Alex (he/him) is a bisexual bilingual Britalian currently living on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ land. He is a literary translator from Italian into English, though he also dabbles with French and RPGs, and is co-editor of The Norwich Radical. His work has been published in NYT Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, The Short Story Project, and PEN Transmissions. You can find him around the internet at alexv.fyi or alexvalente.fyi.
What queer book have you chosen to share with our readers today?
Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant was the first book featuring queer women by a male writer that did not make me want to scratch my eyes out in frustration. It is also an intricate, detailed, historically accurate while being ahistorical, fantasy dissection of the powers of empire, colonialism, oppression and, most of all, assimilation. Baru is a young savant from the latest colony of the Masquerade, who decides to rise through the ranks and destroy the empire from within. Of course, at every step of her silent revolution, there are temptations (the women who work with, for, or against her tend to be most of them, especially Tain Hu, her field general) and limitations to what her imperial power can do, and Dickinson makes sure to wring every ounce of gut-churning tears and screams of frustration up to the very last page. It’s brutal, it’s visceral, it’s like nothing I had ever read before, and I will never forgive him for the ending.
Why is this book one of your favorites?
I am very, very wary of books written by men about women, especially queer women. Dickinson came with some very good recommendations, and it still took me over a year to try the first book – in fact, it was his blog post about the world of Baru Cormorant that finally gave me the last push (and a good friend of mine reading ahead of me to vet it). I have been disappointed too many times, but this one managed to get so many things just right, while also not holding back on several punches and horrible twists, in a way that built a world instead of placidly and tacitly becoming complicit with the homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and layers of oppression that the Masquerade enforces upon its subjects and colonies. It sits in the same general area as The Poppy Wars, She Who Became the Sun, The Unbroken as part of a new canon of queer explorations and subversion of colonial fantasy. It’s the one book I would recommend to anyone trying to write fantasy or any form of world-building. It’s just that good.
How would you describe yourself as a reader?
I am a very focused reader, both by professional deformation (translation: not even once) and by choice. I have very specific criteria on what books to choose to read because I have to dabble in so many I might not usually want to read for work. So I rarely choose litfic for pleasure, and tend to not read a lot of recent YA, for example, and try to steer clear of anything with law enforcement as main characters. But as I said above, I also avoid male writers unless they come from a marginalised background or identity, unless they come incredibly highly recommended, or their work is online as short stories or poems or novelettes. And even then, I have so much catching up to do with so many good really imaginative fiction (horror, fantasy, scifi, all of the above) writers I never even knew existed from my first decades of reading mostly male authors. I’m sure The Men won’t be missing me as a reader!
As a queer person, have books helped you explore or express your queer identity?
This might not be the answer you’re looking for but: I’m not sure it has. Or at least, not exactly. I do remember being shaken to the core when I first read Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, but it was a similar reaction to Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls or watching A Single Man – I’m not sure if queer stories are what I needed, but now that I look at it, there is a pattern of queer authors and creators that have had a recognisable impact on my own development and discovery, yes.
Other than reading, are there any queer nerdy recommendations that you would like to leave with our readers?
There are many many many TTRPGs that are off the beaten track (i.e. D&D and its siblings) which deal with issues of identity, sexuality, marginalisation, class awareness, and subversion of violence as conflict resolution. Narrative games like Wanderhome and A Quiet Year, social games like Monsterhearts 2 or Big Gay Orcs, solo games like A Thousand Year Old Vampire or The Magus or Plot Armor, and even a few two people games, like Enticement, or Things, Eldritch and Terrifying. Go take a look at itch.io, try a few, and let them change how you look at stories, at games, and yourself.
Thank you, Alex!
Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!
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