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Stuff I've Read Recently

Because it is cold and snowing and I have been procrastinating.

I read Cherie Priest's Maplecroft in preparation for a SFF book club I'm starting locally. It's a Lovecraftian historical AU, in which we find that Lizzie Borden killed her parents to stave off their demonic possession, and she and her sister research and fight evil. It's very Buffyesque, not least because the axe reminds me of the Scythe. Told in alternate points of view, Priest really nails that nineteenth century voice and mixes it with Lovecraft very well. Highly recommended.

Last night, on Todd's recommendation, I read Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members, a very short epistolary novel told completely through a beleaguered professor's recommendation letters over the course of a year. I was quietly laughing to myself because the prose so exactly gets right academic life, and was rolling along up until the unexpectedly emotional conclusion, at which point I texted Todd and said Why didn't you warn me that I was going to be emotionally devastated?
The creative writing prof protagonist has written several letters on behalf of one of his grad students, trying to get him funding. The grad student kills himself and burns his papers, including a promising novel. A rapprochement of sorts is made by the other characters, who are until then rather accurately shallow and caddish, as they put together a memorial scholarship in the student's name.

Still a fun novel, but aww.

I reread a couple of Anne McCaffrey's novels over my break, including the first two Freedom books and half of Killashandra and just, man, either I didn't get the total rapeyness of these when I was a teenager or I totally repressed it. I couldn't even finish the last as it was just too WTF for me; basically Killashandra gets kidnapped because reasons, rescues herself, later runs into her kidnapper and ends up having A M A Z I N G sex with him, and all is forgiven and lols. Such eighties. Much painful.

I started rereading Bradley's Mists of Avalon because I've been wanting to do that for months, but had also been deeply squicked by her scandal this summer. But I decided to sit down with it because I also recently finished reading Mercedes Lackey's Gwenhwyfar which is a sort of revision of the revision, and I wanted to compare them. Bradley's book is as much about the struggles between early Christianity and Celtic paganism as it is about King Arthur and gender; in her book, Gwenhwyfar is a fearful Christian who has internalized a lot of misogyny with her faith, and her great tragedy is that--in addition to being in love with the wrong man, more or less--she's not able to forgive herself or others for their sins.

Lackey's plays on the concept of multiple Gwenhyfars; there's Arthur's first queen, who dutifully marries him and has kids and then they all die; his second queen, who gets kidnapped and later goes into a nunnery; and then the protagonist is the third queen, a Gwenhwyfar who is a ruler and a bit magicey, and who also gets married off to Arthur. Gwenhwyfar is pagan but has an interesting friendship with a Christian priest that I found fascinating, especially in contrast to the priest in Bradley's book (they share the same name, but are otherwise quite different; the one in Bradley's book is a misogynist dick whereas the one in Lackey's book is much more accepting of goodness/alternative paths. .Triggery things happen but largely offpage, so be aware of that, but I think one of the single best moments in genre literature happens when, after there has been shenanigans involving Gwen being kidnapped for months (replaced by a magic double) and rescued by Lancelot and THEN they get brought in because OMG CHEATING or whatever Gwen freaking punches King Arthur in the face and calls him an idiot for NOT NOTICING SHE HAD BEEN EXCHANGED FOR SOMEONE ELSE FOR MONTHS. It was glorious. Also full points for having a heroine going "fuck men, I have shit to do, BYE." Highly recommended, needless to say.

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