Are There LGBT Characters In: A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay (Review)

Title: A Brightness Long Ago

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay

Rating: 4/5

Are there LGBT characters? Yes, one who is a major point of view character, and a secondary minor character.

Brief summary / book review: This is another one of Kay’s works set in the same universe as some of his previous works, such as the Sarantine Mosaic,  Lions of Al Rassan, and Children of Earth and Sky. The setting is a riff off Renaissance Italy (named Batiara in this case) and takes place in various city-states that are clear analogues of cities like Venice, Florence, Milan, Rome, and Siena.

In my review for Children of Earth and Sky, I expressed a bit of frustration and disappointment with Kay’s portrayal of LGBT characters. Are things better in A Brightness Long Ago? Resoundingly, yes.

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The Dresden Files Fight Scenes, Ranked

A few weeks ago, I felt like picking up The Dresden Files and giving it a re-read, and as I read through Storm Front, I thought it’d be fun to rank all of the fight scenes in the Dresden Files.

It was a very happy surprise that midway through my re-read of the series, Jim Butcher announced that Peace Talks was done! So this ranking comes at a pretty good time.

I had two rules in making this list: the first is that I focused on the novels only. Short stories, TV shows, fan fiction, etc, all don’t factor. We are strictly looking at the 15 published novels, period. The second rule is one fight scene per book, only. Some books have multiple great fight scenes (like Skin Game), but in the interest of keeping this ranking manageable, I limited myself to the one scene.

Obviously, here be spoilers. And I am writing this list on the assumption that you remembered what happened, so I’m not going to describe the fight scenes too much. The Dresden Files Wiki is a great resource if you need to jog your memory.

Here you go, the authoritative, definitive, inarguable, entirely 100% correct ranking of Dresden Files fight scenes, ranked:

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Are There LGBT Characters In: Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (Review)

Title: Children of Earth and Sky

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay

Rating: 3.5/5

Are there LGBT characters? Barely. There is one character who is gay, and has two or three point of view chapters, but does not play a significant role in the story.

Brief summary / book review: Set in the same universe as some of his other works, notably the Sarantine Mosaic and Lions of al’Rassan, Children of Earth and Sky is a pseudo-historical work that’s reminiscent of medieval Venice, Dubrovnik, and Istanbul — here, called Seressa (a riff off La Serenissima), Dubrava, and Asharias, respectively.

The story is relatively simple — a group of travelers go from Seressa, Senjan (a small town that harbors pirates), and Dubrava to Asharias. They learn things about themselves and each other along the way. I realize this sounds relatively glib and not terribly exciting but Kay takes the time to explore the depths of each character, examine what their place is in history, and how their choices can ripple outwards in unexpected ways and even change the course of history. These are not glib ideas he’s plumbing here.

That said, in the context of Kay’s work, this is a middling work of his. He’s had much stronger books. The glaring weakness with this one, from a critical perspective, is that Kay pulls his punches, which is unlike him. There’s no emotional payload that detonates at the end of this book, like it does for most of his others. Things just sort of…happen. And people turn out mostly fine. And with the exception of two characters (a priestess and a wayward soldier), nobody really changes by the end of the book. It just sort of…ends?

Still, “middling” for Kay is hell of a lot better than most books by other people, so is it worth a read? Absolutely. But if you’re looking for an entry for Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, I’d start with Lions of al’Rassan.

As for the gay character in this book, he’s relatively shallow and insipid. There is another character who is hinted at being gay, but frankly, I’m over such subtleties. If you’re going to include an LGBTQ character in your text, make them visible. The time for innuendo is exhaustingly past.

And here’s my larger disappointment with this work (within the context of this blog series). There were several moments where it seemed as if a significant character was suggested to potentially be gay, but that never turned out to be the case.

One of the reasons why I enjoy reading Kay so much is that he clearly treasures and values love and intimate connections, the way people find each other and entwine their souls with each other. The way he’s able to explore their relationships, their love, and all that goes into it, is easily his biggest strength as a writer. He has gorgeously sketched out characters — complex, sensitive men and dazzling women who burn bright on his pages. It’s clear that he loves women, given the way he writes about them. But he also mainly values them in the context of a heterosexual relationship.

Which is fine! To be clear, I am not trying to suggest that he should write a gay or lesbian or nonbinary romance into his book, or that he’s somehow at fault for writing straight romances. I would never presume to tell an artist what they can or cannot create.

But.

When it comes to gay (or lesbian) characters, Kay has thus far fallen very short. He clearly tries to include them without making it feel tokenistic, but in the works I’ve read (Tigana, Song for Arbonne, Lions of al’Rassan, The Sarantine Mosaic, and now this one), he has yet to make an LGBT character a central character, and deliver that character the romance his best other characters have lived through.

(Yes, it is hinted that one of the main characters in Lions of al’Rassan is bisexual — but it is only that, just a hint. Fuck hints. LGBT readers everywhere deserve better.)

If anything, his gay characters are always verging on uncomfortable stereotypes — they’re almost always seemingly perfumed, fey, leering at the main characters. Not all of them are like that, of course, but it’s happened enough that it begins to resemble a pattern and increasingly takes me out of his works more and more.

(Tigana spoiler incoming — skip to next paragraph to pass over it) The most interesting gay character he’s written so far, in the books I’ve read, was in Tigana, but, spoiler alert, he gets killed, like, 5 pages into the book. Sure, he’s one of those perfumed fey lechers I just described above, but that was at least in part an act, to make people around him underestimate him. How much more interesting would it have been if it was his father who was killed, and he got to go on the hero’s journey instead?

(End Tigana spoilers) Again, to be clear, this isn’t me telling — or even asking — Kay to write more LGBT characters. As I’ve said before, I’ve no interest in telling artists what they can create. This is just me being a reader, expressing my wishes, that one of fantasy’s preeminent writers would apply the same lavish care and sensitivity to his LGBT characters that he does his straight characters. Obviously, he’s still one of my favorite writers and I’ll be reading everything he puts out. It’s just that I know he’s capable of doing better. I wish he would.

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 Last Sun by KD Edwards (rapid review)

Title: The Last Sun

Author: KD Edwards

Rating: 5/5

Are there LGBT characters? Yes, the main character is gay, and so is just about everyone else of importance — if not gay, then probably least bi or poly. In the world of New Atlantis, nobody cares what the gender of the other person you sleep with is. Since the main character is gay, this tends to gay up the surrounding cast. And what’s awesome is how natural it all feels. Basically, it kind of feels like an all-male version of “Friends.” But with more explosions (actual explosions, mind you, I don’t know where your dirty, filthy imagination was going).

Brief summary / book review: This is the book I’ve been waiting for. This book is the reason why I started doing this little series in the first place. There are many wonderful books out there, some of which I’ve reviewed here, that feature great gay characters, or have been written by gay men, but none of them quite nailed it in the way I’ve been hoping.

This one does.

Hoo boy, and how.

First, the plot: Rune Saint John lives in New Atlantis, where there are demigods based on tarot cards. Rune was a member of the Sun Throne, but it was destroyed a few years before the story began, and he’s the last surviving member (hence, “The Last Sun”). With his bodyguard/companion, Brand, he sort of works freelance for the Tower, and is hired to find Lady Judgment’s missing son, Addam.

The story is entirely set on New Atlantis, and though there is definitely a wider world to be explored, Edwards smartly keeps the story focused almost exclusively on Rune’s story, allowing visions of the wider world to come in organically. This has the benefit of letting us meet, and really get to know, Rune, Brand, and a few others.

The story moves fast, with lots of action scenes throughout. The writing is crisp and clear, and the dialogue feels natural. It’s also really funny, and scary, and emotional, all at once. If it has a sort of a spiritual cousin out there someone, I’d compare it to a Joss Whedon work, particularly Buffy.

If there is a weakness, it’s probably most obvious in the lack of female characters. But I can also see how it would have been tough to add a strong female character in this book — any other main or principal character would have felt superfluous, female or otherwise. Edwards has hinted that this will also change in the second book as well, and I have no doubt that when we meet them, we’ll fall in love with them.

It’s a terrific, fun read, and I absolutely cannot wait for the next one.

On a more personal note, I think I connected with this book so strongly because of my own history as a reader. Struggling to accept my identity as a teenager, I wasn’t too aware of books, particularly genre books, that have introduced me to gay characters (this was just as the internet was taking off, mind you). I had no idea about, say, Mercedes Lackey, for example. As it happened, when I was at my local library when I was around 16 or 17, I saw a book called “The Thief’s Gamble” by Juliet McKenna, and picked it up. The main character meets a badass mage named Shiv, and that mage turns out to be gay.

It was like a bolt of lightning had struck me, and I was jolted by the presence of Shiv, and I devoured that book, impatient whenever Shiv wasn’t on the page. It opened my eyes in more way than one, and it helped put me on the path towards self-acceptance. It didn’t happen overnight — it would be quite a few years before I was still comfortable in my own skin — but meeting Shiv helped put me on that path.

Reading “The Last Sun,” all I kept thinking was how much I wished I had this book as a teenager, and was overjoyed that such a book existed. Here’s a book where gay characters take center stage, and it’s all so normal and ordinary, and they’re not mincing milquetoasts who meet tragic, sticky ends, but they’re badasses, filled with agency and wants and desires, and the writing is good and fun and immersive, and everything I’d ever want in a story. I can’t express enough how thankful I am for KD Edwards for writing “The Last Sun” — teenage me would have loved this book. Hell, adult me loves it. You probably will too.

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.

What I Learned Watching The AFI 100 And Other Movies

One of my life’s projects is to watch all the movies on the AFI Top 100 movies list. I’ve seen almost all of them, with a handful of exceptions (MASH, Duck Soup, American Graffiti, The African Queen, and Sophie’s Choice), and now I’m also trying to make my way through Oscar winners and other notable films.
 
What’s surprised me the most is how much I’ve learned from these movies. I don’t mean things like, hey, this Alfred Hitchcock guy is a pretty good director! Or this Jimmy Stewart fella seems to be in literally every single notable movie before 1965. It’s shown me what issues people at the time were grappling with. The things that people worried about. And most of all, what values they prioritized and prized.
 
“On The Town” (1949) is a great example of this.
 
Watching it, I learned two things — first, that post-war America was really optimistic and energetic and seemed to be brimming with potential. I knew this was the case, but it’s different knowing a fact and actually experiencing what that really means. It was truly a thrill watching Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra learn that “the Bronx is up and the Battery is down!” as they traveled around NYC on location in 1949. Watching this movie, I understood why some people are so nostalgic for an America of the late 40’s and 50’s. I got a visceral sense of why they thought America was great then, and appreciate why they want a return to those values. The possibilities for greatness and happiness seemed endless. Who wouldn’t want that?
 
Which leads me to the second thing I learned. There are cracks in that vision, and they’re not small. It’s not hard to figure out who, exactly, this new world was made for. You had to be a straight, white male to feel on top of the world — literally, as shown by scenes on the top of a skyscraper that overlooked Manhattan. You had to conform to a certain, narrow range of masculine behavior — note how many ensemble musicals came out in those decades. No room for individualism or virtuosity.
 
The women of “On The Town,” even though they had a certain amount of strength and agency, still existed to serve the men’s desires — see how Betty Garrett and Ann Miller’s characters kept manipulating their men to hook up with them, or how they kept trying to help Gene Kelly successfully romance Vera-Ellen.
 
If you were a person of color? Pfft. The best thing you got from “On The Town” was that uncomfortably racist song-and-dance number set in the anthropology museum.
 
It’s really fascinating watching movies evolve as newer archetypes are created and how our values have changed. In “The Broadway Melody,” the 1929 winner for Best Picture, you can see actual jazz-age flappers! But you also see that for a budding female star on stage, her ultimate success wasn’t stardom, but *leaving* the stage to get married and settled in the suburbs. Contrast that with, say, “Tootsie,” and its own ideas of what a successful star ‘woman’ looks like, and you can see how much has changed, and has still yet to change. Is Dustin Hoffman *really* the best voice for women? Especially given what we now know about him slapping Meryl Streep in “Kramer vs. Kramer”?
 
Or compare the roles of black actors/actresses in movies like “Casablanca” or “Gone With The Wind” to “In The Heat Of The Night.” When Sidney Poitier slaps a racist in the face in that movie, it feels like a literal break from the past.
 
Another Sidney Poitier movie, “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” featured a moment that I hadn’t known about, that took me by surprise and utterly floored me. It was one of the first films to show interracial relationships in a positive light — a white woman falls madly in love with a black man (Poitier) in Hawaii, and when her father asks Poitier what life will be like for their children, he says that his girlfriend believes that every single one of them will “be president of the United States and they’ll all have colorful administrations.”
 
I watched that movie while Barack Obama, a biracial man born in Hawaii, was still president, but before Donald Trump was sworn in. I had to pause the movie for a long time.
 
And today we have Wonder Woman and Black Panther headlining superhero movies, wildly successful ones. But that wasn’t remotely even the case back then. “Black Panther” made $1.3 billion dollars; “Cabin in the Sky,” a 1943 all-black musical featuring heavyweights like Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, was banned from being screened in many southern cities. A crowd gathered in one location in Tennessee to protest the movie and threatened to “pull the switch” — the movie was cut off after 30 minutes.
 
This is what people mean when they say representation matters. This is why it’s important to tell all stories, not just stories for a white, heterosexual male audience. Because if they don’t, then progress will never be made, and things will never change for the better. If you’re a white, straight male and you wonder why people keep making such a big deal about the fact that there’s a woman main character in Star Wars, or an all-woman remake of Ghostbusters, don’t. Instead be thankful that you already have a male Star Wars lead, or an all-male Ghostbusters, and that you don’t need to demand Hollywood to show more of your stories.
 
Here, this is where Hollywood has been — and still is — shamefully behind the times when it comes to LGBTQ+ people.
 
In movies, LGBTQ+ people were coded for the longest time, and had to meet tragic ends. Even a recent critical darling like “Brokeback Mountain” featured the sad, conflicted gay who meets a sticky end.
 
Sure, we now have movies like “Moonlight” and “Call Me By Your Name” and even “Love, Simon” showing different approaches to storytelling, but it wasn’t Hollywood that paved the way for this. It was a TV show starring a lesbian named Ellen DeGeneres.
 
And Hollywood is still dragging its feet. It’s extremely likely that the upcoming Queen biopic might show a decidedly not-gay Freddie Mercury. Straightwashing still exists.
 
And I’m still waiting for that fabulously gay mainstream superhero character. Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, of the X-Men, is gay in the comics. When will we see him come out in the films?
 
JK Rowling has come out and said that Dumbledore is gay, but in the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts” movie that features Dumbledore and, literally, the man he was in love with, that gay relationship isn’t likely to be shown, either. If a Dumbledore is gay in a forest, but nobody is around to see it, is he really gay?
 
Still, there are many, many gorgeous, magnificent movies, movies that feel timeless, movies that can make you laugh and cry. Compare movies within a certain genre, too. There’s a certain thrill and melancholy in watching a silent great like Charlie Chaplin do the dinner roll dance in “The Gold Rush,” and compare it to the raw physicality of someone like Buster Keaton in “The General.” See how musicals take on very serious subjects (racism, discrimination, nationalism) with very different results — a colorful, stylized, thrilling “West Side Story” versus a darker, smokier “Cabaret,” which only uses bright colors in one single haunting, unforgettable sequence (“Tomorrow Belongs To Me“). Compare and contrast John Wayne’s mean, racist, cynical Western “The Searchers” to Gary Cooper’s pointed anti-McCarthyism in “High Noon.” Take in the scope of epics like “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago,” or “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and wonder how a single director managed to accomplish all three.
 
When we talk about American culture, it’s our movies that define us, our movies that show us who we really are. We’re watching ourselves when we watch them.

Are There LGBT Characters In: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (rapid review)

Title: The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Rating: 4/5

Are there LGBT characters? There are more people on the spectrum than are off it. The main character is bisexual, in love with his best friend, Percy. His younger sister is strongly hinted to be asexual. So, uh, yeah. There are a lot of LGBT characters!

Brief summary / book review: This book is absolutely ludicrous, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s a YA novel, so the emotional complexity may not be that high, but the emotional intensity absolutely is. The plotting is madcap, and the reading is blazingly fast. If you’re looking for something sober and serious, then keep looking.

But if you want to have a blast following characters who romp around 1700’s Europe, filled with excitement, adventure, humor, and some sexy times, well, have I got the book for you.

The main character is Henry “Monty” Montague, the aforementioned bisexual who is in love with his best friend, Percy. He and Percy are off to go on the Grand Tour, which was a bit of an educational rite of passage for the upper-class in England where they got to visit various cultural sites in France, Italy, and elsewhere, and study art, architecture, language, life, and more. They were expected to get their carousing and partying out of their system, and upon return, become enlightened, educated, sophisticated young men of proper standing.

Monty’s standing is anything but proper, and he is hoping to use this last trip to make a move on his best friend. Unfortunately for him, his sister and a chaperone are also along for the ride; and to make matters worse, he has a disastrous encounter with a VIP in the Palace of Versailles in France, thus setting off the main events of the book.

The thing that stood out to me about this book was how it covered the concept of privilege. Monty, being a young white person of some nobility, has not had to experience the world the way, say, a half-black bastard (Percy) or a woman (his sister, Felicity) would. Lee never lectures about this, and when Monty has to confront these realities, it happens organically and naturally. And Monty himself has his own burdens to bear.

All in all, a fun, fast-paced, delightfully gay book.

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 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.