Review – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Balzer + Bray, 2015

Sixteen-year-old Simon Spier likes to put on a show, but he prefers it when the drama stays on the stage. The only person in his life who knows he’s gay is Blue, his anonymous online friend, and the only one who knows Blue is gay is Simon. Their friendship is slowly evolving into something new when the wrong person finds out about the emails and Simon suddenly finds himself blackmailed into the role of reluctant matchmaker for the most annoying straight boy ever. He has to find a way to get out of this situation before he’s dragged any deeper into someone else’s disaster of a love life – and before it wrecks his own.

The premise makes this sound like a slightly darker book than it is. While Simon’s predicament is definitely treated as a serious one, Simon vs. the Home Sapiens Agenda is overall a light-hearted, witty and sincere story and all its characters are written with a warmth and sensitivity that makes even the less likeable ones very well-rounded. Simon is a delightful protagonist – I was particularly charmed by the relationship he has with his sisters – and the question of Blue’s identity is given some good twists. Albertalli’s next novel, The Upside of Unrequited, is slated for release in April.

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Review – Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road (Ghost Stories No.1) – Seanan McGuire

DAW Books, 2014

Rose Marshall died in the summer of 1952 when her car was driven off Sparrow Hill Road, and that was only the beginning of her problems. Rose is a hitcher now, a ghost of the roads, and the rules that she doesn’t live by are as unforgiving as they are arcane. Over the years she has become a story – the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown – and sometimes stories draw the wrong sort of attention. From rookie ghost-hunters to drivers on their last hope, her fellow unquiet dead to the vengeful living, Rose has more to fear now than she ever did when she was alive. Worst of all is the man who killed her that night on Sparrow Hill Road. Given the chance, he is going to finish the job, and there are much worse things than death.

Sparrow Hill Road is written as if it was once a collection of ghost stories, a bit non-linear, which conveys Rose’s experience of the world incredibly well. I loved it. The layered mythology, from modern American ghost stories all the way down to Hades and Persephone, creates a complete and fascinating world, and Rose, with her good heart and bad attitude, is a marvelously flawed protagonist. I’m very much looking forward to reading more in this series.

Ladies of Legend: Atalanta

References: The Greek Myths Volumes I and II (The Folio Society, 2003) by Robert Graves, Mythology: Myths, Legends, & Fantasies (Hodder, 2013) by Dr. Alice Mills, The Greek Myths Volumes I and II (The Folio Society, 2003) by Robert Graves, Mythology: Myths, Legends, & Fantasies (Hodder, 2013) by Dr. Alice Mills, Eyewitness Companions: Mythology (Dorling Kindersley Ltd.) by Philip Wilkinson and Neil Philip, A-Z of Mythology (Bison Books Ltd, 1990) by Peter Clayton

Miss February is Atalanta, a Greek huntress with very terrible luck but a very interesting life. The identities of her parents vary from one iteration of the legend to another – one version has her as the child of Iasus and Clymene, while another names King Schoenus of Boeotia – but regardless of who he really was, her father was a man who wanted a son so badly that when he got a daughter instead, he ordered that she be abandoned on a hillside to die. But Atalanta did not die. She was instead mothered by a bear, who fed and protected her, and was later taken in by a clan of hunters, who taught her all their skill. She molded herself after the tradition of Artemis, goddess of the hunt: beautiful, virginal and tough as nails.

Artemis was also, like nearly everyone in the Pantheon, very easy to offend. When King Oenus of Calydon forgot to make a sacrifice to her in his annual acknowledgement of the gods (an oversight dobbed in by her fellow god Helius) the indignant goddess sent a gigantic boar to ravage the countryside in his kingdom. Oenus sent out a call for the greatest hunters in Greece to kill the monster. Among those who answered was Atalanta. Though some of the other hunters objected to the presence of a woman in their line-up, Oenus’ son Meleager declared that either she competed alongside them or they could all go home. So Atalanta stayed.

Before you go getting the wrong impression, this was not the act of an egalitarian prince who believed in gender equality. Meleager had a crush on Atalanta that was so obvious his uncles immediately started doomsaying over it. This was fair enough – not only was Meleager already married, he was sort of cursed as well. Oenus was the father he had grown up with, but by birth Meleager was the son of the war god Ares. When he was born, the three Fates came to his mother Althaia to prophesise what his life would be. Clotho, spinner of mortal life, predicted he would grow to be a brave man; Lachesis, weaver of life, declared he would become a hero; but Atropos, cutter of life, pointed out a log on the fire, warning that Meleager would live only as long as it took the wood to burn to ash. Althaia immediately snatched the log from the fireplace and hid it away. So Meleager grew up, unaware that his life was literally in his mother’s hands.

During the boar-hunt, Atalanta separated herself from the other hunters. Two centaurs, Hylaeus and Rhaeccus, saw her and decided she would be easy prey. Their mistake. Atalanta calmly shot both her would-be rapists dead and went off to join Meleager. When the boar charged into the trap set for it, all went to chaos as the hunters’ over-confidence and just plain misfortune added up to a scene of carnage. Atalanta managed to land an arrow behind the beast’s ear; Meleager followed her up with a spear to its heart, and presented the dead boar’s pelt to Atalanta in honour of her drawing first blood. It was a well-chosen gift for a girl like that, but riled up his mother’s brothers some more, who thought he ought to have gifted it to them instead, based on social precedence. Meleager expressed his frustration with their attitudes by killing them both.

This, understandably, did not please Althaia, or for that matter her two remaining brothers, who attacked Meleager’s city. His wife Cleopatra managed to talk her husband into taking up arms, even though Althaia had cursed him to be defenceless in this war. When he killed the last two of his uncles, Althaia burned the log and Meleager was struck by a sudden savage pain. He died, just as the Fates said he would. Althaia and Cleopatra both committed suicide and Artemis concluded her revenge by turning nearly all of Meleager’s sisters into guinea-hens.

The outcome of the hunt on Atalanta’s side was an entirely unwanted reunion with her father, whose first words to the daughter he discarded were “My child, prepare to take a husband!” Atalanta had more reasoning behind her choice of a chaste lifestyle than a disinterest in domestic life. She was warned against marriage by the Delphic Oracle. She chose a very pointed way of refusing her father’s plans for her life: any suitor contending for her hand would have to compete against her in a foot race. If the suitor won, Atalanta would marry him. If the suitor lost, she would shoot him.

Here’s the thing. Atalanta was really good at running.

She kept to her word – any suitor who could not match her, and none could, lost his life – but that didn’t stop the queue of candidates. Eventually her cousin Melanion (or in some versions, a man called Hippomanes) tried his luck. Before the race, he prayed for help from the goddess of love and Aphrodite favoured him (mostly out of pure annoyance at Atalanta’s stubborn refusal to fall in love) with a gift of three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, instructing Melanion to let them fall during the race.

Atalanta mocked the apples when she saw them, but when he dropped them she could not help being distracted by their beauty and stopped to pick them up. It took all three apples, one dropped right up against the finishing line, for Melanion to outrace her. He definitely cheated. Atalanta married him anyway and for a time it seems that they were happy together. Later, though, while out hunting, they passed a temple – sacred to Zeus in some versions, in others to Cybele – and Melanion persuaded Atalanta to have sex with him inside it. Of course, this brought on divine fury and the lovers were transformed into lions. In Cybele’s version, she compounds the curse with the indignity of using the couple to pull her chariot. Aphrodite’s hand may have been involved in the fulfillment of the prophecy – she’s a goddess who likes her thank-yous to be fulsome, and Melanion was a little too absorbed in a success that wasn’t actually his own.

There are other legends in which Atalanta bore a son, Parthenopaeus, to either Meleager or Ares, and left the boy on the same hillside where she herself was abandoned. Like his mother, Pathenopaeus survived and went on to make a name for himself as a warrior.

Atalanta’s story is a tragedy, in the sense there is not a happy ending. But I’m not sure that, for a woman as fierce and independent as Atalanta, becoming a lioness would be such a dreadful fate. Whether her body was flesh or fur, she’d always be a hunter.

These stories vary wildly depending on time and teller – I work with the sources I have to hand but if you know an alternative version I would love to hear it!

February news

 

http://ticonderogapublications.com/web/images/9781925212488_web.jpghttps://lessthanthreepress.com/books/images/humanityforbeginners400.jpg

I am very pleased to announce that my story ‘Blueblood’ has been reprinted in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene and available for pre-order now. The cover is GORGEOUS and the full line up of authors can be seen here.

My novella Humanity for Beginners is also out this month! It is still open for pre-orders here. I lucked out with another stunning cover! I already have my e-book and I may be a little excited about that.

Review – Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy – Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman

Walker Books Ltd., 2016

Simon Lewis is a hero. Or so he has been informed. He can’t actually remember his heroics thanks to an encounter with a demon and a sacrifice that saved the lives of friends who are now strangers to him. But Simon has a way to get it all back. In the wake of a devastating war, the Nephilim are recruiting ordinary people to join their ranks, who will be trained at the newly re-opened Shadowhunter Academy and – should they prove worthy – will drink from the Mortal Cup to take on the strength of the Angel’s warriors. Simon wants to be a hero again. More than that, he wants to work out who he really is. He hopes that his time at the Academy will give him a chance at both those things, and maybe even understand what the hell the blazing, famous Isabelle Lightwood ever saw in him. All he has to do is survive training with a group of ferociously competitive would-be demon-killers…and then there’s the demons themselves.

This is a book for established fans of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series only. It is a collection of short stories centred around Simon Lewis, a character from the Mortal Instruments series, though other characters from the Shadowhunter books do show up. The short stories were originally published as standalone e-books, in the same style as The Bane Chronicles, which means there’s a bit of repetition when you’re reading them all together. I wasn’t always very interested in the Academy plots but most of the stories had other layers to them, weaving in parts of Shadowhunter history, and having read all the previous books, I was delighted to see backstories filled in and favourite characters return. The story I enjoyed most was ‘Born to Endless Night’ just for the Lightwood family shenanigans, but there’s a lot to love here for Shadowhunter fans.