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Reading wrap-up - May 2022

In May, one of my jobs ended (the one that was supposed to last 2 months and stretched over 9 - but it was fun!). It was at the right time, too, because in the following days I started gathering quite a bit of PhD work for lovely projects happening over the next few months. Reading-wise, I still had a set of books from the library, so this wrap-up is still going to be heavy in French fantasy, but things should get more diverse next month.

Un Long Voyage, Claire Duvivier · 2020

This is a surprinsingly concise novel, given its title suggesting a longer journey.

We meet Liesse, a young islander sold as a slave to colonisers who no longer uphold slavery. Liesse grows up alongside the successive governor and governess. He is faced with informal racism due to his use of language, a theme that runs through the narrative and which was really well handled as far as I can tell. But apart from that, I considered abandoning it. Only its short size made me finish this book which tells much, much more than it shows. The scenes are more often summarized than told, and there are very few sensory details which would have helped me feel immersed in this otherwise rich world. There were also a few tropes I hate: the main character tells his life journey to a friend retrospectively, and has a habit of announcing events before they occur, which always takes me out of the story.

I thought it made for a very cold narration, very detached, to the point that the death of characters close to the main one didn't touch me in the least, though some scenes are clearly written to shock the readers.

One section of the book really struck me: the focus changes and we are plunged into the thoughts of a young woman who finds herself in a place out of time. Her short chapter is built on her uncertainty and I thought it was remarkably welld one, to the point that I'd rather have followed her own story.

All in all, I found this a frustrating novel, but I appreciated its swaying prose, very rhythmic, which lulls as much as it invites the reader to keep reading.

CW : war, deaths in the context of war, racism, slavery. Brief mentions of domestic violence, gaslighting, rape.

an e-reader showing the cover of the book is set upon old-looking books, next to a bunch of dried roses, on a wooden surface. There's a patterned cloth in the background.

Chromatopia, Betty Piccioli · 2020

An excellent example of YA fantasy!

Betty Piccioli takes us through the streets of Chromatopia, where inhabitants are divided into air-tight castes according to a rigid colour system: the royal family rules from its purple magnificence at the top, surrounded by red nobility, then come clerics and scholars in orange, craftspeople and shop-owners in yellow, the green factory workers, farmers and staff, and lastly the so-called inferior classes in blue. But beyond this rainbow of inequalities, a rebellious shade of black seeks to overthrow the monarchy. Three teenagers find themselves at the heart of this upheaval: a princess forced into marriage, a dyer apprentice and a thief condemned by her blue identity to a life of hardships.

This endearing novel moves fast, without sacrificing characterisation or feelings. Each character has a strong, defined voice and a nuanced personality. I loved how the author adapted her writing style to suit each one of them, and how she subverted some tropes to serve a story that is hard to put down. A really lovely discovery! Special mention to faithful Wouf, a super cute dog who, it's my duty to tell you, isn't sacrificed to move the plot forward, and end up in perfect health.

Rep: 2 of the 3 main characters are Black girls, one of whom is lesbian. The third MC has a visual handicap.

CW: classism, panic attack, kidnapping.

the book is set on a wooden table next to a watercolour set. Some brushes are scattered on the cover.

La Princesse au visage de nuit, David Bry · 2020

Continuing with my French SFFF readathon, I picked this book partly because of the cover, and partly because it had just received a prize. I enjoyed it, but having finished I couldn't really get why it had been shelved as SFFF when it's 98% detective story.

Our main character, Hugo, has come back to the small town where he grew up for his parents' funeral after they died in a car crash. But Hugo never wanted to come back there - too many wounds never healed, too much trauma. And when he has to extend his stay because it turns out his parents' car was sabotaged and it was clearly murder, he has no choice but to face his demons, one of whom is the night-faced princess, a local legend said to be responsible for several children's disappearances over the centuries.

This book was a very classic detective story, with our main character a relative of the victims as well as a suspect. It was engaging and fast to read, and I enjoyed the settting of the small countryside village which reminded me of the one where my grand-parents live. But I also read it fast to get to the point where the SFFF part of the story would show, only to find it at the very end. So I'm not entirely sure what to think. I didn't dislike it, but detective fiction is a genre I usually avoid because of all the horrible things that happen, and this one was no exception. I wish there had been content warnings because that book is dark. Like, very dark. I think in itself it's good, but I wish it had been marketed more clearly.

Rep: it's never told, but Hugo sounded aro/ace.

CW: car accident, child abuse, alcoholism, pedocriminality, rape, child death. Mentions of drug use, suicide attempt, mild fatphobia.

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a bookcase.

L'Enterrement des étoiles, Christophe Guillemain · 2022

When this book was announced, I was instantly drawn to the cover by Abel Klaer, aka @superstarfighter on Instagram, an artist I'd been following for a while and wasn't expecting to work for the French publishing industry. I was then intrigued by how little detail I could find about the story itself. As it turns out, it really is difficult to summarise such a complex and polyphonic text that left me by the wayside. I could grasp neither the stakes, nor the personnalities of the multiple characters, nor the boundaries of an extremely hazy world of which we were given glimpses like the play of light on running water. So I abandoned this book, both puzzled and frustrated by an undeniably beautiful novel (maybe a little overwritten to my taste) but all over the place.

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a grey-patterned white curtain.

The Deep, Rivers Solomon · 2020

Yetu is her people's Historian, keeper of their memories to save them from the trauma of constant remembrance. For Yetu is a Wajinru, descendant of enslaved, pregnant African women who were thrown overboard when their survival cost more than shipping them. The ocean saved the children and they became mermaids, living in the deep. The story opens at the time of the yearly ceremony of the Gift, when the Historian shares for a few days her memory with the other Wajinrus who haven't completely forgotten about it but don't have to carry that burden every day of their lives.

Rivers Solomon composes a song of resistance, between mourning, anger and rebellion. It's such a powerful text, carried by Yetu's voice, and also a very difficult read because of the themes touched upon. Through fantasy, Solomon draws a picture of Black people's centuries-long intergenerational trauma. It just so happened that just before reading The Deep I watched the series Watchmen, in which one episode deals masterfully with the same subject.

Rep: the main character is autistic, Black and queer. One secondary character is Black and demisexual.

CW: death, slavery, racism, suicidal thoughts, death of an animal.

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a bush with dark leaves and white flowers.

Le Chant des Cavalières, Jeanne Mariem Corrèze · 2020

Does this title ring a bell? I hope it's not only because I read it in November 2020. Le Chant des Cavalières is what I want more of in fantasy: an epic story that's not carried by white cis-het men brimming with toxic masculinity. Thank you.

This novel, told in superb prose, shows a panel of female (but not only) characters painting a wide array of varied humanities. First of all there's our heroin, Sophie, who does get joggled around, but gains throughout the narrative her independence. Then there are the ones she bonds with. And what a beautiful picture of female friendships. Then, Eliane the matriarch, crowded with plots and schemes, and last but not least Frêne the honourable herbalist, who is quite obviously a picture of me in a few years (where did you get your crystal ball @jmcorrezeauteurice?).

Le Chant des Cavalières takes motifs common to fantasy (the chosen one, the sword, dragons) but weaves them in a new and shiny pattern. I was excited to get my own copy so that I could have it signed, and now I have! I'm looking forward to re-re-reading it in years to come, to share it around (but only to trustworthy people). And most of all, I look forward to discovering the author's upcoming novel, which will be set in the same universe.

Rep: there is basically no white & heterosexual character in this book. They're all queer and / or non-white without the author making a big deal about it, because it's not always necessary.

CW: death of humans & animals.

a white hand holds a copy of the book in front of a dark-leaved bush.

I Hate Men, Pauline Harmange · 2020

This short essay burns with loud feminism. It's a pity that voicing one's misandry (hatred of men) attracted so much hatred on its author when misogyny (hatred of women) is shamelessly flaunted about everywhere. Pauline Harmange starts with a necessary but painful fact: no, misandry isn't simply the contrary of misogyny, simply because the latter is sustained by a complete system ingrained into institutions and habits. From then, it's hard to do anything else than nod throughout the short chapters outlining a hatred rarely voiced but in the silence of which bloom a large network of sororities.

CW: given the subject, the author often (almost constantly) deals with sexism, sexual violence and harassment.

the book, open at the title page, rests on a dark blanket, in dappled light.

Fool's Fate, Robin Hobb · 2003

I realised in the last chapters of this book that it was the first time I re-read it since being emotionally destroyed by the following trilogy, Fitz & the Fool. And I realised how much of it was hinted in this book, though it was published years before and Hobb wrote a whole quadrilogy in the meantime. I won't spoil any of these books, but I want to highlight the fact that yes, Hobb's novels are a delight to read (though you're at a risk of being emotionally destroyed), but they're also a delight to re-read. Even though they're not packed with action (the first half of Fool's Fate is agonisingly slow), they're masterpieces of character writing. In the last pages of Fool's Fate, which ends the Tawny Man Trilogy, I started mourning the characters. And now that I've finished it, I'm both relieved their hardships are over and have found a measure of solace (though I'm still a bit angry at that ending), and relieved that I'm done with their pain. So. Much. Pain. And yet, so much beauty.

Rep: polyamorous MC, non-binary / genderfluid SC.

CW: animal death, torture, suicidal thoughts

a white hand holds open a copy of the book on a dark background, next to the first two volumes and a candle.

Neko to Jii-chan (The Old Man and his Cat), vol. 2, Nekomaki · 2016

This series is fast becoming a comfort read for me. What is cuter than an old man living quietly in a seaside town with his cat? There's minimum tension (except a bit at the end of each volume, but they end well), a focus on small daily things, the changes of seasons and local recipes. Bliss.

CW : grief.

an aerial view of a white blanket with the book and Sencha, a black-and-white tabby cat, stretched out next to it.


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What did you read in May?

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