(Originally aired 2018/06/16 - listen here)
Heather Rose Jones: This week, Lise MacTague has returned to Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast to talk with us about some stories with queer women in historic settings that she has particularly enjoyed.
Lise MacTague: Hi, Heather, thank you for having me back.
H: So—and I understand that we’re doing more the union of sets than the intersection of sets—history and queer women in the overlapping sense.
L: Sure, that seems reasonable.
H: So, what’s your first book?
L: Well, I have to get this one series out of the way because it’s your series, and I just need to fangirl for a second because I really, really, really enjoy your Alpennia series, and I find your worldbuilding amazing and impeccable, and I aspire to one day be as thorough.
H: Well, thank you. So, listeners, I always tell my interviewees that they are not actually allowed to do excessive fangirling about my books because I don’t want anybody to think it’s a requirement to get on the show—but somehow the people who are writing historical fiction have this annoying tendency to like my work, so there we are.
L: Well, I’m sorry.
H: Having gotten that out of the way—
L: Yes, let’s get that out of the way. So, the first one I want to start—to talk about is actually a novella. And it’s called “Romancing the Inventor,” and it’s by Gail Carriger. And I’ve mentioned her on your podcast before, just because I really, really, really love her stuff. But what I particularly like about this novella is that one of my favorite side characters from her Parasol Protectorate series finally gets to take center stage, and she gets a female love interest—
L: —which is something that’s hinted at in her overall series but never actually happens, and so—it’s very exciting. It’s a paranormal steampunk. And it involves Madame Lefoux, who is sort of the mad inventor from the Parasol Protectorate series, and she gets a new shop assistant who is a, well—basically her new shop assistant is supposed to be working for the vampires that Madame Lefoux works for but is more interested in helping out the inventor.
H: Uh huh.
L: And there are sparks, and it’s a lovely little romance that I quite enjoyed.
H: And, of course, it’s a gateway drug to her entire series, or multiple series.
L: Yes, yes, it is. Yes. Do be warned that if you start this, you’re probably going to just continue, and you’ll have to commit to a whole bunch of other books [that] are also extremely fun. The second book I’d like to talk about is Branded Ann by Merry Shannon. This one’s a little different. It’s a pirate story. What I like about this one is it’s—yes, it’s pirates, and yes, it’s lesbians, but it feels like a, probably a fairly historically accurate representation of what’s going on. It’s more Blackbeard and less Pirates of the Caribbean, is how I can describe it. And one of the things that I really like about it is that you do see women struggling to have a place in a male-dominated world and profession. Piracy was historically male dominated, though we do have some accounts of female pirates.
H: Uh huh.
L: And I feel like the story of Branded Ann slots in really nicely with what—stories we already have of female pirates and expands on that world, that, you know, those whole sets of what-ifs.
H: Uh huh. And is it a romance or an adventure?
L: It is a romance, though there is lots of adventure to it. You know, I would say it has a romantic subplot, a very angsty, drawn-out, protracted romantic subplot, so if that’s your bag, you will definitely enjoy this one. And I’ve read—she has a couple of other, you know, more fantasy-type novels out there, and I’ve read a couple of those, and so I knew I liked her writing style and I picked up Branded Ann and was definitely not disappointed.
H: Uh huh. So, what next?
L: The next one is actually one that I have just started. And it is—it’s another steampunk, Nita Round’s Raven, Fire, and Ice, which is either just out or forthcoming extremely soon.
H: Yeah, I think it’s—it just came out in May, I think.
L: Yeah. So, I’m only a few chapters in, but it has grabbed me, and as soon as we’re done recording, I’m going back to it. I’ve been really enjoying Nita’s writing style. The characters are very entertaining, and more or less, you know, fully realized right off the bat, which I love to see. She also spends a fair amount of time on worldbuilding, which I absolutely adore. It’s not intrusive—I don’t, you know, she’s not infodumping or anything, but you do get a very real feeling of—for this world, which is always exciting when an author can pull it off.
H: Can you say something about the setting?—because I read the blurb for that one, and it was, it was sort of, it sounds as though it’s sort of steampunkish, but I’m not sure…?
L: Right. I would say—and I haven’t gotten far enough to really get a handle on it—but it feels almost alternate universe. It is based on our world, but there are enough differences that I feel like it’s more alternate universe than necessarily strict historical fiction.
H: Uh huh.
L: Yeah. And like I said, I’ve just started it, so I haven’t fully grasped it yet, but you know, you get hints that they’re in a version of England and that there’s a character who comes from a version of Australia, and they talk about the Americans, or at least what’s recognizable as Americans. But I haven’t yet figured out exactly how those work together.
L: There definitely feels like more of a colonial feel to things. The main character comes from their version of England, and we’ve run across their version of an Australian, so it feels like there are ties there—but I have to wait a little bit longer to see how those sort of tease out.
H: Okay, got it.
L: But it’s great so far. I’m really enjoying it.
H: Anything else?
L: I also wanted to do a shout-out for a few non-lesfic series. And as you and I were discussing before we started recording, I realized that even though all three of these series are written by women, two of them have men as the leads. And those are Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, which is a giant of a book, but it’s so much fun and it’s set, mmm, I’d say sort of pre-Victorian, though I’m not sure exactly which era it would be considered. And it deals with magic and fairies, and what I love about the book are the footnotes.
H: Ah ha.
L: In some ways the worldbuilding reminds me a little bit of your stories, just the way the magic is sort of woven into the fabric of the world. And then there’s Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series—
H: Oh yes.
L: —which is basically the Napoleonic wars with dragons. There are a few female characters in there, and I feel like she was able to get away with having them be—it was clever the way she was able to work them in, in regards to having women serving openly in the military at a time when that would not have been possible historically, in that—
H: Because dragons.
L: —because they worked with dragons, yup, and whoever could work with dragons works with the dragons because they don’t exactly have a surfeit of people who can and will. So, women are suffered in the dragon part of the armed forces, and so we do have some interactions with women there. But the main character is a man, and so is his dragon. And then finally, I mentioned this in passing earlier, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. I love that one because, you know, we do have—the main character is a woman, and so we do get to see the world that Gail has created through her eyes, which I always find exciting. Plus, we get some flirtations with Madame Lefoux, even though sadly they never come to anything—
H: Until she gets her own book.
L: But she does get her own novella where everything is made right. So, yes. Exactly. Those are my favorites at the moment.
H: I will put links to all those books in the show notes so that people can follow up on them. And thank you so much for joining us.
L: Thank you for having me. It’s been a blast.
In the Book Appreciation segments, our featured authors (or your host) will talk about one or more favorite books with queer female characters in a historic setting.
In this episode Lise MacTague recommends some favorite queer historical novels:
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online
Links to Lise MacTague Online