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?).


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 🙂



Shame-Watching Supernatural

I mentioned this in one of my posts a little while ago, but I recently started trying to watch Supernatural again. When I was a teenager I watched the show fairly regularly up until about season 6, when I finally threw up my hands and dropped out. The ideas were stale, the writing was bad, and the actors all seemed like they’d rather be somewhere else. So I moved on and forgot about the show and got my monster/mythology/hot dude jollies from other things.

But once every few years I come across it again. Somebody will mention it, or I’ll see a meme, or most recently it just started popping up on my recommended list on Netflix, and I go back to it, having forgotten the reasons why I left it in the first place.

This time I decided to start at season 8. I’d heard from people that the Leviathan season was one of the worst, and if I was going to go back I should start after that. So I did, and because I don’t have a lot going on in my life right now, I almost made it all the way through the season before dropping off again. I went through about twenty episodes before the sexist, homophobic, bro-doucheyness of the show finally pushed me away (and left me wondering what the writers room of that show must look like. I’m picturing a bunch of variations of the comic book guy from the Simpsons and a few teenage gamers).

And after dropping off this time I started asking myself, why do I keep coming back to this show? I think it’s because it should be something that I love. Two hot dudes driving across small town America and hunting monsters from folklore? That is so my god damn wheelhouse. And when it started out it was actually pretty good! Wasn’t it? I remember the beginning of the series being gritty and scrappy, gumshoe mysteries where the two brothers were always in over their heads, figuring it out as they went along. They came up with clever ideas to get ahead of creatures that were stronger and faster than them. Now it runs the same formula every time. They fight a thing that’s unstoppable, it throws them across the room, they get up, it throws them again, they stab it with something (usually after saying something, the jist of which is “you’re probably gay!”), it dies. I think I know why too. This show suffers from the same problem as a lot of other shows, especially those with super powered enemies: control of the escalation of threat.

In order to keep things feeling fresh, to keep people engaged, the writers feel like they needed to keep increasing the power of the enemies that the two brothers face. This isn’t just a run of the mill monster, they’ve killed those before, this is a demon. Really scary stuff. Oh, they’ve got pretty good at killing demons, well…this is the Mother of Demons! Hmmm…still not good enough? This is The Devil! Old Gods. More Old Gods. Tons of Old Gods! Zeus? But the problem with escalating the threat like this is that eventually you end up writing yourself into a corner. You get to a point where it doesn’t make sense that your protagonists can win anymore. One way to solve this is by coming up with clever, out-smarty ways that your heroes can prevail. They plan ahead and lay an ambush, or they have some elaborate twisty plot to get on top.The problem is that in order to write smart, interesting solutions to problems you have to be, you know, smart. And not only do you have to be smart, you have to put in the time. The easier road, and the one that most shows like this take, is to not play fair with the audience. They have demons that can make people throw up their own blood until they die by waving their hands, but when they fight Dean and Sam they just…toss them about. Angels are super fast, and super duper strong, they can teleport and scrub out demons with a touch, but when one of them full on punches the Winchesters in the face, instead of their head exploding, they just get a fetching bruise or slightly cut lip. Powerful enemies seem to consistently forget how powerful they’re supposed to be. This has the consequence of completely undermining any of the tension, instead of ratcheting it up. Because there’s no consistency, because nothing really means anything (this person can make you explode by looking at you! Well, not you, you’re a main character. But other people. They can do it to other people sometimes), it all just feels kinda of…meh.

Anyways, I’m not going to spend anymore time on this show. It’s not really worth it. It’s a mediocre show, aimed at the lowest common denominator, topped off with a heavy dose of casual, bro-y homophobia and sexism (seriously, in one episode of this season Dean says, “You abandoned me for a girl, Sam? A girl!”, one of the hunters is a young woman with a bit of an edge and she’s described as “mouthy”. Can you guys please get one full-grown ass woman on your writing team? And if there is one already I…well, I don’t really know how to help you). Do yourself a big favour and give this one a miss. Or, you know, don’t. I’m not your mom.


Very Biased Reviewer

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