May came at me like a freight train. Specifically, Kentaro Miura, creator of Berserk, passed and that has been a sledgehammer to my heart and creative spirit. To get completely too personal, I’ve had to do an inventory of all my things and file them under “survival” and “creativity.” The blog is here to stay, don’t worry about that.
For yet another month, the mind is still a mess, but the reads have been fantastic.
Read an ARC from the publisher Content warning: homophobia, racism, abortion, domestic violence, car accidents, alcoholism
In this queer reimagining of The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker is a queer, Vietnamese adoptee and socialite with all the beautiful sharp edges of stained glass. It’s deeply sensual and takes full advantage of almost a century of historical contextualizing. There’s glitz, glamour, and paper craft magic that fully immerses the reader in its time period and aesthetic.
I’m not saying this book is perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. The Chosen and the Beautiful perfectly captures the horniness of a summer fling with all the yearning horror of watching your best friend make increasingly ill-advised decisions when it comes to the men in her life.
Cleric Chih is back at it again with their storytelling. This time, they find themself trapped with Si-Yu and her mammoth by a trio of shape-shifting tigers. To stall for time until the mammoths arrive and to appease the tigers’ desire for the truth, Chih unravels the full story of Ho Thi Thao and her lover, a scholar named Dieu.
Vo has such a knack for weaving otherwise epic storylines into so tight a space. Big emotions thread throughout, and what I found particularly intricate was the compare and contrast of how the tigers knew this epic love story versus how it was passed down among the clerics and throughout folklore. There are so many layers to this world Vo built, and the detail work is simply astounding and completely mesmerizing.
What particularly resonated with me was the violent presentation of Ho Thi Thao’s heartbreak during one segment of the story. It’s great to see a femme act out on page, and the way the narrative jumps back to the frame story to talk through how each character would deal with that specific grief. It worked really well for me, and provides a bit of indulgence that can’t be afforded if the story had strictly been told from either Ho Thi Thao’s or Dieu’s point of view.
Another epic distilled to its finest parts, I really enjoyed this return to the Empire of Ahn and can’t wait to read more of Vo’s work.
Cleric Chih visits a lonely former handmaiden to the Empress of Salt of Fortune once her estate opens up to visit. The story that unfolds is epic in scope as a marriage of alliance turns into exile turns into conquest. But the presentation is so intimate and quiet, especially as chapters start with descriptions of objects found throughout the estate and Rabbit’s focus is primarily on her relationship with In-yo and the other servants who were at court alongside her.
There was a deep sense of melancholy, not so much regret, threaded throughout the elegant prose. But not so much regret, which I found fascinating. Rabbit’s retelling is filled with making sure she spoke her truth, but also ensuring that the listener, Chih and by extension, the reader, internalizes this fable-like history. The court intrigue is top-notch, but it serves as a background to the intensely relationship-driven narrative. The devotion Rabbit felt towards In-yo dripped off the page and it was compelling in a way that wasn’t entirely tragic. The strength of that relationship kept me wanting to know how the story ends. I really liked how Vo directed the storytelling in a way that assumes the reader knows the story of this empire already as told by history books in that world. The gentle but secure guidance made it obvious, but wow, did that ending land.
Epic, but pensive in a deeply personal way, a must-read for people looking for quieter fantasy novels.