Review: Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

The cover of Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

This is my final review for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Evie, at the beginning of her two-week visit to Toronto, ends up unintentionally auditioning to appear in the performance by a queer dance company for Toronto Pride. During the practice sessions, Evie and her partner, professional dancer Tyler, become emotionally closer. However, given that Evie is asexual, and Tyler is a heterosexual recovering from a very emotionally abusive relationship with a girlfriend who shamed him for being trans, are they compatible?

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is discussion of characters’ sex lives/histories, but no sex scenes. IIRC, there is no violence, but I will not swear to that.

Tell me more about this novel.

The bit of this novel which I remember best is:

She walked to her bag as Gigi imitated an inept Mark. “‘Bro, I’m, like, bugging. Dude, I’ve, like, never danced with a dude before.’ I swear to God, if he calls me ‘bro’ one more time, I’m going to grand jete his nuts into Lake Ontario.”

“He’s trying to be nice,” Tyler said. “That’s how straight guys act when they want to be friends.”

“How the fuck would you know?”

Tyler exhaled sharply. “Jesus, Gigi. Who the hell tied your panties in a knot?” Tension filled the room as the two men stared each other down.

Bloody hell.

The context of course is that Tyler is a straight man. He is ‘eligible’ for belonging to a ‘queer’ dance company because he is trans, not because of his sexual orientation (and he does say in the novel that he would rather that dance companies did not cast him just so that they can tick off the ‘trans’ box, but he’ll take professional opportunities where he can take them).

This is also the first work of fiction I have read (IIRC) in a contemporary setting where the trans character’s family is very supporting of the character’s transition, and even though they don’t understand everything, they sincerely try to do what is best for him.

Generally, though, this novel felt like it was a series of scenes put in chronological order rather than a story. Okay, I know the overall story was about how Evie and Tyler get together but … they simply seemed so compatible, and the ‘obstacles’ to their getting together just seemed false to me. I mean come on, Tyler does not know that Evie is planning to return to Toronto for school because when she said so he did not hear it / forgot about it, even though everybody else present remembered it. Seriously?

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = most asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this as a 5.

First of all, Evie is asexual. Tyler has to get some idea of what being asexual means to Evie, just as Evie has to get some idea of what being a trans man means to Tyler.

Evie states that she has had sex before, and that even though she does not seek sex, she does not mind doing it sometimes.

This novel is also one of the more notable instances of the Ace Group trope. Evie is an ace who is active on Tumblr, and she met her host, Sarah (who is gaybeard-the-great, a Tumblr user mentioned in Blank Spaces) via the ace Tumblr network. There is a meetup of Tumblr aces in Toronto during the novel, and someone at the meetup tells Evie that she is doing it wrong because she has not come out to her family as ace.

Vaughn, the ace protagonist from Blank Spaces, is also a significant supporting character in this novel. He gives Tyler a reason to feel insecure/jealous, because he clearly gets along well with Evie, and Tyler is afraid that, because Vaughn is asexual, Evie is going to prefer going out with him than going out with himself.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Cass Lennox is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I definitely like parts of it but … after reading Blank Spaces, I had high expectations, so I was so I was disappointed to find that this novel is less cohesive and tightly written. Do I like this novel? Yes and no.

Review: Far From Home by Lorelie Brown

The cover of Far From Home by Lorelie Brown

This is the penultimate review for my Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Rachel is recovering from anorexia and also has a pile of student loans burdening her finances. Pari is a lesbian from Tamil Nadu who wants a green card (she would rather have U.S. citizenship, but she will settle for a green card). In order to get a green card, Pari needs to be married to a U.S. citizen for at least two years, and it has to look like it is a marriage based on feelings rather than, say, trying to get a green card. So many people know that Pari is a lesbian that the INS will be suspicious if she marries a man, but since her romantic/sexual relationships have generally been unstable, she does not trust a marriage to another lesbian to last two years. Thus, the solution for her is to marry a straight woman who has an entirely nonromantic reason to stick with her for years. And as it so happens, Pari can help Rachel with her ongoing student loan debt.

Of course, this is all based on the assumption that Rachel is straight. Which she is, of course, because she has only had sexual relations with men, even though she was never very into sex with men, and she hasn’t had any sexual relationship for years. Yeah, Rachel is even more heterosexual than Heterosexual Jill.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There are long very detailed sex scenes in this story. IIRC, there is no violence.

Tell me more about this novel.

Yeah, it’s one of those stories where a marriage of convenience conveniently turns into a marriage based on romance. As such, I did not feel it was particularly skillful. Okay, yes, demisexuality is a plausible mechanism for how someone who is not sexually attracted to someone else at first becomes very sexually attracted to them later. It was Pari’s side of the equation which I had trouble buying – though we are told that Pari does not want to marry a lesbian because she wants to avoid romantic/sexual drama in her marriage, I don’t know … it felt like the writer was forcing the character’s behavior. I think that it would have been more convincing if we had actually met one of Pari’s ex-girlfriends, and if the story had shown why the relationship was so dysfunctional that Pari would want to avoid sex/romance in a marriage.

Generally, I thought there were many parts of the story, not just the motivation for Pari pursuing marriage the way she does, which were not sufficiently developed. And generally, things work out too conveniently for the characters – rather than overcoming obstacles, the obstacles generally just disappear for a while.

My favorite part of the story was Pari’s mother, Niharika. I don’t know enough about Tamil culture to know how plausible Niharika’s behavior is, but this is one of my favorite bits of the story:

“When will the wedding be?” Niharika crosses her arms over her chest and asks with an extra handful of displeasure sprinkled over the top.

Pari squeezes my hand, and I can feel my hope as if it were a radio wave between them. “We aren’t going to make a big deal of it. We’re meeting at the courthouse on Wednesday.”

“No! Absolutely not.” Niharika slashes a hand through the air so decisively that the camera wavers. “Already this will be . . .” She lets the sentence fade, and I breathe a sigh of relief for Pari’s heart. There are only so many words that a daughter’s feelings can ignore. “You will have a real marriage.”

“A traditional wedding?” Pari seems doubtful. “I don’t think that’s wise.”

“You would ignore even more of our traditions?”

Yes, Niharika thinks that her daughter getting married in a courthouse instead of having a traditional Tamil wedding is even more scandalous than her daughter marrying a woman. From her perspective, it’s bad enough that ‘America’ made her daughter want to marry a woman, but foregoing the traditional wedding would be taking things too far. Therefore, Pari is going to have a traditional Tamil same-sex wedding.

Niharika’s wedding preparations are generally entertaining. There is also this bit:

“And red,” Niharika adds. “We must have red. It’s for fertility.”

Pari rolls her eyes, but only facing me, where her mother can’t see it. “We’re two women. Fertility is going to be difficult.”

“You have double the fertility.” She nods decisively, as if this is how she’s come to grips with the concept of her daughter, the lesbian. “It’s good luck.”

I also could not help but notice that Pari’s aunt is called Aishwarya. The only Tamil movie I have ever seen (yep, I’ve only seen one Tamil movie, which gives you an idea of just how shallow my knowledge of Tamil culture is) is Kandukondain Kandukondain, which stars Aishwayra Rai. I wonder whether the writer named the aunt specifically after Aishwarya Rai, or whether Aishwarya is simply a common Tamil name.

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I rate this story as a 2.

This is the key passage:

“Damn right.” Nikki spins again. “Do you ever see anyone, boy or girl, walking down the street and think, ‘Gee, I’d like to bone them’?”

“Thanks for that descriptive phrase, but no. I don’t.” I bounce my knees. “I think my sex drive is defective.”

“It’s not defective to be demisexual,” Skylar offers.

“What?” I sit up. “What is that?”

She stops what she’s doing with the autoclave and looks at Nikki. “I thought you were going to talk to her?”

“What?” Nikki’s eyes are big, and she throws her hands up. “It’s not my job to be her sexual counselor.”

“Um, yes, it is.” I wish I had something to throw at her. Just like pillow level or something though. I’m annoyed, but not murderous. “It’s in the ‘best friend’ description.”

“I missed the description. Was that in a memo?”

“It was carved on the back of the locket I gave you. You know, the one that was half a heart?”
“Didn’t happen. You’re making things up again.”

“Maybe.” I look at Skylar instead. “What is a demisexual?”

“It’s a descriptor. Like queer or bi, except this one means on the sexual to asexual spectrum. You’re somewhere closer to asexual, but not all the way there. Demisexuals usually only want a sexual relationship with someone they already have an emotional connection with.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Totally isn’t,” Nikki says. “And I didn’t tell you because it’s just a word. You do you, ya know? But it seems like maybe that’s you. I mean, I can’t remember you ever just locking eyes with anyone and thinking they’re droolworthy.”

“No, that doesn’t sound like me.” Part of that’s because I start worrying that sex would mean them seeing me at my ickiest, though.

So here is the Allo Savior Complex again, though at least in this example Nikki is pushing back against Skylar taking it upon herself to label someone else.

Rachel’s discomfort with sex is tied with her experiences with anorexia. I’m no expert on anorexia, but it makes sense to me that it would be difficult to sort out whether her lack of inclination can be attributed to anorexia, and what can be attributed to possibly being under the ace umbrella.

However, like other parts of the story, I felt the demisexual storyline was underdeveloped.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I like the scenes with Niharika, but other than that, this novel is a solid ‘meh’ for me.

Review: “Making Love” by Aidan Wayne

makinglove_500x750

This is another novella I’m reviewing for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What’s the story, Wishbone?

No, just no. Do not put that theme song in my head.

Fine, go ahead and write your own blurb, just like you typically do for these reviews.

Carla is a cupid working for Aphordite Agency. She has amazing aim for shooting her love arrows, but she is terrible at chemistry, which is why she kept on shooting arrows at an aromantic person. Then she sees a succubus, Leeta, come to the agency, looking for romantic love, and Carla’s boss is all like “No, you’re a succubus, we won’t help succubi find True Love because succubi just want easy meals, now GET OUT YOU SUCKY SUCCUBUS!!!!” This goes against Carla’s values – of course everyone deserves a chance at True Love. Thus, she makes it her mission to find True Love for Leeta.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is a sexual scene … whether it is a sex scene depends on how one defines such things. Also, one of the main characters is a succubus.

There is no violent content (unless a cupid shooting love arrows at people counts as violence).

Tell me more about this story.

It is, in a sense, a romantic comedy. At least, it follows some of the common rules of romantic comedies, such as when a matchmaker tries to make a match for someone else, and they keep on rejecting the matches, and the matchmaker actually feels relieved that the matches aren’t working out, you know what’s going to happen…

I actually don’t have much to say about the story.

Asexuality?

There are hints in the story that Carla is asexual, but it’s never stated explicitly, and even if Carla is asexual, well, I find the way this story presents aromanticism to be much more interesting.

Okay then, aromanticism?

On the aromantic content scale (1 = least aromantic content, 10 = most aromantic content), I rate this story as being a 3. Whereas the words ‘asexual’ and ‘ace’ are never used in the story, the word ‘aromantic’ is used multiple times. In fact, I am 80% certain that this is the first fiction story over 5,000 words I’ve read which uses the word ‘aromantic’ but does not use the words ‘asexual’ or ‘ace’.

At the beginning of the story, the anecdote of Carla futile usage of love arrows on an aromantic girl establishes that aromantic people exist.

In the story, succubi are stereotyped as all being aromantic, and this is why the agency does not even bother to try to find love matches for them. This is clearly the inverse of the situation of aromantic people – it is assumed that humans, as opposed to, say, robots or aliens from outer space, are alloromantic. At the end of the story, this comes out:

Yes! Yes, while it seems as though it’s a rarer phenomenon, what with them being an aromantic species on the whole, it looks as though romantic Sparks might be found in as many as one percent of all succubi and incubi. Statistically, that’s right around how many aromantic people exist in the world of the romantically inclined. Which is a pretty big number!

Now … is Carla aromantic? It is stated repeatedly throughout the story that Carla is bad at chemistry, and it’s hinted at that it is because she does not actually understand romance. Hmmm. And then there is this bit:

“Mm.” Leeta shifted on the couch, recrossing her legs and curling her tail. “Have you ever been in love?”

“Oh, me?” Carla laughed and waved a hand. “No, not yet. But that’s okay! A lot of cupids are late bloomers anyway.”

That bit made me think ‘hmmm’. The following passage makes it seem that Carla wants to want ‘love’ rather than simply want ‘love’.

And here we get to the mess that is discussions of ‘love’ in English. In contemporary English, ‘love’ is often assumed to mean ‘romantic love’ even when the context does not suggest that. And since this is a story about a cupid whose job is to spark romances, her culture is hyper-amantonormative.

But she does fall in love with Leeta, described thus:

Leeta was in love with her. And Carla could feel her own love pinging back to meet it. It made her feel very brave.

Is Carla romantically attracted to Leeta? Is the love she feels romantic? As a reader, I’m not sure. However, given the way Carla described her previous experience of never feeling ‘in love’ (romantic love?) for people, I suspect she is somewhere under the greyromantic umbrella.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Was this written by an aromantic?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this story?

Yes, I do.

One may buy this from the Riptide Publishing Store or various eBook retailers.

Review: All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher

The cover of All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher

This is another review for my Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Brennan caught his girlfriend having sex with another man, and she says it was because she could not sexually satisfy him, so they break up. Then Brennan walks into the local sex toy shop, trying to find what he could do to sexually please women, so he talks Zafir, who works in the shop. After hearing his story, Zafir asks whether Brennan has considered the possibility that he is asexual. Brennan had never heard of the concept of human asexuality, so he asks Zafir more questions. Zafir says that he is asexual himself. Brennan is not sure whether or not he is asexual, but he keeps on meeting with Zafir again to ask him more questions about asexuality. Eventually, it becomes clear that Brennan and Zafir have a more personal interest in each other than simply asking/answering asexuality-related questions. Can they get over their hangups and have a stable relationship with each other?

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There are no sex scenes. There is discussion of off-page sexual activity, one character shows another characters a video of a third character having sex (WITHOUT that third character’s permission), and some scenes take place inside a sex toy shop. As far as violence … at one point, two characters collide into each other, and one of those characters loses a tooth and has to go to the emergency room.

Tell me more about this novel.

This novel is part of Riptide Publishing’s “Bluewater Bay” universe. This is how they describe the universe:

Welcome to Bluewater Bay! This quiet little logging town on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula has been stagnating for decades, on the verge of ghost town status. Until a television crew moves in to film Wolf’s Landing, a soon-to-be cult hit based on the wildly successful shifter novels penned by local author Hunter Easton.

Wolf’s Landing’s success spawns everything from merchandise to movie talks, and Bluewater Bay explodes into a mecca for fans and tourists alike. The locals still aren’t quite sure what to make of all this—the town is rejuvenated, but at what cost? And the Hollywood-based production crew is out of their element in this small, mossy seaside locale. Needless to say, sparks fly.

I have not read any of the other Bluewater Bay stories. This one is pretty focused on just the local people, neither of whom have strong connections to the Wolf’s Landing media franchise. They occasionally mention Wolf’s Landing and the filming crew, but it’s not an important element of the story.

Anyway, this is basically a two-people-get-closer-and-fall-in-love kind of romance, the kind which I generally do not find interesting. However, there were enough things in this novel which I found interesting to compensate for my lack of interest in the romance itself. For example, I found Brennan’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend to be rather engaging (in the sense that watching a train wreck is engaging).

Brennan is a skater – I know so little about skating and skater culture to able to judge whether this novel depicts them fairly. Ditto about Zafir being a Muslim Lebanese-American single dad (he does call himself a ‘lazy Muslim’).

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content) I give this a rating of ‘8’.

This novel has by far the longest ace explanation I have found yet, but it fits very well with the plot. It’s very common for aces to need months, or even years, to figure out whether or not they identify with asexuality, so it makes sense that Brennan would not start identifying as ace as soon as Zafir first talked to him about asexuality. And it also makes sense that Brennan would keep on meeting Zafir again and again to ask him more questions. Indeed, it takes the entire course of the novel for Brennan to become comfortable with identifying with asexuality (that is one reason why this novel gets such a high asexuality content rating).

It also makes sense that Zafir is happy to answer Brennan’s questions, since it means that Zafir may finally be able to interact with another ace without getting on the internet or travelling to Port Angeles or Seattle.

There is also a brief scene at an ace meetup in Seattle.

I could say much more, but I think I’ve laid down the basics of how asexuality is represented in this story. Some of things I could say about this novel I’ll end up saying in the ace trope series at the Asexual Agenda (yes, I am now writing guest posts for the Asexual Agenda).

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I do like it.

One may buy this novel from the Riptide Publishing Store or various book retailers.

Review: Labyrinth by Alex Beecroft

The cover of "Labyrinth" by Alex Beecroft

What is this novella about?

Kikeru is the offspring of a priestess. If Kikeru is a man, then he may lead a secular life and marry a woman and have babies. If Kikeru is a woman, then she will become a sacred temple maiden and forbidden to marry.

The problem is that, first, Kikeru feels sexually/romantically attracted to men, not women. If he is a man, then he can only marry women, not men. If she is a woman, then she will have to live in celibacy forever. Either way, Kikeru will be unable to marry a man. Second, Kikeru does not feel like a man or a woman, but if she/he is not a man or a woman, then what is she/he?

This is made all the more complicated by the fact that a) Kikeru overhears some Achaeans talking about invading Crete, and then assault him and b) Kikeru is rescued from the mean Achaeans by Rusa, a man who Kikeru finds extremely attractive.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is a sex scene of the ‘fade-to-black’ variety, as well as various references to sexual activities. As far as violence … well, there is attempted sexual assault, kidnapping, the possibility of war breaking out between the Minoans and the Achaeans, and … a bit more than that, but I think that’s enough to paint a picture.

Tell me more about this novella.

Clearly, Kikeru’s gender is nonbinary (well, it’s clear to the reader, it’s not clear to the characters). The novella switches between using he/his/him and she/her pronouns to refer to Kikeru. Since this review is much shorter than a novella, I think switching pronouns for Kikeru would be confusing, so whenever I refer to Kikeru, I use ‘she/he’ and ‘his/her’.

The part of the story revolving around Kikeru’s gender identity and Kikeru trying to find a gender role that she/he is comfortable with was by far the most interesting part of this novella. In fact, it was the only thing I found interesting about this novella. The Achaeans are really two-dimensional villains, which is a minus, but I can roll with 2-dimensional villains if there is exciting action/suspense/adventure … except there isn’t any compelling action/suspense/adventure plot either (I would not say that part of the story is bad, simply … uninteresting). The romance between Kikeru and Rusa seemed really flimsy, and thus uninteresting, to me.

I think I would have enjoyed this novel more if a) it focused just on Kikeru’s gender identity struggles, going into them in more depth or b) if it were expanded to a full novel, so that other parts of the story could be more fully developed. Granted, there is no guarantee that the other parts of the story would have been any more interesting if they had been more fully developed, but I think it’s at least possible that greater length could have given the plot space to become compelling.

Didn’t Lois McMaster Bujold also write a novella called “Labyrinth” which has a nonbinary-gender character?

Yes.

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content) I rate this story as being a 1.

This is the only passage where asexuality comes up in the story:

Jadikira shrugged, then oddly she seemed to turn to Maja for reassurance. “I don’t know what the appeal is, to be honest. All these stories about young women throwing away their lives to marry some young man? What’s that about?”

Maja shifted on her cushion, smoothed down her skirts, and looked troubled. “To tell the truth, I don’t know either. Like you, I never felt the urge.”

“Don’t get me wrong.” His daughter beamed at the older woman, as if she’d found a soul mate. Probably the first person she had met ever to agree with her nonsense. “Lust, I can understand. That’s how I got the bump. But her father could be any one of three men, and I don’t want to be hitched permanently to any of them.”

“There you’re ahead of me, then.” Maja tweaked her apron, and smiled at the deck planking. “Lust is not something I understand either—not for anyone. My child, I conceived at a ceremony like the one we just attended. I don’t remember much about it. Her father was a luminous creature. A god. That’s how I knew she was destined to be extraordinary. But not even that made me wish for a lover or a husband. For a long time, none of it troubled me at all. I had more interesting things to do.”

So apparently Kikeru’s mother, Maja, is asexual. I think this might be the first work of asexual fiction I’ve read in which the ace character is a parent.

Is Jadikira aromantic? Well, I don’t know what the writer’s intent is, but I would not conclude based on this passage alone that Jadikira is aromantic. There are people out there who fall in love and get thick into romance without wanting marriage or being ‘hitched permanently’ to anyone.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Alex Beecroft is asexual. And a parent. Which might be why this story has an ace character who is also a parent.

Hey Sara, do you like this novella?

No, I don’t.

One may buy “Labyrinth” at the Riptide Publishing Store and various eBook retailers.

Review – Assassins: Discord by Erica Cameron

The cover of Assassins: Discord by Erica Cameron

What is this novel about?

Kindra, 16, belongs to a family of assassins, has been working as an assassin since she was ten, and it’s the only way of life she has ever known. She does not let her emotions interfere with her work because they do no good, she does not know why she is killing the people she kills because she does not need to know, and she does not even consider leaving her family because if she left, they would pursue her, and she’d rather keep working with her than be on the run for the rest of her (potentially short) life.

Then there is a mission where shit hits the fan tornado. Kindra is faced with dilemmas she has never had to deal with before.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There are no sex scenes, though there is (sexual) kissing, and references to sexual activity (including underage sexual activity). As far as violence … ummmm, it’s a novel about assassins. Of course there is violence. And the descriptions are sometimes gory. And there is a massacre of schoolchildren.

Tell me more about this novel.

It is part of Riptide Publishing’s YA line, Triton Books.

I had suspension of disbelief problems with this novel. Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about real-world hitpeople, and maybe this is more accurate that I think it is. However, I had trouble buying Kindra’s family – not that they are evil, since there is tons of evidence that some families are that evil – but that they could train Kindra to be such an effective assassin while abusing her the way they did. But maybe I am just naïve and ignorant.

The novel feels a bit like Legend by Marie Lu, a novel I really did not like. Though at least the romance in this novel is not nearly as ridiculously eyeroll-inducing as the romance in Legend, so that is a distinct improvement. In fact, I don’t think the romance plotline in this novel induced any eyerolls for me.

I don’t know what else to say, really. Yes, Kindra has a character growth arc as she learns just how abusive her family is and that she really can get away from it, and yes, her love interest is one of the principle people pulling her away from her evil family. It’s an action-thriller set in the contemporary United States (mostly New York City, Jacksonville, FL, and point in between).

Asexuality?

On the asexual content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I rate this story as a 2.

Quite a few of the characters in this novel are assassins, and one of them is asexual. Since revealing which of the assassins is asexual would be a major spoiler, I will simply refer to this character as ‘Asexual Assassin’.

We find out that this character is asexual in this scene (which I have edited for clarity and to remove spoilers):

“What? She’s not your type?” Kindra shot back. “Or maybe Mr. Rose Tattoo is more your speed?”

“Neither of them. Not even a little.”

“No?” She made herself leer. “I liked Rose Tattoo. I’d do him.”

“You’d do anyone.”

Her nose wrinkled. “Not anyone.” Not if she was the one picking her partners. “I’m bi, not a nympho.” Then the conversation really registered. “And how the hell would you know what my type is, anyway? [sentence removed because of spoiler].”

[They] shrugged, refused to meet her eyes, and then avoided the question entirely. “You were lucky. You know how hard it is to fake your way through that shit every time?” [Asexual Assassin] shuddered. “Hated it when [character] made me do that.”

Kindra blinked, a little more of her anger fading as memories realigned in her head. The briefings when [Asexual Assassin’s] eyes would go distant and empty, or the early mornings when [they would] take a shower that lasted over an hour. She’d never considered that the seductions [done for assassin work] were what had caused that bleak discomfort in [Asexual Assassin].

“Was it the guys or the girls?” Kindra wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. If [Asexual Assassin] had hated it that much, then . . .

“Neither was all that great, but it was a little easier with some—a very few—of the girls.” [Asexual Assassin] still wouldn’t look at her. “Even then . . . Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Even if I’d told [character] when I realized I was asexual, it wouldn’t have changed anything.”

We learn that Kindra has been doing seductions for work purposes since she was twelve, but that she actually did not mind that aspect of assassin work much, and it does not seem to have traumatized her in any way.

There is another ace character in the novel, Blake. There is no hint that Blake is ace in this novel, but supposedly in the sequel it is revealed that Blake is greysexual.

I could say another thing or two about how asexuality is presented in this novel, but then I would be way into spoiler territory.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Erica Cameron is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

Hmmmm … it’s not really my kind of thing. I can’t quite put my finger on why, though I think it is in ‘not my cup of tea’ territory, not ‘this is badly written’ territory. So no, I don’t like it. I’m undecided about whether or not I’ll read the sequel. I would really like to read a novel with an intersex/agender/gray-a protagonist, but I would rather not read another novel like this one.

This novel may be purchased from the Riptide Publishing Store and various book retailers.

Review: Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

The cover of Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

This is one of the stories I’m reviewing for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Works of art get stolen, leaving BLANK SPACES on the wall of an art gallery.

The End.

Okay, not really.

Absence is as crucial as presence. The absence of these stolen works of art is turning out to be crucial to the (dys)functioning of the art gallery where Vaughn works. They have insurance, but since it’s the third time art has been stolen from this gallery in a year, the insurance company sends Jonah to investigate. And when Vaughn’s friend takes him to a gay bar later, it is sheer freaking coincidence that Jonah also happens to be there, having sex with two guys at once.

Vaughn lives off his family’s wealth, came from a stable loving family (though they are sometimes too nosy about his personal life), loves art, has mild manners, and doesn’t like sex. Jonah thinks art is boring, is abrasive, was abandoned by his mother when he was five years old, lives from paycheck to paycheck, and likes to forget his problems by have lots of sex with strangers. Obviously, they are a perfect match … for entertaining readers.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this novel?

There are many references to Jonah’s promiscuous lifestyle, but generally the descriptions of his sexual escapades are very brief. There is a non-penetrative sex scene which is described in some detail. There are brief references to the physical abuse Jonah experienced as a child, and at some points in the story there are threats of physical violence. Oh, and there is a scene where someone shoves someone into a closet and forcefully kisses that person (though the person being kissed loves it).

Tell me more about this novel

Based on my story summary, Jonah could seem like a creep. I’m relieved to say that he’s not. He’s flawed, and he sometimes fails social relations, but he does understand basic human decency, and when he messes up, he does apologize and try to make up for it.

Anyway, I would like to share this short excerpt from a scene where Vaughn is trying to get Jonah to appreciate abstract art:

“And what about the rest of it?” Jonah gestured to the creamy expanse below the mess. “There’s nothing.”

“Absence is as important as presence, in art.” He paused. “In most things, actually.”

What the shit did that mean? “In English?”

“The artist could have painted this in. But she didn’t. She left it bare for a reason.” He pointed up. “Why is it busy up there, but not down here? The lack of something here is meaningful. It contrasts the mess up there, and the mess contrasts how bare it is down here. The two define each other, and the absence therefore takes on its own significance. It could be colourful, but it isn’t, and we have to think about it.”

And a little later in the same scene:

“Look at this. What the fuck even is this? It’s like this one line of interesting shit and a whole lot of uninteresting shit. And the interesting stuff is right at the top. It’s distracting. If I was going to make something people wanted to look at, I’d fill the whole canvas up with that part.”

“Imagine what that would look like.”

Jonah could. The whole canvas would be covered with the bright colours and slashes and it would look— “Crazy,” he realized. “Even more of a mess. Like too much to look at.” He frowned. “Wait, is that a thing? Limit the crazy so it’s a pretty mess instead of a huge one?”

“That is indeed a thing.”

“So, mess is nice but in small doses?” Jonah gazed at the cream colour. It was so . . . so . . . “It’s bearable when everything else is quiet,” he said slowly. “It’s easier to enjoy when the rest of it is calm.”

Why did I choose to highlight this scene rather than other scenes? Because the novel is called BLANK SPACES. And these excerpts explain the benefits of BLANK SPACES in art. This is obviously tied to the overall metaphor of the story.

One of the ways the ‘blank space’ metaphor is built into the story is Jonah’s personal life. He has an extremely active sex life (creating ‘busyness’) partially to compensate for the ‘blank spaces’ in his personal life (such as the lack of reliable parental figures). That’s not to say that he is in constant angst mode over his childhood – he mostly prefers not to dwell on it. But, errr, during the course of the story, he hears news of his mother for the first time in almost twenty years, which forces him to deal with emotions drama.

I felt that the whodunit of the stolen art pieces was too obvious for that storyline to be fully satisfying, but who are we kidding? This is a romance novel, and the stolen-art plotline is mainly a device to get Vaughn and Jonah to meet under plotty circumstances.

So, Asexuality

On the asexuality content scale (1 = minimal asexual content, 10 = maximum asexual content) I rate this story as a 6.

Yet another way the ‘Blank Spaces’ metaphor shows up in this story is as the absence of sexual attraction and sexual desire, specifically with regards to Vaughn.

Vaughn’s had sex, didn’t care for it, so he stopped having sex. Since he assumes a boyfriend-style relationship isn’t possible without sex, he tells Jonah that he isn’t into ‘relationships’. Jonah also is not into ‘relationships’ because he prefers to have sex without commitments, so he mistakenly thinks that Vaughn is into casual sex, just like himself. Cue comedic misunderstandings (and yes, there are quite a few bits in this novel which made my laugh out loud).

Vaughn’s known for years that he is ‘different’ from other gay men, but did not really know how to describe it until, during a toga party, he overhears a discussion of queer politics:

“Oh, shut up. We’re talking about asexuals, not gay guys.” She scowled at him. “Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can define what queer is.”

“Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you can tell me where my identity fits in the entirety of the LGBTQ umbrella or that my opinion is invalid,” he responded. “And if we’re talking about asexuals, I don’t think they should be included at all.”

“Oh really?”

“Abstinence doesn’t mean shit to anyone except right-wing loons in the US.”

She grinned in triumph. “Asexuality isn’t abstinence.”

“Sure as fuck looks like it.”

“Abstinence is behaviour, which isn’t what asexuality is about,” the girl continued. “It’s about the direction and manifestation of your sexuality. Gay guys are attracted to men, right? And you have a libido, ergo, you want to sleep with men. But what if you got drunk and slept with a woman? Are you still gay?”

“Yes.” He scrunched up his face. “No. I think it depends.” He shook his head as if to clear it. “You got a point?”

I like this twist on the ‘ace explanation’. It gets the key points across for the readers who really don’t know about asexuality as a sexual orientation, yet because it’s mixed into a political discussion, it’s also offers something to readers who are more interested in 201 level discussions of asexuality.

I do not want to get into too much detail about how Vaughn and Jonah react to this discussion of asexuality because that would be spoilerful, but as a member of the asexual blogging community, I have to quote this section:

On a whim, he’d typed asexuality into the search box, which, like most whims related to the Tumblr search engine, proved an excellent idea. Soon he’d followed about a dozen new blogs with names like queenieofaces and gaybeard-the-great, some of which even seemed to be based in Canada. Promising.

Yes, an asexual blogger I follow (Queenie) is specifically mentioned in this novel. Gaybeard-the-great, on the other hand, is a character in Finding Your Feet, another novel by Cass Lennox which I will be reviewing this month.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Cass Lennox is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

Hell yes! Ever since I started doing these reviews of asexual fiction in October (and no, I had no idea that it would turn into this big of a thing – honestly, back in October, I just thought I would read about 10 asexual novels/novellas and be done with it) I have read over 30 asexual novels/novellas/short stories, and this is one of my top favorites.

Blank Spaces may be purchased at the Riptide Publishing Store or at various book retailers. One may also get it from most public libraries in California via Link+.