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I’m coming to the conclusion that when at all possible I should read episodically-written stories in the fashion intended rather than consuming them as if a continuous novel. I loved this portal fantasy of an over-protected girl granted her heart’s desire: to go on adventures. And what adventures! A quest with a mystery and an over-arching peril that turns out to be very different from what all the story tropes set you up to believe. But the reading felt a bit jerky, as each chapter resolves to a stopping point, sometimes in an artificial-feeling way. That’s my only complaint, though.

Set in the same universe as Leckie’s Ancillary novels, but with a very different viewpoint character and different stakes. I’m not entirely sure whether to call it a “standalone” (a philosophical question I recently discussed on twitter) given that Provenance benefits heavily from background knowledge from the Ancillary trilogy, but the plot is self-contained and the central characters have no overlap.

This collection wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, so I’m trying to evaluate it for what it is rather than what I thought it would be. For the most part, it’s a collection of “why I like Georgette Heyer” essays--studies of a favorite book or motif, reminiscences of the context of reading, that sort of thing. A few of the essays are more in line with what I thought I was getting: analytical scholarly studies of Heyer’s work.

Originally created as a series of blog posts, this fictional memoir of a Regency-era courtesan is a light-hearted (though occasionally serious) exploration of the social and material world of the demi-monde and the parts of society they intersect with. The author is quite knowledgeable about her subject and draws in a diverse cast (including historically-situated queer characters, which is always a plus for me). Although there are some over-arching plotlines, it’s probably best read in the same episodic fashion it was created.

I am frustrated in my desire to love this series. I love the concept (all the sff/fantasy/gothic novels of the 19th century were true in the same universe) and I love the characters (the daughters or female creations of the men in all those novels come together in a found family and have adventures). But this is the second book in the series in which I found the plot thin and the narrative style ponderous and somewhat bloated.

What I knew about this book going in was that it concerned a young woman and a mechanical chess-playing automaton in the early 19th century. I expected intrigues and hoaxes and--given that I bought it though a lesbian book distributor--some amount of queer identity. What I didn’t expect was a dark psychological thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the end. This is not a fluffy, feel-good comfort read. It’s a gripping adventure and mystery that left me both satisfied and emotionally wrung out.

I've decided to give myself persmission to DNF (did not finish) books if they don't grab me in the first couple chapters (or first couple stories for a collection). With that as preface, you can guess that The Caretaker's Daughter ended up falling in that category. So why didn't it grab me?

I really loved the concept of the Sword and Sonnet anthology (edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler--all of whose work I admire). Battle poets! An intriguing premise. I backed the kickstarter and regretted that I didn't have space in my schedule to try writing something to submit. So I'm honestly bewildered that the collection is falling flat for me. Maybe this just isn't the right time. I'm not in the right mood. I dunno. I read the first few stories and the skimmed through several more and they all felt...gray and flat and of a sameness. And dreary.

The anthology Rainbow Bouquet edited by Farah Mendlesohn marks something of a reorganizational reboot for Manifold Press, which specializes in LGBTQ historical fiction. Given that focus, I was a little surprised that only half the stories in the collection have historic settings (and one is clearly future/science fictional). That’s not a comment on the writing, only that I had a bit of expectation whiplash.

Emma Donoghue writes the sort of historical fiction that makes one unsurprised that she’s a historian first. This isn’t meant to be a criticism! But it can be crucial to know what you’re getting into and set your expectations appropriately.

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