image courtesy of badski007 via pixabay.com
For some reason, the third week of November has crept up on me. I’ve been looking for the “right” book for this post, and nothing I’ve read really spoke to me.
I don’t necessarily mean blood family by family; chosen family is just as relevant.
So, instead, I’m going to talk about two sets of books, by two different authors. One has to do with blood family; the other draws the contrast between blood family and chosen family.
They are Tanya Huff’s Gale Women books and Theodora Goss’s The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club books.
As different as they are, they deal with both magic and family.
Tanya Huff’s trilogy consists of THE ENCHANTMENT EMPORIUM, THE WILD WAYS, and THE FUTURE FALLS. The Gale women wield powerful magic and have to follow strict rules of behavior, conduct, and lineage. They have the capacity to tap enormous power, and are trapped by the responsibility that go with it. Those who break the rules are considered “wild” and tolerated for a time, until it’s felt they must be dealt with — especially the men. They keep it within the family through the few men in the family choosing among the many women. The men manifest the stag — which also means they challenge each other, and, when they are no longer strong enough to hold the magic, they are hunted down, killed, and replaced. That, and the way sex and magic are entwined, have made some reviewers (and readers) uncomfortable.
It draws on the myths of the hunt and the change of seasons, and translates them into modern day life. The magic system is detailed and thought out. Huff isn’t making everything all pretty and sweet. Life is brutal and cruel at times, and she doesn’t shy away from it. The necessity for change and cycles and the strong taking over from the week determines survival. When the world of Gale magic rubs up against the regular world, there’s friction.
How the protagonists of the series deal with that is what drives the books and makes them interesting.
Sex matters in the books. It’s both revered and a natural part of life. Many of the characters are pansexual and/or polyamorous without making a big deal out of it. Also, those labels we’re used to using for uncontained love are too limiting for this trilogy, and the characters aren’t labeled. It’s simply the way it is for them. When they find their true partner, that bond is strong, but not necessarily monogamous. Their world runs on a different concept of love and sex and partnership than most people are used to; once that premise is accepted by the reader, everything else makes sense.
The family members love each other even when they don’t always like each other or get along. They fight. They manipulate. The Aunties (who have the most power) try to run the lives of all the younger members, and each other. There’s rebellion.
Yet, when it comes right down to it, they are there for each other. It’s family first. Sometimes sacrifices of each other have to be made for the good of the family. How they disagree with these decision and either succeed in doing what’s needed or finding workarounds is part of what makes the series so interesting.
It’s also set in Canada. Americans don’t get enough books set in Canada, in my experience. As someone who believes setting is an additional character, I was delighted that the first book was set in Calgary and the second on Cape Breton Island. I got to visit places that have fascinated me and learn how important they are to the plot, story, and characters. (The third book is in a variety of locations and times, and that’s all I can say without giving too much away).
As an only child, I both loved the sense of family, and was glad I didn’t have to deal with all those complications!
There are also a lot of clever references to cultural icons. I hesitate to say “pop culture” because these books have been around for awhile, and pop culture changes so fast. But let’s just say that the choice of “Gale” was quite deliberate.
I love the way Huff weaves all the different elements of their world, the real world, and the magic together. It’s a terrific trilogy, and I kept thinking about it long after I read it.
I came across Theodora Goss’s books by accident. I read the second book in the series first, EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTEROUS GENTLEWOMAN, and then went back and read THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER. I have not yet read the third book, THE SINISTER MYSTERY OF THE MESMERIZING GIRL, but it’s on my list.
This is a group of chosen family: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappincini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. These women, who the men in their lives considered their “creations” have broken free and vowed to create their own future — working and living together. They know they’re considered “monsters” by the world, but not by each other. The fascinating way Goss turns what we learned in our literature classes inside out and takes it further is clever and inventive.
The books are told in multiple points of view, and the characters often interrupt each other in the middle of a POV. Difficult to pull off, but Goss does it, and does it well. I’ve read plenty of attempts at this type of style; all the others have come across as a mess.
The books are set in the late nineteenth century, when changes and thought and controversy abounded. How they make use of these changes, how it makes the leap weaving in the fantastical elements, is truly breathtaking.
The characters are strong and vulnerable and wonderful, the adventures heart-stopping, with high stakes for these women. They are committed to determining their own lives, not living at the whims of those who “created” them; and they are determined to help other women who are struggling with the same fate.
Again, there are conflicts between them. They often argue. Yet, they’ve created a family. When it matters, they are there for each other.
Both of these are trilogies. Because family can’t be contained in a single book. And, in both cases, you can’t contain love. It’s a force that’s beyond what humans can restrict, and when they try to micromanage it too much, there’s trouble and pain.
If you haven’t read them, I hope you will read them, enjoy them, and comment.
What did you read this month?
December’s book is a winter holiday-themed book, and we will discuss what we read on Tuesday, December 17. Have a great month!