Today I Read…The Silenced Tale

theSilencedTale-frontFinal-REUTSToday I read The Silenced Tale by J.M. Frey, book 3 of The Accidental Turn trilogy.

They have survived two adventures, and finally Lucy and Forsyth Turn Piper can settle down in the Overrealm and raise their daughter Alis. Life is peaceful for them, as they get ready to celebrate Alis’ first birthday.

But for Forsyth’s Writer, Elgar Reed, things are slightly less peaceful. His typewriter has been stolen from the Smithsonian, he is trying to help prepare for the upcoming and top-secret TV show based on his The Tales of Kintyre Turn series, he can’t write a word for fear of what might happen to his characters, and he has some kind of a stalker. But he doesn’t want to worry Forsyth. After all, any enemy he has is human, right? The cops can handle it. It’s not like the Viceroy has come back for a third time. Except Lucy keeps muttering something about “Fucking trilogies”…

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I posted the cover reveal a couple of weeks ago as part of the blog tour for the book, and today is the actual launch day for the final part of the Accidental Turn trilogy (Though I am assured by J.M. Frey that there will be a third novella coming at some point to join Ghosts and Arrivals). The Silenced Tale follows The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale, and brings the adventure into the Overrealm along with Forsyth, Pip, and Elgar.

This book focuses on Elgar Reed even more than The Forgotten Tale did. We spend a lot of time with him and his problems. He has always been a very specific type of person, and he’s very set in his ways. Frankly, he’s a sexist, selfish jerk, who has been coasting on writing a very popular fantasy series a long time ago. He is someone who is probably pretty familiar to anyone in fandom. Now we see his own problems, and how he is slowly starting to change thanks in large part to meeting Forsyth and having him bring Pip into Elgar’s life. They are family, which he hasn’t had for a very long time, if ever, and he does care about what they say. Even if he needs to be told a few times until he remembers. And occasionally needs Pip to verbally smack his nose with a rolled up newspaper about assuming women are there only to fetch him coffee and be groped. Though even Pip needs to work on her intersectional feminism, as we see in one particular scene.

The most important thing to remember is that this is, as Pip puts it, a “fucking trilogy,” and things must always come in threes. Three trips between Hain and the Overrealm. Three attempts to defeat the villain. Three deaths…

I’ve read an early draft at the start of this year that J.M. sent me, and recently a more finalized draft that I received from her last month. What I take away the most from the end of this book, is my dissatisfaction. I want more! I think the main story is done, but there is so much more to be discovered about this world, about both Hain and the Overrealm. I want to see what happens with the Tales of Kintyre Turn  TV show. I want more information about what has been happening in Hain, and what will happen now that Elgar has stopped writing, and how will the characters’ lives develop even more away from what he had planned. I want to know about Kintyre and Forsyth’s early life together as brothers. It’s getting my fanfic instincts going, and I just don’t have the time to write all of the stories I want. And I know that while J.M. does have one more novella planned, she has other projects in the pipeline that I won’t spoil here. So if anyone finds any fanfic, let me know? There is one particular scene in The Silenced Tale when Forsyth is telling Elgar stories about growing up with Kintyre, and I really want those stories…

Also, J.M., was that first death really necessary? You’re still not forgiven for killing Kalp, you know. What do you have against cute characters?

Also, regarding character X from The Forgotten Tale? I was totally right, and I want that story too.

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“THIS IS ABBY,” Elgar says, about twenty minutes later. He is smiling too widely, and his eyes are too bright – he is in what he calls ‘Convention Mode’: gregarious, energetic, his jokes flat and desperate, his smile false. As a fellow natural introvert, I can see how exhausting the performance is. He is trying too hard and he is too ‘over the top’ as a
result.
He slings his arm around a young woman with large dark eyes, and long dark hair. She is dressed in a great deal of bubblegum pink and misty mint, from her sneakers to her leggings, to her knee-length skirt, which is patterned with ice-cream cones, and the matching scarf over a long-sleeved shirt. She is terrifically pretty, too, very carefully
made up with false lashes and the careful sort of artistically intense makeup that Pip has called ‘contouring’ and ‘a massive pain in the ass’ and ‘a waste of a perfectly good hour of my life.’ Bless my wife, but she does reject the traditionally feminine with a vigor that nearly borders on insulting to those that embrace it.
However, the young lady before me seems to be the exact opposite of a simpering femme, wearing her pastels and makeup with a sort of warrior-like pride which I admire. She is clearly of Indian descent, not African, but I am reminded so intensely of Captain Isobin for a moment that the déjà vu fills my breast with a brief, intense stab of
homesickness. Though, of course, this young woman is neither pirate, nor captain; and unlike Isobin, not filled with the raucous self-confidence required to push my Creator back on his arse for his presumption. She is clearly not comfortable with the way he has not only taken liberties with her personal space without asking, and he has just as
clearly gotten her name wrong. Her badge, which marks her as a guest liaison,
says “Ahbni”.
“Hi,” Pip says, holding her hand out for a shake, and Ahbni uses the excuse to duck out from under Elgar’s arm.
“I’ll be able to tell her apart from the rest of the brown girls because she’s the hot one,” Elgar goes on, sticking his foot further down his throat.
Pip pinches the bridge of her nose and groans. “I honestly can’t tell if it’s the meds talking, or the stress.”
“Actually I–” Ahbni begins, but Elgar talks over her.
“You can get my friend a coffee or something, right, Abby?”
“I’m the assistant guest liaison, Mr. Reed, and I need to talk to you about–“
Elgar laughs. “Cute. No, no, grab your boss and send him my way, okay, sweetie?” And then he gives her a little shove. She steps away, off-balanced, and Elgar’s eyes drop to… oh. They drop with the full intention to watch her walk away.
Beside me, my wife makes a noise like a strangling cat.
“Lucy?” Elgar asks, having heard the sound as well, bushy eyebrows knitted with confusion. “Are you okay? Abby can you –“
“It’s Ahbni,” the liaison corrects.
“Ahbni,” Elgar repeats, not entirely sure where he missteped. “That’s a cute fantasy handle.”
“Nope. It’s my name,” she corrects.
“Oh!” Elgar laughs. “Were your parents fantasy fans, then?”
“They’re Telugu,” Ahbni says and I get the distinct impression that she is considering using her badge lanyard to garrote my creator. I am doing my best to control the urge
to laugh.
“I might use it though, you know. It’s a good name. The beautiful Princess Ahbni, with skin like fresh roasted cafe latte–“
“No,” Pip snaps, smacking Elgar’s good arm like an errant puppy. “Bad Writer. Women of color are not dessert products.”
Elgar jams his hands into his pockets and scowls. “It’s supposed to be a compliment–”
“I swear to fuck, one of these days I’m going to throttle you myself,” Pip says, deadpan and staring straight at Elgar. She’s got her index finger stretched out and tapping him right in the chest, finger-nail clicking against his plastic button. “You know that being terrified out of your mind is no excuse to fall back into bad habits, right?”
Elgar immediately looks ashamed. “I… you’re right. I didn’t think–“
“Try to,” Pip says. Then she blows out an annoyed breath, then forces herself to flex her fist out, runs her fingers through her hair, and pointedly turns away from him. “Ahbni, if you’d like to tell us where the coffee is, I can make sure that my husband fetches it for his
own damn self. And then you and I can review where Mr. Neanderthal over there needs to be, and by when.”
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Today I read…Arrivals

Image result for arrivals j.m. freyToday I read Arrivals, An Accidental Turn novella by J.M Frey. 

The quest is over. The Reader has been returned to her home, the villain is defeated, and the hero has found his One True Love. And now the hero rides off in to the sunset with his sidekick, who is also his true love…wait…is that right? Is this the way it’s supposed to go?

This is not the way things are Supposed To Go.

So…what happens next?

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This is the novella that was published in the spring of 2017 (I’m still behind on my reviews, if you can’t tell), and it takes place immediately following The Untold Tale. Like Ghosts, this story is told from Bevel Dom’s point of view, and about how his life is turned completely upside down. For years, he and Kintyre have saved the day, and then ridden off together towards their next adventure, possibly after sharing whatever damsel they have rescued. They sleep together, but only with a woman in between them. They return to Turn Hall, but only for a visit. They are partners for life, but the aren’t life partners. And maybe neither of them is really happy, but it’s The Way Things Are. And as a storyteller, Bevel always knows the way the story is supposed to go.

But now things really have changed. Forsyth is gone, with his Reader lover Pip, and someone needs to go back to Turn Hall and run things. To take care of the tenants, and the free schools Forsyth established, and be the local Lordling. And of course, to tell everyone back home that Forsyth will not be returning (maybe they’ll leave out the bits about how he’s left for another realm with a legendary creature though, that just gets complicated). There is no longer a Shadow Hand of the king, to run the kingdom’s intelligence service. And thanks to Lucy Piper, Kintyre and Bevel have finally declared themselves to each other–it’s not just sex, it’s love. It’s commitment. It’s hard and scary and confusing and what on earth does it all mean? I mean, they’re together, but they’re not married, and Kintyre needs an heir, and how will their relationship be different, and how should it be different, and should it be different, it’s been working for years, was it really working, but they’re not happy, are they happy, Kintyre just takes Bevel for granted, but now he’s doing things for Bevel and he’s doing them WRONG!

This is a story about how Happily Ever After is actually pretty complicated, and requires a whole lot of work to make sure that you both really are happy.

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As soon as I get close enough, Andvari grabs my hand and pumps it energetically, her grin sharkish behind her fire-red beard. Her hair is down for the night, the braids of rulership now loose, waist-length waves which swing around when she turns to punch Kintyre in the kidneys.

“About time, you clueless granite-skull!” she bawls joyfully.

Kintyre doubles over, not expecting the blow, and Sviur rises from where he and their son Virfur – by the Writer, how he’s grown! – was practice-strumming his father’s lute. Sviur’s lost none of the grace his dancing days instilled in him, and he offers both of us a polite greeting. We shake hands, clasping at the elbows to check for concealed daggers in the Dwarvish way. Sviur’s golden fall of hair is loose too, as it must be because of his common birth, but now it’s threaded with white. The braid at his chin is almost entirely colorless. Much moreso than I was expecting.  Virfur comes to stand beside Sviur, shy in the way young children are. He’s probably just on the brink of ten years old, but that is still young for a Dwarf – closer to our two or three. When we saw him last, though, he was still a babe in arms.

Some small secret part of me pangs with hurt. I was hoping to hold the baby again. How silly of me to have forgotten that the world below the Cinch wouldn’t just freeze like winter ice and wait for us to come back. Ridiculous.

“Sit, sit,” Nyrath admonishes. She bustles us onto cushions on the floor, which is what we prefer in order to be eye-level with the Dwarves when we’re in casual company. Sviur passes us both cut-crystal glasses of the clear root-vegetable liquor that dwarves specialize in. Kintyre downs his immediately, in one gulp. I shoot Sviur a look of apology, but the Dwarf shakes his head. He’s used to Kintyre’s manners by now, and just refills the glass without comment. Kintyre sips this second one, at least.

Virfur, curiosity overcoming his shyness, crawls immediately into Kintyre’s legs and stretches up to stroke his naked chin with wonder. Kintyre clamps down on his grimace and picks the toddler up from under the armpits and deposits him on my lap. I set aside my glass hastily, putting it up on a side table, out of the child’s reach. His parents laugh.

“Not one for children, Kintyre?” Andvari asks in that rumbling contralto of hers.

Nyrath narrows her eyes at Kintyre, but says nothing. Neither does my lover.

“It’s not that Kin dislikes children,” I say, and I’m reminded, sharply, that Pip had once called me Kintyre’s Walking Apology. At the time it hadn’t annoyed me, or registered as an insult, because that was part of my relationship with the man who had been my master, then my friend, and then my brother-in-arms. But now, sitting beside him on the floor of a Queen’s salon, holding the heir presumptive, and as Kin’s Paried elevated in rank and supposedly now equal to Kin, I’m still making excuses for his poor behavior. I am frustrated by the lazy, entitled assumption that I would smooth things over, that I will hold what Kintyre doesn’t want to, that I will fetch and carry and cook and bow my whims to his.

Bloody aggravating.

“Then why?” Nyrath asks, forcing me to continue the lame half-explanation, half-veiled request for forgiveness for the insult of passing off a prince like he was a sack of rotten meat.

“He just… doesn’t really know what to do with them until they’re old enough for him to roughhouse with,” I say lamely. “He likes my gaggle of nieces and nephews to be sure enough, but more so now that they’re all walking and talking on their own.”

The dwarves seem to take this at face value, and attention turns back to conversation. In my lap, Virfur wobbles his way upright. The boy doesn’t seem to mind whose lap he’s in, as long as he can explore this oddity of a smooth face. Kin and I indulged in a shave with hot water and proper lotions before we answered the Queen’s bidding, and it feels fantastic to finally be scruff-less, after so long on the road.  Must be odd to the boy, though.

Oh, that will be one of the advantages of our return to Turn Hall, to be sure. A daily shave, with proper tools. Sublime.

But Pip’s words are circling in my mind, distracting me from what’s being said, taking on a sharper and sharper tone with each repetition. Kintyre’s Walking Apology. Aren’t you sick of it, Bevel? Something querulous and cranky lodges in my guts, something shapeless but quickly solidifying, something unspoken but pushing against the hollow of my throat.

Something… something…

I’m the only one in my immediate family who is unmarried and childless. While Kin and I are officially Paired, we haven’t made is known that we are a Romantic Pair by pledging our Troth. It hadn’t seemed important before, when all I wanted was a visual acknowledgment that Kin was mine. Let others see our shared Colors and assume we were only pledged as Brothers In Arms, if they prefer. What does it matter to me if their assumption is wrong?

But now, with watching Andvari pull her pregnant wife in beside her on the wing-backed chaise, the pleased curl of their mouths and the striking picture of their very different skin tones mixing together as they clasp hands, seeing the way Sviur joins us on the cushions so he can lean back against his wives’ legs, the way they are all so content and unashamed and casually public in their displays of affection… I’m struck, suddenly and hard, with a kind of envy I never thought I would ever experience.

Married.

I want… I want to… I want. But I don’t know what it’s that I want.

It’s not skin, or warmth, or sex. I have those. It’s not even affection, because Kin gives that freely, too. Gifts it like a Lord bestowing bags of grain to the pathetic, needy, starving peasants he has made pathetic, and needy, and starving by his own blind and selfish nobility.

No, it’s something else that I want.

Kintyre is too busy chatting, already sharing news of our latest quest – how we had fled Turn Hall in our individual rages, how we had separated and come back together, how we had confessed and hashed out our relationship, how we had scented Bootknife’s trail when we had stopped in Nevand to commission our Colors, how we had followed him down to the Valley of the Kings – to see the upset on my face.

I feel it growing out of my guts, infecting my expression, my posture, and I’m … I’m angry and I can’t… I can’t…

Virfur catches it, and babbles something sweetly soothing at me in the secret language of the Dwarves, one that I haven’t had the privilege to learn.

If you put on the Shadow’s Mask, you would know it, I think, and the thought jars against my wallowing self-pity so quickly that the room spins. You would understand the boy if you put on the Mask. You would understand everything.

“And what about you, Sir Dom?” Sviur asks me, and I blink hard, trying to wrench my brain around to the question he asked.

“What?”

“I asked you how you felt the morning of your Pairing. I had a stomach filled with bubbling sulfur the whole week before Andvari and I got married.” He flashes a brilliant smile at his first wife and she threads her free hand through his hair, affectionate. “What were you like before your wedding?”

Resentment boils up faster than I can contain it. “Yeah, well, we’re not really married, are we though?” I say, and then click my teeth shut hard enough that the whole room can hear it.

By the Writers’ left nutsack, is that what’s been brewing in the cauldron of my frustration?

“We’re Paired, though, Bev,” Kintyre says affably, like all the hurt in what I just spoke has passed him by completely. “And it’s not like two blokes can get married among the humanfolk anyway. Not married married.”

“And since when have we ever cared about what humanfolk normally do?” I say, and in my arms Virfur plops down on my knees, making me wince. He reaches for the lute and strums the strings, a discordant twang, and looks up at me with the expectation of praise and a grin that matches his father’s. Instead I hand the boy off to his mother. I cannot bare to have a child in my arms right now. A child that’s not… that’s not… but there never will be, never could be a child that’s…

Andvari gathers Virfur up, and he hides under her beard, both of them startled by the abrupt arrival of my foul mood.

I swallow hard, trying to pull this strange, roiling ball of emotion and confession back down into my chest. But I’ve repressed my discontent for so long it seems like now that the cork has been popped from that bottle, I can’t jam it back in.

“I… thank you for the invitation, and the drink,” I say, waving at my untouched glass. “But I’m tired.”

“Bevel—” Andvari and Kintyre say at the same time, but I’m already on my feet.

“Goodnight, your majesty, your highnesses,” I say with a curt bow, and then I retreat with my tail between my legs.

Today I Read..The Forgotten Tale

the-forgotten-taleToday I read The Forgotten Tale by J.M. Frey, book 2 of the Accidental Turn trilogy.

After leaving behind the land of Hain, Forsyth Turn and Lucy Piper have returned to her world to settle down and live more-or-less happily ever after with their daughter Alis. It hasn’t been easy, with Forsyth getting used to a new land and a new culture and a new language, where he is no longer the rich and respected Lordling of Turnshire, no longer the powerful Shadow Hand of the King, no longer a brother or a friend to anyone. And worst of all, Alis will grow up never knowing his contribution to her heritage–she will not know the songs and stories from Hain, she will not have her place in society as the beloved daughter of a Lordling, she will not know his friends and family as her own. But they are together, Forsyth and Pip and Alis, and that is a comfort.

But there is a problem which will not go away–Elgar Reed, the author of The Tales of Kintyre Turn series. He is fascinated that his character has come to life, and will not understand that Forsyth does not want to have anything to do with this careless man who created him with so little thought, who put him through so much heartache and hardship, and who reminds Forsyth so much of his long-dead and unmourned abusive father.

Back in Hain, the famous heroes Kintyre Turn and his loyal friend Bevel Dom have done the unthinkable–they have retired and settled down (mostly) into a comfortable life together ruling Turnshire, as the Lord and his Paired. Until some long-lost family starts turning up unexpectedly. Family…and some enemies.

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J.M. sent me an e-book ARC in return for a review. Well, she sent me two copies–we had an entertaining lesson on converting files with 2 pages per pdf page into epub vs concerting files with 1 page per pdf page into epub. For entertainment, I’ll post a sample at the end.

This is the second book in the trilogy, and comes after The Untold Tale and Ghosts: An Accidental Turn Novella. I would definitely recommend reading The Untold Tale before reading The Forgotten Tale, as it does rely fairly heavily on what has gone before. Ghosts is more of a bonus–you’ll get by without having read it, but you’ll recognize more if you read it first, especially since it is where Bevel Dom really has a chance to shine.

This book is a great example of how “and they all lived happily ever after” is a cop-out, a phrase that glosses over the reality of what it really takes to make it happy day after day. Yes, both of the Turn brothers have married the loves of their lives, and had children, and settled down into a second line of work that they reasonably enjoy. They are also finding out that love is hard work, and that it requires constant work to stay a happy marriage. For all that Forsyth and Kintyre are very different people who married very different spouses, sometimes they can be remarkably similar, and make similar mistakes with their families which they need to recognize and correct to be both happy and healthy as a family. They are not alone at fault–their family members also need to learn to communicate their needs and listen to what Kintyre and Forsyth need. Pip condemns Forsyth’s anger instead of listening why he is frustrated, and Kintyre’s newest family member causes a great deal of trouble when he glorifies Kintyre’s past adventuring over his daily life of running the Chipping.

They also see the dark side of families, when they meet a relative of an old enemy who threatens their world, out of love for the villain. I won’t give away too much here, but just remember that the best bad guys never stay dead for long. As Buffy Summers told Dracula, “You think I don’t watch your movies? You always come back.”

Forsyth’s interactions with Elgar Reed are particularly fascinating to read. For Forsyth’s point of view, he and everyone he knows from Hain are people–flawed, complicated, fully developed people. Reed keeps being surprised as he learns about Forsyth–there are things he never thought about, things that he included as throwaway lines or as convenient plot points, that were never supposed to mean much. He never considers how such things affect people’s lives. Reed comes from the place of ultimate privilege–he is literally the creator of the world of Hain and everything in it. However, he is also a careless creator, who never once considered that his creations might have their own thoughts and feelings and desires, because he thought they were fictional. He is absolutely gobsmacked when he discovers just how far past Forsyth is from what he intended. For example, Forsyth points out that he was written as a scholar and a polyglot, with a knack for learning languages–in Pip and Reed’s world, this means that he picks up very quickly on programming languages for computers and becomes an accomplished hacker for CSIS. How does a fantasy world character react to the modern real world? By using his skills as best he can and relating his new life to his old one, and learning to adapt and survive.

One more thing I realized upon reflection of this book–J.M. once more demonstrated her talent for making me think about fictional conventions and my own reactions. There is a character from The Untold Tale who shows up again with their nonhuman partner, and who seems to be flirting with a new character (I don’t want to give too much away.) Both characters are presented as make, but I asked J.M. if the returning character is going to be revealed as a girl in disguise, because they seem to be a new love interest in the early stages. Specifically I said “Pretty sure [X] is a girl is disguise…Well, [Y] is a hero in training, and you’ve killed his first love interest to prove the situation is serious and torture him a little, so he needs a new love interest that he can forget about by the time the next book begins. And knowing you, she’ll make him work for it and won’t be that forgettable. But there’s something.” J.M.’s reply was “It’s like you study this stuff or something”. Which, yes, I do. But that can also trip me up. Why should [X] be a girl in disguise? That’s actually pretty heteronormative of me to assume. Why can’t they both be male and flirt? Just because [Y]’s first love interest is a girl, doesn’t mean that [Y] can’t be bi, or pan, or whatever they call it in Hain. I confess to accidental bi-erasure, and I apologize J.M. You caught me again. You always do make me think, and I can’t really give a higher compliment.

And one last thing–anyone in the Toronto area, the launch party for The Forgotten Tale is happening tonight on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 7:00 PM at  the Hard Rock Cafe Toronto. This will be the very first chance to buy the book, in advance of the release date on December 6, and a great time to get it signed by the author as well. Hope to see you there!

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With words tasting of bitter almonds, I say: “I hack.”

Reed’s sadness dissolves into confusion. “Hack what?”

“Whatever the Canadian Security Information Service tells me to,” I answer with a shrug, being deliberately glib. “I learned of hacking quite early upon my arrival here, and it was easy enough to read the many volumes available regarding coding. I am a polyglot, you recall—you wrote me that way. JavaScript and C++ are just another set of languages to perfect. And it was the easiest way to set myself up with a legal identity.”

“But . . .” Reed blusters. “Computers?”

“Of course. It is not so different from the work I did as the Shadow Hand,” I sneer, raising my hands to indicate the walls covered with wires and screens, and the small bookshelf overflowing with programming books, Alis’s favourite board books, and stuffies. On the wall above my main console, Smoke has been hung on a cherry wood plaque board. “I investigate, I read, I synthesize data, and I return recommendations and command actions. And just as before, I have found a way to ingratiate myself to the governing body of this nation.”

Reed’s jolly fat cheeks drain of color. “But you’re a scholar.”

“And in this world, libraries are digital and computers are books,” I say, stunned by his lack of comprehension. I scowl. “I was no mere book-mouse,” I push. “You know that.”

Reed staggers back a step, reaching out blindly behind him and crashing into the wall, clutching at my desk chair to remain upright. “I don’t . . . I didn’t . . .” He gasps for air, sweat pearling on his forehead.

His reaction startles me. Derision, I expected, but not this shocked horror. Unless . . .

“Reed . . .” I say slowly, horrified in my own right. For how, how can a Writer create a character and not know all of their nuances? How could he have . . . put this in motion and not realized it? “You do recall that I was the Shadow Hand, do you not?”

“I . . . I do,” he mutters. “I just . . . when I set it up, it was a . . . a bit of a throwaway, really. It was such an offhand comment. I didn’t . . . I didn’t expect you to . . .”

A throwaway? The most important aspect of my life, the only part of me that I felt made me worthy, and honorable, and good, the thing of which I was proudest and which redeemed me from being, I felt, a spoilt younger son, and my creator tells me it was a throwaway? Barely remembered, hardly thought about?

Insulting! Beyond the pale!

“What I do here, it is the same!” I insist. I cannot . . . this is untenable! “This is meaningful.”

“But . . . computers,” he repeats. “I just . . . I expected more . . . I don’t know . . . bafflement?”

“I have lived in this world for nigh on two years,” I snarl. “How simple must you think me? I am no Kintyre, to bash around, and bull ahead, and understand nothing.”

“Hey now,” Reed says, rising to defend his greatest literary achievement.

“Spying is the same no matter where it happens. I can learn all I need about a target by following their social media accounts, tracking their IP, watching their online spending habits. It is identical to my old duties, only I need to send out no Shadow’s Men, write no blackmail expense slips, take no in-person meetings with the king. Here, I need not even don the Shadow’s Mask, or Cloak. Here, I need not even change out of my sleeping clothes, if I so desire,” I add with a derisive snort.

My dark amusement rubs Reed the wrong way, and his hackles rise. “But being Shadow Hand wasn’t important! It was such a secondary feature of your character that I . . .” He trails off, eyes falling to his feet, shamed and confused. “I only put the Shadow Hand in one book.”

“Secondary. Secondary?” I hiss. “After Lewko the Elder was tortured by Bootknife, you chose me for Shadow Hand because, what? It was convenient? Because I was nearby? Being the Shadow Hand of Hain was my whole life! It was the only thing that was mine, truly mine!”

“Forsyth, I—” He swallows hard. “You’re just Kintyre’s little brother. You’re not supposed to—”

“Ah!” I snap. “And there is the crux of the problem! I am no hero, and so I cannot have a passion, have a desire to help? I am a citizen of Canada now, am I not? Do I not owe it to my kingdom to serve her best interests?”

“But it’s beneath you!” he shouts, his ire rising to match mine.

His disapproval surprises me. I expected him to understand. I don’t know why I did, because every conversation I’ve ever had with him has given me evidence enough to assume that he would not. Call it blind hope. Maybe, I thought, if I could make him understand, make him see it from my perspective, maybe we could have . . . reconciled our differences. Maybe we could have found the friendship he so clearly wants. Maybe, secretly, deep within the part of my soul that was born of his typewriter, I had wanted. . . . Ah, but it is pointless to wish for that which one cannot have. Reed will never understand how much he doesn’t know about what he has created.

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From the mixed-up files of Wading Through Books (not an actual quote), for your entertainment:

Elgar Reed, unfortunately, is. He sent us a very large nose, and Pip’s Asian facial structure.  But the look in her bouquet of flowers and some celebratory wine, along gaze when she is plotting mischief is all Kintyre Turn. with a startlingly large painting of Turn Hall looking, Right now, Alis is bouncing gleefully in a romper well, exactly as it ought. It was signed in the bottom attached to the lintel of my office doorway, smashing a corner by one of those fellows who worked on the Lord sodden Library against the edge of the harness each time of the Rings film designs, and was Reed’s first, but sadly her chubby little feet leave the carpet, and practicing not his last, foray into breaching the tight-knit tapestry three of the four words she has— book, Da, and no. Ma is of our family.

 

Today I Read…Ghosts

ghostsToday I read Ghosts, An Accidental Turn novella by J.M. Frey.

The great hero Kintyre Turn and his companion Bevel Dom have just finished another adventure, when they are summoned back to Turn Hall by Kintyre’s younger brother, the Lordling Forsyth Turn. He has a quest for them to undertake. However, first they need to travel to Turn Hall, which is some distance away. They stop for the night in the town of Gwillfifeshire, where they meet a ghost and learn a valuable lesson about just where they ought to be sticking their swords, especially when it is uninvited. And when it is gladly welcomed…

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J.M. sent me an ebook ARC of her upcoming novel, The Forgotten Tale, and I bought Ghosts to fill in the blanks between the first and second books in the series. It takes place during The Untold Tale, right before Kintyre and Bevel go to  Turn Hall and meet Lucy Piper and Forsyth Turn, and it also connects with events that take place in The Forgotten Tale.

This time when I was talking to J.M. I told her that Ghosts made me sympathize with the little hedgehog (Bevel). I told her that he reminds me of a “grumpy, make, middle-aged Gabrielle” from  Xena: Warrior Princess. “Especially the episode where they’re traveling and you see the unglamorous side of heroes, where they fight about using Gabrielle’s scrolls as toilet paper and her best pan as a weapon. Where you see that they’ve been together long enough to drive each other nuts, but they still stay together because they can’t be apart after so long.” (For the record, I was talking about the episode A Day in the Life) J.M. asked me use that exact analogy in the review, so here you go.

As the storyteller, Bevel has always been the second fiddle to Kintyre. Kintyre is the hero, the one everyone wants to hear about. Bevel is the sidekick, the one who helps fight the extra minions while Kintyre fights the Big Bad, the one who tells the stories to the adoring crowds afterwards so Kintyre doesn’t seem like he’s bragging about what he did and can just not-so-graciously accept the accolades, the one who cleans up all of Kintyre’s messes because he really is pretty self-involved. Ghosts is where Bevel finally gets a voice to tell his own story, even though it is still all about Kintyre. It’s not precisely that Bevel minds–he just wants people to acknowledge his contribution, he doesn’t want to diminish Kintyre’s glory. More importantly, he wants Kintyre to acknowledge what they are to each other. Seventeen years…that’s a long time together. Seventeen years of fighting, of traveling, of being honoured by kings and seduced by beautiful women together. Seventeen years of eating together, sleeping together, bathing together. Of fighting over whose turn it is to do the laundry–well, who took the last clean shirt? Did you remember to buy the supplies? No, it was your turn, and you forgot to buy the flour so I can make bread. Have you seen my dagger? No, not that one, the other one.  Have we passed by this farm before? Yes, we did, and we slept with the farmer’s oldest beautiful daughter, so let’s leave quickly before they find out we’re here again. Seventeen years of you smell like a dead dragon–yeah, well that’s because we killed a dragon and you’re covered in blood too. After that long, either you love someone, or you kill them. Some days the choice between the two may rest on the flip of a coin.

Ghosts  is entertaining as a stand-alone story in a larger universe, but where it shines is as a connection, as a bridge between the novels and as an interlude that serves to give the reader (and the Reader) a deeper understanding of the character that would bog down the action of the novel. It’s a bonus, an extra scene on the DVD–not necessary, but a pleasure, especially to the completist who wants to read EVERYTHING set in that world. And since it’s available now, it’s something to keep you occupied until The Forgotten Tale is released on December 6. If you love the land of Hain, you won’t regret meeting this Ghost.

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I always thought there would be children in my life. I actually want to be a dad. Being an uncle is wonderful, even though I only see the little pests infrequently. I love the squirts, and it’s great to see how much they’ve grown, all that they’ve learned, the ways their personalities and preferences develop between each visit. The youngest of the horde seems to think that “poop” is the funniest damned word the Writer ever Wrote.
I want their chubby, sticky fingers locked around my neck, the sweet kisses, the cuddles, the little feet racing through the hallways shouting, “Da’s back! Da’s here!” There’s something more, something magic in the way they say that to their fathers, different to the way they shout “Uncle!” when I surprise one of my six brothers at home. Almost like “Da” is a Word, instead of just a word, and one that I want to mean me. I would like a home to go back to, I think. A place where it’s warm, and I can sit by the fire and and be adored by everyone around me because I adore them back.

That had always been the plan, anyway.

Grow up, work with Da in the forge, marry a farmer’s daughter, build a croft, raise a brood, and spend the rest of my life shoeing horses and being loved.

But then a handsome lord’s son had come along, and that was the end of those dreams. I could have a wife, a home, the children, if I wanted. But that would mean no Kintyre.

A sudden thought drops into my stomach like a fire-warmed stone: I’m tired.
This is not the grief-born weariness I was feeling this morning. This is something else, something deeper, something that has soaked into my skin and settled in the dark marrow of my bones. This is something that is etched on the very fiber of my muscles, the pull of my tendons, the lining of my stomach. This is something born of Dargan’s careless teasing, yeah, but also the contemplation that his words have caused over the weeks since I was in that tavern with him, both of us a little too far into the keg.

I am tired.

I am tired of walking, tired of traveling, tired of having nowhere to call home, no place to call my own, no pillow and bed waiting at the end of the day, no surety of the next meal. I am tired of following after Kintyre Turn and wanting. I am tired of not having.
I am tired, and I want to stop.

I could pay for somewhere to call my own, true; I’m not much for banks and moneylenders, but I’ve squirreled away the  reward purses I didn’t give over to Mum over the years. I don’t need to build a croft now—I’ve got more than enough clink to buy a cottage, a few acres, some pigs. Probably a calf. Or five. Or ten, really. Right, so there’s actually probably enough to buy a title and the estate that goes with it.

Hells, King Carvel has offered me one often enough. Maybe I could just write to him and tardily accept. Though what on the Writer’s hairy backside I’d do with the trappings and responsibilities of a lord, I don’t know. I wasn’t raised to it. I’d have to hire someone to do all the actual work, and the life of an idle gentleperson is not even close to appealing.

The only thing I am certain about is this: Kin would never live with me.

Even if Kintyre Turn did finally settle down, turn in his sword for a ledger or a plowshare or a guardsman’s cap, it would be with a buxom woman who could gift him with little Turnlings. More likely, it would be with some nobleman’s daughter or simpering princess, and it would be on the coin of a king, or the late Aglar Turn’s estate, where his brother Forsyth would maintain the responsibilities of Master while Kin enjoyed the luxuries with which he’d been raised.

If Kin stopped, that would be it. There would be no room in Kintyre Turn’s life for a Bevel Dom, his questing partner, sword-mate, and dogsbody. And a life for Bevel Dom with no Kintyre Turn in it is a life I’m afraid I might not actually have the strength to live.

I know with the surety of a man who has been in love for half his life with someone who will never be aware of it that I will die of heartbreak, or maybe by my own hand, the day Kin marries someone else.

And Writer, that sounds melodramatic as bloody anything. More fit for my scrolls than my thoughts, but there it is. I jam my fists down harder in my pockets and hunch, chewing on my bottom lip to keep from scowling.

And the bastard is still walking, just a few paces ahead, like his long legs can’t be bothered to shorten his stride for the sake of anything as banal as a short companion. Fine.

So I do as I have always done: I put one foot in front of the other. I shove the weariness away, raise my chin, squint to keep the sun out of my eyes, and follow after Kintyre Turn.

The tiredness can be ignored.

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!

Today I Read…The Birdcage

Today I read The Birdcage, the novelization by Robert Rodi based on the screenplay by Elaine May.

Weddings are always stressful, especially when the two families meet for the first time. But Val and Barbara have some special challenges ahead. Barbara’s parents are a senator and a senator’s wife–proudly white, upper class, conservative, heterosexual, Republican, God-fearing folk, and her father is the Vice President of the Coalition for Moral Order. Whose fellow co-chair was just found dead. In the bed of a prostitute. An underage black prostitute. Well, at least she was a girl.

Val’s parents, on the other hand…well, his father is Armand, a flamboyant gay Jewish man who runs a nightclub in South Beach, and his mother is the noted drag queen Starina, diva extraordinaire and star of The Birdcage, who becomes Albert the neurotic and insecure middle-aged even more flamboyant gay man when the spotlight turns off.

Dinner is going to be interesting.

I love the movie, so I was interested to read the book. Since the screenplay came first, the book does stick fairly close to the movie, unlike what usually happens when a book is turned into a movie. The movie and the book are from 1996, so the scenario of having to pretend a gay man is actually a woman to pacify bigots is a little out of date, but it’s still a good story.

The story is really about people who get so caught up in appearances that they start to forget what really matters is underneath. Val is afraid of the Keeleys’ reaction to Albert, his very male ‘mother’, so at first he wants Albert to leave and not meet them at all and then to invite his birth mother,  whom he’s never met, to pretend to be the mother who raised him, and finally to pretend that Albert really is a woman. Armand and Albert want to make Val happy, so they pretend that Albert is a woman, redecorate their home to appear more ‘straight,’ and lie about every aspect of their lives in order to seem more appealing to the Keeleys. Senator and Mrs. Keeley want Val’s family to be perfect (meaning exactly like them), so a nice white wedding will distract the press from the sex scandal of Senator Jackson’s death. Then Senator Keeley decides he likes “Mother Coleman” a bit more than Mrs. Keeley is comfortable with. Barbara just wants to marry Val, so she goes along with all of the various masquerades to avoid upsetting people. The book has the usual moral of be who you are, and love your family whoever they are–even (especially) if they’re really screwed up.

I really love Armand and Albert’s relationship. They spend most of the book quarreling, over everything. Albert is neurotic and insecure, and Armand is impatient and put-upon and constantly worries when things don’t go according to plan. And they’ve been together for twenty years. They’ve run a business, raised a child, fought and made-up and fought again and made-up again. They never actually use the word ‘love’ in the book, or in the movie, but they do use the word ‘home’. And in some ways, I think that’s much more powerful.

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Yes, I use foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I’m a middle-aged fag. But I know who I am.”

“Pop,” Val started to protest.

Armand stopped him. “It’s taken me twenty years to get here, Val, and I’m not going to let some idiot senator destroy it. Fuck the senator! I don’t give a damn what he thinks!” His eyes narrowed. “I know that kind. Their intolerance always catches up to them. Lays them flat. Sooner or later. You mark my words: sooner or later he’ll get what’s coming to him.”

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Armand got out of the car and went to the bench

“Yes?” said Albert.

Armand sat anyway. He put his hands in his lap. “You know,” he said, “my cemetery is in Key Biscayne. It’s the prettiest in the world. There are lovely trees, the sky is blue. There are birds. The one is Los Copa is really shit.” He leaned back, and observed that Albert was munching faster. “What a pain in the ass you are.” Albert stopped munching, his hand suddenly halting while still in the bag. “And it’s true: you’re not young and you’re not new. And you do make people laugh. And me–I’m still with you because you make me laugh.”

Albert lowered the bag to his lap, and sighed.

“So you know what I have to do? I have to sell my plot in Key Biscayne and get a plot beside yours in that shithole, Los Copa, to make sure I never miss a laugh.”

“There,” said Armand, putting his hand over Albert’s. “We’re partners. You legally own half my life and I legally own half of yours.”

“But half of the club…”

“Don’t you think it matters?Take it all! I’m fifty years old and there’s one place in the world I call home…and that’s because you’re there. So take it. What difference does it make if I let you stay or you let me stay?”

“Oh, Armand.”

“It’s home. It’s home for me, and I think, it’s home for you, too.”

Albert stared into Armand’s eyes, willing himself not to melt, and failing. “Of course it’s home for me,” he said. “Where else?”

Armand patted his hand. “Where else,” he said, in confirmation.

Today I Read…Triptych

Today I read Triptych, the debut novel by J.M. Frey. http://jmfrey.net/

They came from another world. They needed our help. Some gave them help, comfort, home, love. Some didn’t.

Kalp was assigned to work with Gwen and Basil, but their relationship gradually deepened until they become an Aglunated Unit, the proper grouping of three adults together. And isn’t Integration the goal of the Institute that they work for? Unfortunately some people don’t agree, and are willing to go to any lengths necessary to prevent mixing. Any lengths…and any times.

The first time that I saw J.M. Frey after reading Triptych, I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” I think that’s still the best review I can give this book. It’s always a bit of a cop-out for time travel stories to kill someone and bring them back at the end just to pull the emotional strings. Frey doesn’t use that trick. Instead, Kalp dies at the start of the book. The reader sees the reactions of the other characters, and then meets Kalp, the newcomer to Earth, the refugee from a dead world who has lost almost everything. The reader gets to know his loneliness, his fascination with these strange, squishy, leaking beings who have taken him in, and his genuine desire to help those who have helped him. We watch him explore our world, the beauty and the terror, and especially the bits that don’t make any sense (there’s a lot of those). We hope he lives–after all, it’s time travel, right?

Wrong.

And it hurts. But it’s almost a good hurt, because it’s a hurt that changes. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost… Frey’s gift is to create someone totally different from us who is just like us.

Everything comes in threes in Triptych. Past, present and future. Gwen, Basil and Kalp. The proper number for an Aglunated Unit. Stranger, friend, family. Life, death, and life again. Love, death and hope.

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“You know,” Gwen said again, “those movies where the aliens come to Earth, and they…I dunno, they try to steal our natural resources, or create a nuclear winter so they can turn the Earth into slag, or they melt the polar ice caps and New York is under fathoms of water, or they clone us for slaves, or create terrifying bioweapons and wipe us all out and use our cities for farmland, or…all that stuff?” Evvie’s heart trembled. She could taste her pulse and her fear, thready and metallic on the back of her tongue. “Yes,” she said softly.

(Please, no.)

Gwen looked up. “It was nothing like that.”

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“First task of Integration,” Basil says cheerily, “is learning which lunch lady to flatter at the canteen, innit?” He talks slow and enunciates clearly. Gwen must have told him to speak so in order to make his words more easily understood, and Kalp is startled at the caring that the gesture shows on both their parts; Gwen for thinking of it, and Basil for following her advice.

Basil’s mouth stretches, displaying his small white teeth in pleasure. This is a joke, Kalp is sure, but what sort he was unsure of. Slapstick? Sarcasm? Is Kalp meant to be the Straight Man or to reply? Panic surges. The tension twists tighter, and Kalp feels as if his air passage is closing.

Basil goes on: “Down the hall, take the second right, say it’s for me and they’ll know. Gwen wants coffee, black — bloody Canadian — and you get whatever you fancy. Cheers.” Kalp blinks. A desperate tightness presses at the back of his throat.

These were things Kalp has never been taught! Coffee, black? Is not the steaming beverage brown? How does one fetch black coffee?

Where does one find it? Take the second right to where, and how does one pick up a “right”? Who is bloody and do they need a medic?

He understands the last command, at least.

He lifts a hand in the air and stretches his mouth wide and says “huzzah!” with what he hopes is the appropriate amount of enthusiasm, anxious to get this one little thing right, to prove that he is not stupid, that he is useful.

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There are also several human mothers or fathers nearby with their offspring. Catching sight of the first, Kalp is unable to breathe for a moment. A child. He aches, deep down, remembering how strongly he and his Aglunates had been hoping for one of their own. It hurts to see this perfect little being, so far away from his ruined planet, safe and happy and completely unaware of the horrors that had happened a galaxy away. This child must be very young. Perhaps it had not even taken its first breath when Kalp’s Aglunates had taken their last.

His eyes burn in sorrow and Kalp turns away, covering them.

“Kalp?” Gwen asks, and her voice is soft and filled with concern.

Kalp forces himself to look up, to fake a smile, but she can see that it is fake.

“The child,” he says. “I…it hurts me.”

Basil frowns. He balls up the empty wrapper of his sandwich and keeps pressing at it with his fingers nervously. “Hurts you how?”

“You would say…’my heart breaks.’”

Gwen sucks in a little gasp of breath and her eyes become wet again. “Oh my God, Kalp — we never asked. I feel like such a heel.

Did you lose anyone? Stupid, obviously you did, I just meant…I mean, we didn’t ask. 

To lose is an euphemism for die.

Kalp shakes his head. “My parents. Maru and Trus…my Aglunates. We were merely hoping for a child.” Gwen snakes out a hand and wraps it around Kalp’s. He notes with strange detachment that he no longer recoils from the feel of the secretions of her skin and the almost invisible swirl of wrinkles on the tips. He only takes pleasure in the warmth and intent of her touch.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly.

Kalp knows that this is not an Apology. Kalp has heard these words uttered in this way many times since coming to Earth. They are an expression of condolence. Basil pats his arm on the other side, and it feels good to be between them, to feel the warmth of their skin, the patter of their hearts, and know that he is protected and is precious.