#2087

Top 10 Fiction Books with Feline Main Characters

If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of a cat person. Next to queer literature, cat literature is probably the genre I read most. When it comes to cat fiction I’ve read a good number of the non-children’s books out there and so I know the genre has some real hidden gems. Therefore, I want to share my top ten cat books so other cat lovers out there can check them out!

10. Warriors – Erin Hunter

If the immensely popular cat series Warriors had existed when I was a kid it would have been my number one obsession. Even as an adult the books hold a certain charm despite being marketed to readers less than half my age. The first set of six books center around Rusty, a pet kitten who finds himself thrown into the world of the “clans” – tribes of feral cats who live in unsteady alliance in the forest beyond his home. Our protagonist desperately wants to leave his comfy “housepet” life and become a warrior, cats who defend their clans and are therefore respected and admired. But is there more to this majestic, adventurous life than meets our young hero’s eye? You’ll have to find out for yourself!

These books can feel a little formulaic after a while, but characterization and action keep them interesting and the first six, which compose the first main plot line, are quite worth your reading time. Despite being aimed at young readers, though, these books have some gruesome and painful moments. The life of a feral cat isn’t easy, and the books thankfully don’t sugarcoat this issue too much. They’re a good balance of whimsy, reality, and that special something that all animal books seem to share.

The first book in the series is Warriors: Into the Wild.

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9. Ghatti’s Tale – Gayle Greeno

Remember in the late 80s and early 90s when fantasy novels went through that popular phase of having human characters bonded with magical animals? And it was amazing because who doesn’t want to communicate telepathically with their animal BFF? Well, this craze produced the Ghatti series, which involves the bonding of humans stranded on the planet Methuen with alien creatures which look like very large housecats. These creatures, called ghatti, can read human minds in order to sense emotions, deception, etc. Bonded pairs therefore have become an integral part of society called Seekers, traveling from town to town to solve disputes and crimes. This first trilogy follows the human Doyce and her ghatta Khar’pern, who are being targeted by an unknown force hostile to the Seekers. Detailed world-building and loveable characters round out an interesting and well-executed sci-fi/fantasy concept in this series, one that fans of similar books like The Heralds of Valdemar with come to love as well.

The first book in the original trilogy is Finders-Seekers.

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8. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford

Here’s a little factoid about me: Homeward Bound always makes me cry. Always. I can probably make myself cry just thinking about it, honestly. I can’t even watch the scene when Sassy goes over the waterfall, even though I know she’ll be okay. So I was a little nervous about reading The Incredible Journey, the book on which the movie is based. I’m pretty sure the book made me cry too, but it was so worth the read. The animals don’t talk like our trio in the movie, but the book still captures their personalities, determination, and the magnitude of their adventure. The Incredible Journey is a must-read for anyone who likes the movie, and is a powerful (if fictional) testament to the devotion of our beloved pets.

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7. Catfantastic – ed. Andre Norton

In the 80s and 90s anthologies called “[insert noun]+fantastic” seemed to be very popular in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Of these series, Catfantastic was obviously the best because it was about cats. The collection of five anthologies features sci-fi/fantasy stories from a variety of well-known authors who approach the feline subject in a myriad of ways. Unlike other anthologies, many of the stories in the Catfantastic books build on earlier stories, giving readers a chance to revisit favorite characters and settings. Like all good anthologies, the stories in these books run the gamut from humor to horror, hard sci-fi to high fantasy, and everything in between. They’re hidden jewels you’re likely to find in your local used book store; if not, you can get them off Amazon for real cheap. Totally worth the cost of shipping, I promise!

The first book in the series is Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fifteen Tales.

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6. Yeshua’s Cats – C.L. Francisco

You’re wary of that title, aren’t you? You’re wondering why I, proud pagan and (newbie) witch, am reading Christian fiction. Well, obviously because it has cats in it and you can’t be too picky about your cat fiction. I’m so, so glad I have this series a chance though. The first book in the Yeshua’s Cats series is told from the point of view of a cat named Mari who is healed by Yeshua after a vicious dog attack. She then travels with him for many years, including the year of his crucifixion. Through her we see the (obviously fictional) origins of a lot of his teachings, and the Yeshua painted by C. L. Francisco is one of immense patience, love, and understanding. The book is beautiful, touching, and at times heart-wrenching, as are all of its sequels/prequels. There are currently five books in the series, some focusing on other cats whose lives have been touched in some way by Yeshua, and I’ve loved each one.

Before you ask, the books really aren’t that preachy. As a follower of Bast, I was highly sensitive to anything in the books that felt judgmental of pagan religions and was overall pretty satisfied with how other religions are handled in the books. The “mother goddess” believed in by the cats of this world is explained as simply a different face of the Christian god, instead of something fake or demonic. This is still Christian fiction, of course, so it’s not entirely free of Christian themes, but I think non-Christian cat lovers will still enjoy these books and appreciate this particular cat-loving depiction of Jesus.

The first book in the series is The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat.

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5. Tomorrow’s Sphinx – Clare Bell

Tomorrow’s Sphinx is a rare book, even when used, but so worth tracking down. I probably checked it out from the library a hundred times as a kid; some scenes from it are forever branded in my mind. The book is set on a far future earth and follows Kichebo, a black cheetah whose unnatural coloring causes her to become alienated from her family. When she discovers an abandoned human toddler and chooses to care for the creature, she’s thrown into a strange psychic link between herself and another black cheetah – one living during the reign of Tutankhamen. Kichebo must understand how and why this bond exists while protecting her new cub not only from other predators, but from the strange creatures in the sky.

Tomorrow’s Sphinx sounds super weird when you try to explain the plot, but it comes together masterfully in a strange, beautiful tale of the bonds possible between human and animal. If you get the opportunity, give this book a chance; you won’t regret it.

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4. The Named – Clare Bell

Clare Bell is on this list twice for a good reason: her books capture the essential wildness of big cats while establishing feline characters and societies as believable as our own. She is probably most known for her Named series, books set on an unspecified planet during a prehistoric age in which the top species are not humans but large, highly intelligent cats who call themselves the Named. The series follows Ratha, a young adult who is banished from her clan when she accidentally discovers how to tend and wield fire – what she calls her “creature”. Her journey will take her to very dark places, both physically and emotionally, but she will come to lead the Named into a new era. For a book about prehistoric cats, this series manages to touch on a variety of different issues such as xenophobia, PTSD, abuse, betrayal and forgiveness, mental illness, and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself. These books are absolutely a must-read for any cat lover – but I’m warning you now, you’re gonna cry.

The first book in The Named series is Ratha’s Creature.

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3. Varjak Paw – S.F. Said

You know how you sometimes read a children’s book as an adult and think “this is way more disturbing than it should be”? That’s Varjak Paw. The book is aimed at third through seventh graders, but the content is creepy enough (including the illustrations!) to not only satisfy an adult reader, but to help it stand out among its competition. Varjak Paw tells the story of young Varjak, a kitten who lives with his family in an idealic house away from the rest of the world. However, when a threatening gentleman takes over the care of the cats, Varjak escapes the house to find help and winds up in the middle of a mystery bigger than anything he could imagine. He must use the newfound powers given to him by his ancestor and the assistance of an unlikely group of friends to save his family and all the cats who have been disappearing without a trace.

Varjak Paw is book one of the duology; be sure to check out its sequel, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, which is a direct continuation of the events in the first book. Varjak is an unforgettable protagonist who will have you cheering for him from page one.

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2. Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams

If you’re a cat lover, you knew this book would be on the list. And it deserves to be; it’s a beautiful, heartfelt story that masterfully weaves fantasy, horror, and adventure into a tale worthy of Tolkien or C.S Lewis. Fritti Tailchaser, our courageous young hero, goes on a quest to find his friend after she disappears. Much like Varjak, Tailchaser uncovers a mystery much bigger than any could have expected – one that will have him facing off with the gods themselves to save his very species.

Like many of the other books on this list, Tailchaser’s Song is partly so engaging because it builds us an entire world for our feline protagonists. The book includes vocabulary, religion, and social etiquette unique to the cats of this world that feel completely real. Despite being thrown into an entirely different society from the first page, the reader lands on their feet (pun intended) and becomes entirely immersed in the fantasy world Tad Williams is building.

I utterly love this book, but it does come with a warning: it has some seriously dark themes and several disturbing scenes. It’s a hard read sometimes, but one that will leave you in that perfect post-book daze.

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1. The Wild Road – Gabriel King

I’ve seen this book compared to Watership Down, which is fair in the sense that they are both sweeping epics focusing on the lives of everyday animals and both are astoundingly good. The Wild Road, however, employs fantasy elements in a way which Watership Down does not, making it more comparable to Tailchaser’s Song. Also like Tailchaser’s Song, this book is dark. Not just dark for a kid’s book, I mean DARK dark. It deals with the topic of animal experimentation, after all, and the villain known only as the Alchemist is as evil as they come. However, the blend of fantasy and horror, combined with an unforgettable ragtag group of animals who must band together to stop the Alchemist, makes this book beautifully heart-wrenching in all the right ways. Like Tailchaser and Varjak Paw, little Tag must leave the safety of his home to save a world he knows nothing about – and to do so he will grow and change in so many ways.

The Wild Road is my #1 absolutely must read cat book. Definitely read its sequel, The Golden Cat, as well to see how the story plays out.

Caution: Apparently two more books came out in the series last year, much to my surprise. They have no reviews on Amazon, though, and seem to focus on human characters with pet cats, so… read at your own risk, I guess. Seems fishy to me. The first two books are AMAZING, though, and you should probably end there.

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Honorable mention: The Unadoptables –  Margaret Chiavetta

I promote this fledgling webcomic on every social media site possible because it deserves so much more attention and acclaim that it receives. The story centers on a cat cafe where all the resident cats are up for adoption. The twist, however, is that the cats are what most people would consider “unadoptable” in some way; too sick, too old, too aloof, pair bonded, etc. The story follows both the cats and the humans who run the cafe, where all are hopeful that the next visitor will take one of the kitties home. The cats are all loveable characters in their own way, of course, but the human characters shine as well (and are some great POC representation, too) and in general the comic gives you a lot of warm fuzzy feelings. It has its tenser moments, though, as you’ll see if you check out the first story arc!

Check out The Unadoptables and consider supporting them on Patreon to get a sneak peek at new pages, character designs, and other cool behind-the-scenes stuff!

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Think another cat book should be on this list? Let me know, I want to read all of the cat books that ever existed!

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#2046 – 2017 Book List

2017 wasn’t my best reading year ever; I blame that whole planning-a-wedding thing. Still, I managed to read a total of 65 books (okay, books AND comics), including 31 with queer characters or content and 42 by non-male authors. Also, I read Atlas Shrugged, which I think should be counted as a feat unto itself (it’s good! but also hella looooong).

  1. Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – ed. Steve Berman
  2. Bedtime Stories for Cats – Leigh Anne Jasheway
  3. Catfantastic Vol. 2 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
  4. Catfantastic Vol. 3 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
  5. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics – Jason Porath
  6. Your Magickal Cat: Feline Magic, Lore, and Worship – Gerina Dunwich
  7. Great Speeches on Gay Rights – Ed. James Daley
  8. Catfantastic Vol. 4 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
  9. Catfantastic Vol. 5 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
  10. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
  11. Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – Ed. A M Dellamonica and Steve Berman
  12. The King of the Cats and Other Feline Fairy Tales – ed. John Richard Stephens
  13. The Tribe of Tiger – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
  14. Summer in Orcus – T. Kingfisher
  15. Mystery Cats – ed. Lilian Jackson Braun & Patricia Highsmith
  16. Toad Words and Other Stories – T. Kingfisher
  17. The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry – ed. Rose Lemberg
  18. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  19. A Song of War: A Novel of Troy – Stephanie Thornton et. al.
  20. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories – Susanna Clarke
  21. Keeper of the Dawn – Dianna Gunn
  22. Arcane Perfection – ed. Pat Mosley, et. al.
  23. An Alphabet of Embers: An Anthology of Unclassifiables – ed. Rose Lemberg
  24. Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams
  25. A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion – E. Knight et. al.
  26. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  27. Jackalope Wives and Other Stories – T. Kingfisher
  28. Paradise Lost – John Milton
  29. The Wicked and the Divine, Book 5: Imperial Phase I – Kieron Gillen
  30. Summerwode (The Wode Book 4)  – J Tullos Hennig
  31. The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M Danforth
  32. The First Time She Drowned – Kerry Kletter
  33. Iron Peter: A Year in the Mythopoetic Life of New York City – Charles Ortleb
  34. Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
  35. Dreadnought: Nemesis Book 1 – April Daniels
  36. The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
  37. Two Boys Kissing – David Levithan
  38. Scourge of the Righteous Haddock – Ashley Schwellenbach
  39. The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 1 – Irene Koh et. al.
  40. The Wheel Diver – Ashley Schwellenbach
  41. Through the Woods – Emily Carroll
  42. Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
  43. Lumberjanes Vol 2: Friendship to the Max! – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
  44. Lumberjanes Vol 3: A Terrible Plan – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
  45. Lumberjanes Vol 4: Out of Time – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
  46. Mystery of the White Lions: Children of the Sun God – Linda Tucker
  47. Lumberjanes Vol 5: Band Together – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
  48. Lumberjanes Vol 6: Sink or Swim – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
  49. The Steel Remains (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
  50. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
  51. Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat – Gwen Cooper
  52. Journey from Yesterday – Roma Niles Burke
  53. Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami – Gretel Erhlich
  54. The Cold Commands (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
  55. The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
  56. Psychic Abilities for Beginners: Awaken Your Intuitive Senses – Melanie Barnum
  57. How To Meet & Work with Spirit Guides – Ted Andrews
  58. Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
  59. Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian
  60. The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2 – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
  61. Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic – Osho
  62. Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian
  63. H.M.S Surprise – Patrick O’Brian
  64. Yeshua’s Loom: A Tapestry of Cats (Yeshua’s Cats Book 5) – C L Francisco
  65. The Essential Rumi – trans. Coleman Barks

#1939

“Tangaloor, fire-bright
Flame-foot, farthest walker
Your hunter speaks
In need he walks
In need but never in fear”

– First-Walker prayer, Tailchaser’s Song

As Fritti Tailchaser spoke this prayer into the darkness of his final moments, goosebumps crept up my arms. Though ancient texts do not name Tangaloor Firefoot or his brothers as children of Kemet’s Bast, in the moment I read that passage Her presence was overwhelming. I felt compelled to memorize the prayer, should I ever need to call on Lord Tangaloor’s aid, and I have been mentally repeating it like a mantra for days. I can’t seem to let it go; its words slip over my tongue like prayer beads and bring me as much comfort.

The experience has me considering the role fiction can play in our worship, and in the wills of the gods themselves. After all, the gods speak to us in myriad ways. If we listen, we find their messages are everywhere, in forms and faces we might not expect. I think it is thus with Bast, who can be found in the religion of the felines in Tailchaser’s Song (Tad Williams) and the creation myth in The Wild Road (Gabriel King). Rereading these books as an adult, I finally recognize Bast’s purposeful influence in these stories. Their authors are extremely talented, and I don’t mean to say they couldn’t invent such a story on their own, but Her role is too obvious for me to overlook. When I mentally smack my head for not realizing the connection sooner, I hear Her gentle laughter. She made these stories come into being. She wanted them to be read. She wants them to mean something to me. They feel like scripture, like missing pieces, but I can’t yet figure out where they fit. If my thoughts seem scattered and incomplete, it’s because they are. I’m going mostly by feeling, here.

Below are the creation stories from both Tailchaser’s Song and The Wild Road. I feel compelled to preserve them somewhere, to make them available to other followers of Bast. Do with them what you will – and let me know if you feel the same power within their lines as I do. Luck dancing, friends!

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#1870 – 2016 Book List

[ I read a lot of fantastic books this year, especially in the realms of non-fiction (29 books), queer fiction (15 books – rather low for me), and just about anything featuring cats (19 books). I challenged myself with Guns, Germs, and Steel near the end of the year, and will be picking up Atlas Shrugged on January 1st. Then maybe I’ll just read comic books for the rest of the year… (joking!)]

  1. The Outlaw Varjak Paw – S.F Said
  2. Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo – Lawrence Anthony
  3. Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia – Jean Sasson
  4. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
  5. The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe – John E. Woods
  6. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War – Karen Abbott
  7. Ten Days in a Mad-House – Nellie Bly
  8. The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story – Richard Preston
  9. The Wicked and the Divine Vol. One: The Faust Act – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
  10. Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women – Sylvia Brinton Perera
  11. The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony – Will Tuttle
  12. In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth – Tikva Frymer-Kensky
  13. Unit 731 Testimony – Hal Gold
  14. Outsider in the White House – Bernie Sanders and John Nichols
  15. Survivor – Chuck Palahniuk
  16. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach
  17. Ashes and Snow – Gregory Colbert
  18. The Wicked and the Divine Vol. Two: Fandemonium – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
  19. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodie Picoult
  20. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom – Yeonmi Park
  21. Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America – Jon Mooallem
  22. Prisoner of Tehran: One Woman’s Story of Survival Inside an Iranian Prison – Marina Nemat
  23. The Art of Forgetting: Rider – Joanne Hall
  24. The Wicked and the Divine Vol. Three: Commercial Suicide – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
  25. Geisha: A Life – Mineko Iwasaki
  26. The Art of Forgetting: Nomad – Joanne Hall
  27. The Wild Road – Gabriel King
  28. Vestal – Ashley Schwellenbach
  29. Nimona – Noelle Stevenson
  30. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling
  31. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
  32. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
  33. The Raven and the Reindeer – T. Kingfisher
  34. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
  35. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – JK Rowling
  36. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – JK Rowling
  37. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
  38. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir – Felicia Day
  39. Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law – Joe Abercrombie
  40. Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fifteen Tales – ed. Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg
  41. Beast of Never, Cat of God: The Search for the Eastern Puma – Bob Butz
  42. The Golden Cat – Gabriel King
  43. Shadow Cat: Encountering the American Mountain Lion – ed. Susan Ewing and Elizabeth Grossman
  44. North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey – Shannon Huffman Polson
  45. Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess – Betty De Shong Meador and Judy Grahn
  46. The Scourge of the Righteous Haddock – Ashley Schwellenbach
  47. Swallow You Whole – Jasper Black
  48. The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
  49. Delphi Complete Works of Sappho – Sappho of Lesbos
  50. The Sign of the Cat – Lynne Jonell
  51. Suicide Watch – Kelley York
  52. Sinful Cinderella (Dark Fairy Tale Queen Series Book 1) – Anita Valle
  53. Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa – Kevin Richardson and Tony Park
  54. Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper – JL Bryan
  55. Tarot: Plain and Simple – Anthony Louis
  56. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – JK Rowling
  57. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books – Azar Nafisi
  58. The Ghatti’s Tale, Book One: Finders-Seekers – Gayle Greeno
  59. Heiresses of Russ 2015: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – ed. Steve Berman and Jean Roberta
  60. The Ghatti’s Tale, Book Two: Mindspeaker’s Call – Gayle Greeno
  61. The Tygrine Cat – Inbali Iserles
  62. The Ghatti’s Tale, Book Three: Exile’s Return – Gayle Greeno
  63. The Wicked and the Divine Vol. Four: Rising Action – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
  64. Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories – ed. D. Alexander Ward and Doug Murano
  65. Egyptian Paganism for Beginners: Bring the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt Into Daily Life – Jocelyn Almond
  66. The Gayer-Anderson Cat (British Museum Objects in Focus) – Neal Spencer
  67. Cat Born to the Purple: A Sequel to Yeshua’s Cat (Yeshua’s Cats Book 4) – C. L. Francisco
  68. This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death – ed. Ryan North, et. al.
  69. The Girls of No Return – Erin Saldin
  70. BaneWreaker: Volume 1 of The Sundering – Jacqueline Carey
  71. Godslayer: Volume 2 of The Sundering – Jacqueline Carey
  72. The Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
  73. Moth – S.E. Diemer
  74. Julie of the Wolves – Jean Craighead George
  75. The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
  76. To Reign in Hell: A Novel – Steven Brust
  77. The Call of the Wild – Jack London
  78. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies – Jared Diamond
  79. White Fang – Jack London
  80. Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake

#1856

Moth: Darker, Realer, and (Way) Gayer than The Hunger Games


“Five years ago, I wrote a YA novel. Like all my novels, it had a lesbian MC. But this one was different from anything I’d done before. With this novel, I got an agent. It was put out on submission & every editor who read it said it was awesome. But. Well written. But. It was too controversial. Something that they said, and I quote, “American kids wouldn’t believe.” … I wrote it because I was angry. And anger, right now, is SO important. Anger will save us. Anger will give us strength, help keep us brave. I’m releasing the book editors said was too controversial. The book that made them uncomfortable. The book American kids “wouldn’t believe.” I told this story for all of us. For every pain I’ve suffered. For every pain you’ve suffered.  Stay angry. Stay brave. Don’t fall asleep.” – S.E. Diemer

Back when The Hunger Games fandom first exploded, the books were recommended to me by my sister when I told her I was looking for more fiction with “badass women”. I read the books, mildly enjoyed the first two, and rolled my eyes through much of the third. I didn’t hate them, but they didn’t speak to me like they did to so many others. In the end, I think that’s because the world they’re set in, an unspoken but clearly post-apocalyptic-style future North America, didn’t feel realistic. The story was good – dark, but full of hope; real, but just fantastical enough to keep you reading – but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe Panem was once my America, and so the terrible future in the books never felt like a real threat.

Cut to the recent US election. Cut to the quote I shared above. Cut to Moth, a book about a future America where being black, queer, non-Christian, dissenting, outspoken, even just a little too rebellious can get you sent to re-education camps to be burned, electrocuted, and brainwashed (if you’re lucky) – or simply killed. This book, like The Hunger Games, is YA. It’s meant for teenagers, for the exact audience editors apparently didn’t think would buy its setting. Let me tell you – I buy it. Because this isn’t post-apocalypse, this isn’t mutant monsters, this isn’t crazy sci-fi technology and vast conspiracies…

This is North Korea. Now. Everything that happens in this book, everything our heroine experiences, has happened or does currently happen in countries across the world. It’s not impossible to imagine queer kids being forced to undergo traumatizing, sometimes deadly attempts to “fix” them. That happens. It’s not impossible to have a character whose father is killed just because his skin is dark. That happens. It’s not impossible to learn about an underground railroad ferrying kids up to Canada (the border of which is soon to be blocked by a giant “freedom” wall), nor that the European Union has cut off all aide to the country. Those things happen all the time, and have throughout history.

This is an America ruled by a dictator who claims to speak the very will of God. There are no mutants or science experiments here – just fanatical people who think the world should run their way because They Are Right. I don’t know about you, but these days that doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched future.

This book has its little flaws, like all books do, but no major detractors. More importantly, what it has at its core is the anger and fear not of someone looking into a possible sci-fi future hundreds of years from now, but someone living right here with us who sees a path our country could easily take. As much as we’d like to pretend democracy is unassailable, our form of government is as vulnerable to corruption and dissolution as any other. Will we ever become a totalitarian dictatorship in which we gleefully watch children murder each other for food and fame in gigantic stadiums full of technological death traps? Probably not. Will we ever become a theocracy in which dissenters are “re-educated” to fit the Christian model of good citizens? Maybe, yeah.

So read this book. It’s worth it.

(For those who need it, here are the book’s major trigger warnings: Homophobia, racism, physical and mental/emotional abuse, suicide, violence)

#1791

“What do you mean, you’re not coming back?” Anna stopped cold in the corridor, staring after her girlfriend as if not quite believing what she had heard. Jessryn turned back to see she had stopped walking, then took hold of her robe and pulled her to one side. “Are you telling me are?” she whispered furiously, keeping her voice low so as not to be heard over the sound of students moving between classes. “Of course!” Anna made no such attempt. “We have to!”

“It’s not our fight, Anna,” Jessryn glanced around, but no one seemed to be eavesdropping on their conversation. She moved closer to Anna and lowered her voice further, just in case. “My family’s going into hiding once the school year’s over. They want to wait for things to calm down, or fall out, or whatever’s going to happen. It’s not safe here anymore, not at Hogwarts and not in this country; I doubt even this continent. I don’t know where we’ll go, but you can bet it will be far, far away from here.” She cupped Anna’s face in one slightly trembling hand. “You should come with us. You’d be safer.”

“I’m not running away like a coward,” Anna stuck her bottom lip out, a stubborn expression Jessryn normally adored – now it only made her go cold. “So I’m a coward?” she asked, dropping her hand. Anna’s mouth fell open. “No! No, I just mean… this is our school. It’s been like a home to us the last six years. If it comes to a fight, shouldn’t we defend it?”

“Not if it costs us our lives,” Jessryn turned away, desperate to end the conversation. They rarely quarreled, and never over anything this serious; neither of them was saying what they really meant, or how they really felt. “I don’t want to talk about this right now. We’ll be late for Potions.” And with that she stalked off down the hallway, willing herself not to listen to check if Anna followed.

#1766

[ And MORE questions about Tanim and Daren, courtesy of the girlfriend. Once again, if you have any of your own, leave them in the comments below. Thanks! ]

19) If they could own any famous piece of art, what would they own? 

I think Tanim would want to own Michelangelo’s Pieta. I mean, go big or go home, right? Tanim would appreciate the piece for its pure artistry, but also for the emotional impact of it as well. He in some ways is drawn to the story of Christ, though that’s another question for another day. I can also see Tanim preferring classical art and antiquities more than modern art, mostly because he would have been raised around fine art and probably be kind of a snob.

I think Daren might like to own The Anguished Man, or a similarly creepy and supposedly cursed/haunted work of art. He’d half want to own it just to prove he wasn’t afraid of a stupid rumor, and half to see if the rumor was actually true. I think he’d relish the challenge of facing off a ghost or whatever was causing trouble, and be secretly pleased to be able to say a big “fuck you” to the spirit world, as well as the real world. Or maybe he’d just enjoy the chaos it would cause for those around him – who knows?

20) If they were in the Inception universe, what would their totems be?

Daren’s totem would be his silver lighter. Only he would know its specific weight and feel (smooth, but dented and scuffed in certain placed), and only he would know if it would light in the dream or not. Tanim’s totem would be a bullet modified to a specific weight and filled with a rolled up slip of paper instead of gunpowder. Only he would know the weight of the bullet and what was written on the paper. I think Tanim would need a very original and complex totem, because he could otherwise be lost in the dream quite easily.

Oh, and although she didn’t ask, let me expand on this enough to say Tanim would be the dreamer and Daren the architect. And yes, it would be as creepy and terrifying as that sounds. I might have to write something about that… hmm…

21) What gardening implement would each of them use as a murder weapon?

Tanim would go for something blunt – maybe a shovel or a hatchet of some sort. Or a hammer, if that counts as a gardening tool. Daren would, of course, go for something sharp – maybe shears, a cultivator, or a small saw. He’d love a scythe, of course. I think either of them would have fun with a nail gun.

22) If they were gods from The Wicked and the Divine, what would their stage personas look like?

Being the Sun and Moon, they would probably perform together. They would both dress in all black, though Tanim would show more skin, and both would wear stylized half-masks – silver for Daren and gold for Tanim. They would also wear silver and gold jewelry, respectively, with a celestial/pagan theme. Their style of dress and music would be very reminiscent of Placebo. The one thing I’m not sure about is their hair… I’m not sure if it would be long, like their original Sun and Moon forms, or more modern. They might switch between the two. After all, they’re gods.

23) What would they dress up as for Halloween?

Well, I’ve already written something where they dressed up as Vicious and Vincent from Cowboy Bebop, but that was just me being a fangirl. (It totally works, though!) Anyway, I can see Tanim really getting into the Halloween spirit. I bet in his single years he loved having a holiday completely themed around being anonymous for the night. I could see him going as anything for which he could wear a nice suit and maybe a mask; vampire, demon, Phantom of the Opera, Dorian Gray, perhaps a particularly well dressed werewolf. (Oh! Or Baphomet from WicDiv.) I’m not sure how easy it would be to get Daren to wear a Halloween costume, though. He might refuse to dress up, wear his usual all black, and get mistaken for the Grim Reaper anyway. Or a vampire. Or a ghost. Or a murderer. I mean, really, Daren’s scary enough that he doesn’t really need a costume. And everyone would do a double-take when they realized the knife in his hand wasn’t fake. That being said, the man looks pretty damn cool with skull makeup.

24) What books would they re-read often?

Tanim would probably re-read the Under the Poppy trilogy by Kathe Koja and Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner often. He might also really like Roger Zelazney’s Chronicles of Amber; I can see him identifying in many ways with the main character, Corwin. I think Tanim would also like queer fiction, especially queer speculative fiction, so he’d read things like the Wilde Stories collections that come out every year and other collections by Steve Berman.

Daren would probably re-read a lot of Kathe Koja’s work, especially Strange AngelsThe Cipher, and Bad Brains. I can definitely see him liking her strange, almost delusional style of writing and her supremely fucked up characters.  I think he’d also like Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill and other similar horror, especially anything by Lee Thomas.

I’m not sure if either of them would be drawn to a book like Bel Canto, but I know they’d both love the ending – though for different reasons. And I think they would both be drawn to reading religious books like the Bible, Quran, and Torah, though again for different reasons.