it turns out fantasy doesn’t suck when it’s not the same old shit all over again

I’m not into high fantasy. Like, at all. Or nearly not at all. My goodreads account has only 20 books marked “high fantasy,” out of a total 1316 “read,” and I guess there’s an additional 54 that I’ve marked as “fantasy,” but that’s different, y’know? Anyway. I have a hard time caring about dragons and knights and stuff. I much prefer when magic occurs in the real world. So it takes a great-looking book (or having a friend who is an author) for me to willingly read something that is definitely high fantasy.

Someone I trust is Cindy Pon, so of course when my library got it, I checked out Serpentine [IndieBound], her latest.

Isn’t it pretty? It’s also really good. It turns out that when fantasy books aren’t the same old England-Europe medieval+Renaissance amalgamation shit over and over again, it’s actually really cool to read. This book has so much going for it.

I guess this one’s more alternate history + dystopia than “fantasy,” maybe, but whatever. Speculative fiction plus lesbian secondary character.

First off, food. Cindy loves to eat (I have been to a restaurant with her and tweeted with her numerous times, so I can confirm that she is a huge fan of food, as am I), and I’m pretty sure there is a description of something delicious in every single chapter. I appreciate this because this is a way to get my food memoir fix while reading outside of my genre comfort zone. I also appreciate this for narrative integrity, because fantasy stories structured as journeys tend to ignore the necessaries like going to the bathroom and eating.

Anyway, I also love a good feminist tale, and I love a good sex-positive tale, and I’m starting to really be into girl monsters because girl power everything. (I’m pleased with Girl Power 2.0 now that we 90s and early 00s girls are grownups who get to do a bit more to shape popular culture rather than react to and bond with it.) So this book is all about a girl, Skybright, going after what she wants and needs and fuck everybody else’s expectations, for the most part. Along the way, she meets a guy and has sex with him when she wants to and doesn’t have sex with him when she doesn’t want to, and both things are okay because it’s a guy who understands consent. Skybright is a handmaiden to a noble young woman who loves her like a sister because of course, and this noble young woman is also unapologetically sexually active with another girl, and even though people think this probably won’t fly for her as far as society wanting her to marry a man, Zhen Ni herself (and Skybright) are like, “get yours, girl!” and that’s awesome. I can think of exactly three other books I’ve read that have lesbians in fantasy: Ash [IB], Huntress [IB], and Dark Metropolis [IB]. So this is great and it’s sorely needed.

As far as girl monsters are concerned, Skybright turns out to be half-demon – half serpent, to be precise. Cindy did a pretty great job at making Skybright appropriately disgusted with herself, fascinated by herself, terrified by herself, and empowered by herself. And she is all those things cyclically, not linearly. Some days you wake up and things are okay, and other days you wake up (in the middle of the night, naked, in the forest, because you’ve been sleep-slithering) and nothing is well with the world. That’s a pretty great metaphor for teenage girlhood, no?

Basically, I am not a fan of high fantasy AT ALL and I liked this book, which means that whether or not you like fantasy, this is worth trying.

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2 thoughts on “it turns out fantasy doesn’t suck when it’s not the same old shit all over again

  1. Pingback: three challenges for 2016 | sarah HANNAH gómez

  2. Pingback: when good books go underrecognized because they have “diversity”: a case study | sarah HANNAH gómez

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