Book Review: The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

The Gloaming Kirsty Logan image shows two stylised mermaids framing the title

That last Summer, the sea gave us jellyfish.

I really enjoyed this book. And at the same time, I was a bit disappointed. I think this is mostly due to where I am myself, rather than anything wrong with the book or the author. You see, The Gloaming is a gorgeous book. It is a strange world of small and casual magics, and I loved the reality that Kirsty Logan built. I love the language that Kirsty Logan uses – it’s something that I have really noticed in previous work by her; her ability to use language to weave something simultaneously fragile and resilient.

Personally, I would say that The Gloaming is about grief. And maybe that’s why I found it difficult. Because the grief in The Gloaming was a grief of metaphors and unreliable narrators (although I thought it was less that they were unreliable, and more that different people’s realities are never going to line up completely) and people turning slowly into stone. It was Mara and Islay, two sisters, unable to work through pain together and their parents struggling. It was a portrait of a family falling apart, edged with fantasy, and I… I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

I would still recommend this book, as it is lovely. And I was excited by the language and by the reality of the island. I like the way Kirsty Logan juxtaposes the fantastical and the ordinary. I like how she delves into people, slowly unwinding these characters in front of us and letting us look at them from all sorts of angles. I enjoy the different narrative voices that she employed, and I will probably read this book again at some point. It is simply that I am tired of beautiful, metaphorical representations of grief, and I think this is because I am working on my own grief at the moment which is enormous and messy and, if it were to have fairytale edgings, would mainly be teeth.

Rating: read this book, sink into the water.



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In defense of happy endings – a rambly thing

So, this is not a book review. I promise, I have some of them on the way. I have been busy and ill, and although I have a lot of things half-done I keep not quite being able to finish them. BUT I have some thoughts about stories and storytelling that I want to share, specifically about happy endings. I can’t figure out what in particular has set off this thought train either, and it’s not exactly a finished train of thought so yanno, feel free to comment and talk.

There seems to be a trend in fiction, especially in anything literary, to have stories about being miserable. This is fine: conflict makes for good stories, and well written conflict is interesting and enlightening. And stories about terrible circumstances can be very compelling, and there are definitely stories that need to be told (Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott being an example of this, and a book that I loved). There is nothing wrong with that. BUT I am tired, very tired, of stories where people, specifically women or non-white characters or queer characters, get to be beautifully miserable. There is a nuance here: I think we need more honest stories about characters with mental health issues, for example, but I also think that these are only any good if they are honest, and not just framed as “sad person is sad, sits sadly by window with rain dripping down it, sighs sadly, dies tragically, beautiful prose, oh no how sad”.

I guess what I am trying to say is, there is value in letting your characters be happy. The happy ending does not have to be traditional – there does not have to be a wedding or a birth. In fact, I am really interested in happy endings that wander away from what happy endings are “meant”to be. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER I loved the ending of The Bridge, in which Saga got an ending where she did not have to have a boyfriend, or learn how to be a normal person, but did get to finish an emotional arc which looked like it was leaving her in a better place END SPOILER END SPOILER END SPOILER. But for certain characters, especially for queer characters and non-white characters and other marginalised persons, and really especially in fantasy settings where the whole point is that anything you can imagine can happen, I am frustrated when these people don’t get to be happy. Maybe it’s just a personal thing that I have going on at the moment, or I am missing something, but what I want, really really want, at the moment, are people getting to surmount the odds and be loved and be happy. I want queer fantasy people getting to ride off into the sunset on a dragon having fucking won, and without having to sacrifice everything. I want people to be allowed to rebuild their lives. I want stories where we let characters be themselves and don’t shit on them for it, especially in fantasy. One of the things that frustrates me most in fantasy is the inability to move away from social constructs that exist here. I am like: but there are dragons! And witches! And magical swords and, oh yes, patriarchy and everyone is straight and monogamous and white okay fine why are we doing this again?

Anyway, this is a rambly ramble but I think what I am trying to say is: there are a whole lot of people who do not get to see themselves in books very often if at all. And this is getting better all the time, but I dunno, I want happy endings. I wanna see awesome bi characters (as one example) who get to be happy. And I don’t think it’s fair to say that happy endings are old or outdated or overdone until everyone gets to see themselves reflected in fiction as having one.

And that’s my ramble.



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Tales From Tantamount: Witch-Season of the Year of the Sad Plastic Bag

We have received the following report from our agent in Tantamount. We have no notion what it means, or who our agent is, or what the jellyfish are doing. If you have any ideas, please help.

 

Headlines in Tantamount, first day of WitchSeason, Year of the Sad Plastic Bag
The Amount as Much Shouter
Witches descend from the skies! Some come by aerial train, railway left bereft p7
The Inglenook Explorer
Nepe harvest is bad this year – losses expected as there will not be enough lanterns to protect everyone p3
Tantamount Life
Big cats battle Wild Boar in Hope Park, mess up the flowerbeds. Flower fairies enact terrible revenge! p4

Warning
There have been sightings recently of Fraugenmaugen the giant. They walks the alleys and snickets of Tantamount, whistling through the hole in their one enormous tooth, carrying a sheep in one hand and a stick in the other. Should you refuse to garden Biodynamically, they will steal your children and put them in a pit in the garden. Fraugenmaugen’s son, whose name we don’t know, has also graced Tantamount with his presence, but he will only chase you with a bucket telling you to get into it until you turn to face him and tell him to stop.
We recommend that, unless you have more children than you need, you take the time to start gardening Biodynamically. This is especially challenging at the moment, as the moon appears to have gone on holiday and left only her corona, so we can’t quite tell what phase she is in.

Proverb of the day: To have a friend, you have to be one . Found scrawled on the back of a ballot paper that was never cast, tucked away in a corner of Furaha Hall.
Melancholy autumn has arrived, with chilly winds, train-riding witches, and angry falling leaves that attempt to strangle people. We hope that, as we hurtle past the equinox and swiftly into witch season, Chaos Days, and the open-and-icy arms of Winter, you will remember your friends. You will remember that they care for you, deeply, and that even if they are Spiritually Dislocated, or dead, or In Transit, or a bit shit, or have perhaps been transformed into ethereal floating jellyfish, they care very deeply for you. And especially you, Laura Lovelace, especially you.
Tantamount Shadow Council

Notice
Doorways, arches, portals, porticos, fairydoors, witchways, entrances, etcetera are banned from making their homes in this wall. Doors found trying to nest in this wall will be treated with a mixture of cement, planks, nails, and angry chanting while waving sage.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwkkkkkkkkkkk!

Tantamount Ghost Walk
Come on an invigorating GHOST WALK around the eerie town of Tantamount. Led by our guide, Baako, who has 3,013 years experience being a ghost, we will traverse around the town of Tantamount meeting ghosts, ghouls, poltergeists, the shades of buildings passed, and probably some imps. Bring your own packed lunch, wellies, raincoat, and an iron nail hammered through a hazelnut. Meet at the Dumpsy Tump at 11am on Sunday.

Warning
Falling alpacas.


Fraugenmaugen the giant is the result of an entertaining afternoon with Stroud Walking, Druid Life, and The Moth Festival. It’s all their fault…

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Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

‘Mom, can I go see the stars?’

Reviews of the previous two books can be found here and here.

Becky Chambers takes us somewhere else in her world. I am really enjoying the fact that she keeps writing in the same universe, loosely connected books that sometimes happen at the same time as each other. It feels like we get to stretch out across the world, and try things out from new and interesting perspectives. In previous books, the Exodus Fleet has been mentioned and one of the main characters in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is originally from the Exodus Fleet.

This book is set (mostly) on the Fleet. It happens at the same time as TLWtaSAP, but elsewhere. The Exodus Fleet is mainly a human place – it is the fleet that left Earth after the rich people had gone to Mars with all the resources and abandoned the scarred planet. It is the fleet that took so long to build that those who conceived of it knew they would never see it fly. And it just went, out into the black not knowing if anyone would find it, if there was anything to find. I have a lot of feelings about the Fleet.

This book, even more than the previous two, is an ensemble piece. It is less a plot, more a snapshot of a culture at a particular time. Of various lives in and around the vast spaceships, how they are shaped by where they live and how they shape it. We have Tessa and Isabel and Eyas and Kip and Sawyer. Tessa, raising her children on the Fleet and worrying about her wayfaring brother. Isabel, an archivist (and also an adorable old lesbian). Eyas, who works with the dead (the dead are composted on the Fleet, because they need something to grow their food in, and it’s rather wonderful). Kip, disaffected teenager trying to find his place. Sawyer, descended from Exodans but raised elsewhere and hoping to come home. And Ghuh’loloan Mok Chutp, a Harmagian ethnographic researcher visiting the Exodus Fleet.

And it’s wonderful. There is so much to talk about here, and I found it all so touching. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is another lovely book from Becky Chambers, different from the other two but wonderful.

I got very emotional over the culture of the Exodus Fleet, how much it had been thought through. The basic idea of ‘everyone has a home, and everyone is fed’ as the starting place of their culture, and working up from there. That in their culture, everyone is provided for. Resources are shared out, and then people barter for skills or extras. Everything is used, and everyone is meant to be cared for. And that this was a choice that was consciously made when they left Earth, because they had already been through so many alternatives. That jobs are not paid for, but about helping the community function. When you are asked what your job is, you are being asked what you do for the community. Terrible jobs, like cleaning sewers, are doled out on a lottery and everyone has to take a turn regardless. And it’s not perfect, not at all, but Becky Chambers made it very very believable and I had a cry because this is a thing we are told is impossible.

Increasingly, we are told that everything is a commodity. People are commodities, or resources, and we are meant to keep capitalism going and increasingly if the state cares at all it is only in terms of keeping us all going long enough to contribute to the machine. In the UK, our healthcare is being chipped away, and we are still in austerity even though it kills people and it is being made harder and harder to receive Benefits and they are being cut and cut and cut. If you are poor, nobody cares. And we are told that it is impossible for anything else to exist, that anyone telling you otherwise is lying or deluded. But we’ve had a health service for seventy years and it’s worked. In Finland, they trialled Universal Basic Income, and the results were good. I remember reading (though I can’t recall where) that the amount that poverty costs the state in terms of related health problems, desperation crime, benefits etc is far far less than what it would cost the state to just give people money. We live in a world where there is a bloke, the richest person in the world, and he could give every homeless person on the planet 100k USD and still be a millionaire (and there’s a petition here) Just take a moment to digest that. There exists a person who could single-handedly end homelessness and still be a millionaire. That is something that exists and is real. And people sort of just shrug. But try suggesting that maybe people should be given money because they are alive and they are people, and that fine, if this world is going to function on money then let’s distribute it, and watch people go red in the face telling you why that wouldn’t work and why it’s wrong and why, basically, certain people just deserve to suffer. Or watch people nod along right up to the point where they might have to do something. So it was a relief to read this book, to find something so enormously and simply counter to that attitude.

Rating: read this book – spin slowly through space.



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Book review: Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

My brother and I grew up dreaming of new worlds.

This is a stunning, incredible, difficult book. Or at least, there were aspects of it that I found very difficult. And there was also a huge and incredible imagination at work, doing things that I hadn’t precisely seen before. There is also MAJOR SPOILER MAJOR SPOILER MAJOR SPOILER a pretty big trigger warning for incest that I think is worth putting out there. It’s not rape, and there are some identity things going on in the book, but incest happens. END SPOILER END SPOILER END SPOILER.

So, the premise is that we are in an alternate Victorian era, and Catherine Helstone’s brother has gone on a mission to Arcadia, also known as Elphane or Faeryland. And she has not heard from him in long enough that she organises to follow him.

To be bluntly honest, I am enormously conflicted about this book. On the one hand, the writing is exquisite. The imagination of the world, the claustrophobia of the castle in Arcadia, the relentless feeling of creeping insanity, is all incredible. I loved the layering of the world, the little reveals, the attention to detail. In Arcadia, the sun is a lantern swinging across the sky and the moon is a fish. The weather is bought in from other places. The housekeeper is a Salamander, who prefers not to talk to anyone. The gardener is the only convert that has been made since missionaries reached the land of the fae, a gnome called Benjamin Goodfellow. And there is a changeling called Ariel Davenport, though she is clear that that was never her name precisely. Each chapter starts with an extract from a publication in the world that this is set in, and it is full of theology and strange and bizarre things. I could have spent happy hours just exploring the faeryland of Jeanette Ng’s imagination, and a lot of the characters in it.

And I enjoyed Catherine, mostly. She was an interesting, intelligent, and unreliable narrator. But the story… Well, it was very compelling, and I really wanted to know what would happen. What the Pale Queen, a cruel faery who looked perhaps like an owl or a moth, was planning and what she wanted. What was she planning for Laon (Catherine’s missionary brother). I wanted to know and then… Then I really really did not like where it went. Again, this part is going to be ENORMOUSLY SPOILER-FILLED. But incest. uuugggggghhhhhhhhhhhh yeuck. There was a sort of sense to it, and as a way of the Pale Queen constructing Laon’s downfall it made a sort of sense, especially with the identity issue that was going on at the time: the reveal that Catherine was a changeling (or thought she was). But but but but but there were way more interesting things going on in the plot: like, well, everything: What happened to the previous missionary? Who is the person writing in his journal? Why is there a second chapel in the garden? What did Catherine’s sister die of? What do the moths know and who is the woman in black and why does the tower door refuse to lock? I wanted to know these things. I really, really didn’t want Laon and Cathering to have sex. I wanted her to run away with the faeries covered in Enochian writing. I wanted her to find her own life and interests and not shag her brother. I just felt that there could have been a way out. Like, maybe that could have been a temptation or a possibility of it, but that something else could have happened?

And it sort of ties into this trend I have noticed in certain genres where women are only allowed to enjoy bad sex. Bad guilty sinful bad sex where everyone ends up feeling awful and terrible or maybe one of them is a creature of the evil bad night or someone is mute or it’s all just tragic and terrible and the rest of their life is going to be terrible and full of guilt and repentance and it would just be really nice to have some characters in a book have sex and enjoy it and not feel dreadful afterwards or find out that they are related.

Aside from that plot thing, I really loved the world and the writing, and I think I would cautiously read further writing by Jeanette Ng. I just really hope there’s no incest.

Rating: read this book. Feel terribly conflicted.


For anyone looking for fantasy with, yanno, a sex-positive attitude to women, I would personally recommend The Song of the Lionness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (Alanna: The First AdventureIn the Hands of the GoddessThe Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lionness Rampant). Very different genre from this book, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind!

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Tales From Tantamount: September of the Year of the Sad Plastic Bag

The triumphant return of Tantamount from holiday! Krakens! Prophecies! Libraries! Really bad proverbs!

KEEP CALM AND CARRION

Dear Citi/Denizen,
We are returned! A little sunstruck, minus some extraneous people and plus some sand and useless tat. We were going to show you holiday photographs, but were informed that this would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and anyway, the squirrel ate them.
So instead, dear citi/denizen, we shall simply enfold you to the bristling, quixotic and chthonic bosom of our town.

Welcome back to Tantamount.

Headlines in Tantamount
The Amount-as-Much Shouter
Royal wedding madness as Janice and the Eldritch Terror tie the knot, literally! Photos on the centre spread.
Source close to the Eldritch Terror leaks news that Janice and the Eldritch Terror both pregnant p2
Ingenuk Explorer
Atlantis definitely gone now p5
Septic, spirit of September, takes root in Valevalleyinclineditch Park p7-8
Tantamount Life
Gay flamingoes move into the lake of the Serendipitous Squid, greatly improve everything p2

Notice
The energy board takes no responsibility for incorrectly handled Salamanders. Please use the tongs provided, and say the traditional fire chant: “Oh it’s hot it’s hot it’s hothothot.”
Most Salamanders are housetrained and can safely be transferred to your radiators in preparation for the Winter months. Large properties should look into dragons. They may look back.

Weather report: today the weather  was an egg, speckled with happiness. The robins were not pleased.

WARNING
The Tourist Information Centre has moved to the junction of Angrywoman Road and Shadowy Lane. It is the building on stilts with the neon sign and the inappropriate windows.  Anyone visiting Tantamount must go to the Tourist Information Centre for orientation and protective gear. There are also maps, but these are relatively useless because everything moves.

Proverb of the day: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they quick to anger and have big egos. Found on a note near a well, possibly with a woman in it.
Tantamount has a periodical wizard infestation. Suddenly they all turn up, in their robes with their staffs and their beards and their genderbinary notions. Autumn often sees a spate of wizards. Usually they are seen off through October by gangs of seasonal  witches, but in case you encounter one we advise you to:

  1. Refuse them entry to your home.
  2. Refuse their quests, and not sign anything.
  3. Hurl peppermint tea at them – wizards are known to be susceptible and will often fall into a herbal tea coma. In this state you can safely cut off their beards and hurl them into the river.

Tantamount Shadow Council

COME TO LIBRARY
We are warm and safe and full of books. Our librarians are bird women with kind hands and sharp eyes. The tea is free, and the ghosts are friendly. We like people. Come to the library.

Notice
Please do not kick the piles of leaves. Small children will be forgiven, but the gnomes will be upset by repeated kicking and they will set hordes of hedgehogs on you.
Tantamount Shadow CounciL

Autumn Dance Retreat
In the red-gold room at the Subscription Rooms, 10am, Saturday, Tickets T10 to equivalent barterage.
Filomena Equivaas dances into Autumn. Bring conkers, leaves, boots, and fifteen layers of clothes. All ages and abilities welcome. We shall dance, shuffle, roll, or wave our arms in the air to celebrate the seasonal shift. Filomena will be leading with simple dance moves, and Aethel will be on hand for karmic counselling.
At the end of the retreat we will go to Valevalleyinclineditch Park  to dance around Septic in welcome. Pointy hats optional.

“Magpies swirl through the sky in mighty tidings. The moon glows red, the wandering daughter returns and the river bursts free at the darkest day. Release release release” The Town Madwoman, while fetching her laundry in, to an audience of squirrels, one toddler, and a gossipy dryad.

LOST: Entire District Council. Last seen  in a gondola heading east. Please contact Seren xxxxx 291 70 or come to the bridge.
LOST:  All memories of my PHD in quantum cartography. Please return. Amelie xxxxx 728912
FOUND: Deerhide cloak, painted in swirling patterns, suspicious smell.  Andred xxxxx 222124
FOUND: A whistling on the wind, currently trapped in a jar. Catchy tune. xxxxx 727160
FOR SALE: My grandmother’s teeth. In good shape, a little haunted, amenable to light spellwork. Jack xxxxx 227289

Warning
The sky is full of mist. Mist can become heavy and fall abruptly and without warning. We recommend that, if you live in an area susceptible to mist, you invest in a hardhat.
Tantamount Shadow Council.

RE: Hello?
TO: management@pinprick.tan
FROM: lauralovelace@hotmail.tan
Thora? Are you there? Please reply!


Woooooooooooooooo! Finally, we’re back on with Tantamount! I am hoping to find time to write the next few in advance, so this should stay on track now. Hope you enjoyed the return of the silliness, and I should be able to get a few book reviews in soon as well. Remember, if you enjoyed it you can always buy me a coffee online – this is in no way mandatory!

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Tales From Tantamount: A Postcard From a Town. Number Four

KEEP CALM AND CARRION – YOU KNOW IT’S FOR THE BEST.

Postcard four. Image is waterdamaged. It appears to show a landscape, or is it seaweed? There are people in the landscape, part of it. They have sharp teeth. They appear to be playing a game, perhaps with a stick. You really hope that that is a stick. Parts of image are blurred by water, and they worry you. Attached to the postcard is a flat sweetie with a heart on it. It bears the words I could just eat you up.

Dear Citi/denizen.
We miss you. We have eaten too many croissants and (illegible text) makes the pelican seem like a dream, to be honest. There have been altogether too many screens and screaming banshees, but who can blame them? We (illegible text; the words hill, Severn and Apostate can all be made out, as well as a word that could be maggie,magpie, or maquis) eternal rivers. Anyway, there are so very many delicious secrets to be found here, and we are thinking of staying for some time. The maelids say to send their love, and the District Council is behaving itself splendidly. We have yet to confirm whether Amelie Ng is actually having a wild affair, but will let you know as soon as we do.
Best,
Tantamount


Hello! So I am still getting used to the new job, hence why you are still receiving postcards. I have a few book reviews in the works once I get settled in, and hopefully some full length Tantamount instalments. Hoping your Summers are going well 🙂


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