X-Men: Marvel’s Snapshots, “And The Rest Will Follow” written by Jay Edidin

Two copies of Marvels Snapshots: X-Men propped up against a laptop screen. The copy in the front has the alternate cover, with a classic comics look a young Scott Summers is surrounded by the shadowed figures of the Fantastic Four, Spiderman and Iron Man. The tagline reads "It's an age of marvels and monsters, Scott Summers! Time to decide, which are you?!"
The one to the back is the standard cover, with an adult Scott Summers portrayed from the shoulders up firing his eye beams down at a diagonal across the cover. 
The snapchat subtitle reads, "Time for X-Men."

So I went into this excited because I’ve love Jay’s work already and I also trust Jay as someone with good opinions and thoughts on the Summers brothers. 

Now I’ve read one-shots/minis series’ of Scott Summers’ origin story before, the two that come immediately to mind are “X-Men: Children of the Atom” and “X-Men Origins: Cyclops,” but “Snapshots” rapidly outpaced them as my favorite. It’s not the most comprehensive look at Scott’s backstory, it doesn’t even begin to touch on Mr. Sinister, but what it does do is create a tangible look at how Scott’s past has impacted his present, in particular his past prior to Professor X and the X-Men. 

The story is focused on Scott during his time at the orphanage where he lived after the plane crash that “killed” his parents prior to and immediately after his mutation manifesting, and the main plot is Scott trying to figure out where he fits in the world and struggling with a slew of mental health issues after the plane crash. 

At the same time superheroes emerge on the world stage, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, etc. and we get to see Scott view superheroes through the eyes of a civilian. Not Cyclops, not even knowing he’s got powers of his own yet. One line I particularly loved was, “They talk like the Fantastic Four are moviecharacters, but they’re real people,” which I think is just a fantastic thing to think about considering the kind of public perception Scott himself attains as an adult. 

The main thread that the story follows is Scott hyper-fixating on superheroes and the idea of superheroes being born from tragic circumstances, but helping people. The experiences of the Fantastic Four gaining their powers through a freak accident is paralleled with Scott’s plane crash: “Four people climb into a cockpit. Strap in. Take off. Something goes horribly, horribly, wrong.”  

Comic panel. A young Scott Summers sitss as a table writing, there are magazines and books about superheroes surrounding him.
Scott's narration reads "I obsess about things. Get fixated and I can't let go. I know that. But all of this feels important, like something I should recognize--maybe something that got lost with everything else."
The snapchat caption reads "That's hyper-fixation bay-be" in all capital letters.

This leads to Scott going to see Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic speak, where he winds up involved in his first superhero/super villain fight as a bystander. This leads to Scott’s budding interest in tactical planning and then his mutation goes off.

Comic panel. A young Scott Summers is shown in the foreground to the right side of the panel reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War. In the center background there are some menacing looking bully types and to the left there is a young child running and the edge of a swing set. 
Scott's narration reads: "I know I'm obsessing again. But it makes sense like almost nothing else ever has. I want things to be as simple as Sun Tzu makes them sound." 
The Snapchat caption reads: "Why am I not surprised that Scott would get special interest invested in The Art of War."

The flashback section concludes with Scott struggling once again with who he is. Is he a monster that the Fantastic Four would fight? Or is he like them, can he help? And, because this is Scott Summers the answer is the latter. Something else I really loved about this scene was that Scott came to that realization on his own, he didn’t need Professor X to validate his worth.

Four comic panels.
Panel 1: A close up of an air conditioning unit being help up on a crane, the cables holding it up are breaking.
Panel 2. Close up of the faces of several white men, frightened and trapped underneath what appears to be fallen scaffolding
Panel 3: Close up of Scott's face his eyes are squeezed shut and his hand is shaking as he lowers his ruby quartz glasses. 
Panel 4: Close up of the cable holding the air conditioning unit breaking with a snap.
Scott's narration, which runs over all four panels: "If I do that-- if anyone sees-- there has to be something else. But there isn't. Those men probably have families. Kids. I'm not a monster. I'm not. Well, Summers, you wanted to make a difference. To do something." 
Snapchat caption: "You can do it Scott!!!"

Which brings us to the very final scene: in the nebulous “present” Scott is giving orders for what appears to be a mission to rescue three of the Fantastic Four, and we see Scott as Cyclops taking to Reed Richards and he quotes to Reed something that Reed had said during a TV interview while Scott was at the orphanage. That, for me, brought everything together absolutely perfectly. In one speech bubble, we understand the importance of the entire rest of the story and how foundational these early experiences were for Scott. It’s also just a great ending from a storytelling perspective too, it’s a beautifully wrapped one-shot that doesn’t leave you wanting for anything. 

One more thing of note, if you are neurodivergent like myself, you may have noticed my use of the word “hyper-fixation” which is a term used in describing certain behaviors characteristic of autism and ADHD. Scott reads incredibly neurodivergent and not just in a throw away sense and it’s very easy to pick up if you are familiar with those kinds of neurodivergencies. Furthermore, this is intentional, Jay has stated himself that he was writing Scott as autistic. Of course, Word of God only means so much, but in my opinion, the proof is more than there. 

While this issue came out several weeks ago, you may still be able to find it by reaching out to your local comic book shop — I got mine through Books with Pictures — and you can get it in digital through comiXology.

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The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth

The cover of The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth. It has a black background and a grayscale drawing of an anatomical drawing of a winged human.

If you like fictional science, Victorian fantasy, great art and a creeping sense of horror, then The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth is the book for you. 

The book comes in two parts. The first is the fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black a Philadelphia that takes your through Black’s early education and career as a surgeon, the development of his strange evolutionary theories, and the experiments he makes later. 

So what is all this fake science? Through his early surgical work, Dr. Black comes to believe that birth defects and other abnormalities are caused by the human body trying to grow limbs that humans once had but no longer have, like wings, or a mermaid’s tail… and ergo mythical creatures were once real and also we should try to bring them back.

Snapchat of text, the highlighted quote reads, "Among the paper's most controversial claims was the idea that many so-called mythological creatures were in fact real species that once walked the earth. Black further argued that remnants of these creatures sometimes manifested themselves in latent trails, that is, genetic mutations."

The caption reads "You'd be surprised how realistic this is in terms of shit people got up to in the 1800s. There was real historical discourse about whether or not the mermaid was a missing evolutionary link."

So armed with the obstinate belief of many a Victorian scientist with bad theories, he sets about trying to prove this in the worst possible way. First he cobbles together fakes a la the Feejee mermaid, but then he decides to take it a step further and experiment on living creatures. He starts with animals… but doesn’t stop there.

Snapchat of text, the quote reads "Unhappy with the success of the anatomy show and grieving the loss of his son, Victor,

The thing I really enjoyed about this first part being presented as a biography are the questions and mysteries that arise, but due to the restraints of the genre and structure of the story, cannot be solved. He transplants wings onto a dog and then a young woman, and we are lead to believe that these wings work, but logically we also know that shouldn’t be possible, so then we wonder, maybe Dr. Black was onto something

Additionally, when dealing with late Victorian evolutionary theory, especially when discussing disability and birth defects, you always, always run the risk of running into eugenics. To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Black is never affiliated with the eugenics movement, in fact, they denounce him and his work.

This is rather a double edge sword of an endorsement, however. Like, yay, he’s not involved with the eugenics movement, but the denouncement also serves as a moment of “the people doing really fucked up shit think the shit you’re doing is worse” and let’s not forget Dr. Black was experimenting on living human beings by the end. 

Which brings me to my next point and major warning; there is a not insignificant amount of medical ableism in this book. Much of it is typical for the time period and field in which Dr. Black worked, but it’s still there and there were a small handful of things that I thought could have been done better from the perspective of the modern biographer of Dr. Black, but they weren’t enough to ruin the book for me. 

Two anatomical drawings a mermaid with each individual part labeled. The first is a skeleton and the skeleton with some minor musculature. Beneath the image is the label "Siren oceanus."

Part two of the book is a “reproduction” of Dr. Black’s seminal work, “The Codex of Extinct Animalia,” where he details his “discoveries” of various mythical creatures, from mermaids to dragons to centaurs. Each section includes beautifully detailed anatomical drawings of each creature, just like what might have been found in a regular anatomical text book of the time, accompanied by blurbs written by Dr. Black and a short explanation by the biographer. 

Ultimately, if you enjoy dark historical fantasy, science fiction and horror, such as Frankenstein, The Terror (tv show), or Dracula you might enjoy The Resurrectionist too. 

You can watch the trailer for the book as well as links to purchase here.

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The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal, by Clint, Griffin, Justin and Travis McElroy and illustrated by Carey Pietsch

Cover for The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal. From left to right, Merle, Taako and Magnus are leaning against the front of a battlewagon. Merle is holding the adamant spanner, Taako has the umbra staff and is twirling a ring of keys and Magnus is tossing a D20. In the top left corner, Griffin McElroy in a gaming headset waves a checkered starting flag. 
The snapchat caption reads: "Hell yeah, here we go."

I really adore the Adventure Zone graphic novels. They’re a really fun supplement to the Balance Arc of the podcast. Though it’s hardly required to listen to the podcast to read the graphic novels. There’s no additional information to be found in the graphic novels save for changes made due to the adaptation process. 

For example, Wizards of the Coast LLC, the company behind the game Dungeons and Dragons, has copyright on things like place and spell names in the game. So in the graphic novels the town of Neverwinter has become Eversummer, and other things like that. For me the biggest tragedy was losing the name Klarg. However, some of the other changes, in my opinion, improve the story.

If you aren’t familiar with the Balance Arc of The Adventure Zone, the three main chucklefucks, Merle, Taako and Magnus, are recruited by the Bureau of Balance to retrieve seven dangerous artifacts to save the world, but there are other secret goings on too. “Petals to the Metal” is the third act of the story, and our heroes converge on the town of Goldcliff looking to retrieve the Gaia Sash. 

I really love the art for these books, it’s expressive and stylized in a way that is really fitting for each character. Since The Adventure Zone started out in an audio only medium, the fandom surrounding his has an absolutely huge range of ways that each character is drawn, so cementing one look for the graphic novel had to have been a challenge, and I really appreciate that they’ve included other art in the back of the book that shows different takes on the characters. 

In the panel Magnus slams open the door to the Director's office declaring "I want to  report that one of your vendors is selling tainted unicorn dick!" 
The Director has a rather shocked and exasperated expression the introduction card for her reads: "The Director; Race: Human; Class: Director; Proficiencies: managing clandestine organizations, keeping secrets, being patient with pains-in-the-ass (pain-in-the-asses?)"
The snapchat caption reads: "I have a lot of feelings about how expressive the art is for both comedic and serious scenarios."

In this book, I was particularly struck by how Captain Captain Bane was drawn. I don’t think I’d ever imagined him particularly clearly, but it was definitely nowhere near the tender eyed beefy o’ burley we got. I’m definitely not complaining though, I really love what was done with Captain Bane in the graphic novel. Because podcast as a medium doesn’t really allow for concurrent storytelling and interactions between NPCs in D&D can get weird, because it’s just the DM talking to themself, we didn’t initially get a huge amount of relationship development between Captain Bane and Lieutenant Hurley, and it was really nice to see more of Captain Bane throughout, especially considering how his character ends the book/act.

Two comic panels.
The first is a shot of an empty finish line, there are some vaguely drawn characters in the bleachers. 
The second panel is a close of up three figures in the bleachers, the two characters in the background are leaning forward eyes wide in anticipation. The character in the foreground in Captain Captain Bane, a man with a large square jaw and chin, bushy brown mustache and swept back collar length brown hair. He is looking through binoculars and appears very concerned. His speech bubble reads: "C'mon Hurley..." 
The snapchat caption reads:  "I love how much more we get of the Hurley and Bane friendship in this."

Lastly, I do want to talk about Hurley and Sloane, our tragic antagonist. They were a wlw couple from the moment they were introduced, however, in the podcast it was predominantly subtext. In the timeline of things I think this was where Griffin, the DM, was beginning to sort through adding queer characters into the show. The book makes it explicit, they were girlfriends before Sloane was corrupted by the Gaia Sash. 

Furthermore, as I mentioned before this was write at the beginning of the gay character learning curve for the boys. So in the podcast Hurley and Sloane fall pray to the Bury Your Gays trope. Hurley is mortally wounded and Sloane turns them both into a tree. Learning from his mistakes, Griffin brought back Hurley and Sloane as dryads in the Balance arc finale “The Day of Story and Song.” The graphic novel takes that one step further and makes explicit that it is Sloane’s intent to turn them into a dryads in order to save Hurley’s life. By the end of the book, while Tres Horny Boys don’t know that Hurley and Sloane are alive, we the audience get to see Hurley and Sloane as the dryad protectors of Goldcliff. All in all I think it’s a really beautiful fix to what was initially the ignorant usage of a bad trope. 

Full page, Hurley and Sloane standing next to each other, smiling and blushing in the first panel, and looking determined in the second. Hurley is the halfling on the left with short light pink hair (with tufts on the tops of her feet) and Sloane is a half elf with long black hair. Their skin is brown and lined to look like wood, they both have flowers in their hair. 
The snapchat caption is in rainbow bubble letters and reads: "Resurrect your gays."

One, uh, “warning.” There are three pages of Merle (played by the McElroy father, Clint) seducing some vines. It’s not NSFW or anything, but it’s an experience I think one might want to be prepared for is all, especially if  you’re coming in having not listened to the podcast. In conclusion:

Merle, a dwarf with brown skin and white hair and beard, stands in a pool of water while yelling at the Gaia Sash, a grey sash that appears to be woven together from vines. His speech bubble reads: "I don't need your help to fuck an onion!"
In the background, Taako, Magnus, Captain Bane, and other members of the Goldcliff militia stand around watching the scene in confusion.

“Petals to the Metal” as well as the previous two books, can be found here.

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Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

The first thing I learned reading this was that I’m very out of practice when it comes to reading academic theory. The second was that I need to broaden the academic theory I read. Thankfully, “Black on Both Sides” has a deliciously robust bibliography which I have marked up for future reading. 

Now I will say, this may be a somewhat challenging read for those who don’t have a background in academic theory, but I think it’s doable if you’re willing to stop and google things, which I still had to do myself despite my academic background. Regardless, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in gender studies, even if you haven’t delved into much theory yet. C. Riley Snorton has done an incredible job of pulling together a wide range of theories to curate his discussion of race and gender, and moreover, he explains those theories well.

Quotation:  Heeding her call, my analysis here is particularly attentive to the possibilities of valorizing--without necessarily redeeming--different ways of knowing and being, as it is also invested in reviving and inventing strategies for inhabiting unlivable worlds. It is an attempt to think more precisely about the connections within blackness and transness in the midst of ongoing black and trans death and against the backdrop  of the rapid institutionalization of trans studies.

Snapchat caption: Nothing grabs my attention faster than reference to "different ways of knowing."

As you may have already guessed, “Black on Both Sides” is not your run of the mill history book. It is a history, certainly, but one that goes one step deeper than just telling history. It asks questions about and provides an analysis of the history of black gendered experience and how that has developed from slavery through to today. 

The first chapter begins with a discussion of the black female body as an object in the historical context of the origins of the medical field of gynecology. Major warning in this chapter for discussions of unethical experimentation and medical abuse. 

"Relaying another variation of the experimental trials, Sims tells his readers that he 'was fortunate in having three young healthy colored girls given to me by their owners,' while also noting that he performed 'no operation without the full consent of the patients."

Snapchat caption: Spot the contradiction.

The second chapter follows this, with a discussion of how “ungendering blackness” provided ways for fugitive slaves to use crossing gender boundaries in their movement toward freedom. This chapter uses two early slave narratives as examples of this and continues with a discussion of literature into chapter three, where Snorton moves on to discuss the female presence in post Reconstruction narratives of black.

Chapter four delves into the lives of several black trans individuals and how the media portrayed their gender and transitions in the years surrounding Christine Jorgensen’s rise to fame. Snorton hits, quite early on, one of the major problems I have with the Jorgensen narrative, namely that it plays heavily into the tropes of the “good trans” who upholds white heterosexuality. 

Lastly, chapter five discusses the the Humboldt killings and the Brenden Teena archive, the tragedy behind the documentary “The Brenden Teena Story” and the feature film “Boys Don’t Cry.” 

I was particularly excited for these final two chapters, 1) because they brushed up with things that I’ve studied more in depth, and 2) because they offered different perspectives to the dominant narratives surrounding both Christine Jorgensen and the Brandon Teena archive. For the latter in particular I have gotten rather sick of cis feminists touting “Boys Don’t Cry” as The Best Trans Expression In Film as if it isn’t about the rape and murder of a trans man. Snorton’s look into the Humboldt killings prioritizes Philip DeVine, the black disabled man who was murdered alongside Teena and Lisa Lambert, and who notably was removed wholesale from the narrative of “Boys Don’t Cry.”

I could go on and on about everything I loved about this book. It’s a very careful and detailed breakdown of queer theory as it pertains to black and trans history. But as I do have to end this review, I will direct you to where you can get this book so you can experience it for yourselves.

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Disability in Season 3 of the BBC’s Musketeers

Promotional poster for season three of The Musketeers. The four main characters stand in the foreground. They are from left to right: Athos (Tom Burke), Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), D'Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), and Porthos (Howard Charles)

So I’ve been watching a lot of Musketeers recently, specifically season three. It’s a good season, and I’m a particular fan of the primary antagonist of the season, Lucien Grimaud (Matthew McNulty). However, I have noticed a repeating trend with the other antagonists of the season that is rather troubling, namely, many of them are disabled and play heavily into the “Evil Cripple” trope, which is described by TV Tropes as “rooted in eugenics-based ideas linking disability or other physical deformities with a ‘natural’ predisposition toward madness, criminality, vice, etc.” This is most apparent in the character of the Marquis de Feron (Rupert Everett). 

The half brother of King Louis XIII (Ryan Gage), Feron suffers from what appears to be some sort of degenerative bone disease, and is frequently seen using a cane and having difficulty walking. For the first six episodes of the season, Feron is a co-lead antagonist alongside Grimaud, devising plans and using Grimaud and the Red Guard to carry them out. He’s also portrayed as addicted to opium, which he takes to manage the pain of his chronic illness; in debt and constantly after money; and perfectly willing to commit murder and bear gleeful witness to wanton violence. He is portrayed as wholly unsympathetic, whereas the narrative goes out of its way to let us in on Grimaud’s tragic backstory, which in turn, garners sympathy for the character. Feron is given none of this, and even his crisis of conscious at the end does not come with a full change of heart.

Another antagonist, a one off character named Bastien (Harry Melling) in episode seven, “Fool’s Gold,” plays into both the “Evil Cripple” trope and the trope of a character pretending to be disabled to be perceived as helpless and unassuming. Bastien is a criminal who was recruited into the French army, but then deserted. He and a group of others had stashed gold in the area where a group of women had built up a small settlement in an effort to escape the brutality of the soldiers passing through their old village. He plays the part of a man with a leg injury in need of rescue to be brought into the women’s village and uses his position from the inside to allow his friends to come in and raid the camp. When we see him on his own and after he’s been exposed, he does not have the limp that we see him with initially. 

Even more insidious is the treatment of the character Borel (Stephen Walters) in episode five, “To Play the King.” Borel is a prisoner in the Chatelet who is severely mentally ill. Borel has what is likely meant to be dissociative identity disorder or some other form of psychosis that leads to delusions of grandeur. As you may be able to guess from the title, Borel believes himself to be the King. There is an attempt made at a “this man is ill, he should not be in a prison”  story line, but it falls flat because, ultimately, Borel is the subplot antagonist of the episode and we are told under no uncertain terms that while Borel may seem helpless, he is also very dangerous and a murderer.

D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), not wanting to send an ill man back to prison, leaves Borel at a convent, which leads to the murder of several nuns, a guard and ultimately an attack on Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling). While the episode does fit into the season’s overarching theme of tension between the royal duties of the musketeers and their duties to the people of Paris, with D’Artagnan saying at the end “Why do I feel like I’m fighting for the wrong side?” the whole subplot leaves a sour taste in my mouth. 

Frankly, it almost feels worse that they teased the potential for the trope to be subverted. If they had let the Borel plot line end with D’Artagnan helping him and leaving him at the convent and with something good coming out of that, it could have been really good, and they could have put additional focus on the primary plot of the episode, which I do think could have used more time instead of trying to balance it equally with the Borel plot. I was actually really exciting the first time I  watched “To Play the King,” because it seemed that the mental illness plot line was going to be resolved well, which made it even more of a gut punch when they turned it right back around and ran head first into to the mentally ill murderer trope. 

As comes up time and time again with the way mental illness is portrayed in the media, people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. A 2017 post on gun violence and mental health from Joel Miller of the American Mental Health Counselors Association notes that, “rates of violent crime victimization are 12 times higher among the population of persons with serious mental illness than among the overall U.S. population.” So no, I really don’t care what the show runners tried to do with that plot line, they used a tired and harmful trope and if they were trying to subvert it they failed. 

Lastly I want to talk about Annabelle (Naomi Radcliffe). She is not an antagonist, but she is another disabled character who gets treated rather poorly. Also in episode five, “To Play the King,” she is involved in the primary plot; a riot has been incited within the prison and the prisoners allowed to escape because Grimaud and Feron have plotted to break into the King’s gold reserves in the vault under the prison. Her husband Joubert (Ian McKee) was the locksmith who designed the vault door and is now in prison because he fell into debt. Annabelle, who is blind, is taken as hostage motivation for Joubert to break into the vault he designed. 

Despite the fact that the plot hinges on Annabelle telling Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) and Constance (Tamla Kari) that she believes they went after her because of her husband, which leads to them realizing that there is a plot to do with the royal vault, Annabelle is given very little agency. It is indicated briefly that she is good at identifying her surroundings; she recognizes Constance by the smell of her clothes and can tell Constance and Aramis confidently that the man who took her was not an escaped convict, but was well off because he had fur cuffs and rings on his hands. So I have to ask myself, why was she written blind? A seeing character could have filled that role to much the same effect. Was it necessary for this character, who’s only function in the show was to be a victim, to be blind? Or was it done just to add another layer of perceived helplessness to an already victimized character?

Now, I enjoy Musketeers. Its overall a fun show, bolstered by the fact that three of the four leads are men of color and there are some really strong, multi-faceted female characters, but it’s hardly perfect, and the things I’ve mentioned above can be deal breakers for many, many people. I have friends who I know would say, “No I won’t watch this show at all” because of the mental illness subplot in “To Play a King.” Media does not exist in a vacuum, and it’s important to recognize, even in media you enjoy, where things go wrong.

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Chasing a Legacy by D.A. Ravenscroft

The cover of "Chasing a Legacy" by D.A. Ravenscroft. A young blond woman in a green 19th century dress stands against a railing, she is holding a locket in her hands.

The snapchat caption reads: More incredibly sexy queer historical fiction.

“Chasing a Legacy” comes as a sequel to “Chasing a Ghost,” which is itself an unofficial sequel to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables that reimagines the character Enjolras as a gay transgender man. “Chasing a Legacy,” unlike its predecessor, is much less unofficial sequel and much more original fiction. The few characters from Les Miserables remain, Grantaire, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Marius, but the vast majority of the cast are new, original characters, in large part the children of the aforementioned  Les Mis characters who were first introduced as children in “Chasing a Ghost.” 

The central two characters are Marianne and Camille, the two remaining children of Enjolras and Grantaire. Both queer in some respect, Marianne has made a name for herself as a bohemian and courtesan and Camille followed in his father’s footsteps to become a lawyer. Marianne has tried desperately to be nothing like Enjolras, who she feels abandoned her, and Camille has done his utmost to emulate him while simultaneously blaming himself for his father’s death. The plot takes them through a complicated mess of political and social maneuvering and drama against a backdrop of complex familial trauma and present day trauma.

Quote from "Chasing a Legacy": Chapter 1, title, The price of a single shot may be a coat or a man

Paris, Francis, 1966

First line of the first chapter: "Slow your breathing. Do not show fear. Be like Father."

The complexity and messiness of the relationships in the book is indescribably good. They feel realistic and raw and they are so well constructed as they change and evolve that you truly feel the catharsis at the end.

"Chasing a Legacy" quote: "You don't need to be him, Marianne;  that's something I wish your brother would understand," Grantaire said. "You don't have to  make the  same mistakes he did. But do not deny parts of yourself because you resent him. Please." That same tender hand that had touched her face found her shoulder, clasping it firmly. "Take what he gave you - and do better."

Snapchat caption: The way this book  handles  complicated parental relationships is exquisite.

This feeling of catharsis at the end is added to by the fact that there a lot of very heavy subject matter in “Chasing a Legacy” that is handled very well. Sexual assault is a big player in the criminal side of the plot and PTSD is another large theme, but the trauma is handled tactfully and respectfully, and any ableist, misogynistic, or victim blaming language is both incredibly limited in usage and the narrative punishes those who use it very effectively. By the end, the relief and catharsis of justice done is palpable, though it’s hardly an easy road.

"Chasing a Legacy" quote: "If a fox gets caught in a trap it is not a failure on the fox's part," Elodie said. "It is the doing of whoever set down the snare. My brother is charming and clever, Nothing of this is your fault." 

Snapchat caption: Ugh this is such a good metaphor.

I will note, that while none of the traumatic events are explicitly shown, they are discussed in quite a condensed and rather intense way in a trial toward the end. If you have trouble with this sort of thing, I would recommend perhaps skipping over Marianne’s trial, (Camille’s, which takes place first, is a laugh riot), or reading slowly and in increments. There is a full list of potential triggers in the back of the book. 

It has been a long time since I have been so utterly hooked by a plot. “Chasing a Legacy” is over 700 pages and I found it nearly impossible to put down. I read the book in its entirety in two solid three-hour stints. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a complicated and extensive plot unravel so perfectly. I hardly know what I can say about it for fear of ruining the mystery! I’ll leave it at this, D. A. Ravenscroft has done what many a creative writing major, myself included, dreams of, writing the perfect multi-protagonist novel without the story being overwhelmed by one character or another. It is beautifully balanced and the plot has been interwoven exquisitely.

 Some other things that were done phenomenally well: 

1. I know I mentioned PTSD before, but I really cannot stress how well this was managed. We saw different manifestations of PTSD, sympathetic responses from medical professionals, period appropriate treatments that were good and effective.

2. Camille is autistic! Now the language surrounding this obviously not modern day language, but the indicators are there if you know what to look for. Camille is overwhelmed (overstimulated) by the ringing of the bells of Notre Dame. Has a particular coat (a plot important coat) that is just the perfect texture and feeling that it’s irreplaceable. 

Quote from "Chasing a Legacy": "He would mourn this coat - it had been his favourite, handsome and well-fitted with an inoffensive texture..."

The snapchat caption reads: My autistic son!

3. We get a major endgame mlm and wlw relationship with Fabien and Camille and Marianne and Elodie. You don’t have choose if you want to read a book about one or the other cause this book gives you both.

4. Fabien, love of my life, Camille’s love interest, is a trans man and Jewish, and his Jewishness isn’t a one off passing mention either. Although Fabien is a secondary character, he is an important one and we are afforded a look into his family life, his community and by the end…… stop reading if you don’t want a spoiler…… 

Camille converts to Judaism over the course of their relationship. We don’t see this, but it is explicitly stated in the epilogue. I just about screamed. 

This beautiful beautiful book with it’s beautiful beautiful cover art, can be found here, in several different editions: A two volume paperback, a two volume hardback, a single volume, brick-sized paperback, and an ebook.

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I Married a 2,000 Year Old Lesbian Bogwoman by June Williams

Cover of "I Married a 2,000 Year Old Lesbian Bogwoman" by June Williams

Do you ever see a book with a conceit so wonderfully wild that you know you just have to read it? I’ve seen Chuck Tingle’s books floating around with their wild and wacky titles, but I’ve never been struck with the impulse to actually read one. With Ms. Williams’ work, however, I knew I had to read it immediately and I was well rewarded for my impulse.

The story is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It promises you marriage to a 2,000 year old lesbian bogwoman and boy does it deliver. Now this is erotica, plain and simple, if you’re looking for a plot look elsewhere. We meet our protagonist (Tamiko) and the mummy (Boggie) on page one and by page two thing are getting spicy. (Note: exact pagination may differ depending on the settings of your e-reader.)

Set in the world of an academic researcher, the story follows a fairly standard formula when it comes to delivering the plot, (relationship troubles and a little magic leads to… etc.), which I find helpful because it doesn’t belabor the intent of the story, ie. gratuitous and hilarious smut. It also allows for the reader to simply be whisked away with suspension of disbelief and laugh their own ass off when the mummy’s first words are complementing the Tamiko’s ass.

I hurried to the back of the trailer for a special gauze pad to clean Boggie. My wound could wait. As I rummaged through the supplies a croaky voice rasped, "You have a fine ass."

Hilarity ensues throughout as Tamiko and Boggie adjust to Boggie’s suddenly being alive in the 21st century. There were so many times I had to pause reading because I was laughing too hard to continue. I found the physical descriptions of Boggie to be particularly evocative, as we see her being compared to a “favorite leather jacket broken in just right” and “single malt Islay Scotch.” The last one really bowled me over, because that is a taste my friends, not smell, and I’ll let you read to find out just what is being tasted. This may be erotica, but I like to keep my reviews fairly clean.

Her tongue was cool and supple. A favorite leather jacket broken in just right.

Now not all erotica is for everyone, so I’ll give a few content warnings before I wrap things up.

1. Dom/Sub relationship, with some mild BDSM.

2. Grad Student/Professor relationship, comes in at the end.

3. Not erotica related, but there is brief discussion of Donald Trump and some of the political events of the past four years. 

All in all, I would rate this book 10/10 and recommended to anyone who’s interested in this kind of comedic erotica. If you’re a fan of Chuck Tingle’s works, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this. 

“I Married a 2,000 Year Old Lesbian Bogwoman” is one of, I believe, three short ebooks written by June Williams and can be found on Amazon here.

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Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Cover of "Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brian

If you’re interested in the history of British Royal Navy or just like a lot of nitty gritty historical detail in anything you read, you’ll definitely enjoy “Master and Commander” and probably the rest of the series as well. The series, known collectively as the Aubreyad (I’m assuming a play on the Illiad), was recommended to me as a fan of AMC’s “The Terror” and the history surrounding that. 

In terms of technical detail, I would also compare it to “The Martian,” which provides a lot of scientific detail and jargon without feeling overwhelming. And certainly, when we are first introduced to much of the Naval language it is through the eyes of Dr. Stephen Maturin, a physician who is becoming accustomed to a ship for the first time after being requested by Jack Aubrey to act as his ship’s surgeon. Patrick O’Brian also helpfully includes a diagram in the very beginning of the book that shows a ship’s sails. 

In terms of pacing the story can feel a bit slow on a plot level, often because much of the action was mixed in among the technical detail and there were several points where I assumed we’d get a scene only to find that the scene had been glossed over and only referred in retrospective later. I wouldn’t hold that against the book, however, it’s just a style of writing I’m not used to. 

It should also be remembered that “Master and Commander” was first published in 1969. I was actually reminded a bit of some of the ‘50s and ‘60s sci-fi I’ve read and listened to. There’s a strong, consistent plot, but it plays out gradually and you can’t necessarily predict where the storyline is going. I made exactly one correct guess about a future event in “Master and Commander,” and even then it was more of a ‘I wonder if it’s going to lead to this,’ and it did, but by the time the story got there I’d forgotten because so many other little things had happened in the interim.   

Now… just how gay is this book. If you’re like me and coming from The Terror, you may have been told there are Gay Vibes. There are, but you’re going to have to read for it with Aubrey/Maturin. I personally found it very easy to read into, considering Aubrey goes from ‘I hate you’ to ‘I love you please be my ships surgeon’ about Maturin in the span of three encounters.

Explicitly, there’s a lot more mention of homosexuality than I expected. While there are general period typical attitudes, our protagonists are rather sympathetic to it and we have a gay character, William Marshall, who it is noted has a crush on Aubrey, and *drumroll* he doesn’t die.

Lastly, I would recommend reading the books in a physical copy if at all possible. I found the ebook version I read from left something to be desired formatting wise. If I’d had a print copy, this review would have been out a week sooner. 

The book can be found here.

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99% Chance of Magic: Stories of Hope & Strength for Transgender Kids from Heartspark Press

The cover of "99% Chance of Magic: Stories of Strength and Hope for Transgender Kids"

This book is a delightful collection of stories geared toward trans children. Of course, readers of all ages can enjoy it, but the stories themselves are specifically designed to be accessible to a younger audience. I was reminded on occasion of the American Girl diaries that I read when I was younger. There’s an extensive genre of literature to inspire young cis girls, the American Girl and Royal diaries, Winx Club, W.I.T.C.H, Nancy Drew, etc., and “99% Chance  of Magic” is beginning to fill that niche for young trans girls and other trans children. I make this specification because the vast majority of the stories feature explicitly trans girls or transfeminine characters. This isn’t 100% the case, however, Violet, from “The Sisters from the Stars” (Amy Eleanor Hart), is noted to sometimes prefer not having a gender at all, and Neshnaj, of  “Neshnaj, the Gentle Grey Giant” (Xemiyulu Manibusan Tapepechul), uses they/them pronouns, as does Ziggy in “The Unicorn of the Sea and Me” (Jun Almar’a).

"From that night onward, Violet was, as they say, forever changed. Nobody questioned her name or pronouns again, even when Violet decided not to have a gender at all. As for Hailey and Violet, they remained the bestest of friends. And wherever they went and whomever they met, both stars shined their love and beamed with pride. 'Hello, world! We are Hailey and Violet, starhearts of the light, the Sisters from the Stars.'"

While many these stories do have young protagonists, they range from grade school age to middle/high school age, and in some stories, such as “A Shapeshifting Spell” (Misha Lynn Moon), “Can’t Stop the Princess” (Anya L. Archer), and “Melody Song & the Hymns of Infinite Sadness” (Amy Eleanor Hart), the protagonists’ later adult lives are touched on as well. I particularly enjoyed the message of “A Shapeshifting Spell,” which uses the metaphor of shapeshifting to show how the process of becoming oneself is process driven by your own will. I’m also, as a trans person myself, very weak for shapeshifting metaphors. Other stories leave age more ambiguous, such as “My Story, the Wolf” (Abbey Darling), a reimagining of the Little Red Riding Hood story, and “Night Light” (Duna Haller). 

Although these stories are designed to be uplifting, they don’t shy away from dealing with difficult subject matter. Children are smart and marginalized children are going to experience difficulties regardless of how much you might want to shield them from that. “99% Chance of Magic” tackles bulling, race issues, disability and death and grief, alongside stories of reclamation, love and community.  

"Sometimes parents are little more than glorified babysitters, and occasionally even monsters. But for Melody, Papa was her very best friend. This made life after his departure from the planet more than unbearable. The  only saving grace were the stories he left behind, the  whispers that never stopped singing inside her heart."

All the stories in the collection are incredible and the illustrations that accompany them are beautiful. I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s a great book for trans children and cis children alike. It allows trans children to see themselves in stories and will help cis children to understand that they may have friends who are different like that. In an age where politicians want to criminalize trans children, books like these are more important than ever. 

“99% Chance of Magic” can be purchased here.

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Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb

Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb, front cover

If you’re interested in the gay history of the 19th century, but have absolutely no idea where to begin, “Strangers” is a really solid place to start. It not only covers the whole of the 19th century (and swings into the  20th century), but unlike many books in the field, it goes out of it’s way to cover the lives of both men and women. Many books about gay history tend to limit themselves to either talking about men exclusively or talking about women exclusively, and there are certainly good reason for tackling those issues separately, however I really enjoyed getting to see the lives of men and women side by side. 

"It is often said that gay men and women are more adept at expressing themselves than heterosexuals, or more eager to do so. There were more likely to invent stories, to play roles, to rehearse a variety of relationships with the rest of society."

I also found the book very accessible, you don’t need an academic background to understand “Strangers.” There’s a lot of queer and gender studies texts that get locked up in the ivory tower simply because they’re written in language not readily parsable by people outside of the field. “Strangers” certainly doesn’t avoid using academic language, but it’s understandable even if this is the very first book about gay history you’re picking  up. In general, I think history books tend to be better at this than theory books, but “Strangers” has a particularly conversational tone that feels very welcoming and it’s not just a dry slog through a series of facts. It’s an engaging read and does a good job of holding your focus.

For what is ultimately a fairly small volume, “Strangers” covers multiple European countries, Britain and the United States. It succeeds in this, I feel, by focusing on specific people, Walt Whitman, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Oscar Wilde, to name a few, and then using these people and their words to dig into the culture at large. Does it cover each person absolutely comprehensively, of course not, there just isn’t room for that, but it creates an incredibly strong foundation for life during these times. 

'Walt Whitman and his rebel soldier friend Pete Doyle' the two men are looking at each other very fondly.

The one thing I would have liked to see more off, was the overlap of cross dressing and transvestism as it came to be known in the early 20th  century. It is touched on a little bit, but I would have liked to see a bit more. This is relatively minor however, because on a whole the scope of this book is huge and there’s only so much you can fit in and do justice to. 

On that note, the one big problem I had was with how to book treated Native American two spirit identity. It lacked the background and nuance that was given to the discussion of western identities, and I can’t tell from the works cited if any Native voices were actually consulted. This is a case of trying to include diverse outlooks on same sex attraction and gender diversity, and having it fall short. The proper space isn’t there to go into nuance about this and two spirit identity cannot be equally conflated to western ideas about homosexual or transgender identity. If these incredibly brief moments had been left out entirely, I don’t think the book would have suffered for it. 

I don’t want to imply that I think this ruined the entire book, it’s a well researched, accessible and incredibly informative book, about 19th century Europe and white America. I just think that these discussions of Native identity could have been handled better.  

“Strangers,” can be found for purchase here.

I’m going to end this by recommending further reading about Native American gender and sexuality studies. 

1.  “Transgender Warriors” by Leslie Feinberg – While Feinberg is white, ze makes it clear in hir section on Native identities that ze recognizes that privilege and hir research is thorough and emphasizes Native voices wherever possible. I also like this book because it’s accessible to the lay person.

2. Literally anything by Qwo-Li Driskill. Ze is the author of the poetry collection “Walking with Ghosts” and the book “Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory,” and co-editor of “Sovereign Erotics:  A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature” and “Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature.”

3. “Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian  Anthology” edited by Will Roscoe, a collection of fiction.

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