No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

2017/94: A Sword, a Star, a Flame -- Helen Lerewth

"...he is a doughty warrior."
She gave me a hard, piercing look. "I thought you were such a great warrior," she said, "and he’s womaned you." [loc 1076]
Alternate-world fantasy, set in a medieval Europe analogue where the Teutonic-flavoured Order of the Star fights against the Mongol-flavoured pagan Shee. Oglive, an heiress of the Shee, is brought up in the Order, disguised as a boy: the Order is somewhat misogynist, and also would very much like to get their hands on Oglive's inheritance. She watches the dashing Adal, the best of the knights, trounce his fellow Brothers, and falls in love. Luckily it is mutual and they plan to elope. Amidst popular revolt, they escape to the Shee, where everything becomes rather less predictable: polyamory, matriarchy, same-sex relationships, and maybe magic.

Much of the fun of this novel comes from the framing narrative: Oglive, Adal and some of the other characters are writing 'a proper record' of events that are in their pasts, and their friends and associates are transcribing and commenting on the original accounts. Those editorial conversations are delightful, and their complicity in obfuscating the steamier aspects of the story ('that would certainly make the bishop have fifty fits') adds an extra dimension to the story.

A warning, though, for several instances of dubious or absent consent to sexual intercourse between male characters. ("I dealt with my captive as the men of the Shee always treat their male prisoners.") As per the standard bodice-ripper trope, these relationships end up happily and romantically -- and the characters joke with one another about how much of a fight they actually put up -- but they are based on rape.

There are several more novels in this sequence, with (I believe) rather more explicitly fantastical content: I did enjoy this one, and will likely read the sequels at some stage -- not least because the framing narrative gives some intriguing hints of how things have changed between the events of A Sword, a Star, a Flame and the time at which the characters are writing and editing their accounts.

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