Sunday Soupçons #30

Posted 28th April 2024 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews, Sunday Soupçons / 0 Comments

soupçon/ˈsuːpsɒn,ˈsuːpsɒ̃/ noun
1. a very small quantity of something; a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor

Sunday Soupçons is where I scribble mini-reviews for books I don’t have the brainspace/eloquence/smarts to write about in depth – or if I just don’t have anything interesting to say beyond I LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO!

One book I struggle to describe, and one very immersable YA!

The Innkeeper's Song by Peter S. Beagle
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Representation: Brown MCs
Protagonist Age: three early 20s; the rest 30s/40s
ISBN: 9780451454140

The Innkeeper’s Song is the story of young Tikat’s search for the lover whose death and resurrection he witnessed. It is a search that will lead him into a world of magic and mystery beyond his comprehension, for his wild ride sets him on the trail of three women who are blessed—or cursed—to undertake an impossible mission of their own.

Each of the three has secrets—from the world, from the two others, from herself. Each is followed by demons she can never escape. And all their destinies will be irrevocably linked in a far distant inn, when hunted and hunters finally meet. Karsh, the innkeeper, has no choice but to let the tangled drama unfold beneath his roof; his stable boy, Rosseth, is so mesmerized by the three cloaked women that he is soon finds a way to uncover what is perhaps their deepest secret; and Tikat continues his journey, refusing to let death bring an end to his love.

But it is not until the once-powerful man who has called the three women joins their number that the true quest will begin. And this is a challenge that may claim all their lives before they are done. For he who has been their mentor in the past, he who has been the greatest of wizards, lingers now at the very edge of death. And only they can save him from the enemy who has brought this doom upon him, an enemy who is heir to all the ailing man’s magic, an enemy whom even Death has not been able to defeat…

Despite being a hardcore unicorn-lover, I actually don’t like The Last Unicorn very much (blasphemy, I know). Somewhere along the line, though, I got it into my head that The Innkeeper’s Song was considered Beagle’s best work??? I have no idea where I picked that up, but it put the book on that vague Books You Know You Should Read tbr we all have at the back of our minds.

Anyway, I finally got to it – mostly because it filled a bingo square in the 2023 Fantasy Book Bingo hosted by r/Fantasy – and… I don’t know if I liked it, but I also did? I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with so many PoVs – all of which are impressively distinct – and this definitely didn’t feel like ‘normal’ fantasy, even if I don’t really know what that means, or how to articulate what I do mean.

It’s…odd. It’s untraditional. There’s an adventure that isn’t really an adventure; there are a couple of things that might be considered quests, but aren’t really; there’s a wizard, and a girl brought back from the dead, and unstoppable assassins…none of which fit together in the way you’d expect. I think Beagle might have been deliberately subverting more than a few tropes with this one, and the result is not bad. It’s something I’d recommend for writers and aspiring writers, just because you should always read things written in weird styles in order to expand your own, and Inkeeper’s Song…there’s something about it that feels experimental, even though the actual writing is (mostly) pretty straightforward.

GAH. I don’t even know. I think this one has to be read, folx, rather than explained. But it’s not going to be a satisfying read for anyone looking for a lot of action – it’s sort of slow and a bit dreamy and introspective, but also conversational – all of the PoVs seem to be talking directly to the reader, which is interesting when there’s so many of them providing so many different perspectives on the same events. I admit to having to force my way through it – if it hadn’t been a bingo square I definitely would have DNFed it, because it feels thick and heavy, and getting through it was work. It sent me to sleep more than once, although less often after the halfway point.

I don’t know. It’s odd. It bucks expectations in a whole bunch of ways. I liked that it thumbed its nose at convention, but didn’t find it inherently that interesting. But it might be a good read for someone in the mood for something quite different from the norm.

Cute Mutants Vol 1: Mutant Pride by S.J. Whitby
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi, YA
Representation: pansexual female/non-binary MC with anxiety, trans male side character, Kiwi-Chinese questioning asexual female side character, bisexual Pacific Islander female side character, lesbian Korean female side character, sapphic female side character, biromantic asexual nonbinary parent
Protagonist Age: 16/17?
PoV: First-person, present-tense
ISBN: 0473528665

My name is Dylan Taylor, human incarnation of the burning dumpster gif, and this is my life.

I always wanted to be an X-Man. Except people and me never got along, and apparently you need social skills to run a successful team. Cue Emma Hall's party. One hot make out session with the host herself, and I can talk to objects like my pillow (who's far too invested in my love life) and my baseball bat (who was a pacifist before I got hold of him). Now there's a whole group of us with strange abilities, including super hot ice queen Dani Kim who doesn't approve of how reckless I can be. The bigger problem is a mysterious mutant causing unnatural disasters, and we're the ones who have to stop him. Except trying to make a difference makes things blow up in my face and the team's on the verge of falling apart. Can I bring them back together in time to stop the villain from taking revenge? Have I mentioned I'm not a people person? Magneto help us.

Cute Mutants: Mutant Pride probably couldn’t be more different from The Innkeeper’s Song if it TRIED, but it is indeed very cute and I loved how loud and distinct the MC’s voice was! Dylan is an awesome, and awesomely relatable, character, even for us grown-ups – so long as you remember how gods-damn chaotic and messy puberty was.

This is superficially quite wacky – Dylan’s superpower is talking to objects like pillows and trash cans and baseball bats! – but it actually gets pretty deep with various flavours of Feels, and questioning the ethics, practicalities, and alternatives to vigilantism and violence. It’s big on made-family – although Dylan’s pare (pronounced ‘pear’, for non-binary parent) is legitimately awesome, her love for the X-Men and her intense desire to turn this sudden crop of teenagers with superpowers into a team is clearly all tied up with a craving for friendship and belonging. Typical YA themes, but presented a lot more authentically than most authors manage – I really felt for Dylan, and Whitby did an amazing job at making me feel with Dylan too: I was excited when Dylan was, anxious when she was, cheered her on when she was kicking ass and ached when she got kicked down.

That’s not something I experience all that often – not this intensely – especially not with YA!

And push comes to shove, this book is fundamentally FUN. Even if it gets a little deep, a little raw, sometimes, it’s also so incredibly funny. It’s so easy to read – the story just rolls along, asking nothing of you, not needing you to work to keep up with it. It’s a bit popcorn and a bit bubblegum, but under that is this huge heart that elevates it into something kinda special.

Heartily recommended for superhero fans, and anyone who likes hilarious heroines ready to take on bad guys with a bat!

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