Mary Janice Davidson’s mermaid series Sleeping with the Fishes (Fred the Mermaid, Book 1) is fantastic. It’s set in Boston (SQUEE!) and features the New England Aquarium quite prominently. Her delightfully snarky half-human protagonist Fred is a marine biologist utterly resistant to the charms of Thomas, the water fellow at the NEA, and Artur, the mer-prince who’s come to woo her. These delightfully silly three must combine forces to save the Harbor from becoming a poo-filled wasteland. Dude. Most romance novels featuring magic and a heroine torn between two loves? They do not use the word “clit” in an anatomically useful manner. THIS BOOK DOES AND IS TOTAL WIN. Sleeping with the Fishes features pesky interns, Boston landmarks, and a total skewering of the conventions of mermaid-fantasy.
CE Murphy’s The Queen’s Bastard, A Novel is more serious fare. Belinda, the queen’s bastard, has been honed into a weapon. She kills and screws for Lorraine, the maiden queen of Aulun, and has few regrets about her path in life. However, when her magic begins to surge, and Javier da Costa, a potential threat to Lorraine’s throne, poses answers to questions Belinda does not yet know how to ask, it’ll take magic, luck, and deceit to preserve Red Queen’s rule. I keep wanting to compare this to Kushiel’s Dart, since they’re both really sensuous books involving court politics and magic. However, Belinda is a tougher heroine than Phedre. She’s not looking for sympathy, and has steeled herself into the perfect spy and lover. She is filled with rage — at her mother’s abandonment, her father’s indifference, and the way her power was hidden from her for so long. This rage bubbles out when she uses her magic sexually, expressing itself in a desire to dominate that sometimes puts Belinda in danger. She’s not a nice character, but she’s a compelling one. Very much looking forward to the sequel. If you’re looking for some magic and sex to spice up your Elizabethan court intrigue, this might be the book for you. BTW: Some reviewers on Amazon described the female characters as dwelling too much on their gendered experiences of oppression. That was actually one of the things I liked the most. Belinda’s got some specific reasons to be angry, related to her parents and her imposed profession. On top of that, she’s got to wear a corset, she can’t own property, and can be raped in the context of marriage. Um, yeah, she’s a bit angry.
I’m gonna close this post with a discussion of Jeff Noon’s Vurt. This novel centers on the adventures of Scribble as he tries to rescue his sister Desdemona from the fantasy world of the Vurt. The world is more interesting than the plot; the Vurt is accessed through colored feathers, and its interactions with the “real” have populated Scribble’s Manchester with a humourous array of characters, all tied to the virtual world biologically or politically. That was pretty cool and deserved further exploration. Instead, Noon spent a LOT of time on how Scribble was having sex with his sister, and how he loved her too much (and was therefore having sex with her) and she didn’t love him enough (and was, uh, not as interested in having sex him). This last felt really unnecessary with the plot, and was annoying enough that I began to question aspects of the world I would’ve otherwise let slide. FOR EXAMPLE… at one point one of our guys gets shot by a Mandel(brot) bullet, and so starts dissolving into fractals. HOWEVER, he’s now able to take down the police WHO SHOT HIM by touching them, since as he’s able to contaminate others with his fractal degrading ways. Why on EARTH would the police use bullets that would give the baddies an advantage in a fight? Why don’t the fractals (which dissolve dude’s clothes) go after other inanimate objects, like the ground or walls? Sigh.