep her safe. It’s not benevolent ownership, per se, but it sure skirts the line, at least in my eyes.

As for glorifying self-harm… Hooboy, this is another tangled mess. As I mentioned, blood prophets cut to see prophecy, and speaking it aloud brings them great pleasure, so there’s an addictive draw to cutting that isn’t so much hinted at as laid bare right on the page for all to read. This is… touchy, to say the lease. Now yes, I have read the rest of the series, and I know this issue gets addressed later on in a much more satisfactory way, but coming at this from the perspective of someone who has only read this book? I can see why people would be averse to this. I can see why it sounds like an absolutely terrible idea to put such a troubling thing in a compelling light. I’m not saying people at risk of self-harm are going to read this and think, “I’m a blood prophet too, so I have an excuse to cut now!” I’m saying that people at risk of self-harm are going to read this and likely feel extremely uncomfortable at the reactions Meg has to cutting.

I say this because I have a history of self-harm, and that’s the reaction I had. It made me deeply uncomfortable, and I felt bad for anyone who started in on this series and was blindsided by the revelations of what blood prophets go through.

Lastly, the issue of Indigenous peoples. Again, I’ll say that I’ve read the rest of the series and know that certain points of this get addressed later on, but again, from the standpoint of someone only reading the first novel, this bears saying. The book takes place in North America, thus we have a North American viewpoint. It’s established that people came over from Europe and wanted to settle in these new lands, only they found terra indigene there who were not happy about the arrangement and fought back, eventually settling on an uneasy truce where small human settlements were allowed in certain areas, provided they followed strict rules and made things useful or interesting to the terra indigene. The Others were there first, they make the rules, and they’re the caretakers of the land that humans are at the mercy of.

Or, to put it more bluntly, “What would have happened if European settlers arrived, only to find that Native Americans were all vampires and shapeshifters?”

Given that North American Indigenous peoples have been portrayed as inhuman in the past, this is… extremely awkward.

It’s not any less awkward to insist that the Others are not stand-ins for Indigenous people because Indigenous people are human, and there were no humans in North America before Europeans came. That just wipes out multiple cultures from history, declares them unimportant to the point where they don’t even have to exist, but what matters more is the history of the white people who crossed the ocean first. Human history in North America starts with them, according to these books. And that’s already enough of a problem in the real world.

Do I think this was intentional? No, not really. But I do think it was an oversight with large implications. As much as the terra indigene are not slavering wild monsters, great care is taken to establish that they are not human and do not behave in typical human ways, that their humanity is a facade to make humans feel more comfortable as part of a great experiment, as it were. But they are not human, and humans, in general, fear and mistrust them.

That being said, I rather think that the Others make a lot of sense and I rather like how they work, socially. Seems like the biggest trick to dealing with them is deferring to their judgment, being polite, and not being arrogant; that so many humans have difficulty with this says a lot more about human nature than it does about Other nature. The Courtyard society was interesting to see, and I liked seeing the interplay between characters, the different dynamics that arose as different groups of shapeshifters did their own things will still existing relatively harmoniously.

For all that there’s a lot of problematic material in Written in Red, I still enjoyed the story. It felt mostly like a set-up book, setting the stage for the greater story still to come, rather than a fully fleshed-out story in its own right, but between that and the fast smooth dialogue and interactions between a wide variety of characters, I was definitely compelled to pick up the second book quickly after finishing the first one. This isn’t a book, or a series, for everyone, but there’s still a lot to enjoy here under the right circumstances.

United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 1, 2016

Summary: Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons – a shadowy group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest subversive tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.

Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s working with Agent Akiko Tsukino of the secret police to get to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something… He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than either of them originally suspected.

Part detective story, part brutal alternate history, United States of Japan is a stunning successor to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

Review: It’s an old idea: What if the Allies didn’t win World War II? But rather than have yet another story about how America gets taken over by Nazis and the valiant few resist, Tieryas takes a different approach and instead has America run by the Japanese instead. Geographically, this makes perfect sense. Politically, it would be easier for the Nazi government to leave North America (I assume Canada’s probably involved in this too, though to be honest, I can’t remember if it was mentioned in the story) to the Japanese when they themselves have Europe to contend with. Thus, the United States of Japan were born.

I expected to really enjoy this book. I like things involving Japanese culture, and even though I’ve been burned so many times in the past by inaccurate representation, I keep hoping and going back to Japanese-inspired fiction to see if this time, it gets better. And to be fair, Tieryas didn’t do a bad job in this regard. It helps that most of the Japanese aspects involved fervent nationalism, the sort that could come out of any imperial regime, only with a particular Japanese flavour to it. Portrayal of life in Japan or typical Japanese culture was absent, largely due to the fact that this book did not actually take place in Japan. It took place in the United States, heavily influenced by Japan but not Japan itself. It was actually a rather clever way of getting around most of the issues I typically have with fiction involving Japan, and for that, I have to give Tieryas credit.

But I didn’t end up enjoying the book as much as I expected, and partly due to those expectations, United States of Japan left me feeling more disappointed than anything.  The story is mostly a mystery surrounding the idea that society is threatened by a video game that presents the question: what if the Allies had won World War II? Rather, the Japanese regime is threatened by the idea that anti-Japanese and pro-American sentiments might by stirred up by such an popular underground video game, and they want it hunted down and wiped out, and Captain Ishimura is apparently the man for the job. He tracks and censors video games for a living, so who better to judge what should be censored in this forbidden game? Together with a ruthless secret agent, he works to uncover the dark truth behind the video game and its disturbing origins.

So what was it that I didn’t like about this book? So far everything I’ve mentioned sounds positive, even interesting. Partly, it was the characters themselves. While they felt distinct, distinguishable from each other in many ways, they also felt rather flat and largely lifeless, as though they were playing roles rather than being themselves through the whole story. I felt no connection to either of them, no particular interest in what they were doing or thinking. Not being able to connect enough to characters to find interest in their actions, which drive the entire story, can really spoil a book for readers.

Now, I’m aware that this was a personal experience and that many people probably won’t have the same reaction when reading United States of Japan. It might have been a disconnect between myself and the writing style, which I found a bit lifeless, or it might have been that the characters themselves just didn’t hold any particular appeal to me and wouldn’t have done so even if they were written by somebody else whose writing I typically enjoy. That happens sometimes, and it’s nobody’s fault so much as it’s just an accident of circumstance. I’m not blaming Tieryas for writing dull characters or for not having the writing chops to make his story interesting. On the whole, the concept behind the novel was a fascinating one, and one that was definitely worth exploring. It just didn’t connect with me.

I did, admittedly, find the level of technology in the book more than a little unbelievable. I know that was part of the point, to play on some stereotypical images of superior Japanese technology and turn them into an in-universe reality, but there’s only so far I can suspend my disbelief. I could probably accept advanced video game technology that rivals that of today’s tech, even though this novel takes place in the 1980s. It takes a bit of mind-twisting, but it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. The giant mechs that are used for military purposes, though? They’re visually impressive, and they’re a classic of Japanese sci-fi, but they’re utterly unrealistic, and their presence in the story was actually a low point rather than a high point with lots of action.

Combine that with a lack of interest in the characters (leading to a lack of interest in plot progression, and in the end, no matter how good Tieryas’s ideas or writing were, I just didn’t feel engaged, or compelled to continue with any other books in the series. Shame, because Tieryas clearly has some creativity at play here, and the ability to think beyond the typical when it comes to thought experiments, but overall, I think I can safely say that this just wasn’t for me.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Past Year in a Nutshell

It occurs to me that some people who are happy to see this blog return and/or who might be interested in reading it don’t necessarily follow me on Twitter or Facebook. And if they only follow me on Twitter, well, I’ve been pretty absent from there, too. Unless you’ve kept up with me on Facebook, you may have absolutely no clue what’s happening in my life.

So, to catch people up!

I attended the University of Prince Edward Island from September 2017 to May 2018, and I freaking loved it! I was doing damn well, too! My lowest grade in any class was 73%, my highest was 92%, and I finished the year with an average across all classes of 83.67%. I was looking forward to going back this fall…

But that wasn’t to be.

You see, the “fun” part about renting your home is that you’re subject to the whims of your landlords. Yes, there are laws in place to prevent them from doing whatever they want to you, but… This summer, the landlords decided they wanted to sell the house we were renting. This doesn’t automatically mean we had to move out, but it did mean people would be traipsing through our home sometimes, which we weren’t happy about.

We also weren’t happy about the fact that our landlords issued us a termination of lease based on the fact that a realtor told another realtor that our place smelled like cat pee.

Nor were we happy that the landlords didn’t even actually use the correct way of terminating our lease. Or that they didn’t investigate before issuing it to us.

We have a strong suspicion that the truth of the matter is that nobody wanted to buy a home with tenants already in place. For us to be evicted because the house was being sold, we would have to be given 2 months’ notice, and the house would have to be sold to family of the landlords who intended to live in this house and sign an affidavit attesting to that. They can’t just kick us out because they want to sell the house.

They can, however, say that we didn’t keep the place clean enough, which is what they did. Even though multiple people said it didn’t smell like cat pee.

So we started looking for a new place to live in the area. Unfortunately, despite Summerside, PEI, being a city with almost nothing in it, people there wanted ridiculously high rent for their properties. We couldn’t afford anything. At least, we couldn’t afford anything that was actually large enough for 2 people plus cats.

A difficult decision had to be made.

Ultimately, what we decided was that Rachel would stay in Summerside, because that was where she worked. That made sense. But for the safety and health of myself and the cats, I would move back to the city we came from in the first place.

Rachel lives rent-free in a friend’s spare room, something we are endlessly grateful for. I and the cats live in an apartment that Rachel pays for, because Rachel’s the one with an actual job. It’s 5 minutes walk from the city centre, and costs $795 a month with heat, lights, and water included. My comparison, the house we rented in Summerside cost $800 a month with nothing included. It was bigger, yes, but it cost so much more. We pay $135 a month for a storage room here to keep all out extra stuff, and we’re still saving money compared to what we paid before.

This is why I’m not going back to university this year. Between the panic of the house selling and being told we had to leave and trying to find a new place and then actually having to move to another province, there was no time or energy left to apply at the local university and transfer my credits and apply for student loans… It was just too much.

Did I mention that all of this mess started less than 24 hours after Rachel and I announced we were in a romantic relationship? Oh. Because that happened too!

So now we’re in a long-distance romantic relationship after barely having a moment to figure out just what this new relationship dynamic even means.

Rachel’s looking for work in this city so that we can be together, or at the very least much closer to this city than things stand right now. As it is, we can afford to see each other one weekend every few weeks, because we have no car and bus tickets aren’t exactly cheap. I plan to go back to university once life calms the heck down somewhat and I get my ducks in a row regarding funding and applications and the like.

In the meantime, I’m here with my cats, missing my partner, and trying to put anger at what was done to us behind me so that I can move on. My mental health is still on the same shaky ground it always is. my physical health is… wonky (I still can’t absorb B12, I’m nearly always in some kind of pain, I have a fungal skin problem that doesn’t seem to want to entirely go away, and an unpleasant infected wound on my foot, so… yeah). Life isn’t exactly great, and it got this way in only a few short months.

But. But I still have my books, and my video games, and my cats, and I have a romantic relationship with somebody awesome, so it’s not like all is hopeless. I learned that I do well in the academic setting. I actually made some new friends, which surprised the heck out of me! Being back in Saint John, I actually feel like I have some creative motivation for the first time in 3 years (I seriously think PEI wanted us gone; by the end, we could barely coax flowers to grow in the back garden, and the lilies didn’t even bloom until we’d moved out). Things will get better. I have to hope for that.

So, now you’re caught up. People who follow me on Facebook already know all of this, but for those who don’t, I hope you’ve, um, enjoyed this snapshot glimpse into my life while I was away.

So…

Today, while browsing my local bookstore, I saw this:

IMG_2124

This is the book I chose as my finalist for 2016-2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. No longer quite so self-published at this point, as it was picked up by a traditional publisher between then and now.

Inside, I saw this in the acknowledgments.

IMG_2125

Seeing my name in the acknowledgments section of a book was just… It was an incredibly humbling feeling, and yet also a proud one, to know that something I did helped someone achieve their goals. I made a difference. Whatever else I did in my life, I did that one little thing that helped. I passed along a book to other people, and said, “Hey, read this. It’s good”

Which, in many ways, is what the SPFBO is about.

It made me think about the reasons I got into reviewing books in the first place, and why I kept doing it for so many years. I took breaks along the way, but I kept coming back to it, over and over, because I loved doing it.

Last year, I stopped reviewing. I closed down the blog. I was done. Too much stress, too many things, and shortly after I made that announcement, I got accepted to university. Maybe it really was just the right time to close one chapter, maybe even close the book, and move on with my life. That’s certainly what I thought.

Now? Things have changed again. I’ve moved; I’m back in the city where I first started blogging all those years ago. I’m in a relationship now. I had to drop university (though I do plan on continuing, but after the hell that was this past summer — that is, getting evicted and fighting that eviction and having to move to another province and being separated from my partner while simultaneously trying to figure out our newfound relationships — now just isn’t the time). And what do I find myself thinking of?

Reviewing. It always comes back to reviewing.

I’ve still been reviewing. I still review things on Amazon, and I’ve been intermittently reviewing video games on my Quadnines blog, so it seems that reviewing is just a thing that I do now. I can’t help it. I enjoy it. I’m drawn to telling strangers my opinion on the Internet.

So maybe Bibliotropic’s end was only the closing of a chapter, and not the whole book. Maybe there’s more of the story to tell.

Well, of course there is. That’s why this post is here.

I still enjoy books. I still read books. I still have opinions on books. And I feel, for the first time in years, that there’s properly room in my life to do this again.

Get ready, folks, because I’m back, and I’m comin’ atcha!