Today I read…The Untold Tale

The Untold TaleToday I read The Untold Tale, the first book in the upcoming Accidental Turn trilogy by J.M. Frey.

Forsyth Turn knew exactly who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the hero. He wasn’t big or brave or strong. He wasn’t bluff and hearty and called friend by men from every land under the sun. He wasn’t handsome and smooth and accounted a skilled lover by women from sea to sea. He wasn’t the man the bards sang of. He wasn’t his brother Kintyre Turn.

Lucy Piper knew exactly who she was. She was a normal woman with a normal life. And just like many other people, she was a fan of the wildly popular The Tales of Kintyre Turn series by author Elgar Reed. In fact, she wrote her thesis on the books. But they were just books.

Two very different people from two very different worlds. And they are about to discover that they are both very, very wrong.

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First, I’m really sorry J.M. that this review is so late, but I’ve been working in a library (yay!) and have less time to write (boo!).

J.M. sent me an ebook ARC to review some time ago, and I did read it, but I haven’t been able to write my review until now. But now the paperback and the ebook are both available for all you lovely readers to go out and buy, so yay! The Toronto launch party was December 10th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club, with hosting duties by author Adrienne Kress and entertainment provided by Chantal Barette.

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Whenever I finish reading a new J.M. Frey book, I send her an initial thought before I sit down to write my full review. (Okay, that’s a lie, first I cry a little and wonder why I keep letting her play with my heart like bubble wrap, but after that I message her.) For Triptych I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” For The Untold Tale I told her that it was “A horribly uncomfortable story that everyone needs to read. And yes, that’s a compliment.”

Forsyth is…familiar. He is the voice in your head, telling you that no matter what you do it will never be good enough. That you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, charming enough, working hard enough, resourceful enough, considerate enough, talented enough. That those whom you care for regard you with pity, not love. That you are tolerated, not respected. That the Other–your sibling, parent, friend, peer–is so much greater than you are, and that all who know you both compare you and find you lacking. That whatever you try, you will fail. Forsyth is depression and fear and insecurity. And then he meets the mysterious Pip, who he loves without feeling worthy of her, and she says such strange, wrong things. That Forsyth is handsome, that he is clever, that he is responsible and loved by his people. That his brother Kintyre is not better than him. Things he would love to believe, but just can’t.

And Pip, who has loved the books for so long, and who is starting to realize that sometimes fantasy worlds are better as fantasies. That they can be incredibly problematic for people who don’t fit the dominant narrative–that people of colour, or who are queer, or who don’t fit nicely into little gender role boxes, or who are anyone other than the brawny hero and those in his direct orbit, don’t really get their stories told. That maybe the brawny hero is pretty darn tired of sleeping with random maidens and getting soaked in blood, and sometimes just wants to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. That the love interest has a story, and the sidekick, and the villain, and the innkeeper, and the maidservant. That the story that the Author tells about the characters is not necessarily the story that the characters wish to tell about themselves.

There are other things I could talk about–the romance that does more than merely nod towards the concept of consent certainly comes to mind, and the way that Pip and Forsyth navigate their way through both rape and rape culture and how it affects them both, and not in a superficial way. They suffer, and they think, and they (eventually) talk to each other.

And as a fangirl, the thought of a fictional character attending a convention and seeing what fans think of their world is…both delicious and cringeworthy. There is a scene where Forsyth, dressed as Forsyth Turn from the Elgar Reed books, meets a female cosplayer in a genderbent Kintyre Turn costume who proceeds to hit on him, not caring that a) Kintyre and Forsyth are brothers and Forsyth is clearly not into incest,  and b) Forsyth says no. Cosplay is not consent people… Well, read it.

Frey has a knack for writing books that are incredibly hard to describe properly. It’s a fantasy, but a very real and aware one, which examines the tropes and both celebrates and criticizes them, and thus proves it’s love. You can’t really love something if you only love the good parts–you have to look and know the bad, and acknowledge it, and love it anyway without washing the bad away. I recently read A Game of Thrones for the first time (yes, I’m behind, my to-read list is in the triple digits at this point). I posted on social media when I finished that I thought it was compelling yet highly problematic for the female characters. I raced through reading it–it was one of those books that you just can’t put down. But in my opinion there wasn’t a single well-rounded female character.  Frey comes from an academic background, and she’s a fangirl through and through. She’s used to analyzing her beloved fandoms and figuring out why she loves them, but also where the problems are.

The Untold Tale is the first in a new trilogy. The story feels complete as it is, and at first you wonder how there can be more. But then you start thinking about what happens after ‘and they lived happily ever after.’  That too is another untold tale. The second book will be The Forgotten Tale, and the last will be The Silenced Tale, and I’m sure that both of them will make me think about the title and what it really means just as much as The Untold Tale has.

Oh, and J.M.? You’re going to break my heart again, right? Please?

Chantal Barrette

Chantal Barrette performing at the Untold Launch

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When Bevel has imbibed enough liquid courage—I don’t know what his gauge is, but he seems to have met it—he stands and sways over to Pip’s side.

“Sorry he hurt you,” Bevel slurs gently. He’s not quite too drunk to be clear, but his lips are  tumbling over the consonants.

Dismissively, Pip answers, “Kintyre should be apologizing, not you. You’re not his keeper.”

Bevel laughs. “Oh, but I am.”

“And aren’t you sick of it?” Pip challenges.

Bevel shrugs. “That’s just Kintyre. You get used to it. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well it bothers me,” Pip returns. “Actually, no, you know what bothers me? It’s not that he doesn’t know the social cues and common practices of politeness. What bothers me is that he observes them around him every day and has decided, however unconsciously, that they aren’t anything he needed to bother himself with. That learning to communicate and interact with other human beings was beneath him. That everyone would just recognize his superiority and marvel, and obey. That is what bothers me.”

I am so stunned by the boldness of her words that my tongue seems to be blocking up my throat. My heart is there, beating alongside it, hard and loud and painful. I have never, ever heard anyone challenge Kintyre this way.

Bevel isn’t certain how to respond. “Listen,” he says. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. You’re a pretty little girl–” he doesn’t seem to catch Pip’s incredulous look at the insulting diminutive “– so why don’t we just jump ahead to the end of the evening, hm? We promise we’ll be very gentle with you, won’t hurt your back at all.”

“And what happens at the end of the evening?” Pip asks, wary.

I cover my face with my hands. I cannot watch this. Either Bevel will insult and embarrass himself, or Pip will say yes, which will be worse. Either way, I do not want to see her face when it happens. I couldn’t bear it.

Bevel leans in close and whispers filth into her ear.

“What? Both of you?” Pip yelps, and her face twists in disgust. Bevel leans close and says something else, and Pip physically shoves him back. “No! No, I’m as happy to have a threesome with two hotties as any red-blooded girl, but you guys are complete sleazes. Get off me.”

She shoves him hard enough that Bevel knocks my chair and I have to look. He is stunned. I don’t know if he’s ever been turned down before. And Pip looks like fury incarnate.

On the other side of me, Kintyre raises himself from his indolent slouch and scoffs. “So I suppose it will be to Forsyth’s bed you go tonight, then?”

Pip goggles at him, eyes wide and mouth a scandalized ‘o’. “Hey, how about I go to nobody’s bed because, one, I am in pain because of you, you stupid behemoth, and two, because I’m not a prize that’s meted out at the end of dessert. Here’s a startling and revolutionary idea: maybe I just don’t want a fuck!”

Ah, so that’s what that expletive means.

“Maybe you’re just a frigid bitch,” Kintyre snaps.

Pip rocks back in her seat, stunned. “Oh my god! I cannot even believe I used to look up to you! You’re incredible! You’re nothing like Forsyth!”

“So that’s what this is about,” Kintyre snarls, his bright blue eyes snapping over to me. “Forssy’s already got his scrabbly little fingers and flaccid little prick into you.”

Pip pushes up to her feet and leans over me, her face puce with fury, to get up into Kintyre’s. “Don’t talk about your brother like that! He’s a good man! Better than you’ll ever be!”

“Oh, and now you let your woman talk for you, too, brother?” Kintyre sneers, rising to his own feet. “Perhaps she’s the man between you? Does she stick it to you? Do you think you’re in love, just because she hasn’t run away from you yet?”

I shrink down in my seat, too mortified to even get my tongue to stop fluttering against the roof of my mouth. I could never even make words like this.

“And is there something wrong with taking it up the arse?” Pip challenges. “Does it make you less of a man? Because Bevel seems to like it!”

Bevel and Kintyre both go pale and stagger. Bevel clutches at his chair. “How did you know?” he hisses.

“Silence!” Kintyre booms.

“Oh my god!” Pip says, exasperation written into every feature. “What does it matter what you two do together? Bevel’s disgustingly in love with you, you ridiculous moron! He always has been! It’s barely even subtext! He sets up threesomes for you just so he can touch you! Is that what all this macho manly shit is about? Cause there’s nothing wrong with loving who you love!”

“Nobody loves Forsyth Turn,” Kintyre snarls.

“Qu-qu-quiet!” I snap, standing and pushing Pip and Kintyre away from one another. “E-e-enough!”

“Not here,” Pointe snaps, his voice just loud enough for us to hear, but quiet enough that music keeps his words from reaching my guests. He crosses behind my chair to lay hands on Kintyre’s shoulders. “You’re not doing this here, Sir Kintyre. You’re drunk and shaming yourself. Master Bevel, get him into Forsyth’s study.”

But Kintyre is incensed. He is insulted. He pushes the Sword of Turnshire away and holds a hand out to stay Bevel. “I am shaming myself? Me? You’re the one shaming the Turn name, brother! You are pathetic,” Kintyre sneers. “Deciding that the first woman to show a grain of interest in you is actually infatuated with you? Look at you. What in the world could she find attractive about you? You saved her, that’s all. She’s being nice to you because you saved her, not because she likes you. And everyone here knows it.”

Faces frozen with shock all around us narrow and shut down. Nobody, not one guest, makes a sound in my support. Of course. They are laughing at me, silently, inside. Laughing at foolish Forsyth Turn, who thought he could make this woman fall in love with him.

“Now,” Kintyre says. “You are going to apologize and sit down and act like a proper lady, or I will leave you here to rot and never take you home!”

“I will not!”

“Kintyre…” Bevel starts, plucking at his sleeve, but Kintyre is embarrassed and feeling cruel and pushes him away hard enough that he slams into the table. Bevel turns hurt, dark eyes up at my brother and goes silent, biting so hard on his lower lip that the flesh turns white.

All the breath rushes from my body. Oh, incredible, Pip was right. Bevel Dom is in love with my brother and I never noticed. Poor Bevel. I hate the hedgehoggy little lackey, but to be in love with my brother and Kintyre so in love with women’s bodies… how cruel this Elgar Reed is. Poor, poor Bevel.

“Sit!” Kintyre repeats, pointing to the chair magnanimously, and Pip throws her own finger into the air, the middle one. It is clearly a rude gesture, but its exact meaning is unclear.

“I am not some docile dog you can order around,” Pip screams. “You are an asshole and a bully, Kintyre Turn, and I don’t want your help!”

The whole room falls into a screeching hush.

Kintyre goes very, very still. I can’t help the involuntary step back as his fingers twitch into a fist. It seems the survival instincts of childhood are still deeply ingrained.

“Good,” he grunts, fury in every line of his face. “As you will not be receiving it.”

“Kin!” Bevel squalls. “You can’t just turn down a maiden in distress.”

“I can and I have.”

“I’m not a maiden in distress,” Pip snarls, rounding on Bevel, who is utterly unprepared for his own tongue lashing and stumbles back into my brother’s arm. “I’m a woman and I am damn well capable of rescuing my own damn self, thank you very much.”

“Let us hope so,” Kintyre rumbles. “For your sake.”

And then he pushes past Pointe and storms out of the hall, Bevel quick on his heels.

Me and Untold Tale

Mine, all mine!

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Today I Read…The Friday Society

The Friday SocietyToday I read The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress. You can find Adrienne’s blog here  and the book trailer for The Friday Society here.

Cora, Nellie and Michiko have never met, but they have a lot in common. They all live in London in 1900. They are all the talented, intelligent, strong-willed assistants of famous, powerful men. And together they find a dead body after a ball, a discovery which leads to many questions: Who was the man, and who killed him? Who is killing poor young women in the slums of London, and why don’t the police care? Why is creepy Dr. Mantis so obsessed with eyes? And most importantly, who blew up St. Paul’s Cathedral, and how can the girls stop this mysterious person from blowing up the rest of London as well?

Together Cora, Nellie and Michiko will learn that they have much more to offer the world than just being a lab assistant, a magician’s assistant, and a weapons demonstrator, and that their only limitations are the ones that they accept.

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I know I’ve been on a bit of a steampunk kick lately, and I just want you to know there are more coming. The one nice thing about being out of school and unemployed is all the leisure time to read–thank goodness for the library so I can do it for free. ;p This was one of the books I picked up at the OLA Super Conference in January (you can find my review of the conference here). One of the biggest advantages physical books have over ebooks is that you can get the physical book signed by the author, if you meet them. It’s one of the reasons I like going to conventions like Ad Astra– the chance to meet the creator of a work, ask them questions, and tell them what their work means to you. It makes the book my copy, not just any copy. The Friday Society autograph

One thing that I really liked about this book was that Kress didn’t go for the obvious choice of making the men that the girls work for to be abusive monsters. Cora used to be a street kid, but since being employed by Lord White, she has been educated, housed and cared for, and he values her work both in the lab and managing his life. He perhaps doesn’t say it as often as he should, but he genuinely treats her well. The same thing happens with Nellie’s relationship with the Great Raheem–she used to dance in a burlesque club before becoming his stage assistant, and she does wear skimpy clothing, but she enjoys her pretty costumes, and she is very clearly not a bimbo. Raheem, also failing to conform to the stereotype of a foreign man treating women badly, is both kind and trusts Nellie’s judgement. Michiko’s master Sir Callum Fielding-Shaw breaks the trend by being verbally abusive to her, but that’s also good since it shows that men can’t all be stuck in one box anymore than women can.

Because Nellie and Cora’s lives aren’t that bad, I think they need even more courage to act and change–their lives are good, but they could be even better if they take the risk and stretch their wings. Michiko has already demonstrated her courage by leaving Japan with Callum–he turns out to be a bad man who does not fulfill the promises he made to her, but she still took the leap. It’s easy to be brave when you don’t have anything to lose–it’s harder when you’re jumping from the plateau and not the cliff.

The book comes in on the longer side of YA novels at 437 pages, but most of the chapters are fairly short, so it shouldn’t be a very hard read. The girls are older teenagers, and I think I’d give the book to teenagers as well, for one scene where they have a girls’ night drinking party at Nellie’s home. The scene is played for laughs–it’s a way for the three of them to bond and destress after finding a dead body in the streets–but it is something to keep in mind. There is also a bit of romance, but it is by no means the main focus of the book. Cora is attracted to the new assistant Lord White hires, but decides he’s an ass when he makes it clear that he only likes her looks and doesn’t respect her as a person. Nellie flirts with the young Officer Murphy, earnest and shy, who tries to investigate the murders of the flower girls even though his superiors don’t care how many poor people get killed.

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“Do you really want to be an inventor?” she asked. It didn’t seem like he did. All he’d done in the afternoon was reorganize, yet again, the tools and update the stock sheet. He hadn’t even touched the device, which Cora hadn’t minded one bit. And she had it on good authority from the glass blower, who was still on the premises when she’d gotten in last night, that Andrew had spent most of the afternoon napping in the corner.

Andrew sighed. “I thought I did. On the surface, it all looks marvelous. But after these past few days, I’ve realized it’s a lot of dull work. To be honest, I don’t know what I want, and I don’t think it really matters. Why should someone like me work?”

Cora thought that an odd question. “Because it’s satisfying, because . . . of passion . . .”

Andrew pulled his chair in close at that, and brushed a lock of hair from her forehead. “I have passion . . .”

Cora’s heart was pounding fast again. She didn’t understand how he could have such an effect on her when what he was saying was so pathetic. “Look at Lord White . . .”

“I’d rather look at you . . .”

“He’s rich. He’s a lord. But he gave up his seat in the House of Lords so that he could run for Parliament. So that he could follow his passion of someday being Prime Minister. He didn’t need to do any of it. And this, this laboratory . . . he works just as hard here and only charges for the pleasure so that people don’t figure out he’s someone that can afford to do without. He gives away all the money he earns here to charity, and . . .”

Andrew’s fingers had made it to her neck and were gently caressing it. She lost her train of thought.

“You really like to talk about Lord White,” he said, leaning in and kissing her cheek.

“Well, he’s my boss . . .”

“Not everyone speaks of their bosses like you do.”

“He took me in . . .” She could feel his hot breath on her ear and she closed her eyes.

“What do you think he wants from you?”

That made her open her eyes.

“Wants from me?”

“You know what I mean . . .”

“No,” she said, gently pushing him back so they were face-to-face again, “I don’t.”

Andrew shook his head. “Oh, come on, Cora. Look at you. You’re lovely. And you worship him . . .”

“I don’t worship—”

“He’s trained you well. What else could he possibly want from you?”

Her passion had changed drastically into hot rage. It was an easy transition to make. “I don’t know, maybe he wants my talent. Maybe he wants my company because I’m interesting. Maybe he can’t live without me since I organize every facet of his life, know his dietary restrictions, keep track of every penny in his bank account, all his plans for the future.”

“Now, don’t get angry . . .”

“Why not? Why shouldn’t I get angry? You’ve just said my value as a person is wrapped up in my appearance and—”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Look, just stop, okay? Let’s not fight again. Besides, you have a lot of work to do.” He tried to smile, but she gave him a look that prevented it.

“You’re right. I do.”

Typically, anger distracted her from whatever she was doing, but there was something in this particular brand of rage that suited the task at hand perfectly. It had something to do with proving to Andrew that she was more than just a pretty face.

“I’m really sorry,” he said quietly a few moments later.

“No, you aren’t.”

“I’m not sorry for thinking what I did; after all, you are beautiful. But I didn’t mean there wasn’t anything else to you. I just didn’t think Lord White was aware of it.”

“Well, he is.”

“Good.”

She hadn’t stopped working, but she directed her focus back where it belonged.

“So we’re friends again?”

She looked up at him and gave him a look of death.

“I’ll take that as a yes?”

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TO THE CITIZENS of London and its surrounding Burroughs:

Are you being blackmailed? Does a loved one’s untimely demise seem suspiciously tied to a brother’s new bank account? Are you receiving threats of a personal and/or physically painful nature? Fear not, for salvation is at hand.

We are a trio of lady heroes. If you need us, we will be there. Respond to this advertisement by post, and we shall come to your aid.

We have many talents and skills. But above all things, we know how to assist.

 

Yours sincerely,

Hyde, the Silver Heart, and Lady Sparkle

AKA

The Friday Society

 

Today I Read…Alex and the Ironic Gentleman

Today I Read Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress.

http://ididntchoosethis.blogspot.ca/

Alex Morningside has a few problems. Her uncle has been killed and her teacher Mr. Underwood has been kidnapped by Pirate Captain Steele of the Ironic Gentleman, because Steele thinks he has a treasure map (only Alex found it!) The mean Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society are chasing her. The drunken Extremely Ginormous Octopus is having an artistic temper tantrum over his acting career. And Alex has lost her toothbrush (good dental hygiene is important).

Now Alex has to rescue Mr. Underwood, defeat the pirates, find the treasure, take care of Giggles the cat and Mr. Underwood’s bicycle…it’s a lot to handle for a ten-year-old. Fortunately, Alex is the girl for the job.

In a book filled with quirky characters, I have to say that the Extremely Ginormous Octopus is my favourite. The aging tentacled diva is a relic of the classic monster movie days, and he is insulted–INSULTED, sir!–that the director just wants to capture his motions for the monster in the movie. Isn’t he an Actor? Wasn’t he classically trained? Wasn’t he in twenty-one films? And now, to be reduced to a special effect! The shame! Thank goodness for whiskey.

Also, pirates. Pirates are always cool. And the Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society are genuinely terrifying.