I reread Wild Horses and then The Danger by Dick Francis. A friend recommended the author to me in high school; I’d read and re-read all of them over the years, but boxed them up about five years ago, only unpacking them in June. I love reading about horses, and I love neepery of all kinds, so as bestsellers go, they are a good fit for me. Francis, a former jockey, started out writing jockeys and other characters related to horse racing such as trainers, a bloodstock agent, etc., but soon expanded into protagonists with a range of occupations, crediting the research and editing of his wife, writer Mary Margaret Brenchley Francis.
I remembered period sexism, particularly in the earlier novels, but Wild Horses, despite being published in 1995, has quite a few ouch moments. The first person protagonist, a film director, embodies typical Hollywood in that he finds it a strain not to be able to remark on an actress’ loveliness for fear of her raising a feminist stink about it; also, he is thirtyish and interested in an eighteen year old, even though he doesn’t say that to her outright, or plan to ask her to marry him until she is older. Other than that, as usual with Dick Francis, I enjoyed the neepery about film making and the helpful side characters.
The Danger‘s ouch moment was perhaps intended as honest realism. The first person protagonist works for an agency that works to defeat kidnappers, providing counsel and sometimes rescue for the victims. When picking up the victim from the first case, she is naked except for a transparent raincoat, and once at her home, he puts a dress on her, as her father cannot bear to see her naked. The narrator notes that he is aroused by her nakedness, though thank goodness he does nothing about it. I was still squicked. However, once she is recovered, near the end of the book, he does express his interest in dating her; the lines have blurred between them by that point. This one, I recall from when it came out in my high school years, seemed at the time like a step up for Francis, a more mainstream book than he’d written before.
The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison riffs on both the Sherlock tv series and the original Conan Doyle short stories, which makes sense when you learn that the novel, essentially a series of linked short stories, originated as Sherlock wingfic. Crow is a winged being called an angel, and the world’s only consulting detective. Doyle is a military doctor wounded by a Fallen Angel in Afghanistan, with resulting supernatural as well as physical damage. The setting is fantastical Victorian London. Initially, the feeling of having serial numbers filed off is very strong, but there’s enough intriguing worldbuilding about this world’s commonplace angels and other supernatural beings that it becomes its own thing, and the twists on the original Doyle tales, such as by adding more women, are a lot of fun.
The Chatelaine: Eliza Ferraby’s Story (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 9) by L.A. Hall is a particularly delicious installment, as it is in the point of view of one of my top favorites of the expansive cast, the competent and practical Eliza Ferraby. Also, there are tiny details that fill in events from previous books, a lovely reward for longtime readers.
A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz was Sunday reading, taken from the TBR shelves. It’s a middle grade set in 1909 about the spiritualism craze and an orphan adopted by three sisters. I enjoyed it quite a bit and finished it in a day; the ending was extremely satisfying. Content warning for people mourning dead wives and children.
I think I liked the mystery plot in False Value (Rivers of London Book 8) by Ben Aaronovitch more than some people did. Though it was a bid odd to have one of the main characters pregnant for the entire book. It makes sense, given the time frame, but I am used to pregnancy being a plot point that has to resolve before a book’s end, particularly in romance novels. I loved how Foxglove is now integrated into The Folly as a background character.
god loves everybody, don’t remind me by napricot, using a “Groundhog Day” setup, is a thorough exploration of the different paths Erik’s/N’Jadaka’s/Killmonger’s arc might have taken in Black Panther. There is a happy ending, which you might hate if you hate redemption arcs, but this story is long enough, and takes enough work on Erik’s part, that I felt satisfied. At the very least, it made me think thinky thoughts.
The Incident of the Fellow in the Fellow’s Garden by Azdak sends Peter Wimsey and Bunter to Cambridge in the 1950s to solve a mystery, in which Soviet graduate student Illya Kuryakin is a suspect. The mystery plot was quite good, I thought, though there is a sad lack of Harriet except in passing mention. Historical Content Warning for the sad fate of Alan Turing; it’s before the story begins, but affects its plot.
The Parent Snap by follow_the_sun is a lighthearted Infinity War AU in which Thor gives Bucky Barnes a spaceship and the Time Stone and he decides to adopt Odin’s children and give them a better life. I was very, very amused. Recommended.
Thunder and Ice by Quarra and TrishArgh discourses on the freedom to be found in writing erotica. On the surface, it’s a fluffy story about Steve Rogers being encouraged to try journaling as a form of therapy. What ends up giving him joy is writing down his wildest sexual fantasies about Bucky Barnes, with whom he is in a relationship; discovering that slash fanfiction, and erotic novels, are things that exist; and proceeding from there. Eventually, of course Bucky discovers this writing and there are many, uhhh, happy endings. So, you can read this story as fanfiction, but you can also read it as meta-commentary on why people write down sexual fantasies, what they get out of it, why they might want to share these fantasies, what people get out of reading fantasies, and how a fantasy shared can be a joy forever. And you can also read it as a fantasy about someone who goes from not being a fiction writer at all to someone who steadily improves at writing, and then enjoys financial success from their writing while continuing to enjoy the writing process. Note there are content warnings for rape/non-consensuality on this story; all incidences relate to unrealistic fantasy scenarios (space pirates and the like).
A Hole in the World by AnnelieseMichel is an epic post-apocalyptic Alpha/Beta/Omega AU of Supernatural. It’s Castiel/Dean Winchester slash, though in this universe Castiel is a human Alpha and Dean is a human Omega whose life has been mundane rather than filled with the supernatural. Content warning for past rape/assault, kidnapping, and gender oppression. This story does not require knowledge of the television show’s canon, but you do need tolerance for angst, romance, and male pregnancy. What interested me about this epic story was that it explored the social status of Omegas through a sociopolitical lens. In this world where infertility is prevalent, cis-gendered beta humans are considered “normal,” male Alphas are given higher status, and Omegas, who can bear children, have lost many civil rights and are often imprisoned and used for breeding purposes by the rich, or individually employed as “pets.” Female Alphas, male Omegas, and same-gender attractions such as Alpha/Alpha are all stigmatized. This story did not address trans and non-binary people in the ABO world. By the end I was skimming the sex scenes, because what I found gripping were the court cases, first resulting from Castiel’s defense of Dean when he is being assaulted, and then assorted civil rights suits for Omegas. At times, the plot was a little close to the bone, but just enough distanced from the real world that I could tolerate it. I also enjoyed the Found Family theme. ABO is still not my thing as a kink, but I appreciate the stories that use the idea in a science fictional way.
A Monstrous Regiment by AMarguerite is a massive Napoleonic Wars crossover, mostly between Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series and the novels of Jane Austen, but also including Sharpe and Teresa and probably others from literature I missed, as well as some original characters (including dragons). The first long story is plotty and involves integrating an infantry regiment with a dragon division in Spain. The second is a satisfying romance between Lizzy Bennett, captain of the longwing dragon Wollstonecraft, and the infantry regiment’s Colonel Fitzwilliam, whom Austen readers will recall as the guy that let Lizzy know, in canon, that Darcy broke up Bingley and Jane Bennett. His character is beautifully fleshed out in this series. My only complaint is that as the story went on, the period diction slipped, but I managed to survive because I was enjoying seeing how various Austen characters met the same, similar, or different fates in this universe.
Pretty Deadly Volume 3: The Rat by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios once again had me working hard to figure out what the story was getting at, then Getting It and being moved. So I am planning to continue with this dark fantasy comic.