Paladin’s Strength, by T. Kingfisher

I enjoyed Paladin’s Strength. I knew what I was getting into this time. It’s still fantasy and romance with a few other genre bits tossed in. It’s still good, I still like all the genres in play here—or at least don’t dislike any of them enough to turn me off enjoying the rest of them.

Specifically, romance is kind of hit or miss for me. It’s not my popcorn genre. I don’t feel sucked into it or compelled or fed by it in the same way that I do with other genres, I don’t delight in it the same way. But when it’s well done, and especially when it doesn’t exist on its own, I’m down.

And it turns out that Ursula Vernon (pen name: T. Kingfisher) is good at her job. She’s good at writing characters that I enjoy. She knows the beats for a romance, and she’s happy to improvise around them with other interesting genre material. I don’t think I want to read more of her romances right now—I could use a palate cleanser, a break—but I like the world she’s established enough to want more of that, and if that requires reading romance I guess I’m down.

I just wish the romance were more queer.

Queer romance isn’t a necessity for me, but it does feel like a big boon. I’m not sure precisely what about it appeals most to me. Maybe it’s just the way in which queer romance seems more likely to diverge from classic gendered expectations of romantic relationships and interactions? Maybe I’d be down with het romance if it hewed less closely to conventional gender roles for its development.

Unfortunately, that queerness is not very present in this story. For all that Vernon does an excellent job making her characters feel like people, the central romance still feels fairly conventional to me (though I should note that Vernon continues to do fun things with healthier and more interesting relationships than I usually see in romances). There are certainly queer folks around, and there are queer characters baked into the background of the world in such a way that they are both unignorable and totally normal. That’s good. A big plus. But I’ve been hoping that this series would diverge further from conventions, and it hasn’t yet.

Apparently, from the blurb I’ve read, the next book in the series will have queer romantic leads. It should come out next year, Paladin’s Hope, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s about two characters I’ve liked in smaller roles in these first two books, so I’m very ready for it. Hopefully that romance feels less conventional too.

Despite my complaints, I think I’m learning. I’m certainly getting a better handle on how a genre + romance combo works. The romance is broadcast early on, usually through a meet-cute or some sufficiently distinctive interaction to anchor the pair’s dynamic for the reader, and then there’s a tremendous pile of will-they-won’t-they and yearning lustful thoughts before some kind of more satisfying release (ahem) close to the denouement, often just before the climax (AHEM) comes to a head (god, everything is sexual, this is like high school).

Obviously, there’s some room for variation, and for stylings around the edges. Novik and Vernon (and Bujold) don’t structure their romances exactly the same way… but they’re close enough to each other, for the most part.

I don’t plan on writing much in the romance genre per se, but it’s nice to know the structure and conventions to be able to play around with it on the sides of other stories.

Anyway, yes, much like with the previous book, Paladin’s Grace, if you like romance and don’t mind fantasy, mystery, and intrigue—or if you like fantasy, mystery, and intrigue and don’t mind romance—you’ll probably enjoy this book. This book might not be for you if any of those things is unpalatable for you. But if you’re not sure, or you’ve only read bad examples of those genres previously, give these books a try. Vernon is good at her craft.

Paladin’s Grace, by T. Kingfisher

Paladin’s Grace went by quickly. I was hooked early, and pulled right on through. The many good things I’d heard about Ursula Vernon’s work feel like they apply here too.

Side note: T. Kingfisher and Ursula Vernon are the same person, T. Kingfisher is the pen name used for a whole suite of Ursula Vernon’s projects. I’ve meant to read Ursula Vernon’s work, especially Digger, for a while now. When I learned about her pen name, I signed up for these books right away. Easier to get them as ebooks from the library than to find a good, physical omnibus of the comic.

I was a little surprised, however. I hadn’t realized this would be romance. I think I might have enjoyed Paladin’s Grace more if I’d known beforehand that it was. But I did enjoy it, and it’s my own fault for not reading any of the book’s theming data—besides which, the fact that the story is romance is pretty abundantly obvious when, soon after the cishet meet-awkward, the narration is overtaken by constant thoughts about the other party.

My genre-revelation wasn’t a problem. I already knew that I enjoyed some fantasy romance (thanks Naomi Novik & Lois McMaster Bujold). If you actively dislike romance (in this case, lots of wistful thoughts and mostly-unfulfilled lusting), you may not like this book. If you can tolerate romance, this book has a bunch of other good stuff in it too, things that usually don’t end up in romance stories. After all, as Ursula Vernon acknowledges in her author’s note, most romance doesn’t accompany grisly fantasy murder mystery, dead gods, and legal drama. The perfume and frequent discussion of scents is perhaps the most normal detail. The fact that one of the leads is a perfumer may be a little less normal, as are her frequent attempts to mentally reconstruct nearly every smell she comes across, no matter how foul.

Anyway.

I absolutely recommend this book if you want solid fantasy fun. If you hate romance, that’s more complicated. If, like some of my friends, you only find romance palatable when it’s queer… I’m sorry, this book will not satisfy you.

But if you’re as intrigued as I was by a story about a paladin whose god has died, have at it. I had a good time.

Prep for next semester & Barium Deep

Sorry for missing last Friday, I was busy driving to a family reunion and didn’t have something prepped ahead of time.

Anyway, I have good news! I’m making progress on my project for the fall. It’s possible that I’m not supposed to start it yet, given that this is in fact a school project, but I’ve already bitten off too much to chew so I don’t feel guilty about it.

I think I’ve already mentioned this, but the goal that I’ve set for myself is to not only write a middle grade sci-fi space adventure but to edit and write a second draft of it too. I’m not sure what the technical length requirements might be, so I’m using the 50,000 word novel as my measuring stick. Given that I’m openly inspired by Diane Duane’s So You Want To Be A Wizard (which the internet tells me is roughly 124,000 words) my 50k target is possibly conservative.

I have previously hit a regular 2000 words a day for a month at a time. My hope for this section of the summer is to push myself back up to speed, get into the rhythm of writing that much every day, and thus prepare for producing a novel not just once but twice. There’ll be an interruption to this pattern when I run off to work at LARP camp for kids, but with a little bit of luck I’ll be able to make it stick.

And if I cheat things just a bit, by getting some additional material for the project done while I’m ramping up to the pace I’ll need, I don’t think I’ll lose any sleep over it. Besides which, much of the material that I’m writing now is stuff that may never see the light of day. I’m writing scenes for the story (which will be about Barium Deep), but I’m also writing about the background of the setting and trying to figure out how things work. The more I can establish now (and the more excited about writing this story I can be) the easier it will be when I have to be writing it all through the fall.

This means I’m doing research. I’m reading articles on AI and augmented / mixed reality and space exploration and 3D printing and whatever other technological things I can find that seem appropriate to incorporate into my space setting. And I’m reading and watching things that feel like the right tone or genre or subject matter: So You Want To Be A Wizard, 2001: A Space Odyssey, some of the Vorkosigan books, Digimon Tamers, etc. It’s a bit eclectic.

Actually, here’s a cool video to watch. It’s totally not the same technology, and it’s a very different time period, but something about the claustrophobia, compactness, and industrial nature of submarines seems like it translates well to spaceships in my mind. That training & orientation video really emphasizes the intricacy and condensed nature of the WW2 submarine, and those both feel like things that would carry over to the future of putting humans in tin cans in space. You use the space you have on important things, like the machinery that keeps you alive and keeps your ship powered and moving. Unless you’re fabulously wealthy, everything else is extra.

Cordelia’s Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ok, so I was planning to post a piece today on game-system flavors, but then I just kept writing and writing.  It turns out that that piece is going to be a bit longer than I’d anticipated.  Instead, I’ll give you an easy one: Cordelia’s Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Ostensibly the first set of stories in the long Vorkosigan series, I came to this book only after I’d already read a number of the other stories.  I feel that I benefited from the prior experience, and would recommend that you start elsewhere as well.  Not because the stories in Cordelia’s Honor are in any way bad, but because some parts of them are harder to engage with when you don’t already know and like some of the characters.  I feel like I had a deeper understanding and appreciation for the characters that I met because it wasn’t the first time that I’d met them, even though the events that I read about were obviously happening long before anything else that I already knew about.

My quick opinion before I get deeper into talking about the book?  Read it.  In fact, read all the Vorkosigan books.  They are very hard to put down once you start, but at least they come in manageable, more or less bite-sized chunks.

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