Book Review: These is My Words, by Nancy E. Turner

Cover of These Is My WordsThese Is My Words is a work of historical fiction (NOT a romance novel, despite considerable romance) loosely based on stories that the author, Nancy E. Turner, heard about her real-life great-grandmother, Sarah Prine. The story begins in 1881, when seventeen-year-old Sarah Prine and her family are part of a wagon train heading from the New Mexico Territory to Texas. Due to a series of calamities, the family ends up in the Arizona Territories, where Sarah struggles to run a ranch more or less on her own.

 

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881 – 1901 is one of our “family books,” that is to say, it’s a book that the women in my family pass back and forth and deeply love. These Is My Words has two sequels, Sarah’s Quilt and The Stone Garden. However, both my mother and I thought they were good but not as good as These Is My Words, which we have both read many, many times. This book is not a romance novel in the sense that the ending is bittersweet at best. However, it does contain a wonderful love story, and a wonderful portrait of a tough, smart, and frequently cranky woman, Sarah Prine.

 

From the start, Sarah is tough, fighting to defend her friends and family despite being uncertain about her life and being dazed with grief after seeing many deaths. I don’t want to spoil much of the story, but as she becomes a wife and a mother she develops a deeper layer of toughness beneath which there is a keen longing for education, a love of beauty, intense curiosity, and great affection for her loved ones. Sarah wishes she was more of a “lady” like her sweet sister-in-law, Savannah, but as Savannah tells her over and over again, her loved ones like her (and depend on her) just the way she is.

 

The best thing about the novel is Sarah’s voice and her character development as she grows from a naïve teen into a sharp businesswoman and rancher. Here’s an excerpt that shows off the keen business sense she develops as the story progresses, along with her sharp wit, and her independence. In this passage, Sarah is talking to a bank clerk in Tucson:

 

I went to one of the windows and introduced myself, and after I told the man what I wanted to do, he had the gall to sniff in my face and tell me to let my husband handle my money and not trouble myself with the confusion of it all.

 

Oh, I said, how confusing is it? If it makes you confused, I surely don’t want this bank holding my five hundred dollars.

 

Well, he perked right up and said, Five hundred dollars? I believe we can be of service to you after all.

 

I doubt it, I told him. I made this money with the sweat of my brow and the labor of my hands and I’ve got the rawhide to prove it. I don’t intend to leave it with any man that thinks money is confusing.

 

He puckered up his face kind of nervous and said, Oh, I assure you, Ma’am, we are not the slightest bit confused about money. We have a fifteen hundred pound safe, he says. Completely, one-hundred-percent theft proof…we offer one point nine percent interest, he said.

 

I stood up. Well, I told him, I can turn this around in supplies and stock and see about twenty-five percent interest on cattle as long as there’s no drought, and a hundred and fifteen percent interest on soap, more if there’s a drought. It’s a little at a time, but it comes right in steady as a clock. In case that’s confusing to you, Mister, it’s called profit. Thank you to you, and good day.

 

While the love story in this book is one of my favorites, this book is not and was not marketed as a romance novel. I don’t even want to spoil whom the romance is with given that early on there is more than one option. This is not a book that shies away from the realities of a hard and violent life and on many occasions you will need tissues and maybe some booze, although you will laugh a lot too. It’s a story about love, but it’s also a story about grief.

 

I want you to get to see the love story unfold for yourself. But I will say that it involves some banter, a lot of humor, brittleness and tenderness, and a lot of honesty. It also involves Sarah reading The Happy Bride, an instructional tome that advises Bible study as being “the first importance in being a wife.” But this book doesn’t end up being of much practical use to Sarah, who is very worried about an incident early in the book when she accidentally cries herself to sleep in a man’s arms:

 

As for that rainstorm and a certain soldier, I will just turn from my wicked ways and be sure never to place myself in a situation like that again. If I was, I would turn him away with a strong command rather than bawl like an orphan calf and fall asleep like I was safe with him. The book says “a young lady is never safe when in close physical proximity to a gentleman, and although he would pursue her, he thinks all the more of her of her if she rebuffs him heartily.” So I have thought of a hearty rebuff that I will tell that Captain Elliot if ever I see him again, or any man who presumes to be in close physical proximity.

 

The book doesn’t say what to do if you have slept in your underwear on top of a soldier in a wagon during a rainstorm. I will study this book so the first chance I get not to be an old maid I will be ready.

 

Best of luck with that book, Sarah.

 

One thing I like about this book is that while it stays true to Sarah’s perspective, it’s fairly even-handed in its treatment of Native Americans and in its treatment of other minorities. To be clear, Sarah is the narrator and this is very much a story told from a white pioneer perspective, which means that Sarah is often in deadly conflict with the Comanche and the Apache tribes. Initially, the attackers are presented as creatures of utter terror, raiding the wagon train and raiding local homes. They are nameless and faceless and everyone is terrified of them.

 

However, even early in the story, there are hints that Sarah is too smart and too curious to see people as caricatures. Early on, she has a silent moment of connection with a Comanche man who sees her kill a rapist. This man offers her silent respect, which Sarah clings to in the aftermath of guilt that follows the killing. Sarah is horrified to hear of massacred tribal women and children. She hears people arguing about how the wagon train people are encroaching on Comanche Territory, and she worries about it. Later, she hears about another character’s horrible sense of ambivalence in his job of chasing and capturing Geronimo. And eventually she learns more about the differences between local tribes after she hires an Apache woman to help her around the house, while she also becomes friends with a Yavapai man.

 

The book is very clear that the West wasn’t just a sea of whiteness. Sarah gets to know a Chinese family, and she becomes close friends with a Mexican family, from whom she learns Spanish and a lot of new recipes. It’s not that Sarah is incredibly progressive. It’s simply that Sarah tends to take people at face value. She likes people who share recipes and she likes people who chat with her on the porch and she dislikes people who shoot arrows at her even if she has some sympathy with their motives. She tends to see people as people, not as types, and she likes people who help her out and who let her help them in return.

 

I have a long list of trigger warnings for this book. First all, as much as I appreciate that Sarah sees Native Americans as individual people and does not look down on them, this is still a story about the white takeover of native lands, told from a white perspective. We already have a million stories about Indians attacking white people. This story is told better than most but it’s still the same story in many section of the book.

 

Also, there are multiple rape threats, rape attempts, and actual rapes. Children are frequently in peril and some children die. So do some animals. This book runs the gamut of emotions, and it doesn’t glamorize the hardships of the place and time.

 

I love this book for a lot of reasons. I have some family in Arizona, and that gives me some personal interest in the topic. I love the romance and the incredibly sense of place that is conveyed on Sarah’s ranch and in Tucson. I love the combination of dramatic events with every day life. But the main reason I love this book so much is because of Sarah and her unique and wonderful voice, and because of the different ways that female strength is portrayed in different characters.

 

This is an amazing story, beautifully and powerfully written and deeply feminist, but it’s not intersectional, meaning that it doesn’t address this lives of anyone other than Sarah’s family in much detail. However, if you want something historical that features more perspectives from non-white characters, here are some suggestions:

 

Wake of Vultures, and the sequel, Conspiracy of Ravens, by Lila Bowen

 

This Weird West series (not a series of romance novels) is narrated by a biracial, transgender man. The series includes characters of many ethnicities in its fantasy depiction of a West in which monsters, shapeshifters, and magic exist. I reviewed Wake of Vultures. Beware of literal cliffhangers.

 

The Girl With Ghost Eyes, by M.H. Boroson

 

I reviewed Girl with Ghost Eyes and loved the main character, a Chinese teenage girl who uses magic and martial arts to defend her family in gold rush San Francisco. Again, this is historical fiction, not a romance novel, although there’s some romance in it.

 

Bitter Springs, by Laura Stone

 

I wrote a capsule review of this book for RT Book Reviews. I loved this romance novel about Texas in the 1870s. Renaldo Valle Santos trains with Hank Burnett. Hank is Black, a freed slave who has made a name for himself as an expert on catching and taming wild horses. The two men fall in love and prepare to face the consequences with Renaldo’s traditional family.

 

Destiny’s Captive, by Beverly Jenkins

 

This book, which I reviewed here, is a romance novel that begins on the shores of Cuba but primarily takes place in 1870’s California. It involves a romance between Afro-Cuban Pilar and Afro-Spanish Noah. The book combines swashbuckling and shopping and a lot of female bonding, so catnip alert right there for most of our readers. The book is the third book in a trilogy that includes Destiny’s Surrender and Destiny’s Embrace, You can also enjoy Redheadedgirl’s review of another Western by Jenkins, Forbidden.

 

 

I also found this link, which features books by and about Native Americans.

 

http://www.bachelorsdegreeonline.com/blog/2011/the-20-essential-american-indian-novels/

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Guest Book Rant: A Tween Reviews My Immortal

We have a very special guest blogger today. My tween daughter read My Immortal because her clueless mom (ME) didn’t catch on to what she was reading until it was TOO LATE. I cannot recommend this book to tweens (or anyone) but I can tell you that we had many candid talks about the subject matter, we laughed a lot, and we’ve been using the word “keenly” as often as possible.

Anyway, Dear Daughter wrote this review/rant for all of you. It’s too late for her – she has already been traumatized by what has often been referred to as “The worst fan fiction of all time”. But you can save yourself! Don’t let her sacrifice be in vain!

My Immortal is a Harry Potter fanfiction and is rightfully known as the worst fanfiction ever written!  The book (if you can call it that) is about a vampire who is also a witch and goes to Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. Her name is Ebony Darkness Dementia Raven Way however it changes multiple times throughout the book. (Evony, Enboby, Tebony, Ibony, Enbony, Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Terra Raven way etc…) She is a hardcore goth and a satanist and a lot of people tell her she looks like Amy Lee. She falls in love with Draco Malfoy (In the book his name is spelled Dracko multiple times) and befriends (with benefits) Vampire Potter (Harry Potter, but he got a new nickname because he likes the taste of human blood.) at some point Voldemort shows up and tells Ebony, and I quote, “Thou must kill Vampire Potter!” And when Ebony refuses to do this he says and I quote, “Thou must! If thou does not, then I shall kill thy beloved Draco!” and Ebony is faced with what to do.

The Author of My Immortal is a girl named Tara Gillesbie. However she claims she had spelling help from her friend Raven. The two girls are “goffick” and also have a youtube channel called xXblo0dyxkissxX. (Subscribe at your own risk watching these videos may cause brain cell damage/loss)

Speaking of brain cell loss just reading the fanfic will probably cause this to happen as well! The entire thing is full of bad grammar, people acting out of character, overly long and unnecessary descriptions, and even some stuff that is super offensive! For example this line I was feeling kinda depressed so I slit my wrist and read a depressing novel  and listened to GC while waiting for the blood to dry I drank some human blood, then I was ready to go to the concert. (Grammar errors made in this passage have been removed for your reading pleasure, you’re welcome.) Okay first of all, the protagonist  just casually slits her wrist because she was feeling kinda depressed. Thats offensive to anyone who struggles with depression or suicide! This is a real issue! And that’s not the only time the author casually talks about people slitting their wrist. In one chapter the protagonist is talking with her friends and they are planning what to do during the day and the the teacher (That’s right the teacher) says, “OMFG let’s have a group cutting session!” (Once again bad grammar has been removed, you’re welcome.) NO thats is super offensive to people who struggle with suicide! Also this teacher should be fired!

Like I said before My Immortal is full of characters acting out of character! For example in one scene Ebony and Draco are “Making out keenly against a tree” in the forbidden forest (I swear that’s exactly how the author writes it). When Dumbledore shows up out of nowhere and screemes, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU MOTHERF******” That’s right DUMBLEDORE says this! There are no words to describe how out of character this is! Later in an author’s note Tara claims that the only reason Dumbledore cused was because he had a headache. How stupid can you get?

Despite all of this My Immortal does have one good quality, and her name…. Is Britney. Britney is the arch enemy of the main character but she never does anything wrong. She is the only named Gryffindor character and is a “prep”. Ebony always makes sure to give her the middle finger. Britney is probably the most loved character even though she only shows up about 5 times for 2 seconds. She’s just that awesome!

I don’t think that anyone should read this. Not even Britney can save it. Like I said before it’s full of grammar errors and people acting out of character, and will probably manage to be offensive to you no matter who who you are. It’s impossible to like. It’s extremely inappropriate for children as well. If however you decide to read My Immortal despite everything i’ve just told you, know that YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! Dont come crawling back to me begging for holy water and brain bleach. You can read My Immortal on Fanfiction.net or Wattpad (it’s an app its awesome I love it so much.) Or you can simply google My Immortal and a bunch of sites will pop up that will let you read it, not to mention some people made a movie of it and it’s on youtube.        

Book Review: The Wicked + the Divine

6358968060753326911867408242_WickedDivine01-2ndPTGI sure do love a book that leaves me saying, “Holy crap, what just happened? Did that really happen?” The comic book series The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie is full of such moments, none more than in Issue #11 which was so WTF that I had to rummage around online to make sure that I actually read what I read (I did).

 

The premise of The Wicked + the Divine is that every ninety years a pantheon of twelve gods is reborn. The gods have great fame and great powers but are fated to die within two years of being granted godhood (before that they are humans with no knowledge of what lies ahead). Each god is recognized and deified (by an immortal, Ananke) with these words:

 

You are of the Pantheon.

You will be loved.

You will be hated.

You will be brilliant.

Within two years you will be dead.

 

The first two volumes (Issues #1 – #11) involve a human, Laura, who becomes friends with Lucifer (modeled on David Bowie’s Thin White Duke Persona). Laura tries to solve a mystery that involves Lucifer and in doing so she becomes part of the Pantheon’s world. Laura longs to become one of the gods even though her life would be short – she’s a very frustrating character in her endless obsessions and her angst, which seems at odds with her supportive family life but which is also in keeping her with her being a lonely teenager.

 

The gods are massive celebrities, literal and figurative rock and pop stars. The book is a commentary on mortality (the author was inspired to write the series by his father’s diagnosis with terminal cancer). But it’s also a commentary on how we worship, hate, and discard our celebrities. Of course in reading the series, the reader becomes another level in this examination of how we consume people we think are glorious and beautiful and how their deaths add to their fascination. The comic book characters are fictional, but the reader’s process is much the same as the rock star fan’s process – the characters entice us because they are beautiful and gifted, and the tension of the comic comes from the fact that most of the characters are fated to live no more than two years from the time the story begins.

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In her insightful essay, “The Assassination of Cordelia Chase,” Jennifer Crusie points out that readers “want to be surprised; they don’t want to be betrayed,” and that “The choice between honoring character to show growth and mutilating character to serve plot spells the difference between the delighted reaction, ‘I can’t believe she did that!” and the betrayed protest, “I don’t believe she’d do that.’” W+D is full of moments that are insane and yet don’t feel like a betrayal. You don’t see these moments coming, particularly the end of Issue #11. But after it happens, there’s a sense that all along this moment was inevitable.

 

The coloring and lettering of the comic is brilliant. Everything you need to know about Laura’s fascinating with the Pantheon can be seen in the contrast between the coloring of the everyday world and the coloring of scenes that include a deity. The comic includes male, female, transgender, and gender queer characters, including several who are bisexual. Many of the characters, including Laura, are people of color (a running theme is that Ameratsu was previously a Caucasian girl named Hazel and that therefore she is committing cultural appropriation by assuming the identity of a Japanese Deity).

 

This is a dark comic, not a happy romp, definitely for older teens and adults. However, it is incredibly textured and original and compelling. I have no idea where it’s going but it’s an exciting and chaotic ride.

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

61rH8sThrbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Geek Girl Heather Thayer discovered N.K. Jemisin and she has much to say!

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is a book that I had to read twice in one week. The first time, I devoured it; I gulped it down in frantic, too-large bites. My desire to find out what happens/what is happening/what happened outpaced my ability to digest what I was reading. As soon as I finished the last page I turned back to the first page to start over, but to slowly savor this time.

 

Let’s start this again. The end of the prologue tells it like it is:

 

This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.

But this is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

For the last time.

 

And so it is. Or will be. We aren’t there quite yet. The book is set at a time when the Earth is plagued by earthquakes and other seismic events. Some of these events are so severe that they cause massive death and long periods of famine – often near-extinction-level events. These periods are called “seasons.” There are people — politely called “orogenes,” offensively called “rogga” — who can reach into the earth and use its seismic power. A trained orogene can do amazing things, move mountains as it were (literally). An untrained one can unintentionally cause seismic events or release/draw power that kills. Often a young orogene is discovered because someone gets killed or hurt in a moment of anger or annoyance. People are terrified of them and they are ostracized – exiled when lucky, killed when not.

 

The book is written in a conversational tone – it flips from past to present, third person to second, gives little hints and asides that sometimes don’t make sense until suddenly they do. One can almost picture an old auntie at a fireside telling the tale. I won’t say anything about what actually happens in the book because the inherent pleasure of the book is letting it unfold around you. It can be initially quite confusing until one gets one’s bearings, but that is part of the enjoyment – that moment of “oh, I know where we are!”

 

N.K. Jemisin is an author who has become famous for writing stories that feature outsiders. By creating worlds and characters that have to grapple with the idea of “other” she takes on issues of diversity and identity, without (in my opinion) getting all preachy about it. I found The Fifth Season much more compelling than her previous series, The Inheritance Trilogy, which also addressed concerns of being an outsider. I read that series recently and it was fine, but it didn’t stick with me. This book was more compelling, largely due to the writing style and an important difference. Orogenes are not a good stand-in for diversity issues facing America today — unlike non-whites, women and LGBT people, orogenes are decidedly different and have powers that can make them inherently dangerous. Of course, they can also be immensely helpful, so the story addresses how society chose to balance the two. Spoiler alert: (horrific) mistakes were made.

 

This book is the first in The Broken Earth series. The next book, The Obelisk Gate, is due out this year – probably in autumn. In the meantime I will undoubtedly read and re-read this wonderful book with chapter titles like “Syenite breaks her toys” and “you’re getting the band back together” to see what other gems I can find hidden in this intricate tale.

 

The Last Man, by Mary Shelley

220px-The_Last_Man_1st_editionThe Last Man is just as depressing as it sounds. It’s a book by Mary Shelley that was panned on release but has gained a following in the last couple of decades as an important early example of post-apocalyptic literature. It’s also a fascinating look at Shelley’s emotional life, since the main characters are very loosely based on Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Claire Godwin.

 

The Last Man is told from the viewpoint of Lionel Verney, the impoverished son of a nobleman. Lionel is loosely, and again I emphasize loosely with regard to all of the characters, based on Mary Shelley. He becomes close friends with Adrian (shades of Percy Shelley) and Lord Raymond (Lord Byron). Lionel’s sister, Perditia (Claire Godwin) falls in love with Lord Raymond, and various love triangles ensue. There’s a revolution in Greece and political turmoil in England, and a lot of personal drama, until a plague hits and suddenly everyone has to focus on survival as one by one everyone dies.

 

The structure of the book is such that we know two things from the very start of the book: humanity is not going to die out, but everyone Lionel knows is going to die and the world as he knows it is going to end. There’s no victory in the book, it’s a just a long, long death march into misery. Any time something happy happens, it’s bittersweet because we know it won’t last. To read this book is to ponder the following quote from its pages: “What is there in our nature that is for ever urging us on towards pain and misery?”

 

There are early hints of trouble, but the apocalypse doesn’t really get under way until over the halfway point of the book. A plague strikes the Middle East, then begins moving into Italy, then into Europe. Anyone who has ever read a plague book or a zombie book will know exactly how this goes – in fact, other than a lack of guns and gore, the book matches up quite well with The Walking Dead. Think how well a quote like this could apply to the heroes of The Walking Dead, or 28 Days Later, or WWZ: “I spread the whole earth out as a map before me. On no one spot of its surface could I put my finger and say, here is safety.”

 

The plague is described as a disease, like flu, but this book was written before germ theory. That means that no one quarantines the sick – instead everyone bands together for safety, and keeps watch over the sick, and hover over dead bodies a lot. No one washes his or her hands. I was overcome with a furious desire to throw bars of soap at everyone. One of the leading ideas about how disease happened at the time when Shelley was writing was that disease spread through ‘miasmas’, basically through bad air. So the steadily dwindling group of survivors travels around in an attempt to escape miasma, wandering into uninfected villages, and insisting that anyone uninfected join the party, which of course means that no one has a chance to escape contamination.

 

I’m not gonna lie – this book was a slog. I’m glad I read it. I was fascinated by how Shelley wrote about her contemporaries and I was interested in the early science fiction angle. But this book is both flowery in the Romantic style and horribly, horribly depressing. No reviewer is truly impartial, and no doubt I was influenced by the fact that I read this book during the two-week period in which David Bowie died, Alan Rickman died, and a dear friend of mine died. But by any standards, this book is an exercise in exploring the totality and inevitability of loss. With every step Shelley’s hero took, my heart sank lower and lower until I just wanted to climb into bed. The endless need to scream “WASH YOUR HANDS” did not help my reading experience.

 

So, do I recommend The Last Man? Well, sort of. The writing style is flowery and extravagant, which is not to everyone’s taste today, and the plot is unremittingly depressing. I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed it. But from a literary history perspective, it’s fascinating, and many of the passages, especially those about grief, are beautifully written. The panic of Lionel’s wife when her children fall ill is devastating. Lionel’s desperate search through empty villages, and his delusions that maybe someone is left to welcome him, are haunting. The early sense that the rich are hiding in their mansions, believing that they are protected by their money, resonates all too well today. Just be prepared that this is not a light-hearted romp through a romanticized Merry Olde England. As a survivor of countless losses, Mary Shelley paints an all too vivid picture of being the sole survivor of a group that thought itself above all suffering.

She’s Such a Geek, Edited by Annalen Newitz and Charlie Anders

She’s Such a Geek is a collection of essays by women who are scientists, computer programmers, and gamers. Written in 2006, it feels both very current (why yes, women do still face sexual discrimination in the job market) and oddly quaint (it predates the controversies surrounding Gamer Gate and the “Fake Geek Girl” stereotype). While I admired the essays, I felt oddly detached from them for two reasons. One reason is that I am neither a computer programmer, nor a scientist, nor a gamer and therefore my experiences as a self-identified geek have been different than those of women in gaming and in STEM. The other is that these women speak overwhelmingly of being the only girl in the room – and that’s usually not my experience.

 

The essays explore growing up, working, finding love, and raising kids within the geek culture. Stand out essays include “Really Good for a Girl,” by Kory Wells, in which Wells writes about being and raising a daughter. “Gimp Geek,” by Theda Cornes, talks about being a geek with a physical disability. “When Diana Prince Takes Off Her Glasses,” by Annalee Newitz, talks about some of the many cultural and logistical barriers women face in the workplace.

 

One reason I didn’t relate to this collection is that although I identify as a geek I’m not competing in a glaringly male-dominated field. I don’t mean to sound naive about sexism in publishing, but since I tend to write about romance novels, fiction by and about women, and women in history, I’m not faced with the same expectations or isolation that I might face in STEM. I appreciated this collection because it reminded me of the challenges that women in other fields have to deal with.

 

The biggest thing I got from this collection was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my experience as a woman who loves science fiction and fantasy. I’m almost never the only girl in the room. I never thought of science fiction and fantasy as being “for boys” because girls introduced me to it – Doctor Who, Star Trek, Elfquest, James Cameron movies, Blade Runner, Mad Max, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer – all of these things were brought into my life by my friends, who were other teenage girls. Boys introduced us to gaming, but our core gaming group always consisted of at least as many girls as boys. We went to Star Trek conventions together and wrote fan fic together and I don’t think it occurred to any of us that we were trespassing on boys’ turf.

 

When men have introduced me to science fiction things, they’ve never suggested that I might like it “because I’m a girl” or “even though I’m a girl.” My dad thought I’d like Ray Bradbury because I was a precocious reader with a good imagination. My husband thought I’d like Babylon Five because, let’s be honest, my husband thinks that EVERYONE will inevitably love Babylon Five. He’s an equal opportunity B5 evangelist.

 

I feel incredibly blessed to have always been part of a community of geek women. She’s Such a Geek is a powerful reminder that many women are not so lucky. I’d love to see an updated version of this anthology that reflects the cultural changes of the last ten years. It’s been a long strange trip!

Book Review: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

nimona_final.jpgNimona is one of those graphic novels that is always on lists with titles such as “Graphic Novels You Should Read.” It is usually described as “fun.” So, I read it. At the beginning it is fun. In fact, it’s incredibly fun. But even early on, this is one dark comic, and as it progresses, it becomes unbelievably dark. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s excellent. It’s a simply amazing graphic novel. But it’s some dark, dark shit.

 

Nimona is a graphic novel that originated as a webcomic. It details the adventures of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a self-proclaimed villain who grudgingly takes on a sidekick, Nimona. Blackheart fights against The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, and his nemesis is the self-proclaimed hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (not a typo).

 

Nimona is a book in which tropes are challenged, overturned, and blasted through walls. The story is a fabulous mix of stuff – knights with cyborg parts, robots, dragons, mad science…you name it. The Institution is not heroic at all. Blackheart and Goldenloin were once best friends, possibly lovers. Nimona is a child, but a bloodthirsty one who kills and who urges Blackheart to kill. But she’s also a funny, playful, silly person – and also a terribly tragic one.

 

Nimona starts off very funny and silly. Nimona, a shapeshifter, delights in playing tricks on Blackheart, which is why the Internet is alive with variation on “I’m not a ____! I’m a SHARK!” Blackheart is exasperated by her need for attention and her constant desire to kill their enemies with wild abandon.

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As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Nimona and Blackheart are both deeply sad and lonely. They establish a beautiful father/daughter relationship. When Nimona feels very needy, she begs Blackheart to carry her, and when he says she’s heavy, she turns into a cat. They watch scary movies together, and Blackheart fails to grasp why Nimona is scared by movies but not by anything in real life. They fight about pizza (he likes anchovies, which is probably the only truly villainous thing about him).

 

Ultimately, the story becomes so terrifying and heartbreaking hat writer Noelle Stevenson had to post the following online for her fans:

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“No matter what happens, remember that there is always an alternate universe out there somewhere where this is a story about some hip gay dads who adopt a baby and everything turns out OK.”

 

This story is deeply melancholy, but not depressing. For one thing, it moves fast. It’s exciting. There’s a ton of action and plotting and crazy science and shapeshifting. For another thing, the ending is bittersweet, not a total downer. Some characters reconcile, some are redeemed, some both. Even in its darkest moments, this comic is, at its core, a sweet story. For all the explosions and dragons, it’s really about love – what we do when our hearts are broken, and how we put them back together. It’s also a story about reclaiming joy. So was it the lighthearted romp I expected, Hell no. It was something better.

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