By Gaslight by Steven Price

I bought this book on a bit of a lark. A friend of mine and I were doing our bi-weekly bookstore walk-through and the cover and name caught my eye. I am, and have always been, a sucker for a pulpy, steam-punky (the aesthetic, not all the gross pro-British empire stuff) historical thriller. When I read the back though, it sounded kind of ridiculous. The names alone-an impossible to catch, ghostly thief by the name of Shade, a love-sick dumby named Foole (because he’s a fool for love? Get it? GET IT?), a detective named Pinkerton (my vote would have been for Shurlock Murdersolver, but that’s just me)-seemed cheesy enough to give this one a miss. But I was in the mood for something cheesy and dramatic, so I picked it up anyway.

I did not get the book I was expecting.

This novel was incredible. Introspective, complicated, surprising, and stunningly written (for real though, some of the best writing I’ve come across this year. There was a blurb on the front comparing it to Cormac McCarthy and they weren’t wrong), it wasn’t anywhere near the pulpy crime drama that I was expecting. There was still some of that, some drama, some crime, some pulp, but none of it was cheesy or overblown. It, like the rest of the novel, was measured and perfectly paced, just enough to hook and keep your interest.

Which is a good thing, because this puppy is loooong. At around 750 pages, this book is a brick, and a lot of that is atmospheric description and character study. I loved it, but I can see why some people might have a difficult time with it. So, if you’re looking for something light and easy and quick, be forewarned, this is not the book. But if you’re in the market for a dark, historical fiction about human relationships, revenge, and obsession, you came to the right place.

Dig in, my lovelies.

VBR

The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

Ear muffs kittens (eye muffs?), this review is gonna be explicit.

So…this book was the fucking best.

Before I get into the review, I’m going to admit something kind of shitty about myself. I’ve always looked down on romance novels. I know, I know, I suck. And the better parts of me have always known how unfair it is. It’s an entire genre (a massive one, with the biggest numbers in all of publishing) and just like any other genre it’s written by a diverse cast of people, with a wide range of ability, producing both good and bad work. Besides that, there’s nothing inherently wrong with just writing fun, sexy stories (and I know that not all of them are fun and fluffy). Fun is great! Sex is the best! Both are really charming, amazing parts of being a human. It’s the last remaining aspect of my shitty, literary snob teenage self that I’ve never really been able to shake. I wouldn’t judge other people for reading it (even at my snootiest I’ve always been a “find your fun where you can” sort of dude), but I always just assumed that it wasn’t for me.

Until this. fucking. book.

Holy shit it was the best. What have I been doing with my time? How can I justify the basically thirty years that I’ve spent not reading stuff like this? Well…maybe I should give myself a pass for the first dozen or so years, because I really don’t think preteens should be chomping down on this particular type of treat. I mean, if it’s your kid, obviously leave it up to your own discretion, but there’s a lot of violence and people telling each other they’re gonna fuck them in this so…take that into consideration.

With that that in mind though, I read A Game of Thrones when I was a wee little baby and I would rate that as wayyyyy more explicit than this. Like, maybe a hundred times more. Because, yes, there’s violence and sex in this. People suffer, people die. But it’s…different here. Kinder, if that makes sense. This book never treats people like they’re insignificant or disposable. And the sex here is all adult, all reciprocal and non-familial, with no sexual violence whatsoever. In fact, this book has a continual and very specific message about consent, one that it reinforces again and again. The characters aren’t perfect, and they (one of them in particular) does make a pretty severe misstep, but I thought it was handled really well. I was even more impressed with the way it was handled within the context of a dominant and submissive style relationship. The dominant one acted, you know, dominant, but backed off immediately whenever he felt like the other person wasn’t enjoying themselves or wasn’t getting what they wanted. Unlike some other really big name books about this style of sexual relationship, this felt like it was written by someone from within this community, somebody that understands that dominant/submissive isn’t synonymous with abuser/abused. I loved it.

Okay, so I’m going to cut it off here. I could spend all afternoon writing about how great it was to finally read a book about two male characters having a romance where neither of them was a weird, overblown stereotype, or about how cool the magic system was, or how well fleshed out the world, but…I dunno, just read it yourself. It’s so good!

For anybody who likes their magic systems gritty and bloody and grounded, their romances vibrant and gay as hell, and who’s not afraid of the genre modifier historical-supernatural-mystery-gay-romance (or maybe gay-romance-supernatural-historical-mystery?).

VBR

Ps. When I wrote this post this morning I had absolutely no idea it was National Coming Out Day in the states. What a coinkydink! Happy Coming Out Day fellow queers! Do something extra-especially gay for me today 🙂

 

 

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

I can’t believe it took me this long to find Walter Mosley. As a lover of mystery and detective fiction I’m a little embarrassed about the oversight.

I’d heard the name before, mostly dropped in podcasts or conversations about books in an offhand “I’m not going to recommend anything by Mosley, because obviously everybody who is anybody knows about him and has read everything that he’s written already” sort of a way. And instead of asking about him I would, desperate as always to seem cool and in the know, nod my head and say ” yeah, obviously” and then change the subject as quickly as I could. The first few times I didn’t really think anything of it, there’s authors that people name drop a bunch that I have no time for (reading Charles Dickens makes me want to claw my eyes out and Jane Austen can suck a lemon) but eventually I heard it enough that I started to keep my peepers peeled. And holy shit am I ever glad I did.

This is quite possibly the best first novel in a detective series I’ve ever read. The mystery itself is tight and well-plotted, with a decent twist that I didn’t see coming (although the impact of the reveal has probably changed over the last few decades since the book was released. I was surprised, but by its very nature it doesn’t mean what it used to mean), but it’s the world, and the people in it, that really set this book apart. I don’t know anything about Walter Mosley, where’s he’s lived or what his life has been like, but he has to have pulled some of these people and places from his own experience. The settings are so specific and lived in, the people and their relationships to one another so complex and interesting and real, that they can’t be made up from whole cloth. I won’t believe it.

And all this centers around the main character, Easy Rawlins (which, by the by, what a name), who is the perfect down on his luck detective. He’s a good guy, generally, but he’s not perfect. Yeah, he takes money for things and regrets it, and sometimes he gets involved with women when he knows he shouldn’t, but overall he’s a pretty decent dude. He’s tough as nails and he doesn’t take shit, but he doesn’t hurt people when he doesn’t have to. Easy is a hell of a creation, and a great character to rest a series on.

Recommended for anybody and everybody that likes mysteries, noirish fiction set in the post-war era, and detectives novels with some subtle (and some not so subtle) social commentary mixed in.

VBR

 

 

 

Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale

Hey there my beautifuls!

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and because of my crippling laziness and attachment to sweatpants and my couch, I’m going to avoid all those gross outdoor things and write a second review today!

Huzzah!

Now for a severe tonal shift.

Disclosure at the top. This book has a lot of misogyny in it. It opens with an attempted rape, and there’s shitty dudes treating women shittily all throughout. It’s the type of thing that would normally put me off a book but…I dunno. The author treats the misogynists in the book like they deserve to be treated (badly), and the female characters have tons of agency and grit. The people who discount them are quite clearly framed as being, not just villains, but short-sighted, close-minded, and stupid. It didn’t really bother me at all, but I know some people don’t like any of that kind of thing in their stories, and I get it.

I love Joe R. Lansdale. There’s something about his voice and the way he writes dialogue that just gets into my head, under my skin. His books are always fast and fun and filthy (in real life I’ve got the mouth of a Victorian era dock worker, but every now and again he’ll turn a phrase that catches me off guard). They’re also really unpredictable. He has this way of making it seem like everything is unstable- who the main character is, what the plot is actually about, who’s going to make it to the end. And not in a “bait the audience for cheap thrills” way *cough cough* walking dead *cough*, or in a “wait till you see what ridiculous twist I have in store for you, even though it isn’t really properly motivated by the story” (do I have to do another cough thing, or do we all know that I’m talking about M. Night Shyamalan) way. It’s just that these people seem to get themselves into legitimately dangerous, precarious situations, and you feel like if the story called for their deaths, Lansdale wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

There is a little bit of male-gazey stuff with the protagonist (she’s hot and chesty and e’rybody knows it), but again, it didn’t bother me too much. My engagement with the story and my investment in the characters just carried me right past it.

Anybody who knows me knows I love a good mystery/crime book, and I’m a sucker for anything set in the south, but even if you’re not as into those things as I am, you should give this book a shot. Quick, fun, and well done. More Sunset please!

 

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