March DNFs

Posted 30th March 2023 by Sia in Horror Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 2 Comments

Four DNFs this month – one more than February.

Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
Genres: Horror, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Sapphic MC
Published on: 18th July 2023

From beloved internet icon Chuck Tingle, Camp Damascus is a searing and earnest horror debut about the demons the queer community faces in America, the price of keeping secrets, and finding the courage to burn it all down.

They’ll scare you straight to hell.

Welcome to Neverton, Montana: home to a God-fearing community with a heart of gold.

Nestled high up in the mountains is Camp Damascus, the self-proclaimed “most effective” gay conversion camp in the country. Here, a life free from sin awaits. But the secret behind that success is anything but holy.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know my rule; 20% is my cut-off point for a book. If I read the first fifth of a story and don’t care about where it’s going, it’s a DNF.

I seem to break that rule a lot, though, and I broke it here; I pushed to 33% before I called it quits. So I have read the first third, rather than the first fifth, and I was not impressed. The first-person narration is very blunt and dry, with a lot more telling than showing; I was disgusted rather than actually showing or conveying that disgust. And while there might be twists later in the novel, I didn’t find the whole vomiting-flies, seeing-demons thing especially interesting or original, even with the mind/memory-fuckery going on.

I feel like a surprising number of Horror writers forget, or don’t realise, that no matter what horrible visuals they come up with, very little of it is frightening without immersive sensory detail. It’s not enough to have a character vomiting flies; what does that feel like? Describe the sensations in the character’s throat, on their tongue, the taste! Compare the glistening of the larvae to the wet spaghetti they’ve been vomited into! Make me feel it; make my stomach heave! You can’t just…lean on the fact that most readers find the idea of bugs in our mouths icky, you know? That kind of shorthand works when we’re talking about a visual medium – a painting, a comic, a film – maybe because we’re wired to react more viscerally to things we see. But a static image you sketch in my head with dry, undescriptive prose is not going to have the same reaction unless you happen across one of my particular triggers, which is not something you can depend on managing with every – or even most – readers.

It doesn’t help that Rose isn’t a very interesting character – I like that she’s curious, but she’s also very placid, and when that placidity starts to change…it happens very quickly, and without any obvious trigger. I didn’t understand or believe in her pretty abrupt transformation into someone who doubted her parents, her therapist, her God. What’s fuelling this change? What’s pushing her away from her Church? Did I miss something? Even if I did, it’s not great that something that major is small enough to be missed!

My main issue, though, is definitely the fact that Tingle tells us what Rose is feeling – and by implication, what we should be feeling – instead of, you know, making us feel it. That never works for me. And the lack of description – particularly sensory description – means absolutely none of the horror elements actually strike me as frightening in any way.

Even if it had… Like I said, I was pretty underwhelmed by the horror elements. This wasn’t giving me the visceral terror that realising your memories have been fucked with probably should; and the demons weren’t that impressive.

Sorry. Pretty major fail.

Tell Me How It Ends by Quinton Li
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Autistic lesbian MC with anxiety, aromantic asexual non-binary MC with ADHD
Published on: 9th April 2023
ISBN: 9780645681512

A coming-of-age cozy fantasy with a queer cast, witches, and tarot. Perfect for fans of Legends & Lattes and Our Flag Means Death

Iris Galacia's tarot cards do more than entertain gamblers.

With the flip of her fingers she can predict the future and uncover a person's secrets. Under the watchful eye of her mother, she is already on thin ice for pursuing a passion in the family business, but then cracks start to form, and eventually she falls through.

She is given an ultimatum: earn a thousand coins or leave the business, and the family.

Enter Marin Boudreau, a charming young person who can scale buildings and break off doorknobs, who comes for her help to rescue a witch who's been falsely imprisoned in Excava Kingdom.

And Marin is willing to pay a high sum for her talents.

But saving a prisoner from royal hands isn't easy, nor is leaving home for the first time in eighteen years.

Now Iris must learn to trust in herself, Marin, and this new magical world, while racing the clock before the royals decide the fate of the witch, and before any secrets catch up to her.

TELL ME HOW IT ENDS features LGBTQ+, disabled, neurodivergent, cultural, and mental health representation. The main character, Iris Galacia, is a lesbian tarot reader with anxiety and autism. The second main character, Marin Boudreau, is an aromantic asexual non-binary person with ADHD.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This was another arc, and I feel worse about it because it’s one I reached out to the author to request. The characters and set up are lovely, but…it’s that mysterious ‘prose rhythm’ problem again; I can hear it and it’s really jarring, but probably absolutely no one else will have this issue. It was like some of the sentences had too many words, redundant ones that broke up the rhythm/structure while adding nothing to the meaning of the sentence itself.

…Yeah, I know that makes no sense. Sigh. Generally this rhythm thing isn’t something that bothers other readers, so unless this sounds like an issue you’ve had before, you probably don’t need to worry about it.

I also thought some of the imagery didn’t quite work. Lines like this one

Both tension and glee rose as high as the ceilings of the Galacia Gambling House, the broad stone and wooden columns intersecting the game floor reminiscent of prize money, waged property, and the occasional family heirlooms which kept the atmosphere afloat.

How are the columns and floor reminiscent of the prize money etc? That doesn’t make sense to me.

Some of the phrasing was a bit…clumsy? Example

These types never seemed to miss walking by her and exchanging shifty glances, only for one of them to either question her or do something of the nature.

‘do something of the nature’? I get what is meant here, but that could definitely have been put better.

TL;DR: unless you’re as obsessive about prose as I am, if the premise of Tell Me How It Ends appeals to you, you should probably check it out. I think this one is only going to not-quite-work for people like me!

Assassin (The Prince's Soulmate Book 1) by Katy Haye
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: M/M
Published on: 23rd June 2023

Kiss or Kill? Why not both?

Kit was sent to the Sudharainian court with one purpose: kill Prince Talal, heir to the sultanate.
Kit’s never wavered in his duty before, but he’s taken aback by a sudden, powerful attraction to the man he’s been sent to assassinate.
The attraction seems to be mutual, so perhaps Kit can use it to his advantage: seduce the prince to get close enough to murder him.
There’s just one problem: Kit knows a hundred ways to kill a man, but since he’s never even been kissed, he has no idea how to begin a seduction...

Isolated by being both prince and heir, Talal has been eager to meet his soulmate since the age of two.
He knew his soulmate would come from across the sea where customs are different, but he couldn’t have guessed the man would be a beautiful killer who considers soulmates an abomination.
The only place they’re compatible is in the bedroom. Talal will use that connection to forge their bond. Since soulmates are united for life, that will give him plenty of time to establish a relationship ... won’t it?

If you enjoy Tavia Lark and E H Lee's MM fantasy stories, you'll love stepping into the world of Adventurers and Exiles. Join Kit and Talal in their timeless romance where a feral cinnamon roll meets his intellectual bound-by-duty prince.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

With Assassin, the author reached out to me, and this has to have been the fasted DNF I’ve ever had. The writing is pretty basic, but the real issue was that this was a case of insta-lust, to a degree that just slapped me in the face as completely ridiculous.

He stiffened as the emir stepped towards him. He knew the traditional Sudharainian greeting, but he was afraid that rather than exchanging a kiss of peace he was in danger of throwing himself into the man’s arms.

This is on the first page. Before the two men have exchanged a word. Or even made eye contact! No. Nope. Not a chance. This is just stupid. I can accept this sort of thing in a/b/o-verse fanfic, where it’s a chemical/pheromone thing, but not otherwise. THANKS BUT NO THANKS.

Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy, #1) by Tade Thompson
Genres: Sci Fi
Representation: Nigerian cast and setting

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is the start of an award-winning, cutting edge trilogy set in Nigeria, by one of science fiction’s most engaging new voices.

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again — but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

Super readable, but also super gross; I freely admit that I’m a prude and don’t want to read about shit and torture and rotting corpses and illegal black ops and hippogriff/human fucking. Plus, I made it past the halfway mark and still had no interest in how it was all going to end.

I realised I was forcing myself to keep reading Just Because, and there’s not enough time to waste any on books I don’t enjoy.

So I acknowledge that this is objectively pretty good and definitely clever, but it’s definitely Not For Me.

Here’s hoping for better luck next month!

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2 responses to “March DNFs

  1. Oh! I had no idea Rosewater has those elements to it. Someone in my book club seemed to like it a lot and so I looked it up and found the synopsis interesting. I might still try it, but it’ll be a library loan for me on this one, then.

    • Sia

      I can definitely see why some people would enjoy it! But I think a library loan is a good idea – you can always buy a copy later if it turns out you love it and want a copy for yourself!

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