Adventuresses Club Press 2: The Nun Ensign

That’s correct, we have another book out! This time I’ve delved back to the 16-17th centuries, to bring you the impossibly block-busteresque life of Catalina de Erauso, the Nun Ensign. 


Deciding that the life of a nun in Spain was not for her, in 1600 Catalina escaped the nunnery, dressed as a man, and sailed to the New World. There she got into fights, seduced women, enlisted as a soldier, and… murdered a lot of people. Her scrapes with death and escapes from the authorities defy belief, and the events are told with a truly economical approach to words, which is occasionally infuriating, as you wonder what possible subtext could have ignited a given incident. 

Try a sample here:

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The Undivided – Jennifer Fallon


There was a time, back in the early to mid 2000’s, when I recall adoring Jennifer Fallon’s Demon Child series and associated trilogies, which populated an entertaining universe with complex characters, godly personifications, and political intriguing. So I approached The Undivided, one of Fallon’s later offerings, with optimism. Unfortunately, I’ve given up partway through, because the novel seems to serve up the reader a massive dose of FWFP (First World Fantasy Problems)… and because the plot is unfolding with so many close elements to the Demon Child books that I’m seeing a double-image of R’shiel standing behind Ren.

There’s the mysterious origin story of an orphan adopted by a wealthy and influential single woman; the general angst of feeling misunderstood; incestuous crushes between the main character and a close relation which turn out not to be, genetically speaking, incestuous, but are still entirely queasy; the use of prison as a metaphor for the character literally having no other choices available to them; the mysterious powers inherent in the main character which must be unlocked before they can begin to be mastered; the physically perfect and alluring female secondary characters who manipulate using their bodies… 
I can accept that transitioning from urban fantasy to full-fantasy within a single novel is difficult. And perhaps the story does improve as The Undivided progresses. But at halfway through, I did not feel that the novel offered enough engagement to actually finish: it is simply another privileged, rich child with angst, called upon to Save The Universe. Fantasy can (and does) do so much better.
K.L. gives The Undivided 2 out of 5 bacon-snarfing leprechauns.

Adventuresses Club Press 1: The Conquest of Mount Cook, Freda du Faur

Greetings, fellow readers! A brief project update, which I’m sure you will all be as excited about as I am.

Firstly: I have a new website to host my Very Exciting Project: Women on Adventure. I’ve spent the last couple of years researching obscure accounts of women travellers, whose professions run the gamut from soldier, to cartographer, to spy. My limitation is simple: if it was published prior to 1918, I’m interested in it!

As part of this, I’ve been aiming at publishing a number of different accounts by these women each week (and, eventually, I would like to collate these into manuscript form). You can view the updates on Facebook, or go directly to the source of goodness that is my website: http://womenonadventure.net/.

Secondly: Because I quite sincerely can’t get enough of encouraging everyone to read about these fantastic ladies’ exploits, I’ve also started up The Adventuresses’ Club Press, dedicated to popularising them. It also gives me the opportunity to write forewords to analyse their adventures from a historical and contemporary perspective — bring on the intersectionalism, sisters!

The first book published by The Adventuresses’ Club Press is The Conquest of Mount Cook, by Freda Du Faur, Australia’s first female mountaineer. As I come from a family of rock climbers and mountaineers, I was ecstatic to find an edition of her autobiographical work to share online! You can try a sample on Amazon:

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The second book will be out soon–here’s your hint: it involves a nun, conquistadors, and significant amounts of swash-buckling.

Thirdly: I have a (new, first edition) niece, and over the weekend adored the opportunity to read Rebecca Solnit’s essay “The Ocean around the Archipelago” to her while she slept on me. Life goals achieved.

That’s all for now!

Update from a Neglectful Writer

Things have been exciting lately – lots of work on a couple of key projects which I’ve fallen in love with since, oh, about this time last October. I am still reading a lot, devouring books weekly, but I haven’t been writing down my thoughts on them, which makes me feel rather more gourmand than gourmet. Can one get mental indigestion from an unalloyed diet of fiction? Perhaps. Which is why I have been peppering my diet with denser, shorter, non-fiction reading material.
So I will share a couple of articles and one novella I have read recently. Not books, true, but really resonating articles freely available on the web. After this, I shall retreat back into my wombat hole, and keep working away steadily at these mysterious Somethings, which I hope to share with you all soon.
1. Wired Magazine “Now is the Greatest Time to Be Alive” – by President Barack Obama, guest editor
This essay actually made me tear up a bit while I was reading it. Not to the point of crying (that would be melodramatic), but to the point of taking a moment to blink really hard every few lines from the effects of throat-tightening emotion. I know that Obama has left some pretty massive human rights issues in his wake (understatement – Guantanamo Bay is still operating, NSA spying etc), but he also has really tried improve lives through initiatives like universal health insurance, attempting to address the US’s hideous gun culture through tighter controls (a tragic fact of life is that it is easier to buy a gun than it is to procure an abortion), and encouraging us to recognise equally important needs for parenting by making it mandatory that men’s and women’s toilets should all have baby changing stations in government restrooms.
Obama’s ‘Editorial’ is optimistic, and far-reaching. It first encourages us to look at now: lower crime rates, lower teen pregnancy rates, and lower poverty rates (in America). Increasing life expectancy, increased numbers of people obtaining tertiary education and slowly increasing diversity in many spheres. Obama then expands this improved world – this one, today – to the rest of human society, and it’s heartwarming. It’s so easy to get battered down by the constant stream of negative news media, so having a political figure start by building us as readers up? Revolutionary.
Once he has your heart beating faster (and maybe the first hint of moisture in a stoic eye), Obama then urges us to look forward. Look at the big picture. Keep organising and voting for better prospects, keep opening yourself up to new perspectives. Science has been making each generation better to live in than the last one, so keep working on scientific progress! Society is always in need of improving, so keep protesting, keep making life uncomfortable for the status quo which relies on disenfranchising others! I loved it, and reading this essay was the key factor in my subsequent subscription to Wired magazine, so that I could see just how Obama’s vision unfolds throughout the issue (Answer: enjoyably).
“That’s how we will overcome the challenges we face: by unleashing the power of all of us for all of us. Not just for those of us who are fortunate, but for everybody.”
2. Peace and Freedom Magazine, 1989, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” – Peggy McIntosh
Privilege is a fairly commonly recognised term nowadays – along with the phrase “Check your privilege.” But what’s it mean?
While we tend to examine an -ism (race/sex/religion/ability) in the light of how it discriminates against other people or ourselves, there is a tendency towards blindness in recognising that the absent advantage caused by discrimination doesn’t vanish: as a corollary to the act of discriminating against a person or persons, these advantages are accrued by those not subject to the prejudice. If it were a boardgame, you as subject to an -ism would receive, say, -5 points at starting. And I, as exempt from this specific -ism, would receive those points as +5. I might lose advantage points due to other -isms, but the more -isms a person could be subject to, the greater cumulative effect of discrimination. Soon, you might be starting the game not with 5 points instead of 10, but with -5, or -10.
It is a notion that we are incredibly resistant to: I see it when speaking with men about feminism. I see it in myself when talking to people of different racial backgrounds about racism. There is a willingness to agree with the obvious disadvantages of an -ism, but not to accept that corollary of privilege and the moral accountability that comes with recognising it. To accept one’s privilege feels like an admission of guilt by implication, because I am unfairly benefiting from an ongoing social construct that came into effect generations before I was born. Just as others are being punished by it.
Peggy McIntosh began questioning how men could agree that women were disadvantaged, but not accept their relative privilege in discussions of feminism. And then she began questioning what privilege she might be benefitting from, that she might be unable to see or accept.
Some of the list of privileges McIntosh describes in her essay can be definitely considered more as the privileges conferred by classism than racism, as Gina Crosley-Corcoran discusses in her article “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person”. Intersectionality recognises that people can be privileged in some ways, but not privileged in others. It is not an ultimate decider of net loss or gain, so much as a means of recognising how one benefits from an entrenched system of advantage based on an -ism.
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”
3. Mask Magazine “Sick Woman Theory” – Johanna Hedva
I have been keeping this one close to my chest for a while, which is rather antisocial behaviour given that it regards a gem of an article that should be shared as widely as possible. It lives in an open page on my phone, and I flick to it whenever I want to have a thought-provoking read. I can only apologise for not sharing it earlier, in case you have not yet encountered Hedva’s essay.
“Sick Woman Theory” explores chronic illness in the framework of protest for social change, and how the traditional Arendtian definition of the political, being actions performed in public, by definition excludes those who are unable to access the public sphere to make political actions.
Hedva goes on to explore the white and wealthy definition of wellness in America today, where invisibility in the waiting room may be due to gender, but never to race, linked back again to the politics of public: who is allowed to be visible here? Who is subjected to the trauma of not being seen? She compares a white woman’s treatment in the emergency room being subjected to long waits for serious illness, to that of Kam Brooks, a black woman arrested and forcibly detained for eight days in a psychiatric ward for behaving “too emotionally” when coming to collect her car, which had been impounded by police without evidence of wrong-doing.
It is an incredible article, and continues on and on in excellence, in a perfection of social criticism which seeks to validate the experiences of those who are enduring unbearable realities, who cannot make their bodies public and therefore political statements, who live with the criticism of their existence by the dominant social and political processes. Sick Woman Theory is for those whose existence the Western capitalist system deems illegitimate and invisible, either through their physical vulnerability, through being unable to work, or reproduce, or consume and fuel others’ employment. Go, read it.
“[A]s I lay there, unable to march, hold up a sign, shout a slogan that would be heard, or be visible in any traditional capacity as a political being, the central question of Sick Woman Theory formed: How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?”
4. The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A novella by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper charts the slow descent into insanity of the main character, whose loving doctor husband has decided the best cure for her nervous depression is relaxation (isolation) in a low-stimulation environment (she is neither allowed to write, paint, sketch or answer letters) out in the country, in a room high up in the estate they have rented: an old nursery with vilely patterned yellow wallpaper. At first she treats his overbearing instructions with good humour, lamenting the lack of stimulus and the terrible decorations in their temporary home. But as her incarceration continues, the yellow wallpaper begins to prey more and more upon her vulnerable mind… A classic short story, which drags the reader down with it into defiant madness.
Find it: as a free download on amazon.com, or on Gutenberg.
“If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression–a slight hysterical tendency–what is one to do?”
“I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.”

Prudence: Book One of the Custard Protocol – Gail Carriger

Custard Protocol

Prudence is everything I love in a Gail Carriger novel, from the wingtips of its illustrious series title (Custard Protocol! It’s better than Parasol Protectorate!), to the soles of its hobnailed, steampunk boots. The prose is frothy and bubbling with wit and amusing one liners, as I’ve come to appreciate from the author of these fantastic comedies of manners.

The titular Prudence (Rue) is the daughter of three people: a soulless half-Italian woman Lady Alessandra Maccon, her husband the werewolf, Lord Connall Maccon, and their friend the supremely gay and fashionable vampire Lord Akeldama. Prudence is clever, curious and skilled in intelligence gathering (Akeldama runs one of the finest spy rings in the world).

Entering the world of the Parasol Protectorate some seventeen years after the last book about Alessandra, Prudence purloins a suspicious snuffbox, is gifted by her father Lord Akeldama with a state-of-the-art bright dirigible painted in ladybug red and black, and sets forth on a mission of intrigue… to India. As only Carriger could make it, this intrigue is about tea: in Steampunked Britain, there is little more important than the life-giving brew. Certainly not coffee.

And this is the point at which my guilt-free enjoyment of the series stuttered to a bit of a halt. Because it seemed rather… colonial, in how it addressed the actual population of India. Discounting the supernatural set they meet in India, there is barely a named person of native Indian descent in the entire book, which felt to me like an unnecessary marginalisation. And no matter how wonderfully petticoated and resourceful Prudence is, this use of a continent as narrative window dressing and exotification was discomforting.

Which is a pity, because it is an enjoyable book, and I have already reread it twice. As the first in a series, and the denouement of a new, not-entirely-innocent but possible-slightly-naive character, I have hopes for Rue’s development into a more rounded worldview, and the fuller participation of characters of all nationalities. Carriger definitely has written with an eye to equal representation of the genders: “the senior greaser and at least half the firemen and sooties were in fact female.”

You can pick up Prudence and read it without a problem. But you may enjoy reading the Parasol Protectorate series first (my review of Soulless here), and working up from there. There are a good many recurring characters which you will otherwise miss.

K.L gives Prudence 3.5 out of 5 young women floating past on puffy clouds of ulterior motives.

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“Goodness, that sounds like a disease of the unmentionables.”

“They de-puffed out of the aetherosphere to find India spread below them like a great red and brown apple fritter nestled in a pool of blue sauce. There were sprinkles of green jungle, which, if one continued the comparison, meant the fritter was mouldy.”

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy

Attending a fairly restrictive religious school in my youth meant there were few options for good, fantasy escapist literature, and Narnia and Lord of the Rings were the status quo for fantasy, with their clear delineation of good versus evil.

Imagine then, my glee at finding the oasis that was Pawn of Prophecy in this barren landscape, and my subsequent devouring of the series which followed. Of course, we all know that revisiting the loves of one’s childhood can be disastrous… but this is what I have done.

Pawn of Prophecy is a fairly stock standard heroic quest. Garion, feckless farm boy, departs on a journey fraught with perils accompanied by a grocery list of character tropes gathered from across a series of quasi-medieval kingdoms, in order to reclaim the One Ring (sorry, sorry, the Orb of Aldur), and battle the one-eyed, crippled god Sauron (apologies, it’s Torak), and reclaim his ancient, hereditary kingdom as King Aragorn (my mistake, King Garion).

Which is a fine, time-honoured storyline, if unfortunate that most of his subsequent novels follow the exact same format.

Where the novel deviates from default narrative (historical) sexism (and more here) to achieve actively pursued sexism is in its portrayal of female characters.

Garion’s Aunt Pol, who works in the kitchens of the farm where he grows up, is beautiful and regal, with permanently soft, white hands (apparently a side effect of daily hard kitchen labour. Who knew). Fulfilling the Trinity character trope, she is an incredibly powerful, autocratic commander, obeyed by all she meets – unless they are men and decide to ignore her, at which point she… does nothing. Usually, Aunt Pol simply glares and retreats from the field of battle, uttering a comment as she goes. Acidly. It’s a recurring descriptor. Her bossiness and vengeful punishments are a subject of much mirth amongst the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (sorry. The quest group as it consists of all other men).

Meanwhile, other female characters are either seductive minxes, out to entrap the young hero with fecundity; baby-obsessed breeders who infantilize their husbands, allowable in this context by the man himself not being masculine enough to warrant anyone’s respect; coldly dutiful wives who hate their husbands but endure marital rape as their husband’s due; the occasional repulsive ancient witch, who gets her comeuppance; or enthusiastic-yet-barren wives, who desperately want to prove their love by popping out babies.

It is a horribly simplistic worldview – there is literally no occupation for women in this world other than wife, cook, or professionally chaste mystic, who is also (in one case) a cook, and later becomes a wife. Insulting, but it gets worse when one considers that these tropes are applied to literally one of the most powerful human beings on the planet. Aunt Pol (Polgara the Sorceress, daughter of Belgarath the Sorcerer and mumble-mumble-cough) can remake the fabric of reality on a whim, yet is dependant upon a grumbling, entitled boy to save the day because Prophecy.

The laws of physics? Conservation of matter? What laws? Polgara can create matter from nothing, transform herself, read minds and is effectively immortal, yet her narrative contribution consists of raising and nurturing the hero, and she is recognised mainly for her awe-inspiring beauty… and her fantastic cooking ability.

And literally, all these Bechdel-test-failing female characters do when they get together alone is to talk about Garion, men and babies – and their menfolk, in turn, assume they are simply discussing clothes and hair, in the midst of crises of end-of-the-universe proportions.

This is all even more disappointing when you discover that Lee Eddings, David Eddings’ wife, is coauthor or consultant on all his works. Clearly the Edding duo subscribe to the belief that Simone de Beauvoir expressed as “Man is the measure of humanity. Woman is other.”

Looking back critically, I can understand how this underwhelming series made it into the rigorously policed library of my adolescence. Its like the patriarchy and Lord of the Rings (no, there’s not a difference, aside of the deniability of Lord of the Rings being a product of its time) had a child made of narrative sexism and pseudo-plagiarism. And I say that with the full knowledge that I’ve written and self-published a mashup.

Some of their ideas are good, and some of the dialogue is witty when it’s not being dismissive and sexist, or describing national identities which border on racist. But the books themselves are overwhelmingly sexist, and so…

…K.L gives Pawn of Prophecy 1 out of 5 hamstrung sorceresses.

 

Using the power of Wiki….

The Fall of Peter Pan is now featured on Wikipedia! Huzzah for expanding awareness and free advertising!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_based_on_Peter_Pan#Books_and_publications

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published their first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.