Review: The Zhakieve Chronicles by A.M. Valenza

The cover of Alexey Dyed in Red by A.M. Valenzabreakfiresglass400

This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.

Instead of reviewing just one story, I am going to review two of them, Alexey Dyed in Red and Breakfire’s Glass, both part of the Zhakieve Chronicles by A.M. Valenza. There are additional side stories published on the writer’s blog, but I am only reviewing Alexey Dyed in Red and Breakfire’s Glass. Henceforth in this review, I am going to refer to Alexey Dyed in Red as ADiR and Breakfire Glass as BG.

So, What Is This Series About?

It’s a fantasy story, with magic, set in the land of Zhakieve, ruled by the Blue Emperor. There are four seasons – New Spring, Little Summer, Little Winter, and Lonely Winter – and various deities, such as ‘Quiet Death’. Zhakieve has been closed to the outside for a very long time, but the Blue Emperor plans to finally re-open the borders. However, before that can happen, the Darkrow (powerful magic users who answer only to the emperor) have to take care of some issues. One of these issues is addressed in Alexey Dyed in Red and another is addressed in Breakfire’s Glass.

Three members of the Gorchev family – Katerini Gorchev, Vasily Gorchev, and Porfiry Gorchev – are all Darkrow. It’s a fairly unusual family, since Vasily and Porfiry are actually demons who Katerini’s father summoned, and since he was not strong enough to bind them, they ate him. However, since he wished them to serve the Blue Emperor and be like Katerini’s siblings, they have become Darkrow and their bodies bear a striking resemblance to Katerini. Katerini, naturally, has some very complicated feelings about her ‘brothers’.

That is about as much as I can say about the series as a whole without getting into spoiler territory. Though the stories can technically work as standalones, BF contains some major spoilers for ADiR, and I think ADiR does a better job of introducing the universe, so I definitely recommend reading ADiR first.

What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Series Have, If Any?

There is quite a bit of off-page sex in ADiR, but nothing described in graphic detail. There is a lot of kissing in ADiR, and one kiss in BF. The kissing sometimes happens without the recipient’s permission, but the recipient always like the experience.

As far as violence … I don’t think there’s any outright gore but there are certainly references to violent death – for example, Vasily and Porfiry eating Katerini’s father. Most of the violence is magical in nature.

Tell Me More about This Series

ADiR is the kind of story in which one makes a set of assumptions, and then forty pages later those assumptions get turned on their head – it’s in a good way, but it makes having a spoiler-free discussion tough.

For example, when we are introduced to the city of Kalinstad at the beginning of ADiR, one of my first thoughts was “How can an entire city exist in a place where it’s impossible for anyone who isn’t a particularly powerful magic user to get in and out for most of the year? How do the residents get food? What kind of economy do they have?” These questions were rhetorical I assumed it was sloppy world-building, but it eventually turns out there is a good answer to these questions. The answers, of course, would be major spoilers.

I admit that I did not understand everything about the worldbuilding/plot. However, I overall liked the worldbuilding, both for the imagery and the way the world pushes the characters to challenge themselves.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale described in the introduction, I would rate ADiR as 1 and BG as a 3.

Both Porfiry and Katerini are asexual. Porfiry is not a POV character in ADiR, but he makes it clear that he is not as interested in sex as his fellow demon Vasily. Actually, I read Porfiry as being grey-asexual or possibly demisexual, but Word of God says he’s ‘asexual’. Katerini is only a minor character in ADiR, which contains no hint of her sexual orientation. However, in BG, Katerini is the main character, and she makes it quite clear that she has never desired anyone in a sexual way, and she is sex-repulsed. There is this dialogue between them:

“I have no inclinations or desires to be others, Katerini,” he said, much slower this time, as if she wouldn’t understand.

Which was good, because she didn’t. She scoffed in disbelief. “Excuse me, dear brother? You have two lovers … Not one, but two.” …

… “Both took time, and convincing.” He glanced away, and she saw the tightness in his features. “You insist demons and humans are different, Katerini, but desire is much the same between both of us. And I lack it. I am more than content to watch, though I participate when asked. It is not unpleasant.”

Katerini choked and went red. Scowling, she hissed, “Information I never wanted to know.” She shot a glare at Vasily for good measure. He blinked.

Porfiry touched her cheek with a sharp finger and she jerked, looking at him in disbelief. “Do you understand? I have heard others speak of your disinterest…”

[I am cutting out a bunch of dialogue here]

… “You said you heard the others speak of me – then you know what they say.” She hunched her shoulders. “I have never thought it was wrong, or alienating, or even odd. Yet my unwillingness has garnered me scorn on more than one occasion.”

Early on in BG, Katerini receives a prophecy – “Desire must not touch you during the course of your journey, or you will fail.” Katerini’s initial thoughts are something like this:

Why desire? Desire for what, of course, was the question – yet she felt it was obvious what kind of desire. For days, weeks, possibly months, she and Nikolai would be together. No one else. Desire. Katerini snorted. Likely she’d smother him before she’d ever fee a drop of desire for him. She’d never felt that way in her life. Not once. The thought of such intimacy revolted her.

Still.

The danger in prophecies was the tendency to underestimate them.

Of course, Katerini realizes that the prophecy says ‘desire’ not ‘sexual desire’, so throughout the story she has to watch out for the various non-sexual desires she has. This raises the subtle point that when many people hear ‘desire’ they automatically assume ‘sexual desire’ because that is our cultural conditioning, but assuming that sexual desire is the only kind of desire which counts can lead to problems.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

I’m not sure. Some of A.M. Valenza’s posts imply that she is asexual, but I don’t want to jump to conclusions. She has written this tumblr post for Asexual Awareness Week.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Series?

Yes, I do. Out of all of the fiction published by Less Than Three Press I’ve read so far, this series is my favorite. I will get around to reading the bonus side-stories on the writer’s blog, and I intend to keep following this series as more instalments get published.

One may get theses books in eBook or paperback editions here.

I hope I have spread awareness of asexually-themed fiction, and that you all have discovered something new. If you have the means to do so, I encourage you to show your support for asexual fiction by buying it.

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Review: We Go Forward by Alison Evans

The cover of We Go Forward by Alison Evans, which shows the blue silhouettes of various famous tall buildings.

This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week. Today is double-review day, and the review of Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart has already been posted. This is the second review of the day, We Go Forward.

So, What Is This Story About?

Rosalyn has never left Melbourne before. Naturally, this means she goes by herself all the way to to the other side of the world, Berlin. She has a hostel booked for a few days, and is going to return to Melbourne in about three months, but other than that, she has no plans.

Christie is also from Melbourne, but she’s been in Europe for about two years, ever since her father died and she inherited his money.

They happen meet each other in Berlin and hit it off.

What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

Basically none. There are references to violence – for example, the protagonists visit Dachau (yes, the concentration camp), but nothing violent or sexual happens in the story itself.

Tell Me More about This Novel

Hmmmm, this is a novel about young women who spent most of their lives in a single English-speaking cosmopolitan city and then went to a different hemisphere for budget travel, and one of them stayed in that hemisphere, in non-English-speaking countries. And one of them is even aware that she is asexual and aromantic. Does this sound like something I’ve done? (For those of you who don’t know me, yes, I spent most of my life in a cosmopolitan English-speaking city, and yes, as a young woman I went to a different hemisphere – alone – and spent a few years living in a non-English-speaking country, and I did this while identifying as asexual and aromantic).

I could relate to a lot of the content of this novel, especially Christie’s POV because I have a lot more in common with her experiences than with Rosalyn’s experiences. Sometimes, that meant I was thinking ‘awww, it’s cute how inexperienced these protagonists are.’ Sometimes, that meant I was thinking ‘hey, this is a little like this thing that happened to me.’ On the one hand, I like the milieu, on the other hand, I am a bit jaded.

I admit that I felt that the ending is a bit … inconclusive. I cannot be more specific than that without getting into spoiler territory.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale described in the introduction, I would rate this as a 3.

Asexuality first comes up in the story in this passage, written from Christie’s point of view:

“Sorry,” she says. “You’re not into girls?”

“I’m not into anyone.” I shrug. “I’m asexual, and aromantic.”

“Ohhhh.” She laughs once at herself. “Sorry, my bad. I’m not very good at reading situations.”

“S’fine. I’m actually surprised that I don’t have to explain it to you?”

Usually me coming out is followed by a barrage of weird questions and me leaving, or kicking people out. And the same things repeated: maybe you just haven’t found the blah, blah, blah. Ugh, spare me.

“I might not know a lot, but I know a lot about queer things.” She gives me a knowing look, then drinks more wine.

And I’ve been included in the queer umbrella. I definitely need to be friends with her. Or maybe I need to stop clinging to the first person who isn’t a complete jerk.

So there you have it – Christie is asexual and aromantic.

For the most part, this story is not about asexuality. I suspect that Christie’s loneliness issues have as much to do with her dad being dead as with her asexuality/aromanticism, though being asexual/aromantic is also a contributing factor (and also – this is mostly speculation on my part, since this is not really discussed in the story – maybe Christie’s non-fluency in German is also a factor, though maybe not if most of the Germans/Swiss she has encountered can speak decent English).

There is more to say about how asexuality is depicted in this novel, but as it often is, that’s in spoiler territory.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Story?

Yes, I do. The fact that there are a lot of parallels between my life experiences and Christie’s life experiences definitely complicated my reaction to this story. There is a lot I recognize, which I like. At the same time, there are some major differences between me and Christie (for example, I have never been to the southern hemisphere, let alone Melbourne).

One may get the eBook here and at various other retailers of eBooks, and one may get the print edition here.

Tomorrow will be the final review for Asexual Awareness Week, and instead of reviewing a novel(la), I am going to review a series, The Zhakieve Chronicles by A.M. Valenza.

Review: Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart by Marie S. Crosswell

The cover of Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart, which shows two handguns pointed at each other against a dark blue background.

This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.

So, What Is This Story About?

Sam, a deputy in a rural Arizona town, is off-duty and unarmed when he witnesses and armed robbery. He reveals himself as law enforcement officer, and one of the robbers threatens to kill him. Then a Mysterious Stranger with a possibly Texan accent shoots and kills one of the robbers, saving Sam’s life. The other robber gets away.

It has just been a few months since Sam moved to this Arizona town, leaving his life with his ex-wife in California, so he’s a bit lonely. Sam becomes interested in the Mysterious Stranger who saved his life, and tries to learn more about him. The Mysterious Stranger (actually, he has a name – Montgomery) is also interested in Sam, but he does not want to show his interest, because he’s always been disappointed in his attempts to have a close friendship.

Man, I wonder if that robber who got away will stir up any plot trouble…

What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is a sex scene described in a paragraph’s worth of detail. As far as violent content … see above.

Tell Me More about This Novella

There are two main plotlines – first, there is the plotline around catching the robber who got away, and second, there is the plotline around Sam and Montgomery’s relationship. I liked the relationship plotline (described more later in this review). As far as the robber plotline … I had trouble understanding why Montgomery was so determined to get himself involved (okay, I get that it had something to do with his feelings for Sam, but … well, it still did not make complete sense to me) and why Montgomery does what he ends up doing.

I was enjoying the immersion in the rural setting. Unfortunately, there was this bit broke my suspension of disbelief:

“We never had any murders in Lassen County, while I was there. Or child abuse. Rape. Even the domestic calls were all pretty tame … even in the county seat, where we were headquartered, violent crime has always been low. And there’s about eighteen thousand people in Susanville.”

Huh? This guy was a sheriff’s deputy in Lassen County long enough to have bought a house there, and there were no reports of murder, rape, or child abuse, and the domestic calls were ‘pretty tame’ during his time on the job? This felt so off that it yanked me out of the story. I admit that I haven’t been to Lassen County, but I have been to other parts of rural northern California, including towns with much less than 18,000 people, and I couldn’t buy this. And I know Susanville is a prison town, and prison towns are noted for having higher levels of violence, especially domestic abuse and suicide (that is not including what happens inside the prisons).

But maybe my gut feel was off, and Lassen County, in spite of its prisons, had a dramatically lower level of reported violent crime than what I imagined, so I did a quick internet search, and found that the reported violent crime rate in Lassen County is actually higher that the USA average.

Since the writer lives in Arizona, the story probably depicts Arizona much more accurately than it depicts California. Unfortunately, this bit about Lassen County broke the spell for me.

So, Asexuality?

Actually, this feels more like a story about aromanticism than a story about asexuality, since there are two characters who seem to be aromantic, whereas there is only one character who seems to be asexual. On the asexual content scale described in the introduction, I would only rate this as a 2. However, if it were an asexuality + aromanticism + romantic orientation scale, I would rate it a 6.

Why do I say ‘seems’? The words ‘asexual’ and ‘aromantic’ are never used in the story. Since the words ‘asexual’ and ‘aromantic’ are never used, it is very difficult to declare absolutely that these characters are aromantic and possibly asexual, but given that they behave in such an aromantic/asexual way, and the Word of God, it would be very difficult to interpret these characters as not being aromantic, and in one case, asexual.

It seems the main purpose of the sex scene was to distinguish the non-asexual characters who were not asexual from Montgomery, who is asexual.

The characters certainly grope a lot for vocabulary for describing themselves and what they want, which is realistic for people in the rural United States who most likely have never heard of asexuality as a sexual orientation, let alone romantic orientation. That was one of the most touching parts of the story for me. I could also relate to Montgomery’s sentiment that, since he could not make a (sexual) marriage work, and he could not remain close enough with his friends, he would not be able to get the companionship he yearned for. This is my favorite passage in the book ends with this paragraph:

He’s wondered one too many times since he left [his ex-wife] in Texas, if he’s selfish for wanting somebody to be happy with him, to love him for what he can give and not for what he can pretend. He’s never met anybody like him, and maybe that’s what it would take for partnership, a friendship, to work out. Somebody like him. Only problem is he doesn’t know where to look and he’s not about to advertise his oddities.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

Yes, Marie S. Crosswell is asexual.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Story?

Yes, I do. This story was a mixed bag for me, however I did like the way it presented aromanticism and asexuality, so reading this was a net positive experience for me.

One may get the eBook here and at various other retailers of eBooks, and one may get the print edition here.

In order to squeeze all of these reviews into Asexual Awareness Week, there is going to be a second review today, about We Go Forward by Alison Evans.

Review: Open Skies by Yolande Kleinn

The cover of Open Skies, which shows a spaceship going past a blue planet into a blue nebula

This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.

So, What Is This Story About?

In a typical space opera setting, Ilsa and Kai have been working as partners for years as investigators for hire, with their strengths complementing the other’s weaknesses. They have been hired by the shady and wealthy businessman Eleazar Dantes to find his daughter, Abigail Dantes, who disappeared during the war. It’s one of the toughest contracts they have every taken on – especially since Eleazar insists on personally accompanying them. The dangers Ilsa and Kai face together forces them to re-examine the nature of their partnership.

What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is non-consensual kissing, but other than that, no sexual content. As far as violence – yep, there’s violence. This story has gun fights, kidnapping, serious injuries, and on-page murder.

Tell Me More about This Novella

The writing went down real smooth with me. I liked the pace – it took its time to develop the plot and characters, without letting itself get bogged down. It is written so clearly that it is easy to follow what is going on.

I’m not a fan of the mystery genre in general, but I wanted to know what happened to Abigail Dantes. The search definitely sustained the suspense for me, and there is a good twist in the story.

There are some very eloquent and touching passages. For example, this is one of my favorite lines in the story:

Few things ached like self-awareness come too late.

Also, I loved the development of Ilsa and Kai’s very close relationship. First, they’ve already known each other for years, so we get over the ‘how do they meet each other’ part and delve straight into the evolving dynamics of their relationship (note: I also like ‘how do they meet’ stories, but I feel that they are over-represented in fiction and wish there were more stories about how existing relationships evolve). It is also a non-sexual and non-romantic partnership, and those are under-represented in fiction (especially those involving female characters).

As a sci-fi story, it’s very bland – it’s basically set in the world of space opera clichés – but since that was not what I was looking for in this story, I did not mind in the least.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale I described in the introduction, I would say that this story is a 4. Ilsa is asexual and aromantic, and I thinks the section of the story which explores that is really good. That is about all I can say without spoilers (in fact, the main reason this review is shorter than previous reviews is that I’m trying to keep the spoiler level low).

Was This Written by an Asexual?

Yes, Yolande Kleinn is asexual.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Story?

Of course I like this! I was interested in the mystery around Abigail Dantes’ disappearance, and the section which addresses Ilsa’s asexuality and aromanticism moved me. I hope Yolande Kleinn writes another novel(la) featuring an asexual and/or aromantic protagonist.

One may get the eBook here and at various other retailers of eBooks, and one may get the print edition here.

Tomorrow is going to be a double-review day. The first review posted tomorrow is going to be about Lone Star on a Cowbody Heart by Marie S. Crosswell.

Review: To Terminator With Love by Wes Kennedy

The cover of To Terminator with Love, which shows a bunch of metal coils rising up from the nape of a suit.

This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.

So, What Is This Story About?

It’s Dexter Wu’s twenty-first birthday. He is already a graduate student at MIT studying electrical engineering. He is working on a robot with an A.I. called … HAL. His best (and for a long time, only) friend is Sandya, and now that’s she’s graduated, she is going back to India for the rest of her life, which means that HAL will be Dexter’s only beloved companion. What a birthday present.

If only that was all. The morning after his birthday, he learns that a secret organization is trying to steal and destroy his beloved HAL because there is a prophecy that HAL will destroy the world. Thus, Dexter has to run off with Andre, a mysterious secret agent, to save his life.

What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is kissing and making out, but nothing more sexual than that. There is comedy violence on the scale of, say, attempted assassination, and the possibility that the whole world will be destroyed. There is also a significant amount of alcohol consumption (and drunkenness).

Tell Me More about This Novella

For those of you who pay attention to POC representation: the protagonist, Dexter Wu, is Asian-American (most likely Chinese-American, but it is never specified), and Andre Jackson, the second most important character, is African-American. If Andre Jackson is ever specifically described as dark-skinned or black, I missed that part, but he feels so culturally African-American that I figured he was black before I found artwork on the writer’s blog which depicts Andre Jackson as a dark-skinned person.

One of the most obvious features of this novel is its humor. It is much easier to use examples than to try to describe it, so here are some examples:

Example 1:

Shrugging, Dexter shoved some fries in his mouth and turned back to his workbench. “Like I’ve said a bazillion times, I’m fine. Seriously, I couldn’t be more fine if I tried. It’s criminal how fine I am. I haven’t picked up a phone in months because I don’t want the NSA to find out the level of fine I’m currently—”

Example 2:

“The subway?” Dexter cried, alarmed. Andre didn’t answer him, but he did slow down once they were fully inside. “We’re taking the subway? Are you aware that the subway is basically a gigantic bathroom for the homeless, and also a huge pit of agony and despair?”

“Are you aware that we’re running from two highly trained agents who are tracking us to get to you?” Andre snapped back sarcastically.

“Again with the fucking trump card.”

Example 3:

“We do not make exceptions for anyone when it comes to the safety of the world. Did we make exceptions for Elvis? No. And I loved Elvis.”

Dexter whipped around to gawk at Andre in disbelief. “You killed Elvis?”

Andre shook his head, looking dazed. “No, we relocated him. The Oracle predicted he would bring about mass riots that would topple the government of Nicaragua, so we had him moved to a remote but fruitful island off the coast of Barbados. He loves it there.”

It’s probably obvious by now that this novella is full of geeky pop culture references, mostly (but not exclusively) references to science fiction movies.

It starts out as a graduate school story, with humorous descriptions of grad school life, until the ‘adventure’ begins. The plot is basically a bunch of Hollywood movie clichés stringed together, which was probably the writer’s intent.

The parts of the novel which I liked best were 1) Dexter’s birthday part at the beginning and 2) when Dexter and Andre are visiting Andre’s grandmother – in other words, the slice-of-life sections. These sections had real heart to them, and underneath the humor, I could feel for the characters and their inner struggles.

However, the zany parts of the story did not work so well for me. Yes, there are a lot of funny lines, but if you removed the wisecracks, the underlying plot itself was not funny enough to work for me as a parody, nor did it work for me as a story played straight. It seemed like, if you removed the jokes, there would not be much left.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale I described in the introduction, I would say that this story is a 1. There is the only time in the entire story that asexuality is mentioned directly. Depending on one’s interpretation, it’s indirectly mentioned in other places, but if it weren’t for that one unambiguous mention, I would not classify this as asexual fiction at all. Anyway, that one explicit mention is this:

Dexter shook his head and gripped Andre’s bicep reassuringly. “No, just—okay, so, I’m not really into the whole ‘sex’ thing.” He titled his head up to catch a glimpse of the screen before locking eyes with Andre. “I’m what you’d call asexual, which doesn’t mean I can reproduce by myself—that sounds horrifying—but, yeah. So, if you’re looking to do the, uh, do, I’m not your guy. But, I’m a really awesome kisser—at least, that’s what my girlfriend in 7th grade told me one time—and if you’re into dudes who can build sweet pillow forts, boy, do I have a treat for you—”

“Okay,” Andre said, cutting off Dexter’s rambling.

Dexter blinked up at him, uncomprehending. Christ, he was short-circuiting too much. “Okay?”

Andre nodded. He rolled off him and stood up, offering a hand to pull him up. “Okay. Show me one of those pillow forts you’re so great at, Wu. Let me warn you right now: I take pillow forts very seriously.”

Was This Written by an Asexual?

Wes Kennedy is a bisexual aromantic. You can learn more about her here.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Story?

Yes, I did. I like the humor, and reading this was an enjoyable experience.

This is Wes Kennedy’s first published book, and I could definitely imagine her writing something truly kickass in the future. I would be especially excited if I learned that she was writing a story featuring an aromantic protagonist.

One may get the eBook here and at various other retailers of eBooks, and one may get the print edition here.

Tomorrow, I am going to post the next review, which is going to be about Open Skies by Yolande Kleinn.

Review: Dragonborn by Maeghan Friday

This is the cover of Dragonborn by Maeghan Friday, which shows a red dragon on top of an aged book

This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.

So, What Is This Story About?

Cecily and Ben, twin children of the king and queen of Aethier, are ‘dragonborn’ which means they have magic. They each have their own bodies, yet they can also enter each others’ bodies. They are also engaged to marry a dragon on their twentieth birthday, and if they fail to do so, they will die.

Also, the king and queen are bigotly opposed to any kind of queerness, as well as poly romantic/sexual relationships.

What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is a scene where a couple of characters very bluntly ask a third character for sex, and sex happens in a fade-to-black scene. There is also sword-fighting, and an attempted execution.

Tell Me More about This Novella

It’s bad enough when a story has a token character to represent some specific identity, but at least it’s possible for that to be an unfortunate flaw in an otherwise solid story. If all of the characters are tokens, then … chances are, it’s not a solid story at all.

For example, there is a token ‘asexual’ character (who I describe later in the review) whose only purpose in the story seems to be a) to Represent ‘Asexuality’ and b) to be an extra body in the Super Poly Union. She feels severely underdeveloped as a character.

As far as POC, well, there are mentions that some characters have dark skin and brown eyes, and others have fair skin, and some characters have something in between. Here is a prime example:

The queen was tall and sharp-featured, with the pale skin of her ancestors, the conquerors who had long ago taken over the kingdom of Aethier and joined it with their own, Ratirzan. The king, on the other hand, had only been a nobleman before he married, working his way up through the ranks with a strong ambition. He did not have the blood of the conquerors in his veins. He had the rich dark skin and hair of most inhabitants of Aethier, and he could not have looked more a contrast to his wife.

Not that it mattered, really. Both of them hated Cecily, and that was all she needed to know.

That last line seems to sum up the book’s approach to skin color – it mentions that some fair-skinned people conquered a dark-skinned people, which is why there are characters of multiple skin colors, yet it doesn’t matter. The behavior of the dark-skinned and fair-skinned characters is indistinguishable – I don’t mean that in the sense that they are all human, I mean it seems they came from the same cultures and the same kind of life-experiences. In other words, it seems like the whole point of bringing up skin color is to Mark That There Are POC without actually putting any POC perspectives in the story.

I will say that the fic does explore nonbinary gender in more depth than it does asexual or POC identities. It puts particular emphasis on using proper pronouns.

The poly aspect … it seemed like the writer wanted a big poly relationship, so she told the characters do it, without putting the effort into describing why the characters would want a poly relationship. More than once, it was stated that character A agreed to bond with character B because A was in love with B, and I was like ‘huh? Since when was A in love with B’? There is very little attempt to actually develop romantic or sexual relationships, they just get declared. I have read quite a bit of writing by poly people about the experiences they have in poly relationships, and almost none of that is reflected in this story.

Don’t get me wrong, I think representing a diverse array of identities is very cool. However, it does not excuse a writer from writing a good story. And if you are going to represent people with a particular identity, maybe those characters should actually be like people who have that identity?

In addition to the lack of character development, it was hard for me to follow the plot. And it seems that the characters don’t face any significant obstacles. Sure, it seems they are dealing with some serious problems, but they eventually get resolved without the characters having to put in much effort.

An example of a fictional work which I think does a good job of twisting the medieval Western European tales of dragons taking maidens so that it features a POC princess-with-a-twin-brother who I headcanon as asexual-aromantic and telling a good story at the same time is “The Pragmatical Princess” by Nisi Shawl. Even though it’s just a short story, I feel it has way more substance than Dragonborn.

So, Asexuality?

Rating it on the asexuality content scale I described in the introduction is a bit tricky. Let me explain.

The ‘asexual’ character in the story is Lila. Why do I put ‘asexual’ in quotation marks? Because if this novel had not been explicitly been marked as an ‘asexual’ novel, I would not have considered Lila to be a canonical asexual character – in other words, I think Lila is only a canonical ace by Word of God and not strictly from the text itself.

Here are the passages which are relevant to asexuality:

And anyway, why would Cecily want her? Lila was different, in a way that maybe made some sense in Murelle but certainly wouldn’t be accepted by an Aethieran. She didn’t want the physical unions that so many of her peers placed importance on. She never had. So that was that; the thought was put out of her mind.

and

“But…” And then, as she came back to herself, she remembered the larger problem, the problem that would dismay Crispin and Ben alike, the problem that would be the end of her. “I don’t wish… a physical union. I have never wished a physical union. I would be willing, for the sake of an heir, but…”

and

Crispin seemed nothing but pleased at the chance to explain. “There are many different types of bonds, each suiting the pair to whom it applies. My bond with Lila, for example, will be what we call romantic, but not physical. A physical union is not necessary—”

Yes, out of more than 40,000 words, this is literally everything which have anything to do with asexuality.

So, from this, we gather that a) Lila is ‘different’ and b) she has never wanted sex and c) she is afraid this will cause problems in forming personal relationships. This is definitely enough to make me think ‘hmmmm, this person may very well be asexual’. However, it is entirely possible for someone to have all of these traits without being asexual. That is why, without the Word of God, I would classify Lila as a headcanon asexual rather than an unambiguous asexual.

Lila is a supporting character, not a lead protagonist, and as grossly undeveloped as her character is, most of her appearances in the story have little to do with asexuality, so I am going to tentatively rate Dragonborn as a ‘2’ on the asexuality content scale (since her ‘asexuality’ influences her decision to refuse to join a ‘physical union’ I decided to rate it higher than a 1).

Was This Written by an Asexual?

Maeghan Friday says on her personal blog that she is probably some flavor of asexual.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Story?

No, I don’t like this story. If I were reading for pleasure, I would have quit about one third of the way through the story. I only put up with the tedium of reading this entire thing because I wanted to review it – though I was seriously tempted to give up midway and write this review anyway.

If you want to buy this after all, the eBook edition of Dragonborn is available here (as well as at various other eBook retailers), and the paperback edition is available here

Tomorrow, I am going to post the next review, which is going to be about To Terminator With Love by Wes Kennedy.

Review: How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha L. Miller

This is the book cover of How Not to Summon Your True Love, which shows a naked young man covered with soap suds with a book strategically covering his genital area.

This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.

So, What Is This Story About?

Cy is dumped by his boyfriend, Alex, and he assumes that it’s because he’s asexual and doesn’t want to have sex. After all, who would want to stay with someone who never wants sex, right? While he’s upset about the break-up, he goes through a ‘magic’ book he inherited from his mother, and he decides to try a spell for summoning one’s true love just for the heck of it. After all, magic is not real, right?

Upon completing the spell, he discovers that there is a wet, naked man in the middle of his room.

Magic really does exist – and he’s just summoned a random stranger who was in the middle of a shower – oh snaps!

(seriously, what is up with me reviewing two books in a row which involve the protagonist seeing the second most important character in the story naked and wet via a shower?)

What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

Aside from the wet naked man suddenly showing up, I would give this a solid G rating. Nothing sexual happens in the story, nor does anything particularly violent happen (there is some threat of violence, but frankly it is tamer than what one would find in most Disney cartoons).

Tell Me More about This Novella

It’s a fantasy story set in the contemporary United States. It lampshades its own highly clichéd nature multiple times – here is an example:

Cy didn’t know what that meant, either. It all sounded like a bad fantasy novel. He was the chosen one with the special power who just so happened to come by a sidekick who could navigate the strange new world he’d landed himself in.

One advantage of this being such a clichéd fantasy story WHICH IS ALSO set in the contemporary United States was that it did not have to do much world-building, so it could focus on telling the story it wants to tell without having to make long digressions to explain things.

Essentially, it’s a road trip story, albeit a road trip in which the protagonist is being PURSUED BY THE MAGIC MAFIA. I think that tells you right there just how serious this story is (not).

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale I described in the introduction, I would say that this story is a 3. Asexuality is relevant to the plot in two ways: a) it’s the reason why Cy doesn’t think he will ever be able to make a romantic relationship work and b) something which I am not going to discuss because it is in spoiler territory. However, I overall felt that this was more of a story where the protagonist happens to be asexual rather than a story which explores asexuality.

Though I do not connect to Cy’s asexuality on a personal level since my own experience of asexuality is very different, his experience as an asexual still seems plausible.

And there is a cake reference, which made my eyes roll (I do not identify with cake culture) but at least it shows that the writer did some research on asexuality.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

Sasha L. Miller identifies as bisexual.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Story?

I do. I do like it. It’s an easy and quick fluffy read. I like the tongue-and-cheek style, and of course I like fiction about asexual characters who never have sex. I think this is a good read for anyone wants a light-hearted story about asexuals who don’t have sex.

The eBook edition of How Not to Summon Your True Love is available here (as well as at various other eBook retailers), and the paperback edition is available here.

Tomorrow, I am going to post the next review, which is going to be about Dragonborn by Maeghan Friday.