April marked a new step in my PhD work - redaction. But it certainly did not mean less reading! I even discovered some new favourites, a feeling I'd missed last month.
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova · 2005
To mark the new step in my PhD thesis, I wanted a book that would encourage me and spur me on. For that, I picked up a dark academia novel that I'd been saving for the Autumn, Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, and sweet Eru was I right! This is the perfect blend of nerdiness, academia and Gothic vibes with tons of travelling involved, which soothed my lock-down self beyond words.
The cast of characters isn't too big, so that even though the story is split over 3 different time periods (the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1970s) I had no trouble following each narrative, which is saying a lot for me! They all revolve around historians or historians-to-be who discover a mystery surrounding the character of Dracula. As the size of the book may suggest, the pacing isn't too fast and leaves room for enchanting descriptions of all the locations the protagonists travel too across Europe and a bit of the USA. This book definitely soothed my wanderlust and put me in the right mood for my own academic pursuits!
CW: torture, animal death, vampirism (is that a TW?)
The Tea Dragon Society, by Kay O'Neill · 2017
Could I love a book more? That remains to be seen. This graphic novel about a young blacksmith discovering the existence of tea dragons is cuteness incarnate and will warm your heart. It's packed with lovely representation and an eye-soothing palette with lots of floral motifs and did I mention tea dragons?
The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu · 2015
First of all, I want to praise the diversity and plotting in this book, and the representation of a polyamourous relationship. It is a perfect alternative to G.R.R. Martin. Now, let's turn to why I nearly threw this book out the window, shall we? Rant ahead!
How fitting that when I tried to find again one quote from this book involving women, I couldn't get my hands on it? I'll paraphrase (no spoilers). It's a scene when soldiers (men) insult other soldiers (men) by implying they are women. The scene goes on for some time before one of the characters says something like "women are half of the world's population. Why should we be embarrassed to be compared to them?" If only the very author of the book had kept that in mind!
I don't believe anymore in novels that present to me a fantasy world with lovely worldbuilding but fraught with sexism. Why can you imagine a world with flying, silk-sailed ships and gorgeous air battles between kite riders, but not one in which women are treated as equals to men? Why should women in a fantasy world be reduced to tending babies, cooking or selling themselves? Why should women die to give men reasons to fight?
These problems aren't specific to The Grace of Kings, of course. But if an author is praised for their creativity, I expect more. More than what fantasy stories have always told their women readers. In a 620-page book, you can't imagine an interesting woman character on page 466 and hope the last 150 or so pages will make up for the first 466. In my opinion, that's not how it works. If you want to imagine a world of political intrigues and epic battles, have women be generals, soldiers, rulers. Have men tend babies and cook and mend things. And don't ever, ever tell me that your story is inspired by history, because if you put dragons and gods then clearly you're the one making the rules.