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Posts published in “Reviews”

Beautiful Malady

In the afterword, the author of BEAUTIFUL MALADY describes how Live-Action Roleplaying (LARPing) allows them to immerse themselves in a character without having to stick to their real-word persona. Yet, without talking about yourself, you are able to convey much of what you really want to say. This is immediately obvious in this book of poetry: Ennis Rook Bashe creates refreshing poems exploring disability and queerness. We are all familiar with those lazy tropes often found in literature centered on the disabled—suddenly they’re cured by modern medicine or even worse, magic/perseverance, it’s been in their head (and their fault) all along, and if it’s not showing the happy ending where someone’s disabilities suddenly go away, you may find a cautionary tale—pity these people, this is a lesson about acceptance/diversity/… okay there we go we’ve got our token disability character.

BEAUTIFUL MALADY examines these tropes and attacks them. In metaphors, in fairy tales, in odes and in unflinching criticism. Lyrical language abounds and creates images that resonate in their ability to capture pain, rage, triumph and resilience.

There’s a distinct voice noticeable throughout these largely unconnected poems. You get a feel of what Bashe wants to tell you, without them screaming it in your face. Sometimes you start reading about a cat hunting sunbeam, unsuspecting, until you are hit with what you really should have seen coming. Trauma turns into lessons learned turns into warning turns into determinations.

Let’s say maladies are flattering. Let’s banish illness as a failure of spirit and rejoice in the unspeakable stories being told. BEAUTIFUL MALADY will hold your hand and lead you along.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In the Lives of Puppets

Where UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR felt very much the same type of story as THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA, this book felt different from the beginning. Perhaps it’s the sci-fi setting as opposed to the magical realist feel. Perhaps it’s the prevalence of (very middle school-feeling) humor mixed with the very adult themes and language. I don’t know. Something felt off from the beginning, and though it won me over enough to keep reading eventually, it never fully persuaded me.

If Cerulean Sea was a Pixar film, this is more a Spielberg—delightful, yes, but a bit overly sentimental and obviously trying to win the hearts of the Academy. Big themes sometimes very clunkily handled but you don’t mind it because of the charming characters. It creates a whimsical, Portal-esque vibe, but sometimes it felt like the tone didn’t match the story.

I think, in the end, I was most bothered by the plot. It felt like Klune focused so much on the characters and their banter that he forgot to actually develop the world and give the plot enough breathing room to develop in a natural way. It makes for a mixed bag of a book; fun yet a little grating at times, a heavy-handedness creeping in and only getting worse throughout. I actually believe it would’ve worked much better as a middle grade animated tv show. It certainly felt written that way.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review.

When We Hold Each Other Up

When We Hold Each Other Up is a very fascinating take on pacifist resistance in a post-eco-apocalypse world. After the climate wars, people either live in cities run by Harmonizers (some strange more-than-human people who are able to “balance” the world by taking and giving calories, among other things) or in little solarpunk communities who try to live in balance with nature in their own little ways.

The story starts with Rowan, a young person lives in a small community when a Harmonizer arrives at their orchard and feeds on it, leaving ruin in his wake. Though the others are distrustful of him and leave him to die, Rowan decides to save him—because, like in the stories, we survive when we hold each other up. Truly, this is one of the core themes of the book, trying to find compromise and help those who may not seem the most deserving of it.

The Harmonizer is in fact a dissenter who has come to help them against other Harmonizers. The city seems to be going on the wrong path again, losing its balance, instead trying to mindlessly grow and destroy nature like the cities of old. Rowan and the Harmonizer must warn the nearby villages and see what they can do to help.

There’s more to it and it goes places I thought were quite interesting. There’s a big focus on the telling of stories and the way they help us understand and survive in this world. You’ll come to adore the two protagonists and their little communities. Above all, what I respected in this novella is the fully-realized, authentic feeling solarpunk wordbuilding. In most books, this either feels too forced or too vague. Take Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot books, for example. They are books I love, but everyone calls them some of the great current solarpunk novellas while I always felt like solarpunk was only used as a background—here, it’s the very core.

If there’s one small nitpick, I thought the ending was very rushed. You have a story with perfect pacing, and suddenly it speeds up massively and conveniently wraps stuff up in a way that felt like there was much more story to tell. While I enjoyed the ending, I would’ve preferred to see a more fleshed out ending.

But I really liked this book. It had shades of the Earthseed books, for me. Phoebe Wagner has long been a prominent voice in the solarpunk community, and this book shows that. A voice to keep an eye on.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.