Last Night at the Telegraph Club (#34)

In Last Night at the Telegraph Club Malinda Lo created National Book Award for Young People’s Literature winner which aims to challenge pervasive perceptions of the 1950s in the United States, including stereotypes about Chinese Americans, the invisibility of the lesbian and gay community, and the role of women in the space program, and the reach of Red Scare paranoia on people’s day to day lives. It is also the story of two young women falling in love during their senior year of high school and navigating all the things that seemed destined to keep them apart.

So much of queer history is about reading between the lines and understanding the meaning behind coded words and actions. It helps create the “gal pal” problem in historical recounting – its good historical practice to not assign labels you cannot support, but with so much of the evidence going unnoticed by those who aren’t adequately trained or who are actively seeking to ignore it, people’s lived experiences get missed or erased. Lo’s research for this began with the desire to uncover the stories of the lesbians who lived in and around Chinatown in the 1950s, and her dedicated research shines through in the authenticity of the narrative she was able to craft.

I just wish I liked it better. I have a firm feeling this is a case of I’m not the audience Lo wrote this book for, in that I am no longer a young adult. There’s plenty of story for me – or anyone – here, thus my indecision of whether to round my 3.5 up or down, but the pacing felt slow to me, and part of that was in the way the layers of the story were laid in, the structures familiar to me now as hallmarks of YA. Which isn’t to say this isn’t well written, the opposite is true. But I can’t make myself give it a higher rating, but I am looking forward to discussing it for #CannonBookClub.

Young at Heart #CannonBookClub Picks (CBR13 #18-20)

I read these books all together for our Young at Heart book club so it only feels right to review them all together. Our goal for book club was to find book selections that reminded us of childhood in order to (hopefully) inspire a bit of lighthearted nostalgia. For the most part, these books succeeded on that metric for me.

Ghost Squad: Ortega, Claribel A.: 9781338280128: Books

Ghost Squad – 4 stars

Up first is Claribel Ortega’s Ghost Squad. I often have trouble sinking into Middle Grades books – it is where I most clearly feel the “this book is not written for me” gap between childrens/YA and Adult literature. But, by and large, I was able to sink into the reading of Ghost Squad and enjoy the story of Lucely Luna, her best friend Syd, and their adventures with more than one type of ghost. From Goodreads: Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

Ortega weaves her Dominican culture into the story, giving us a taste of nimitas/cocuyo and the other things that go bump in the Caribbean night. I enjoyed the heck out of that, but the part that stuck with me the most – and what I’ve been sharing with others about this book – is just how girl-centric this story is. The story is a fun adventure that also tackles some big themes like loss, belonging, and family The way that Lucely’s ghost family functions in the story, and how her dad is on the outside looking in to those relationships, forms an incredibly strong base from which Ortega builds Lucely’s independence, her friendship with Syd, and the world saving they get up to.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Wikipedia

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – 3 stars

I’ll be honest, this book is where the expectations monster came and got me. My memory from childhood is loving this book. Spoiler: I did not love it as an adult.

The book focuses on 9-year-old Peter Hatcher’s frustration with the horrendous behavior demonstrated by his annoying nearly 3-year-old brother, “Fudge”, who frequently goes unpunished. Peter becomes frustrated with Fudge for several things, particularly his insistence on disturbing Peter’s pet turtle, Dribble. Add into that Fudge’s nonstop temper tantrums, a finicky phase of abstaining from eating altogether, and their parents continuous doting on Fudge and Peter has had enough.

As an eldest sibling I felt for Peter and the struggles he had with his feelings surrounding his little brother Fudge. Thankfully my own younger siblings were never anywhere near Fudge levels of destructive, and no pets died at their hands. There is a constant undercurrent of stress in the book, and while my younger self probably just felt propulsive tension but adult me was stuck a bit in the mire.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Adams, Douglas: 9780345391803: Books

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 4 stars

Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway (which itself becomes redundant almost immediately), Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher from Betelgeuse 7 working on the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ford has spent the last fifteen years on Earth posing as an out-of-work actor and become best friends with Arthur, who is already having a terrible day as his house is being demolished for a highway. Once they are off-planet their adventure only grows as they become looped up with a series of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox: the two-headed, three-armed president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot. All this while traveling through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”).

Douglas Adams is playing with the reader, layering in ideas and notions that are meant to make you think while simultaneously going for the laugh. The book is performing on several levels at the same time. I read this one as an adult for the first time 6 years ago. While I do think that it really isn’t meant for the younger audience, it does fit into a great spot in the YA world while still being for adults as well. There’s a certain universality to the story where there’s something for you no matter where you are in your own life, but the humor might be lost on someone who isn’t old enough when they first encounter it.

The book does have its problems all these years out, there’s definitely a subset of readers who find themselves exhausted by Arthur’s shtick of just not doing for himself and he is often the weakest part of the story.

The Glass Hotel (CBR12 #45)

The Glass Hotel

I don’t know, really, what I was expecting from this book and I’m also not sure that whatever those expectations were that they were met. I was able to watch an author discussion between Mandel and Isaac Fitzgerals hosted by the Greenlight bookstore in the spring when this book was released and I left that experience knowing that the book featured a Ponzi scheme and focused around the 2008 economic collapse, and that a main character died and also that estrangement of many types was a key theme. The synopsis from Goodreads also isn’t much help, check this out: Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.

Confused, right?

And that was my overall reaction to the book, I was confused about what I was reading and how I was reacting to it, and there felt like an artificial distance had been placed between the reader and the characters. I can and do appreciate that Mandel is exploring something that is not beautiful, and that the characters are often emotionally empty inside, not able to create meaning in their lives. There are characters reckoning with the reality of having the structure of their lives ripped away by a single event they could not have imagined before it occurred, and in that way it reminded me of Station Eleven as well as Mandel’s style of switching between characters.

Mandel is unpacking what wealth does, what we allow it to mean. This is also a book about accountability and personal morality, and the ways in which our guilt manifests itself. It’s a great character study, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me right now. I’m pretty sure that’s COVID’s fault, I’ve had trouble sinking into anything deeper than romance and fanfic lately, and I hope in future I’ll be able to revisit this and see if it doesn’t improve in my estimation, because the writing to be stellar, but I never really found my footing.

The Disasters (CBR12 #30)

The Disasters by M.K. England

My reading intake has dropped off considerably since May, but book club kept me with my hand in the game so to speak, because I really enjoyed my first choice, The Disasters by M.K. England. This book ended up on our selection list because I saw an interesting write-up about it and thought hey, I want to read that book. Sometimes it pays to be the Book Club Maven. (I also read I Hope You Get This Message, I had previously read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet which I loved, and while I’m glad so many chose to read An Unkindness of Ghosts I actually put it on the list because I didn’t want to read it – not everyone likes what I like.)

The Disasters is a road trip story – a favorite trope. Our narrator, hotshot pilot Nax Hall, has a history of making poor life choices and getting into trouble with authority figures so it is not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. He’s dejected that his life’s goal of getting out to the space colonies as a pilot is gone, but he’s not surprised per se. Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth (what happens to washouts) is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy before Nax and three others leave. They manage to escape, but they are also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. They are now on the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, and Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy – and stop an even larger disaster from happening. In order to do that they will spend four days traveling between worlds on the run and in hiding and picking up some help along the way.

We’re with Nax through the entirety of this quick 350 page work, and the story isn’t the same in the hands of another lead. England draws her characters so well that any of the others could have been their lead, but there’s something about Nax, how he implicitly exists as the cross-points of defining characteristics, that adds some needed depth to the themes England is poking at. Speculative fiction is built on tales of exploration, survival, ingenuity, exceptionality, and redemption, and this book is not without those things. The crew of The Kick are each exceptional in their own arena and ingenious to boot, they are out to redeem themselves from their failure at the Academy, but also to ensure the survival of many, many people. The world they live in is the product of continued exploration, and the exploration continues in the background of the book.

I also unabashedly love a found family story, and this book also explores that trope. It’s probably because I grew up in a loving, mostly stable home and my parents were and are the kind of people who accept all comers. If you needed some family in your life, they were going to see that you got it. That is in fact how in his early 20s my oldest brother ended up in my family in the first place, but that’s not my story to tell. But the story of a the family of friends created under stress and duress in The Disasters hit all those notes for me, and I’m hoping it speaks to the warmth of both kinds of family (since our narrator Nax’s birth family are pretty great too) that are in the author’s life.

As to the future setting, the universe of The Disasters is a realistic, but hopeful, place. Progress has been made in the 150+ years between now and then, but its uneven and not quite what we might hope. Its also a future with bureaucracy and corruption, but in most places the structures of the new colonies focus on the things that people love, not the things that drive us crazy. All in all, I’m glad to have read this one, and hope you were too if you read it.

Station Eleven (CBR12 #20)

This is my third reading of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It is one off my favorite books of the past few years, a book that I find to be nearly perfect. This reread was for Cannonball Read’s Book Club where we’re revisiting our first even book. It is also an extremely prescient time to be reading a book about a global pandemic, but I’m glad that Covid-19 isn’t nearly as devastating as the Georgian Flu.

What I was struck with this time through was how Mandel structured the pass-offs between characters. On my first read through I remember being thrown off by how Mandel wove the story so that she pump-faked me time and again, catching me off balance by where or when the story was going next. I loved it then, but it wasn’t the experience I had this time. Mandel doesn’t equally balance our time with characters or settings in Station Eleven, and it creates a beautiful eerie quality to the book. But its skillfully done, this time through I could see the details of each pass-off, each time she sent us down a new road, each careful construction to open the story even further, to dig in just a little deeper. The story is full of tension because you never know when you’re going to see a character again and if perhaps their storyline has reached the end, and while the last two times through that made me sad, this time it made me cherish the moments with each character just a little more.

The book is full of visual cues and references, from the items from Arthur’s (and Miranda’s) life that make their way out into the post-flu world, to the art described in the book-within-the-book Station Eleven that Miranda creates, to the beautiful descriptions of the world the characters are in, how nature takes back over, what true devastation and collapse look like, to the world that they lost, that we are very much still in.

I really love this book, and I hope you’ve read it and love it to. Don’t be afraid to read it now, but maybe check in with yourself first, just to be sure.

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (CBR11 #46)

In setting up the prompts for Cannonball Read’s Sherlock Retellings Book Club I realized one of the parameters I use when deciding if something is a good retelling or remix: a good retelling for its own sake, needs to have enough of the original’s connective tissue without feeling like it’s been made using tracing paper. In the Lady Sherlock series Sherry Thomas split the various characteristics across several characters and I think it worked really well to not have direct analogs for the most part.

Its set in the same historical time-space, but she really broadens the type of characters we see from Arthur Conan Doyle’s. Thomas creates for her readers a female centric worldview, most of our main characters are women, and the machinations surrounding our main mystery and the side ones are also centered on women. Even of male dominated storyline (stupid Inspector Treadles) is focused on his fears surrounding his wife’s own ambitions.

There is plenty of allusions to Doyle’s Holmes – cyphers, lies, Government spies – but the book also suffers from what I don’t think is a Doyle problem: its slow and has at least one too many storylines.  As in A Study in Scarlet Women Thomas uses three voices to tell the story: Charlotte, her sister Livia and Inspector Treadles. While it was always clear which character is delivering the narrative, they didn’t always line up, or feel equally strong. In fact, the storyline surrounding Treadles, which backs up to the main death Charlotte ends up investigating, felt like a serious afterthought. My other problem is that the pace of this novel just died in the second third – there was too much retreading of covered ground and a lack of links to the main narrative.

I do quite enjoy Thomas’s Charlotte Holmes and her cavalcade of Doylesian characters and will continue with the next in the series The Hollow of Fear as I do enjoy a good twisty mystery, even if the twists aren’t always entirely earned.

A Study in Scarlet; Scandal in Bohemia (CBR11 #37 & 38)

Image result for complete sherlock holmes

My previous Sherlock experiences have all centered around visual adaptations, starting with The Great Mouse Detective (1986). My mind’s eye had a very specific versions of Holmes and Watson cobbled together over many incarnations Watson, to me, is an intelligent everyman who is aware of the things he does not know – as well as being a man of responsibility and duty. Sherlock is a bit testy, has a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to solving a problem or getting information he needs and is how I was taught the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. I got a little burst a pleasure when a classic Sherlock expression would show up. But, on the whole, A Study in Scarlet left me feeling a bit underwhelmed so I’m glad I also read A Conspiracy in Bohemia before walking away from Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.

Image result for great mouse detective

For A Study in Scarlet we are meeting these two iconic characters as they meet each other for the first time. Dr John Watson needs lodging upon his return from war in Afghanistan (a plot point utilized in the contemporary BBC Sherlock adaptation) and a friend introduces him to Sherlock Holmes who is looking for someone to share expenses at 221B Baker Street. Holmes makes his living as a consulting detective which serves as a point of fascination for Watson who becomes the de facto memoirist of Holmes. For their first mystery, Sherlock is summoned to a south London house where a dead man is found. The police are baffled by the crime and its circumstances: the body is unmarked, but a mysterious word has been written in blood on the wall. Sherlock asks Watson to accompany him so that he can understand as Holmes applies logical deductive reasoning to uncover a tale of deadly revenge.

The story falls apart for me the minute we enter Part II. Doyle decided to completely change point of view and present the backstory of the victims separately. We lose the Watson narration, and with it, the heart of the story. Add in to that the very sensational way in which Doyle presented his Mormon baddies and my modern sensibilities were not having it.

For Scandal in Bohemia the portions of A Study in Scarlet which I had quite enjoyed were present and all the things I didn’t were gone. I haven’t read enough Doyle to know if he perhaps is just a stronger writer in the shorter form (this one is a short story to the novella length of A Study in Scarlet) but a few years into his journey of writing the exploits of Holmes and Watson he had dialed down admirably into his characters and provided moments for their successes and failures.

It seems to me that Doyle is using his characters to critique various aspects of British society. He wrote them in particular ways to get at something; whether it be class structures in England or the expectations assigned to the different genders with the introduction of Irene Adler. Watson, and to lesser extents Lestrade and Gregson, are the more everymen – they have ordered outlooks on the world. Holmes is their reverse, he is unordered, without concern for the things many would be concerned with. Doyle lays out the differences in a shorthand of how the men use their reasoning, be it inductive or deductive.

The Real Inspector Hound (CBR9 #71)

I always get a smidge nervous reviewing short works and book club choices. This one is both. Exciting times friends!

Image result for the real inspector hound cover

My immediate takeaway when I finished was that it may be too absurdist for me. But that doesn’t quite grasp the idea I was after. From my limited experience with Stoppard, he is always playing with words, playing with meaning, playing with intent, and has no problem (perhaps prefers) to have his characters speaking at cross purposes. What that does to a reader is leave them with a sense of whiplash and “what the heck just happened?” Or at least, that’s what happens when that reader is me.

The Real Inspector Hound is about theatre, critics, reality, and fate. Or it is just a play about two people sitting around waiting for something to happen, like that other one. This is early Stoppard, and I found his introduction to my edition most edifying about his process and what we received as a result. He had bits and pieces of dialogue between the characters who would become Moon and Birdfoot, but they had no purpose. He would come back to it over the years and eventually the device of the body on stage, and that body being Higgs catalyzed Stoppard into its completion. Which makes sense to me that we ramble about a bit and then land on an ending.

But that ending doesn’t mean a great deal on its own, nor does it really resolve anything. We are still left without firm footing about who each of these characters are, or even if Higgs is really dead.  I don’t think we know who anyone in the play is at all, making the “real” in the title a red herring. It’s a similar play on words to “Absolutely True” in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

As we move from the word play of our critiques and their supercilious language and self-absorptions, to the play within the play which is riffing on any number of genres, there is a moment where the characters have already been pulled into the maelstrom of events. It probably happens before the play begins, but there’s really no way to know for sure. The character motivations and choices that had led them to this moment and we’re off. Without Higgs’ dead body on stage, there’s no reason for Moon to be there miscommunicating with Birdboot, without Birdboot’s fascination with leading ladies he isn’t drawn onstage and on and on.

What does the author have to say about it all? Quite a bit actually. Here’s a quote MsWas found from Tom Stoppard in Coversation:

I originally conceived a play, exactly the same play, with simply two members of an audience getting involved in the play-within-the-play. But when it comes to actually writing something down which has integral entertainment value, if you like, it very quickly turned out that it would be a lot easier to do it with critics, because you’ve got something known and defined to parody. So it was never a play about drama critics. If one wishes to say that it is a play about something more than that, then it’s about the dangers of wish-fulfilment. But as soon as the word’s out of my mouth, I think, shit, it’s a play about these two guys, and they’re going along to this play, and the whole thing is tragic and hilarious, and very, very carefully constructed.”

So where does that leave us? As I said over in the Cannonball Book Club Discussion Post “I feel like he is both fucking with everyone and very carefully critiquing the ever-loving shit out of existence, while just having a go at a dead body on stage.” And that about sums it up.

This play was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

In Praise of Hatred (CBR9 #50)

Image result for in praise of hatred

One of the rewards of being the book club maven for the Cannonball Read is that I have to be on the lookout for books outside of my comfort zone. In my bio over there I describe myself as someone who reads everything, just some types of books more frequently than others. That applies to proper Literary Fiction as well. More often than not, I’m rolling around in the genres.

However, I try to give the people what they want and there were several requests for Non-Western Literature, which led me to a few weeks of research, several books for a vote, and our final choice of In Praise of Hatred. I do not vote for book club books unless there is a tie. But, this one stood out to me and I was hoping that it might be the choice. Now I wonder what magic blurb writers have that I was so thoroughly tricked.

Over 150 words into this review, I feel safe saying that I struggled with this book. I did not even finish it. I simply gave up somewhere around page 250. With that said, if there were any last minute Hail Mary passes accomplished by Khalifa I missed them. So take all you read with a grain of salt.

Throughout the book we are in the mind of an unnamed narrator, and I have a tough time with those types of narrators in general. I think it is because they often appear in stories structured without dialogue (which based on the article I read from the Guardian, Khaled Khalifa is a screenwriter known for his talent with dialogue – I feel betrayed!) . The other compounding influence is that to the best of my limited knowledge this novel is in first person present tense or first person stream of consciousness.  It bothers me, the repetitive nature of being told rather than being allowed to see, as we are limited to what the narrator is repeating to herself/the reader.

My other major complaint is that by the time I got to the end of the first section I was pretty well convinced that Khalifa was overly focused on the physicality of femaleness with no particular narrative driver. I am a lady person. I promise you I am way less in tune with my physical being than Khalifa would have you believe, nor would I describe it in the sort of overly flowery language that he utilizes. My biggest reminder is that my breasts are often in my way. Basically, my body is more annoyance than discovery and I don’t remember it being otherwise in my late teens. Which is why, I’m going to come right out and say it – is sexist writing. The level of preoccupation with the female form, even from a character displaying same sex attraction, negates the positives of this work.

That said, there are things I liked, and while the narrative arc didn’t pull me in, the inner life of our narrator did. One of the consistent refrains we hear from her is that she is full of hatred; it acts almost as an incantation for her to stabilize herself, to center herself once more in her body. I found this fascinating. We would hope, or expect a person to focus on a positive attribute, but it is so very often not the case. We focus on a negative (for me its frustration, my frustration pushes me through) and wallow in it.

I am glad at the end of the day that we decided to attempt this book. I feel strongly about reading banned books, and books that are told from points of view outside our own. I just wish it had meant more to me.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

The Devourers (CBR9 #12)

The Devourers (U.S. Edition) book cover.jpg

In my reading habits, I do not read too much fantasy. I have never been a fan of high fantasy, those works that are set in an alternate world. I struggled with The Hobbit for years before finally managing to get through the audiobook last year, for example. I do better with “low” fantasy, stories set in the recognizable world which include magical or mythological elements, which is where books like Daughter of Smoke and Bone work much better for me. The Devourers, Cannonball Read’s Fantasy book club pick, should fit into that niche as well, but it really felt genre-defying while I was reading. I described it as historical magical realism in the book club chat, which is something that falls into fantasy, like The Night Circus, which I love, but this book is also working with some larger themes that felt much more akin to lit fic.

The rest of this review is going to jump around a bunch, be warned.

The book has the structure as a story within a story. Our entrance into the larger world of werewolves/shapeshifters is Alok. Alok is a history professor out for the evening when he meets the character who will be known throughout most of the book as the Stranger. The Stranger introduces himself as half-werewolf, hypnotizes Alok with stories of his past, and in a promised second meeting convinces him to transcribe a translation of scrolls for him. The scrolls tell the stories of Fenrir, Gevaudin, and Cyrah.

All that to say that Alok’s first interaction with the stranger made me think the book was dumb. It was not, but its framing device is possibly the weakest part of the entire novel. The book was strongest during the Cyrah centered section in the middle, but the constant POV switching early in the book led me to do a lot of skimming. This, as well as some of the other weaknesses in this book feel like debut novel mistakes to me. Das was going to show us all his tricks up front, but instead it made the beginning of the book simultaneously dense and barren.

Fenrir and Gevaudin are the stories prominent shapeshifters, I felt Das positioned Fenrir both the poster boy for toxic masculinity and a complete denial of self-acceptance and knowledge. Unfortunately, I thought the structure was god-awful. The reader is presented the Alok section, and then Fenrir post rape, and then Fenrir pre rape just made for an unwelcome entry into the larger ideas of the narrative.

Das makes a big and interesting leap in his werewolf/shapeshift story by tying together several different mythologies into one larger myth. It works, but I feel like Das was dropping bread crumbs, or assuming more knowledge on his reader’s behalf than I actually had, which left a lot of unanswered questions and possibilities. The book comes in right around 300 pages, so there was room to expand into the mythos, and specifically spend more time on Cyrah from her own point of view. I wish Das was a little clearer, a little stronger in his world building.

Also, Das works identity throughout the novel and there’s an interesting concept to a second self creating a hermaphroditic nature, but then why default Male? That’s where Das lost me, and even being presented with a shifter who defaulted female did not solve my issues since she (like a lot of how Cyrah was treated) was focused entirely on her ability to mother/nourish. There could have been more here.

The werewolves used their non-humanness as a shield, as a way to protect themselves from any identity attributes that don’t fit into the accepted. Throughout the novel the very behaviors and emotions they are disavowing as human as the ones they are demonstrating. I also was struck by Gevaudin’s struggle with keeping true to his second self’s nature, but his obvious care and affection for others, which should have been something that didn’t happen. Gevaudin presents his arguments against Fenrir as “love is stupid and humans are stupid”. But, Gevaudin is in love with Fenrir and then forms a years long close emotional bond with Cyrah. But again, Das doesn’t completely follow through.

I would like to take a moment and sing the praises of Cyrah: she was amazing. Initially I was concerned that Das would blow the landing on a character first introduced by her rapist, but she’s complicated and angry, hard and fragile. The character overcame my low expectations. Cyrah’s honest appraisal of her situation, both in the micro of the rape and the macro of her life situation made her a fantastic character. Unfortunately, I just don’t think the book served her well. The reader doesn’t get to read more about her and how her friendship with Gevaudin developed after Fenrir leaves for the final time. How did she end up becoming this sort of jungle goddess? Why did her life need to end the way that it did, and what point was there in taking that much strength and power into one being?

Finally, at the end when Alok starts exploring his own gender fluidity I was left more confused than anything else.  Perhaps I simply missed the signposts that Das had laid in, I had assumed that his bisexuality was enough for his fiancée and family to shun him, but apparently, I was supposed to see this coming. Again, I think Das tried too many things, all good ideas, but he just couldn’t balance it properly He needed more pages to do all the things he was attempting. However, I don’t know that I wanted to read more pages.

I think the best parts of the book are when the various main characters -across the multiple timelines- are ruminating on what their lives mean. Cyrah is vested neither in dying or in staying alive, based on her life experiences. Fenrir and Gevaudin are struggling with staying within the stereotypes of their werewolfness. Alok and the stranger are finding their own ways to survive, and Alok is working through the fluidity of his wants and needs. This is all so interesting.

3.5, rounded down.