Trans-Inclusivity in Spec Fic: Insufficient!

I’ve been spending lots of time reading the awesome Natalie Reed just lately. Her blog is full of coolness and good writing and awesome resources for gender egalitarians, freethinkers, and nerds alike, but as my bloggy thing is about books that have dragons and spaceships, I mostly feel qualified to comment only on the latter subject. Being a lefty radical and all (because apparently “hey, maybe people should receive equal treatment and opportunity regardless of identity and we should all just enjoy pudding together” is a radical statement), I do try and talk about representation of everyone in both the authorship and the fictional universes of the nerd-book world.

And yet I find I haven’t talked about trans characters anywhere here. And while I certainly accept my own culpability in being unconsciously cissexist like a jerk, there’s, uh, kind of a paucity of such characters out there. I’ve reviewed a lot of progressive, inclusive authors here and I’ve covered LGB back and forth a few times, but nothing in the Trans or even genderqueer bit of the spectrum.

Damn.

Of course, gender variance is relatively rare, but there are a lot of books and a lot of stories out there. Folklore is full of characters who move between binary assignments or just hang out in the middle or somewhere else entirely. Coyote has a detachable penis! Which isn’t really all that relevant, since male manifestations of Coyote usually take it off just to bother someone with it, but it’s pretty badass, isn’t it? I’d like one.

I can think of lots of trans characters in anime and manga, which could be a great analysis and reflects rather poorly on the culture I live in (though the depiction is usually still a bit problematic). I’ve never reviewed any of this stuff because there are far more qualified individuals and I don’t think I could analyze in any useful detail. And I usually find light novels to be very bland in translation. From my early teens, Noriko of Fushigi Yuugi. stands out in my memory. Noriko was mostly a badass, confident lady, capable of passing without but confident enough once she got outed by an evil something or other (despite the fact that the revelation was couched in terms of “really a man,” so yuck). Late in the series there was a pretty pointless revelation that she had decided to be female after her little sister died and “as a man” she… blah. It would have made sense if Noriko was actually bigender or something, but I don’t give the manga-ka that much credit. She was this truely terrible writer and world-builder who accidentally wrote a great supporting cast only to kill them off for the mild dramatic benefit of her horrible, horrible main characters.

But as to spec-fic novels of the sort I usually review? Well, I can think of two examples, one awesome despite many issues, one interesting but odd.

As I just review Christopher Moore’s new book, another old favorite of mine is on my mind. Island of the Sequined Love Nun features Kimi, a confident, awesome trans woman of color, unashamed sex worker, survivor of human trafficking, violence, and abuse, and probably the only halfway competent individual in the main cast. The narration insists on using male pronouns for Kimi, which is annoying and stupid, and the male lead’s initial response to her is, “Oh, hey, a sexy lady to whom I’m attracted! …Oh, ew, that’s a dude in a dress.” They’re respectful friends later on, but the story doesn’t try not to other her. Feels more like unthinking cissexism than the hateful kind, but that’s still not okay. It’s also noteworthy that Kimi speaks oddly broken English. Since I think English isn’t her first language, that’s fine, but very few of the other characters with English as second language do it, and the result is more like “me love you long time” than any permutations of dialect I’ve heard. And Kimi (spoiler time!) doesn’t survive the book, but admittedly most of the characters don’t, and Kimi gets to appear as a perfectly contented ghost/deity later on. It… kind of makes sense in context. Is Kimi disposable because she’s trans or because there’s lots of dying and it just happens? I dunno. It’s debatable.

However, Kimi has a talking, fashion-forward fruit bat for her sidekick, which makes her the coolest ever.

The other trans character I can think of (and the pool here is “books I’ve read and can think of,” so this isn’t necessarily diagnostic) is Tamir in Lynn Flewelling’s creepy fantasy trilogy, the Tamir Trilogy. I love these books, and the only criticism that immediately occurs is that there wasn’t exactly a need to invoke magic to write a story about a person whose gender is other than what was assigned them as a baby. But if using fantasy to deal with real issues is against the rules, say goodbye to Drow. It’s an interesting story whatever the case.

Tamir is, far more literally than is usually the case, a girl in a boy’s body. Her dead brother’s body, actually. Yeah, it’s a terrifying story, actually, but that’s beside the point. In any case, scary magic results in a little girl growing up with the body of a little boy. Tamir, as Tobin, is fiercely remonstrated for liking girly things, so as to keep up the charade and raise a respectable little lordling. She performs masculinity fiercely throughout childhood and young adulthood, dealing as best she can with her lack of interest in girls as sexual partners, being in love with her male best friend, her ease in bonding with girls as friends, her need to see women as equal despite vicious demands that she act otherwise, and so on. Not all of this necessarily has anything to do with gender expression or identity, but to Tamir it certainly seems to set her apart. There’s a lot of gender-fuckery in these books, with LGB characters as well and repeated questions about what’s essential to gender and what’s constructed, what’s enforced on Tamir from outside and what’s all her. She finds her female body initially more alien than she did her male body, once magic happens again. Maybe that’s a side effect of being magic-trans instead of the regular kind?

So it’s not perfect, but it’s interesting, and Flewelling seems to me to handle Tamir well.

And, of course, not every trans person is out and it’s not necessarily going to be relevant to the plot, and lots of fictional characters could be trans that we don’t know about or need to. Maybe Spock is trans. That’d be cool. Maybe The Incomparable Dejah Thoris. Maybe Jesus.

But we could use some more. Really. (And, um, I brought up Jesus and detachable penis in the same post, for which I feel there should be some kind of award.)

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Problematic

I think I need to place a moratorium on myself when it comes to using the word “problematic.” It’s so damn useful, but really, it’s gotta stop.* I can get by without this linguistic crutch! It’s simply a tic. Now, the Ginger Waif will go and do something soothing. Let’s see. Given the recent loss of the groundbreaking author and my mood to enjoy some dragons, I think I’ll delve into Pern. Relive high school a little. Carry on a tradition, too, since I inherited all the older books from my dad’s extensive sci-fi collection.

Dragons, flying on dragons, time travel, hey, a bard. And… and sexuality is a smell and rape is love and no woman who isn’t demure and childish/sexy (…what?) ever makes good and… Now, now, Ginger Waif, it was a different time. Why, considering the 60’s, she was perfectly progressive! By certain lax standards, anyway. She did improve later in life, and there are fun stories buried in the… Endless waves of impossibly messed-up gender-based tripe. I love my old-school pulp, but it’s so–

Maybe try another comfort read. Let’s go for some early Tanya Huff! An author who was ahead of her time; so much so that you don’t actually need to qualify her early books with the dates! And sure there’s a little squick, but I’ve already been over that in previous reviews and I think it probably does come down to character perspective, in the end. So I’ll just enjoy some nice, familiar Vicky Nelson. And wondering how on earth a writer ever came to be so hostile to journalism. Does the media ever do anything other than harass victims, cause panics, and interfere in active investigations? Sure, the popular media can be kind of awful about airing whatever’s most sensational, but is there a sympathetic journalist anywhere in this universe? And on a similar note, do all the police officers and military personnel need to be deified? In all the thousands of pages given over to the Canadian constabulary and the space marines, I think there are, what, two bad cops? And they… actually, completely fail to get their comeuppance. They just disappear. Did the system work? Or are they still out there somewhere in imaginary-90’s Toronto, planting evidence and brutalizing suspects? Is this actually an incredibly subtle commentary? Am I being hypercritical and assuming that just because a wrong isn’t addressed specifically, it’s tacitly approved? Maybe. Probably. But still, I find the slight authoritarian bent a little– Damn.

Do you really need to spend all that time on the rape, George R. R. Martin? Lesbianism doesn’t work that way, Christopher Moore. Dear entire genres of horror and comedy, agh! Terry Goodkind, I hate you and everything you love.

…No. I’m not giving up my word. There’ll never be anything worth reading that won’t contain some premise or idea that I can quibble with on some level. There’ll never be an author I agree with wholly. Hell, I can reread my own stuff going back a year or two and wonder what I was thinking. Some stories are too laden down with execrable ideas to enjoy, but even the best stories have their baggage, their questionable aspects, their betrayals of an author’s foibles. I’m sure my writing contains its own challenges and mistakes. And hell, while I consider my idea of right to be pretty well-considered, there are certainly other opinions out there. I never want to be blinded to new or even disturbing ideas in my fiction, and I seldom want to tar a whole story with the brush of WRONG. (Unless it’s that thing where Orson Scott Card made Hamlet’s dad a child predator because gay is caused by Satan. Fuck that book and fuck Card for writing it. And Ender’s Game isn’t even that good. Yeah, I said it.) I can’t think of a better word to address concerns appropriately without bogging down reflections of the literary merits. Problematic. It’s here to stay.

*Except when my food is problematic. That is an opinion I will always and forever voice. Or until someone figures out how to eat a gyro without a chest-high table, rolled-up sleeves, and a lot of luck.

Review: Riverside Series, Ellen Kusher

First off, guys, mannerpunk is a thing. Sweet Krishna on a pogostick, I will now restructure my entire life and every perspective around this revelation. Allow me a moment for the vapors.

Anyway, the Ginger Waif is back. Maybe for realsies this time. I’m now settled in to home and job a bit, and the library is easily reached. I’ve got lots of books to talk about, so prepare for rapid-fire review time. Today’s exploration is of a conundrum of a couple of books. Swordspoint, The Fall of the Kings, and The Privilege of the Sword are Ellen Kushner’s (and, in the second case, Delia Sherman’s) rather cultish tales of intrigue and maneuvering.

Mannerpunk. Hee.

Anyway, Swordspoint follows the exploits of this kind of irritating, scholarly drug addict named Alec and his almost equally dysfunctional lover, Richard St. Vier. They get in a lot of fights and are the victims of political intrigue. The Privilege of the Sword follows the career of impoverished noblewoman Katherine as she learns to use a sword and deal with the upper crust under the auspices of her uncle, the Mad Duke. To explain how these people are connected would require some spoilers and a chart, so suffice it to say they live in the same city and move in similar circles sometimes, some years apart. In The Fall of the Kings, well, uh, alright, confession time. I didn’t finish Fall of the Kings. I got a third of the way through it. I don’t know where this book went off the rails or if it’s the second author’s fault, but boy, did I not care the least bit. The characters had lost all their life and bite, the plot was less extant than in either of the other books, and the whole thing was mostly weird, pseudo-pagan blather that seemed to center mainly around having lots of gay sex.

That’s one thing about Swordspoint and its companions. There’s lots and lots of gay sex. Mostly male, sometimes female, everywhere and all the time. It sometimes reads like a slash fanfic. I’m pretty sure everyone in this universe is at least bi. I don’t object. I just wonder if there’s something in the water. Maybe, given that these are viciously political, high stakes stories where everything is on the bargaining table, and given that the society seems to disapprove of homosexuality only insofar as old ladies sniff about it, sex is traded like any other commodity? It’s an interesting take. But you do begin to wonder how they keep their population steady after a bit.

So yes, I am a bad, bad reviewer. I couldn’t get through The Fall of the Kings. The world seemed much more richly imagined than in either of the other books, and that was interesting, but the characters were flat and I have only so much tolerance for sex and scenery spirituality in place of action. I read Marion Zimmer Bradley in middle school and I don’t need more of it. A pretty, aimlessly sexy world full of boring people who did things for inscrutable reasons is no fun for me. It was rather the reverse of the other books, actually.

The real call to Swordspoint is the characters. Alec is wonderfully, horribly damaged, written with compassion and affection but without any illusions that he’s a hero for being a traumatized emotional wreck with every [insert thing here] abuse history there is. He’s a black-clad broken bird for grown-ups. Katherine grates a little at the beginning of her story when she just whines a bunch about wanting dresses, but she grows up rapidly and reasonably and becomes the hero of her own tale more than her predecessor in Riverside ever did. The side cast is just as rich and sparking and deep, carved from bright and exotic stuff all of them, whether ennui-plauged, arrogant noble or wretchedly and erratically stern swordmaster, down to the irksome street urchins. I want to meet these people, though most of them I wouldn’t want to chat with regularly, because they’re tightly-wound bundles of issues and mental illness. They’re affectionate grotesques and fairy tale heroes brought back to earth.

And their sex scenes are generally both tasteful and fairly visceral. She does a better job than a lot of fantasy writers, and I think it’s worth noting. In the two books being regarded herein, sex is queasy and awkward, but it’s supposed to be. Everything feels uncomfortable and ill-advised and a bit stupid, and that’s a more fair treatment of the subject than you’ll usually find. And if you’re a Ginger waif and you think nice romance is boring, these awkward character studies are infinitely more intriguing.

Anyway, the characters are incredible and get under your skin like a splinter, only mildly more pleasant. So it’s sort of strange to me that the world they inhabit is so very under-imagined. I’m not being fair, perhaps, because The Fall of the Kings is mostly history and scenery. It’s just incomprehensible and silly and wrapped in layers of inscrutable mysticism. In the other two books, which my brain insists are the actual canon, the city is unnamed, the country is unnamed, the mythology is vague, the history is barely hinted at… There’s a vacuum. And it’s a fair choice. You’re living in the city with the characters. The action never stops to tell you why there’s a statue of a guy with donkey legs and a large peacock in the fountain (disclaimer: this specifically does not happen). That’s just there. I can deal.

What I’m less comfortable with is the way the city is put together. The manners of the nobility are a vague hodgepodge of Regency rules and Renaissance aesthetics. The technology level is all over the place. We see essentially nothing of the city’s day to day economy, so I’ll leave that aside, but if you didn’t assume the place was really big, you’d assume no one there does anything but hang with prostitutes and go to the theater. Perhaps I’m spoiled. I follow authors like Lynn Flewelling who develop their local anthropology down to the dinner plates and gleeful fantasists like Cat Valente who create worlds that clearly work according to entirely different rules. The folk of Riverside and the surrounding area (Riverside is a neighborhood, and the only place that gets a damn name) are so grounded and earthy it’s very strange for them to have no particular place in the world.

But a weirdly realized universe is the author’s prerogative. What I can’t reconcile myself to is the complete lack of a central plot, at least in Swordspoint. The Privilege of the Sword is a coming of age story and Katherine’s journey growing up and following her goals, while not precisely a plot, is something to follow the whole way through. And I think Fall of the Kings was eventually going to be about the boring main character and his boring boyfriend restoring the monarchy? That’s kind of a story. Swordspoint, though… It has many, many subplots. There’s a whole thing about this young rake who gets in a spat with an old guy who wants to sleep with him and he wants to sleep with this duchess he does some stuff and interacts a little with everyone else and leaves. No reason. Alec was a scholar but he got in trouble when he and his friends discovered stuff that challenged existing notions and got kicked from university. Has potential! But no, that doesn’t really go anywhere, either. There’s a sort of central thread (in that it follows Alec and St Vier closely) about a shady contract to kill a guy. It shows up no more than a third of the way into the story and stays until the end. But it doesn’t stand out any.

Know what Swordspoint reads like? Like someone took really, really careful notes of everything that ever happened to their friends in a really long-running, complicated, political LARP. Stories start and stop as people come up with ideas or join and leave the game. Everyone meets once or twice just for the sake of it, but ultimately they’re all pursuing their own stories. I guess that’s one way to write a novel. Hell, George R. R. Martin has become a universal nerd darling for doing pretty much the same thing on a larger scale. But I can’t help but say… My kingdom for a plot.

The wordsmithing of the books is nothing to really note. It’s competent. Sentences don’t hurl themselves angrily at your sensibilities and they don’t bring you to raptures. The pacing is usually pretty good and everything’s consistent. Sometimes, mostly in Alec’s scenes, there’s a very visceral, heavy darkness to the tone, but mostly she just tells you what’s happening in whatever style’s appropriate. Not overly concerned with the particulars of style.

So how to grade these books? I love them and would read them again, except the one I couldn’t read at all. I love the story, but I can’t pick out what it is. I want to hug the characters, and I hate hugging, but after that I want to put them back in the dysfunctional asshole box where they can’t bother nice people. I might like to visit, just to get an idea of what the city actually looks or feels like besides someone crashed Jane Austen into an Errol Flynn movie. They’re kind of awful, but they’re fantastic. I haven’t been this conflicted since I lived someplace with easy access to deep-fried pickles. Go ahead. Read them. Just don’t come crying to me when you do.

(Mannerpunk. Squee.)

Review: Smoke Series, by Tanya Huff

As the third book in this series has the honor of appearing on the header for this estimable blog, the Ginger Waif has decided to review Tanya Huff’s fantastic urban fantasy trilogy, Smoke. The series is a follow up to what’s probably the author’s best known work, the Blood books. There was even a TV show for a while, on Lifetime of all things. I have yet to form an opinion of it, but apparently there’s a possibility of Smoke being a show, which is both disorientingly meta and rather refreshing, as the main character was completely dropped from the Blood Ties show, presumably for being icky and gay. Anyway, I enjoy the Blood series, but Smoke is just my favorite thing.

Smoke and Shadows, Smoke and Mirrors, and Smoke and Ashes follow the adventures of Tony Foster, put-upon PA and thwarter of untoward paranormal doings. He toils away by day, and by night, and in the witching hour, really, for Darkest Night, the hokiest of hokey vampire detective shows. When he has a spare minute, and often when he does not, he attempts to save the world, or at least his immediate surroundings, from the forces of darkness. He has a vampire ex, which complicates matters, and a desperate, usually embarrassing crush on one of the lead actors. He’s a hopeless nerd. I love him very much. And it is nice to have a gay main character diversity in general and in this particular area being something Huff is strong on), which somehow makes me care more about his silly romance subplots than I normally would. Don’t know what that says about me.

I’ll start by saying I love this setup in general. One of the things about modern fantasy is that it’s a little recursive. If a story takes place in our world, it takes place in a world that’s full of nerds writing and reading fantasy stories. It’s up to a writer what to do with that. Having the main cast’s lives revolve around a terrible mess of fantastic clichés and goofy drama is a wonderful choice. It allows some great lampshade hanging, provides a masquerade for the real magic stuff going on, and is full of affectionate parody. The stories poke fun at the conventions of the genre and the foibles of its fans, but always with love.

Anyway, the plots are a little bit standard, but they’re always done well. There’re only so many scenarios, after all. There’s an evil wizard. Boom. There’s a haunted house. Deal with it. There are demons. Kabaam. The charm and excitement and humor of these books rests mostly in the characters. Some of them are definitely archetypes, but all of them are alive and breathing and even if you hate them they’re just too cool not to love.

And most of that rests on Tony. You need a good main, and too often there’s a wonderful cast of secondary characters dancing around a dull Everyman/woman. Not so here. Perhaps a lot of of my love for Tony rests in the fact that he’s a huge nerd. I like my end of the world scenarios peppered with Firefly references. He’s also oblivious, awkward, a little unbalanced, but always the hero he needs to be. He’s a sweetheart with a dark past that could make for vomit-inducing Mary Sue-osity in the wrong hands. Fortunately he’s in the right hands, and his personal tragedies are poignant, like they should be.

That’s another strength of the books. They’re hilarious and playful, and the snappy banter always has a place, but often that place is to keep the speaker from screaming. There are horribly sad and disturbing scenes. The loss of every character is felt, even when they’re dropping fast. When bad things happen, it’s wrenching and vicious, and it’s never cheapened by the goofiness, even when they’re closely juxtaposed.

(A weakness, on the other hand, is that though the characters are never callous about suffering, the sexual politics can be a little squicky. The third book features a character who can insta-seduce. Automatically. Works on every guy who’s ever been attracted to a woman. She’s not exactly considered a paragon of virtue, but the only time there’s ever a major objection is when she turns it on a guy in a wedding ring. No, that specifically isn’t okay, and yes, males of the species are often horndogs, but imagine a male character with magical date-rape powers. Yeah. There’s also a female character who gets demonized a bit much for coming between the series’ OTP, but that one’s arguable, as she’s definitely not a nice person aside from that and Tony is the POV character. He’s allowed his weaknesses. She just has a little bit of the girl-in-a-yaoi-manga syndrome. Anyway, back to the good stuff!)

So you’ve got standard urban fantasy plots with a good spin and a masterful presentation. You’ve got wonderful characters. The setting is kind of ready-made, but I actually really enjoy the sense of place. Huff is always good for local color. The Ginger Waif must admit that when she was poking at the University of B.C. for grad school purposes, the thought that Vancouver might just be full of Demonic Convergence and vampire shenanigans did come to mind. Cough. Writing, characters, world, and plot all pass muster, the strength of the people carrying any small flaws. The first book wanders a little, with every idea possible all tossed in, but the second fixes that with a very tightly-paced locked room scenario of sorts, and the third book has the whole thing really come together. I love these books. I sort of hope there are more one day, though I suppose Tony’s character arc was really wrapped up nicely at the end, with a lot of goals in the bag and lessons learned. Another adventure would be great, but maybe Tony Foster is good where he is. Whether there are future books or not, Smoke and Stuff has a place in my heart.

By the way, what happened to the covers at the end, there? I’ve included a lineup, as you’ll see. First book, spooky figure with fuzzy outlines… Looks like some evil dude doing evil magic, right? And the second book has some ghostly looking kids in slightly archaic outfits—he’s wearing noticeably more pants than in the story, but hell, I’ll let the cover artist get away with that. And… And then there’s the cover of Smoke and Ashes. Why the sudden attack of trashiness? Evil wizard. Ghosts. Cleavage. Not that the cleavage doesn’t figure in the book, but wow, gravity-defying boobs from where?

Thanks to Teddy Vulture, Geroge, and Baron von Fledermaus for their assistance

One of these things is not like the others

Ahem. Well, you should read all these awesome books. That is all.

Review: Nightrunner series and Glimpses, by Lynn Flewelling

Welcome, travelers, and let us take up our silly teacups for another installment of The Ginger Waif’s Genre Book Reviews for the Chronically Imaginative. Today I decided to review Lynn Flewelling’s Glimpses, because it brings me joy, and is kind of new, in that it only came out last fall. Then I realized there’d be no reviewing Glimpses without reviewing the whole of the Nightrunner series. And, dear readers, I am perfectly okay with that. And I’m sure Ms. Flewelling won’t mind. There’s another one coming out and it will be called Casket of Souls (because Ginger Waifs stalk author blogs, y’see) and all will be awesome.

So, Nightrunner. As a series it follows the adventures of two of the grandest rogues to ever grace a page. Seregil is a bit of a cosmopolitan rake and Alec is a naïve ranger (at least to begin with), but the story takes those archetypes and runs with them in awesome directions. They live in a fantastically detailed world that feels very real and grounded despite the magic flying about every which way, full of small touches like table manners and dramatic flairs on the scale of Greek fire. The leads occasionally lean just a bit to the too awesome side of skilled, but they have their flaws. And more than that, they’re human and likeable.

Human is used here in… a loose sense.

The action of the stories generally contains plenty of sorcery and daring escapes and sword fights, but the victories that matter to the plot generally hinge on Seregil (and, as he matures a bit, increasingly Alec as well) being just too bloody clever. And I appreciate that. There’s nothing as irritating to me as that part of a really good book where the plot suddenly forces competent characters to  catch the idiot ball. Never happens in Nightrunner. There are bad decisions, of course, but they’re always in character, emotional responses.

When I’d finished the extant books all at a stretch, I picked up a different fantasy novel about sneaky people and was already annoyed with their elementary mistakes in the first chapter.

“Can you really not see what’s going on! This is a trap! You amateur! You’ve already given her enough information to peg you! Seregil would never do that!”

And if I’m hoping for a character from a different universe to tag into another story, I think the impression speaks for itself. Nightrunner is a series that I remember reading. This may only be an issue for me, but sometimes my memories of my time in the regular old world spent on a book make a big impression. I had this, ahem, experience the first time I read Flewelling’s work, when I picked up The Bone Doll’s Twin. Without giving anything away, that book ends on a cliffhanger the likes of which you only find is Aslan’s country. And I didn’t have a way to get hold of the second book for weeks. So when I was most of the way through Luck in the Shadows, I stopped reading until I had Stalking Darkness in hand. I plowed through that series. My younger sister was reading behind me, and those being lazy, summery days, we’d just both sit in the living room. We’re similarly demonstrative readers, and I’d always know exactly what she was laughing or gasping at. And then my brother picked up behind her. (My copies of the books look much older than they are—Ginger Waiflings are hard on books!) Frankly, I suspect the dogs might have been reading them, the way we flocked to them that summer. It was a good time. We even taught the littlest Ginger to imitate a character who appears late in the series on command. She makes a good Sebrahn.

When it comes to the stars of reviewland, Nightrunner gets all four. The world is incredible. The geography makes sense, the cultures are well realized (how often does anyone pull off the Land of Evil Deity Worship in a way that makes sense?), hell, the character’s diets make sense. The writing isn’t going to change the world with the sheer might of its wordsmithing, but it’s clever and arresting. The characters all do their jobs wonderfully. You want to hug the heroes and throw the villains off cliffs. But they do it without ever being puppets of the plot and they’re all very fully realized people. And finally, the stories are great. The first two books form pretty much one solid arc, and then the next few sequels start new threads and go back to old ones, and you never get a sense that things are being stretched out. There’s just always something to do.

I’ll also take a moment to note that LGBT and gender themes are interestingly explored, and, dating from the first book, before it was cool. And Flewelling gets better as she goes. There’s an early incident best described as a magic roofies at work that everyone pretty much finds funny, because rape is funny when it’s female on male. It seems to me that in the later books that wouldn’t have flown. Writers generally grow in skill. While I try not to judge an author on her or his politics unless there’s some really egregious soapboxing going on (insert your favorite example here), I find it interesting to see the writer get better at the whole being a cool person thing, too.

So that’s Nightrunner. Go and read it. And if you have read it, immediately acquire Glimpses.

What is Glimpses? An awesome idea. I wish more series that I got into had a similar project. Glimpses is a book of short stories that fill in gaps between books or in characters’ history. There are always things that aren’t in books for a reason, that the reader doesn’t have any business knowing, and then there’s stuff that you desperately want to know because you love the world and its people and suddenly it’s in your hands! Glimpses holds two stories from Seregil’s past, one from Alec’s, and one that’s pretty much just a missing scene from Stalking Darkness.

(It also contains a glimpse of the next Nightrunner book. I have not read it. Early peeks drive me nuts. But if you like those, by all means, enjoy. I’ll just go back and compare once my copy of Casket of Souls is in hand.)

Glimpses also is richly illustrated, entirely by fans. Flewelling has always been awesome about her many admirers, and there’s a lovely gallery of art on her website, but seeing the work in print is even better. It’s a fascinating way to see into all your fellow readers’ imaginations and I loved it. Sometimes I just flip through and look at them.

And, last but not least, Glimpses contains erotica, oh, three times out of four. Two instances are of homosexual male sexy times, and one is heterosexual. If you’re into erotica, I have it on good authority that this is fine stuff. I’m an odd case in that I just consider sex scenes to be character development, and the characters are awesome enough that I care about their romances. (Even Alec’s dad, who succumbed to tragic offscreenitis before the events of Luck in the Shadows and has only ever appeared in memory and in his story here.)

Nightrunner. It’s an ongoing series of fortunate events, and its author gave us all the gift of some fantastic little moments that would otherwise have interrupted the flow of all the swashbuckling. When you love a place, you want every chance to come back. The books are funny and they’re grim. They’re exciting and they’re tense. There are horrors and wonders and everyone should really just come with me to Rhiminee to meet everyone there. Bring snacks.

(As a disclaimer, my younger sister objects to her characterization as a Ginger Waifling. This, I suppose, is because she is, in fact, a tall and brown-haired sort of person, and is not built and colored along roughly the same lines as a leprechaun, as is her elder.)