Ancestral Magic is one of the first books by Moondancer Drake. PLOT PLOT PLOT: Sky’s a single mom whose waitressing job is barely enough to pay the bills. Meg, Sky’s bestie and sister-in-law, has always been their for Sky and her nephew, Drake, so when Sky gets a mysterious fortune, Meg moves into the rambling old mansion WITH A SECRET with them. Needless to say, there’s more to this windfall than meets the eye; soon Sky is discovering more about her family’s history (and magic!) than she’d thought possible. Drake’s novel features a compelling plot with nice pacing. The revelations don’t feel rushed, character reveals are nicely satisfying and the introduction of a queer romance between the two main female characters… well! Their love feels not only real but nicely sexy. This is an unusual entry into the world of paranormal romance because of its diverse cast, the types of magic featured, and the gothic rural/suburban vibe.
Bloodrights by N. Lee Wood is a fascinating reflection on citizenship, gender roles, and inheritance. It’s set in a medival-ish Europe setting, but does include a few characters of color, including one Defender and one clever physician/torturer. Basically, it’s about Antonya Terhune’s journey to the throne; her evil uncle P’tre stole her birthright, with the collusion of a corrupt Priesthood. He killed her parents, so she was raised by the gentle Brothers of Blessed Reason. While Antonya at first seems like a madcap author-insert, she becomes more morally ambiguous as she grows as a leader, acting as the symbol around which a social revolution can grow. While some parts of this world could’ve done with more world-building (as in… what the shit is up the with the Oracular City having a symbol of god that can kill the impure? What type of slavery is practiced in this world? etc), the characters themselves are unique, and linger in the imagination after the book’s completed. While this book isn’t as striking as Faraday’s Orphans, it’s still really compelling.
I really wanted to enjoy Southern Gods. Unfortunately, it falls prey to a couple of racial pitfalls — there’s a sassy black maid who loves her white employer and her child, intense anxiety over the dangers of rhythm and blues and “race music,” and black vernacular is played more for folksy humor than anything else. While it’s an entertaining revamp of the Cthulhu mythos incorporated American noir tropes (there’s a hard boiled detective WITH A PAST, a sweet single mother in need of a good man, etc), the cliched racial relations and the disengagement with Civil Rights history was not only distracting but actually made some parts of the story unclear. Basically, Bull (the detective) is looking for a “ghost” radio station that plays jazz, blues, and RnB, some of which is DEMONIC. Sarah is a sweet white woman who flees back to her family’s plantation after her husband hits her. While at the “Big House”, Sarah begins translating a mysterious Latin book about demons, just for shits and giggles. The book starts changing her, like an infection she ultimately throws off. Anyways, she starts to get a spine (still sweet, but no longer downtrodden), and when her mom disrespects her she calls her mom out on it. When the black maid tries to boss her/treat her like a child, Sarah tells her off and re-asserts social dominance. See, I read that as Sarah being a bully, because you don’t need that much spine to verbally discipline someone you employ, even if you like them. At first I was like, is that a sign of Sarah’s demonic possession? Only in-narrative, I don’t think you’re supposed to see white Sarah’s bossing black Alice as much more than Sarah learning to assert herself. IDK, peeps — I was actually really jazzed that Sarah becoming a regular white person for that time period might’ve been a sign of demonic possession with serious implications regarding her relationship with her black maid/best friend. Unfortunately, this book isn’t that clever — racial politics (and the dangers of black empowerment and rage) are played straight, with Mithras, widely worshipped in Imperial Rome, one of the ultimate savior figures and personified as white, Western, and male.