Another book rec post
I should make a regular thing of this, though more than half of my reading at the moment is research. I can always include a quick run down on my research books too
My big news for this week is the Last Gasp anthology featuring stories by Erastes, Chris Smith, Charlie Cochrane and Jordan Taylor. It was pretty much guaranteed to be good right from the start, given that line up, and it didn’t disappoint.
Erastes’ story, Tributary, is set between world wars and features an angry young protagonist who is sick of himself because he wasn’t able to fight in the first world war. It’s full of the lush detail of a spectacular setting, a privileged caste who are disenchanted with their own advantages, and war wounds, both physical and spiritual. Lots of pain and lots of sensuality, and an ending that startled me because I hadn’t been expecting it, but it was just right.
Chris Smith’s The White Empire is odd. I shouldn’t say that it’s a laugh, because it’s probably the grimmest of the stories, but there’s something about her hero, Edgar, which is so awful that you can’t help liking him for it. He’s a bit like the Prince of Wales. You can’t believe anyone could be so rude, but it’s refreshing that he’s at least not insincere. And in his appalling way he develops into quite a hero, until by the end you’ve forgotten that you didn’t like him at all. It’s great fun.
Speaking of great fun, Charlie Cochrane’s story, Sand, is IMO the lightest (in a good way) in the book. A story in which one of the heroes almost dies from a scorpion bite might not seem like a good candidate for cheer, but Charlie’s trademark humour and lightness of touch makes this one a perfect pick me up to the more angsty stories that surround it.
Jordan Taylor claims that she can’t do happy endings, but I thought that the ending of hers was perfect, and it made a good ending for the anthology too. This story has a really finely observed culture clash, and as someone who loved anthropology at university, I really enjoyed the way the heroes in this go from not even being able to understand each other’s frame of reference, through anger and repulsion and acceptance and out into love. I thought it was totally convincing from an emotional POV, and also a setting we don’t see much of.
The whole book was a refreshing change from the usual eras that historicals tend to concentrate on. Not an easy read – there’s some really heart wrenching moments, and I’d almost say that the focus is more that of historical fiction with gay characters rather than on romance with a capital R – but touching and thought provoking, sad and hopeful. A real experience of a book that has kept me thinking about it for the past week and discovering new things to appreciate and admire. Definitely recommended