Are There LGBT Characters In: The Sarantine Mosaic by Guy Gavriel Kay (rapid review)

Title: Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay

Rating: 4/5 for StS, and 5/5 for LoE

Are there LGBT characters? Yes, a relatively minor character. He has several point of view chapters, though, and does play crucial narrative roles in both, but is otherwise relatively inconsequential.

Brief summary / book review: The Sarantine Mosaic is a diptych, comprised of “Sailing to Sarantium” and “Lord of Emperors,” written by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Guy Gavriel Kay. He’s popular in Canada and the UK, but hasn’t seemed to have caught on just yet in the United States, and I am absolutely mystified as to why.

Set in an alternative Byzantium, Sarantium (this universe’s version of Constantinople) is the center of the civilized world, and in this city, a massive dome has been built. In “Sailing to Sarantium,” a mosaic artist in Batiara (the quasi-Italy) has been hired to make a mosaic, and so he travels to Sarantium. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that this is almost, quite literally, the entirety of the plot of “Sailing to Sarantium.” And somehow, the story never feels lacking as a result.

“Lord of Emperors” picks up where the first book leaves off, and there is much more intrigue, action, treachery and heartbreak.

It’s clear that Kay loves words, and writes with an ear to a well-turned phrase, or a carefully constructed description; his language is lush without feeling florid. He makes me want to read slowly and luxuriate, even as my brain strains forward, trying to leap ahead to find out what happens next. He is an author who finds beauty in life and in literature, and recognizes the frailty of it, but for those brief dazzling moments that make life worth living, he captures them just before he cracks your heart with grief.

About the ‘Are There LGBT Characters’ series of posts: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.

Are There LGBT Characters In: The City & The City by China Mieville (rapid review)

Title: The City & The City

Author: China Mieville

Rating: 4/5

Are there LGBT characters? No. But there’s no romance, in general, in this book. Sexuality as a whole plays an extremely minor role in the story.

Brief summary / book review: In a vaguely defined area in Eastern Europe, Inspector Tyador Borlu of the city of Beszel investigates a murder. But his investigation takes him to Beszel’s sister city, Ul Qoma, but the two are more than sisters. They occupy the same space, the same geography. But to be in one city and to notice the other is to put you in Breach, a mysterious force that lies in between the two cities.

The story was a little tricky to pick up at first, even knowing what I knew about it. The way the two cities interact was vaguely defined at first, and remained so throughout the book, but that is, I think, by design. It’s much easier to project yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions on a hazy portrait than a sharply defined one (hence the success of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, for example). It isn’t subtle about being an allusion to how we find ways to ignore things that are staring at us in the face every day (e.g. how often do we walk past the homeless and pretend not to see them?), but that’s not really a shortcoming, either.

It’s more noir than it is fantasy, but as Mieville himself said in an interview with Random House Reading Circle:

All the best noir — or at least I should say the stuff I like most — reads oneirically. Chandler and Kafka seem to me to have a lot more shared terrain than Chandler and a true-crime book.

It is a dream-like book, all blurred edges and half-visions, with the occasional sharp edge designed to jolt and surprise.

About the ‘Are There LGBT Characters’ series of posts: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.

Are There LGBT Characters In: The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera (rapid review)

Title: The Tiger’s Daughter

Author: K. Arsenault Rivera

Rating: 5/5

Are there LGBT characters? Hell to the yes. It’s a lesbian love story.

Brief summary / book review: I loved this book. It is so beautiful, y’all. Here, read this excerpt:

If you ask any Qorin what home is, the answer would vary. Their mother’s ger. This spot by the Rokhon where the sun caught the silver grass just so. On the back of their mare, their cheeks worn red, a good bow in hand.

But my answer has been the same since that moment when we were thirteen.

Home is holding you. Home is the smell of your hair. I would give up the howling gales of the steppe to listen to you breathe. All the stars in the sky, all the fallen Qorin guiding us through the night, could not compare to the brightness of your eyes when you looked at me. Your eyes were wide, so wide, like campfires burning.

In the style of Guy Gavriel Kay, who writes Earth-adjacent books, K. Arsenault Rivera has constructed a quasi-historical China/Japan/Mongolia setting here (there’s been some discussion about whether this is appropriation vs. appreciation, and I go into that in my Goodreads review. As you’ve probably figured, I’m solidly #TeamAppreciation).

The Tiger’s Daughter features a romance between two women, one of the Empire and the other of the steppes. It’s an epistolary tale, which is a bit strange in the sense that one character is retelling the history of her relationship with the other. The other person was present, so why bother with the retelling? But don’t think too hard about that, and just let yourself slowly be immersed by the beautiful words, the vivid language, and best of all, the romance of the two women.

It’s a slow-paced tale; it’s not an action-packed sprint, but a wandering in moonlight. Take your time with this one, and savor it.

About the ‘Are There LGBT Characters’ series of posts: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.

Are There LGBT Characters In: Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima (rapid review)

Title: Confessions of a Mask

Author: Yukio Mishima

Rating: 4/5

Are there LGBT characters? Yes, the main character/narrator is gay

Brief summary / book review: So, this is a really interesting book. It was written in Japan in 1949, and it’s a semi-autobiography about the author/main character dealing with the fact that he’s gay. The author himself is fascinating — besides being gay, he was also a nationalist who founded his own right-wing militia and attempted a coup to try to restore the Emperor to pre-WW2 powers. When it failed, he committed seppuku.

With that in mind, reading the book itself becomes very interesting, in the sense it feels less like a work of fiction about a character named Kochan, but a true confession from Mishima. Not only does Kochan discover that he is sexually aroused by men, but he is also drawn to the idea of blood and sadomasochism, fantasizing about murdering his lovers and making them suffer.

The narrator goes into the self-delusions, denials, and mind-games closeted people go through when they struggle to accept that they’re gay. Some queer feelings are universal, it seems, and transcends time and nationality. What surprised me the most was how frank the language was, and how clearly it was written. I was expecting something a little more allegorical or archaic, but nope, the narrator will straight up tell you that he jizzed all over a table after masturbating to an art book. It gives the work a rawness and almost an honesty, but don’t let that deceive you because in the end, the reader is not reading a face, but a mask.

About the ‘Are There LGBT Characters’ series of posts: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.

Are There LGBT Characters In: The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan (rapid review)

Title: The Steel Remains

Author: Richard K. Morgan

Rating: 4/5

Are there LGBT characters? Yes, two of the main characters are; one is a gay man, the other is a lesbian.

Brief summary / book review: Grimdark fantasy about a trio of former mercenaries who are living through their traumas and trying to adjust to their post-war lives, only to find that mysterious forces are at work. Ringil is one of the gay characters, and he has been hired by his mother to find a lost cousin, and of course promptly finds himself in way over his head. Archeth, the lesbian character, is the servant of an Emperor and has been tasked to discover what really happened when a town has been razed. The third, Egar, returned to his people to run his family and his family’s tribe, but has found himself ill-suited to leadership.

The plot itself doesn’t move very quickly or dramatically, but this is more character-driven than anything else. From an LGBT perspective, it’s good to see that the author doesn’t shy away from portraying his characters with real sex lives (for instance, this is not a book where the straight characters get to boink but the gay characters lead chaste lives). Every character gets his chance to, er, shine in the bedroom in explicit detail, some more graphically than others. Explicit violence is also a part of this book, and sometimes, the sex and violence happen at the same time. The result in that particular scene isn’t very pleasant, obviously.

My biggest issue with the book isn’t with its treatment of LGBT characters, but rather, how all characters sound the same. They all have, essentially, the same vocabulary. They all say “fuck” often, and in similar ways. There isn’t an erudite character, a quiet character, a character who lies and exaggerates, a character who delivers blunt truths, etc. Strip away the dialogue tags and descriptors, and you wouldn’t be able to tell who’s speaking.

That aside, if you like your fantasy to be dark, bloody, and sexy, this book might be right up your alley.

About the ‘Are There LGBT Characters’ series of posts: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.

Are There LGBT Characters In: Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem (rapid review)

Title: Gun, With Occasional Music

Author: Jonathan Lethem

Rating: 3/5

Are there LGBT characters? Nope. But there are talking animals (including gorillas, kangaroos, and kittens). And talking babies.

Brief summary / book review: It’s a noir-inspired sci-fi story, about a private detective who gets tangled up in a case (murder, of course), set in near-future Oakland. This is a world where people are constantly taking drugs, where animals and babies have evolved to be able to communicate (and, in the case of babies, drink heavily). It’s a little funny, a little disturbing, but tonally inconsistent at times. The mystery isn’t enticing, but the worldbuilding is the more interesting part. Written in 1994, there are a few places where the technology of the story hasn’t caught up to the technology of today, but nothing too distracting. The main character is someone out of a Raymond Chandler novel, set in a world that’s got a bit of Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick sprinkled in it. Not quite a guilty pleasure read, but close to it.

About the series: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.

Are There LGBT Characters In: Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin (rapid review)

Title: Fevre Dream

Author: George R.R. Martin

Rating: 4/5

Are there LGBT characters? No. One character hints at sleeping with men but it’s never made explicit and isn’t relevant in the slightest.

Brief summary / book review: Abner Marsh is a riverboat captain who is down on his luck when a mysterious stranger approaches him with a deal – build a boat for me, we’ll run it together. Oh, and I may bring some friends on board, and we might do strange things, so don’t ask any questions. Vampires. They’re vampires. (This isn’t much of a spoiler; the book’s dust jacket makes it clear). It’s set in the antebellum south, on the Mississippi River (among others), and in New Orleans. The use of the n-word is a little jarring in the book, and is usually used by bad guys and the ignorant. Aside from that, the book is moody and evocative, and a little thrilling. This was written in the ’80s, so it can be seen in the context of the resurgence of vampire tales alongside Anne Rice’s own works.

About the series: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.