FENCE by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad – Why You Should Be Excited For It

Hello there! Let’s postpone The Talk about me technically still being on blog hiatus (it’ll end soon though, I promise!) for another time, because today I am so excited to talk about a new upcoming comic by quite literally my favorite author ever, C.S. Pacat, and Johanna the Mad, an amazing artist whose fanworks have always left me speechless.

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The cast of Fence. From left to right: Nicholas, Seiji, Harvard, Aiden, Jesse, Dante, Bobby

Particularly I want to talk about the importance it will have in the queer community. I fully believe that the comparison with Yuri!!! On Ice and other queer-positive works like Check, Please! is 100% accurate.

Why am I saying this with such confidence when I obviously haven’t read it yet, since it comes out in November? Two reasons:

⚔ I fully trust C.S. Pacat to stay true to her words and deliver

“something that’s very joyously and unabashedly queer. That’s very important to me.”
(source)


Knowing her and knowing her previous work and the other fictional works (like Y!!!OI) that she enjoys, I know that she isn’t just saying that in order to appeal to a certain audience. This is something that might have been scary to publish one year ago, when the queer world hadn’t been quite literally shaken by Yuri!!! On Ice yet. But now we know that the (queer and not queer) world is ready for something that doesn’t have to justify itself in order to exist. Not only won’t there be any queerbaiting, there won’t be “sad gays” either.

⚔ This premise brings me to my second point. A comic is something that will appeal to readers and non-readers alike. We in the bookish community sometimes tend to forget that there are many people who don’t read as much as we do, and that’s fine. Many of those people are teens that maybe are more into anime and manga, and they’ll be given access to something that might -might!- eventually draw them into the bookish world. Even more importantly, these are young people who more often than not are just coming to terms with their sexuality. These are teens and young adults who have been at best queerbaited by shows like Free! and Haikyuu!!, and at worse they’ve been shown that if you’re queer you are someone expendable, someone who will die before the straights can find a solution to a zombie-riddled world or you’re simply there to allow a straight narrative to reach its positive outcome, or you’re there to be the gay stereotype that the audience will laugh at.
This won’t happen with Fence. (Young) people will have a positive queer representation like they’ve had in Yuri!!! On Ice, and being queer won’t be the main subject of the work. They’ll be shown that you don’t have to only be your sexuality, you can be an athlete, you can be anything and be queer and be valid and if you don’t understand the importance of that then maybe it’s really time for you to think about your straight privilege.

Now, focusing on the rest of what we know so far, this story will have amazing characterization. Again, you ask, how do you know this? Because that’s what Pacat does. And if you haven’t read Captive Prince and you don’t trust me on my word, read this:

I’m working with a really great épée coach in Australia to choreograph all the fight scenes. And I’ve been working with him on the fencing characterization of each boy, so they’ll all have different strengths and weaknesses that will evolve throughout the narrative.


…in “Fence,” especially because I was so invested in the accuracy of the fencing, there’s no smudging allowed.
(source)


These are NOT the words of someone who doesn’t think their characters through. The characters’ personalities will reflect in the way they fence and act outside of fencing, like in all the best sports anime/manga/fiction.

This is already so clear from just a raw of one page alone:

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“But will it be diverse?” you ask. Yeah!

…having a diverse cast was very important to me. When you’re writing heroic narratives it’s very important to make sure that you have a story where everyone can feel as though they can be a hero.
(source)

 

Because this is a comic, obviously another really important thing to look forward to is the art. Johanna the Mad is an amazing artist (see pictures above) who has more than once impressed me (and many others, including C.S. Pacat) with her art.

Something else I find amazing is that both writer and artist come from the online world. They not only know the community they’re addressing, they’re fully part of it and that is one more reason to trust them.

So really the question is, what’s there NOT to look forward to? (the answer is: everything about this comic should make you as excited as I am)

And more importantly, is it November yet?

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Review + Discussion: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

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★★★✩

 

This is one of those weird times when I wish star-rating disappeared because I don’t think I’ll ever feel completely comfortable with any rating I might give this book.
I originally gave it 4 stars, as I’m writing this now I think I want to leave out the star-rating completely and just use words instead for once. By the time I finished this review I feel like I want to give it 2,5 stars or something?? So I’m going with 3 official stars because despite my rant I mostly enjoyed reading this.

A few notes before you head into this review: most of the things I write are aspects of this book that I didn’t like. It’s much easier to point those out and rant about them than talk about the things I did like. I don’t think it’s just me, I think it’s a human condition to focus a lot more on the negatives than the positives. So if you don’t want to read anything negative about this book, leave now for your own sake, but know that I did overall like this book. I’ll point out the things I subjectively didn’t like and the things I think are objectively kind of shitty. Also, my tastes have changed a lot in the past year, so if you see my ratings for SJM’s books (they were all five stars at the time I read them) keep in mind that they might not necessarily be true anymore if I re-read those books now.

PLOT:

I think my strengths as a reader and reviewer don’t lie in judging (and summarizing lol) plots, so I’m going to leave it to other readers to do so. All I can say is that I think the plot made sense as a whole. There some slightly dull parts, and especially the beginning at the Spring Court was rather flat. I think we all expected a lot more drama there, and there wasn’t much of it. A lot of the plot was about preparing for war and discovering things/people/creatures that could come in handy once war started. I think some things could have been handled better.
I loved how some things were downright creepy, like Bryaxis, the Bone Carver and Weaver’s backstory, the Ouroboros, Amren’s story…until they weren’t. Come to think of it, her books (I’m extending this to ToG as well) are full of things that are creepy until they’re “humanized” or somehow made less scary. I do like this aspect most of the time but I feel like she might be overusing it a bit. I’d like some things to stay creepy for once.
As for the ending, it made me really emotional in a couple of points. A lot of how the war played out was very plot-device-y, but I’m not complaining about that. And as much as I’m overall happy with the ending, it didn’t seem very realistic.
There’s also a lot of minor loose ends, and I guess those will be addressed in the next books, but I appreciate that this series feels over and the next books will focus on different characters and not Feyre and Rhysand anymore. I think it’s really easy to drop this series now if you’ve been disappointed by it, and I appreciate that she didn’t end with a cliffhanger that would attract more readers to the next book.
As for me, I think I will continue reading this series, despite everything. I really care about the characters and I admit I’m curious about the world and how certain things will come into play (also I’m hoping at some point we’ll see some clear sign of how this and the ToG worlds connect, because afaik SJM said they are connected).

CHARACTERS:

I think SJM writes character really well…for a maximum of 2-3 books. She excels at secondary and side characters (though not in this book so much), but when it comes to MCs she can’t keep them up for more than a couple of installments. Their arcs and development are basically solved, in the case of this series, with ACOMAF.
I still really liked everyone, even when I don’t agree with things they do (see: Mor). If it wasn’t for the characters, I would have probably DNF’d this book pretty early. I only wanted to finish it because I needed to know how certain relationships would (or wouldn’t) develop, and that makes up for most of the disappointment I feel towards this book.

RELATIONSHIPS:

This was partially a mess.

Friendships are very well done in all her books. One thing I’ll always applaud is her way or portraying female friendships in all her books. There’s not enough of that in popular books and it’s such an important thing to have when so many books focus on girls and women being against each other.

However, the romantic relationships kind of sucked, and the problem lies in her writing (which I’ll address more in depth below).
SJM tries to build what she hopes is unresolved sexual tension while doing exactly the opposite. The constant (not) “sexy” comments, the innuendo…they worked the opposite of how SJM intended for them to work. She’s hoping to create chemistry between the characters, but I see none. Literally none. I haven’t re-read ACOMAF, so I don’t know anymore if this applies for that book as well, but here I only knew that Feyre and Rhys had to be a pair because they’re mates etc etc but I saw none of the chemistry and mutual understanding that makes me ship the characters hard. We’re told many times how awesome Rhys is, or maybe I should say that it’s always thrown in our faces. Well, I prefer discovering it for myself by being shown, thank you.
SJM can handle the “get together” part of a romantic relationship pretty well, but she fails at portraying established relationships in an entertaining way. She uses sex as the only way to “keep the ship alive” and entertain the reader when it’s clear that a couple is endgame, and she fails at that.

I don’t really know in what section of this review this should go, but…the sex scenes. The *inhales* sex scenes *exhales*. Just…no. They add nothing to the story. They’re gross. Literally every fanfiction smut I’ve read is better than this. Stop devouring or feasting on people. That’s cannibalism. In general, just stop with all the animalistic language, the purring and shit.
Also I think this is still being published as YA? Which is so wrong. I don’t have ANYTHING against sex in YA books, but it needs to be handled properly. By all means, have a semi-explicit sex scene. But write it delicately. Write it in a way teenagers can identify themselves with. This is not it. Imagine being 16 or 17 and reading this, being told that sex is always animalistic and dirty and can happen literally at any given moment, nevermind that you’ve just killed and seen people being killed in battle merely minutes ago. Seeing weird metaphors being used instead of calling genitals for what they are. How do you not get grossed out? How do you not get scared/disgusted by sex? Hell I’m in my twenties and even I got grossed out.

I’m really sad that SJM chose the path of adding smut to every book she writes since ACOMAF. I’m all for sex-positivity but writing smut doesn’t necessarily mean that. If you do write it, it needs to be well written. This is by no means it. It’s self-indulgent, it’s pure fanservice and I worry about the view of sex it gives younger people.

WRITING:

I definitely grew a lot in the past year as a reader and as a reviewer, and there’s nothing that proves it better than reading an author you used to think was perfect and finding her writing mediocre at best. Wow. More than that, There’s a few things that she definitely used to not do before, and now she does. Like the “no question mark” policy she started to adopt in EoS.
Here’s the thing: stop writing questions without a question mark. You’re not on twitter or tumblr. If you want the question to have a certain feel to it, say, “X said in a flat tone” or something like that. Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t even need to do that. Readers are intelligent beings and can pick up a mood from the context without you constantly feeding them every.single.thing.

Another thing that she does the whole freaking time is this structure:

verbless sentence + … + sentence referring to the first sentence

Such a structure…that’s only okay once in a while, not every single page (<– see what I did there?)
She also trails off with a lot of her sentences, especially when explaining or pointing out things.

And that’s another problem. She explains and describes too much. She leaves almost nothing to the reader’s imagination, which is also wrong when using a first person PoV. If you pay attention, you’ll see that Feyre seems to describe the faces and expressions of everyone in a room, while also saying that she keeps her gaze upon one single character. Uhm, do you have eyes behind your head, Feyre? How does that work exactly? Well, it doesn’t.

Something that seems to annoy a lot of people are words like “mate” and “male/female”. I don’t find them particularly appealing, but I’ve just accepted that that’s what I’m going to get whenever I read a SJM book. You can find the whole concept of mates stupid or ridiculous I guess, or you can find it beautiful and romantic. I’m right in the middle, in that I don’t really care about it one way or another. I just accept it as part of the world building, like the fact that Fae and magic and other creatures exist, and move on with my life. But I do agree that the word “mate” was often used as a substitute for Rhys’s name when using it wouldn’t even have been a repetition, thus making it really unnecessary. As for male/female, it kind of makes sense because she seems to keep “man” and “woman” for humans, so she needed different words for Fae. I don’t know, it’s not my favorite thing either but I can see how it makes sense.

That’s it for my review, but I want to discuss the LGBT+ REPRESENTATION in this book. I won’t hide anything under spoilers in this section, so if you don’t want to find out about certain characters’ sexuality, stop reading right now.

It’s clear that SJM listened to readers when they wished for more lgbt+ representation. There are a few different points and I hope to touch them all in this review. I’ve been much slower than basically everyone else in reading this book so I guess I’m late to the party, and I didn’t read any discussions while I was reading the book because I wanted to go in the book completely blind. Still, I managed to gather what the main discussion points were:

Is this book acephobic?
I don’t think it inherently is, but if ace people have found this particular sentence

perhaps any sort of physical passion had long ago been drained away, alongside their souls.


harmful, I respect them and their feelings and I’m in no position to tell them they’re wrong. But, from a strictly rational and linguistic point of view, I do not think that that sentence implies a correlation between being soulless and being on the ace spectrum.

Is there LGBT+ representation in this book?
Yes, there is: one secondary character, three side characters and two “barely there” characters are on an LGBT+ spectrum.

Is the LGBT+ rep good?
For the most part, I think it is. I mostly liked how, except for a secondary character, there seemed to be no issue with the fact that someone is gay/lesbian/bi. In both this and the ToG world, same sex relationships are never frowned upon, nobody has anything against anyone for wanting to have sex with whichever gender they want to have sex with. The only problem, that only the secondary character faced, seems to arise when someone is expected to bear children because they need an heir for political/diplomatic reasons.

There is, however, one side character whose sexuality is handled really poorly. Helion, High Lord of the Day Court, is pan/bisexual, and apparently the only way that SJM thought of to show that he likes both (or all) genders, is to have him hit on every single character present at that moment, with very NOT subtle innuendos and straight-up invitations to a threesome/orgy. Right, because bisexuals don’t face enough stereotypes from both straight and homo people, let’s portray them as people who are always horny and always want to have sex with both genders, PREFERABLY at the same time! *rolls eyes* (To be honest, the always-horny seems to be a flaw in SJM’s character description, no matter if straight or bi).
This was honestly really disappointing and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that part. It’s truly the only harmful part of this book that I could detect and I freaking hate it. How did nobody tell SJM she needed to edit that whole thing? It wouldn’t have taken much and she could have spared bisexual people yet another disappointment and awful representation.

However, I quite liked how the “coming out” of Mor was handled. As I said before, she seems the only character whose coming out was tough, but it made sense if you’ve read it. I’m not sure if it continued to make sense for five hundred years, and I’m really sad because she treats poor Azriel like shit because she can’t bring herself to being honest with him. The thing is, I don’t have to like everything she does, because I accept it as a (pretty big) character flaw. But flawed characters are my favorite kind of characters, so I still really like her. I think it’s pretty clear that SJM changed Mor’s sexuality between ACOMAF and ACOWAR to adapt to her readers’ demand, so I applaud her for that. I also like that it’s Mor, who is always portrayed as very feminine, to be the one who likes girls more than guys. A lot of people complained that it should have been Amren “because of her physical features”. People, do you even think before you speak/write? Geez.
(Also, I’ve seen someone confused about Mor’s exact labels… I think the terms that would best apply to her would be “bisexual homoromantic”, in case anyone was wondering and/or identifies with Mor’s sexuality but didn’t know the exact words for it. Of course, this is what I got from reading it, but I think it should be pretty accurate.)

“I’m so pissed!!!1! My ship sunk because one character is on the LGBT+ spectrum!!!1!1!!!”
🙂 deal 🙂 with 🙂 it 🙂
Do you know how many ships sink daily because a character is (or usually both characters are) straight? Yeah. So just be sad but don’t take it out on the LGBT+ representation or on the bi character.

 

Well that was long. It seems that I can either post no reviews at all or one really long-ass one with no in-between.

Anyway, I’d love to hear everyone’s opinion on this book, especially regarding the discussion part!

Discussion+Series Review: All for the Game by Nora Sakavic

I knew I was going to have to write a series review from the moment I started reading The Foxhole Court. I had heard almost only positive things before starting it, and the few negative reviews I’d seen revolved around the fact that the sport elements in it weren’t realistic. To be honest I don’t care much for sports so I knew it wasn’t something that would bother me. Flash forward to after I read the whole series: I start seeing people that say negative things about it (sometimes without having even read it) that don’t make any sense to me, and (coincidence?) they are the same (or similar) things I’ve seen thrown at my other favorite series, Captive Prince. So I decided to make this post a little bit more than just a review because I feel like there are things that need to be addressed.

Please note that I’m not trying to shit on people’s opinions. Everyone is allowed to like or not like whatever they want. But. I see a trend of “opinions“, or to better put it: “reasons why I wouldn’t recommend this series” that I think is just harmful for these books, for these authors and for the people that enjoy them, and I find it problematic because it doesn’t take into consideration something fundamental to any written story: the fact that perspective is always key.

So, allow me to write a big fat disclaimer first:

I am in no way criticizing your opinion if you’ve read this series and you didn’t like it. Be it the characters, the story or the writing that didn’t appeal to you, I respect you and your opinion.

Also I need everybody who hasn’t read them to know that both series I’m talking about are ADULT series. Not YA.
With that out of the way, I want to address a few (just two really, because this post will be very long already) of the complaints that I’ve heard about both All for the Game and Captive Prince, often from people who haven’t read these series.

  • There are words like “faggot”yes, this is true for All for the game. That word is used (two times throughout the whole series) in dialogues, never in the narrative. Does it mean that every character uses that word? No. Does it mean that the author agrees with calling people “faggot”? No. Does it mean that the character that uses that word is idolized? No. Does it mean this series has zero or bad LGBT representation? Absolutely not. To give you an example of how that word is used:

    “Fuck you, faggot,” Seth said.
    “I don’t like that word,” Andrew said. “Don’t use it.”
    “I would say ‘fuck you, freak’, but then you would’t know which one of you I was talking to.”
    “Don’t talk to us at all,” Aaron said. “You never have anything useful to say.”

    As you can see, Seth is immediately called out on his use of the word. Seth is not a likable character throughout the series, and he’s the only one that uses that word. So why would you criticize this series for using this word, if you don’t know or (purposely or not) forget to mention the context it’s in? It would be nice to live in a world where nobody ever called anyone that, but the fact is, homophobic people exist, and to ignore that fact would be much more problematic than using a bad word twice and pointing out that that’s not okay.

  • But there is rape: look, yes, there is rape and (past or present) abuse in both series. Abuse (sexual or otherwise) exists and there need to be books that talk about the effects it has on a person. The abuse in both series is never used as a plot device, and both of them deal with how the persons affected by it is able to cope with it. Are they pretty, fluffy stories? Hell no. But are they important stories? Hell yes.

With this I don’t want to say that everyone should read it. There are strong trigger warnings for both series, so if that’s a problem for you, you should absolutely stay away from them. But should you denigrate these series based on the pure fact that bad things are said or done in them? I don’t think so.

I’m going to focus just on All for the Game now because that’s what I want to review today.
This series has awesome, realistic LGBT representation and is one of the best lessons in consent that I’ve ever read. I’m 24 and I’ve never read anything that takes consent more seriously than this. So allow me to be slightly pissed off when someone comes along and shits on its value, indirectly implying that it condones rape or the use of words like faggot.

I believe that we, as readers, should be able to understand that, allow me to repeat myself, perspective is key to reading any given book. End of rant.


 

But let’s come to the actual review for this.

★★★★

The main character is Neil Josten, well, he has become Neil Josten. He had to change names and countries more than twenty times, because he’s been on the run with his mother for eight years, running away from a criminal father that is on the hunt to kill them both. And indeed, he did manage to kill Neil’s mother one year prior to the beginning of the story. So Neil is alone and lying low, with only one passion: playing Exy in his high school.
Exy is a fictional sport that I won’t even pretend to have understood completely. But hey, that’s entirely my fault because I don’t follow any team sport and I don’t care much for them. So here’s a description taken from the book for all of you sports lovers: “an evolved sort of lacrosse […] with the violence of ice hockey”. Whatever that means. (I promise I have understood a little bit of how it works. Just not enough that I can explain it to someone else.)
But high school is almost over, and he gets an offer to go to Palmetto State University and keep playing Exy there with the Foxes. He accepts.
Coach Wymack selects all of his players from problematic families or situations. He saw potential in Neil and understood Neil’s profile fits perfectly within this team, despite not knowing exactly what his past looks like.
As the story continues, Neil will learn the full truth about his past, who his father is involved with, how all that is somehow connected to Exy, and he will have to trust others with half or full truths and even put his safety in their hands.

Other things you can expect from the plot, in completely random order:

  • Life lessons coming from team play and sport: well there really can’t be a book about sport that doesn’t have those, can there?
  • Seriously though, to call this a series about sport is ridiculous. Exy is obviously important, but it can be totally overlooked if you’re like me.
  • Complex, morally grey characters. Secrets. Troubled and tragic pasts.
  • Japanese mafia.
  • Lots of character development.
  • Positive and realistic LGBT representation.
  • One character is demisexual. Like, hello, have you ever seen that in a book? (Demisexuality is not explicitly mentioned, but the description of this character’s interest in romantic and sexual relationships seems to match this type of sexuality)
  • CONSENT IS A MAJOR THEME.
  • Healthy relationships.
  • Healthy, positive female friendships. 👭👭👭👭👭
  • Your morality will feel challenged by some of the things you find here.
  • A girl is the captain of the team. 😀
  • Lots of diversity.
  • Honestly there’s just too many positive things I can say about this and this should be an endless list.

But, this wouldn’t be one of my favorite series if it wasn’t character-driven, so I need to talk a bit about the characters. The Foxes are divided in two friendship groups: the Upperclassmen (Matt, Dan, Renee, Allison, Seth) and Andrew’s group (Andrew and Aaron or “the monsters”, Nicky, Kevin). Neil learns gradually to get along with both groups in different ways. He obviously has trust issues and can’t reveal all of his past.
As I mentioned, Neil is not the only one with drama in his past. As we find out the Foxes’ backstories, we learn why they ended up in this wreck of a team, and I can guarantee you that each story is heartbreaking.

Besides Neil, my other favorite characters were Andrew and Nicky.
Nicky is “the talkative” one and is cousin to the twins Andrew and Aaron. He’s hilarious, supportive, and ultimately a really good person.
Andrew…I won’t lie and say that I understand him fully even after having read the whole series. I’ve stated in my review for book one that Andrew reminded me a bit of Ronan Lynch (from The Raven Boys). After having finished the series I don’t think that’s true anymore, but I’ve somehow still felt the need to associate him with other known characters while I was reading this. I don’t know why that is, probably him being just too complex. Another character I’ve tried to associate him with is Laurent from Captive Prince, but it just doesn’t do it. Andrew is his own character and doesn’t feel like a copy-paste of any other one.
I don’t agree with a lot of things he does, but his is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve met in my reader life, and I don’t necessarily feel like I need to agree with or understand a character in order to love him. And love him I do.

If you’re looking for romance, you should know that what you’ll find here is extremely slow burn. But it will eat your soul. You will cry at night thinking about it, you will listen to songs that remind you of the characters involved in the romance and start crying in the middle of the street because of how perfect the songs fit and you just hope the characters are doing okay. I wish I was just being overly dramatic. I wish.

I’m already planning a reread of this series (probably in January with some buddies) and I feel like it’s much needed, as it often happens in character-driven stories. I know I will understand a lot more than I did the first time around. That’s not to say the story wasn’t clear; on the contrary, the story was very clear, but some of these characters (not just Andrew) are too complex to fully appreciate them if you only read the books once. Besides, these fictional people aren’t planning to leave my head anytime soon, so I might as well dedicate my full attention to them again.

If you want to read my reviews for the single books you can do so here (warning: not all reviews are complete and I’m likely to go edit them often and probably not in a way that makes much sense at all):
The Foxhole Court
The Raven King
The King’s Men

I really hope this series will gain more notoriety and recognition because it honestly deserves it all. I also hope Nora Sakavic will come up with some new books/series because I enjoyed her writing far more than it should be humanly possible.  Oh, have I mentioned this series only costs about 3€ in e-book format? Can it get any better than that? I don’t think so.

Bonus: Spotify playlist.