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Divided cities April 28, 2016

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The three YA novels I review here are all set in cities which are, in one way or another, divided, featuring state-sanctioned inequality so extreme that revolution needs only a tiny spark to set it off. Characters in all three books reach out across the divide, fighting in their own ways for justice, equality, or just the chance to carve out a tiny space of safety for themselves.

Sarah Rees Brennan is nothing if not ambitious. Her latest work, Tell the Wind and Fire reimagines Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as an urban fantasy romance involving doppelgängers, a complicated magical system, and, of course, revolution. Instead of the ‘two cities’ of Dickens’ story, Tell the Wind and Fire is set in a New York divided into ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ cities, which exist in parallel, mirror images of glittering privilege and violently enforced dispossession. Rees Brennan’s Lucie Manette is a teenage magic wielder who grew up in the Dark cities, but was brought to the Light, where she is treated as something of a symbol and a trophy, the girlfriend of the cherished son of the Light city’s ruling family. This ruling dynasty’s ruthless maintenance of its own power is matched only by its complicated, hypocritical secrets. Rees Brennan is great at showing the cruelty and injustice that keeps her imagined New York divided, and doesn’t shy away from placing the blame entirely at the feet of its glittering Light elite, who care little that their enormous wealth is built on suffering. As revolution smoulders, Lucie attempts to navigate the treacherous political waters, torn between individual loyalty to those she loves – in both Light and Dark New York – and her moral outrage at the injustice of her society. Lucie is well aware of her power as a symbol – a borrowed power that is dependent on her never, ever speaking for herself – and has a realistic sense of this power’s limits. Lucie’s sharp sense of self-preservation, honed through years living in the downtrodden Dark city and among the capricious powerbrokers of the Light, is one of the strongest elements of this book, and she is a character with whom I very much enjoyed spending time.

Rather less satisfying for me were the wider character dynamics of Tell the Wind and Fire. In previous works, characterisation has been Sarah Rees Brennan’s strong point, and I’ve come to look forward to her books for their fantastic found families – collections of odd, misfit characters thrown together by circumstance, who’ll protect each other fiercely against the cruelties and dangers of the world. Perhaps because it was a standalone book rather than a trilogy, with less time to develop secondary characters, I found this element somewhat lacking in Tell the Wind and Fire, and missed it. Other than that, however, the book was an enjoyable read, although the twists of the plot will be unsurprising to those already familiar with A Tale of Two Cities.

Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel An Ember in the Ashes is a claustrophobic fantasy romance set in a city under occupation. The Martial Empire enforces its rule with military might and legalised discrimination; the Scholars, formerly the elite, are forbidden to learn to read, and are either enslaved or forced to live in precarious poverty. The novel is told from alternate viewpoints – that of Laia, a young Scholar girl who accepts a dangerous spying mission at the heart of the Martial administration as a slave to its ruthless military leader, and Elias, a Martial boy training to be the empire’s most lethal warrior (more weapon than human being), but secretly attempting to escape his abusive training. Tahir does an excellent job of making all parts of her stratified city – from the brutal Blackcliff Academy where Elias trains and Laia spies, to the twisting alleyways where Scholars make their homes and the resistance plots the Martial Empire’s demise – come alive, always emphasising the rampant inequality and the violence with which it is maintained. While I slightly preferred Laia as a viewpoint character, both protagonists are carefully drawn, and their respective fears, hopes and motivations are well balanced. I particularly like it when characters in this kind of set up have an internal struggle between genuine and well-justified terror at the life-threatening situations in which they find themselves, and their desire to transform their society into a more just and equal place. I like it when it forces them to make compromises, bargains, and small, short-term sacrifices of principle, and I very much appreciated that this was the case with Laia. An Ember in the Ashes ends on quite the cliffhanger, so I’m relieved to see that the sequel will be published in August.

Court of Fives, the first in a YA series by Kate Elliott, is much subtler than the previous two books reviewed here in its exploration of power, privilege, and their corrosive effect on societies and individuals. Its setting is inspired by Ptolemaic Egypt, with divisions between the ruling Patrons and ruled Commoners more fluid than the letter of the law would suggest. Patrons cannot marry Commoners – but they can form relationships, as is the case in the family of protagonist Jessamy, whose father is a Patron and mother is a Commoner. Similarly, certain routes to advancement are barred to Commoners – but they can gain prestige and acclaim as talented players of Fives, the popular sport beloved by Patrons and Commoners alike, and played by both. But – as is the case with all unequal societies – there are hidden complications and unwritten rules that slowly become part of the social structure, understood by all, but difficult to live with. Jessamy and her sisters occupy an uneasy space between Patron and Commoner worlds, both exoticised and scorned. They are all painfully aware that their fate – and fate of their family – is dependent on their making good marriages with Patron men. Their mother is a hindrance to their father’s career, and, after a series misfortunes, it becomes clear that their parents’ apparent love match is a more fragile thing, vulnerable to the demands of politics and social mobility. Playing Fives – formerly an escape for Jessamy – becomes a deadly necessity, as the fate of her entire family depends on her success on the court.

There are echoes in Court of Fives of Little Women, but Elliott’s refusal to let the father character off the hook is a breath of fresh air to me, as someone who always found Alcott’s depiction of Mr March too close to hagiography. Here, there is an acknowledgement that the actions of men in patriarchal societies can have appalling consequences for the women around them, that such men are very often ignorant of, and unmoved by, the effects their actions have on the women in their lives, and, most importantly, that even in patriarchal societies, women and girls have lives and relationships and stories independent of the husbands and fathers whose actions circumscribe their existence. Throw in a brilliantly depicted set of sisters – each with her own personality and dreams – and you have everything I could possibly want in a Kate Elliott book.

Left me to linkpost/ what’s it doing to me? May 15, 2015

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Ambelin Kwaymullina talks about diversity in Australian YA literature.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Fear of causing offense becomes a fetish’.

Here’s Daniel José Older on diversity, power and publishing.

Laura Mixon talks about building bridges and healing divisions.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz talks about self-care and ‘staying in touch with the child-self’.

Aidan Moher discusses writing military SF without combat.

Astrid Lindgren’s Second World War diaries have been published in Sweden.

Ana of Things Mean A Lot reviews Pride in the light of the recent UK elections.

I love this review by Electra Pritchett of Stranger and Hostage by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith:

If I had to pick a post-apocalyptic YA society in which to live, I’d pick the community of Las Anclas hands down, warts and all: rather than a hierarchical dystopian society where something random is outlawed and the government controls something else crucial to society, Las Anclas represents a kinder, gentler post-apocalypse. It’s not quite a utopia, except in the sense that everywhere in fiction is, but that’s precisely what makes it a believable and desirable place to live: its busybodies and jerks are notable because they’re not the only kind of people in the town, and dealing with them would be a small price to pay in order to live in such a supportive and inclusive place.

The upcoming publishing schedule at The Book Smugglers makes me so happy.

I am really looking forward to the publication of Tell The Wind And Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan’s latest book.

Via Sherwood Smith, listen to the oldest (recorded) song in the world.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Linkpost is a stranger in an open car April 3, 2015

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This week’s post is a little early, as my partner’s parents are in town and I have to grab whatever time I have to myself when I can.

I really liked this essay by Kari Sperring in Strange Horizons. It’s ostensibly about Katherine Kurtz, but its broader point is that the ‘women who made fantasy [and science fiction]’ keep getting ignored, erased or forgotten in the genre’s history.

In a similar vein, Renay has written at Fantasy Book Cafe about recommendation lists that contain no women.

Also by Renay, a review of The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan for Ladybusiness.

This post by Tumblr user allofthefeelings is a reaction to a very specific fandom situation, but I feel it has broader applicability, given that it talks about unexamined preferences, narrative default settings, and representation (within texts, of fandom and of fannish culture and preferences).

I have a not-so-secret love of ’90s teen movies, so this post on Tor.com by Leah Schnelbach and Natalie Zutter about teen movies that adapt or draw on Shakespeare’s plays was right up my alley.

Abigail Nussbaum reviews Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho for Strange Horizons.

Here’s an interview with Zen Cho by Sharmilla Ganeson in The Star.

My friend Raphael Kabo wrote this poem called ‘Axis’ for Noted Festival. He writes a lot about identity, alienation and place, which are themes very dear to me.

Still on the theme of poetry, Athena Andreadis shared an older post on Sapfó (Sappho) of Lésvos.

This is a raw, emotionally honest post by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz about the struggle to find her voice and courage after ill-treatment, silencing and the twisting of her words and judgement of her actions. I continue to be awed by her words, bravery and determination. SFF needs more people like her.

All my dangerous friends June 12, 2010

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It is the story of the ogre and the little girl, where she loves him because he may kill her, and he accepts her (and doesn’t kill her) because he loves her fear. That’s why they can live happily ever after – as long as she doesn’t recognise the Gothic mansion of his appetite for what it is.

Michael Wood, ‘At the Movies’ in the London Review of Books, talking about Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

This quote is about Rebecca, but it could refer to so many other things: Jane Eyre, from which Rebecca is derived, any number of a certain type of romance novel, and, of course, Twilight. One series to which it is definitely not applicable, though, is Sarah Rees Brennan’s young-adult Demon’s Lexicon series. Spoiler for the first two books of the series follow.

Rees Brennan is well-versed in this type of story. She’s a romance aficionado, she loves Austen and the Brontës and she’s familiar with the use of this trope in young-adult literature.

You know what trope I mean: the ‘good woman’ taming (or failing to tame) the wild beast through the healing power of love. The brooding, Byronic hero is barely restrained and barely contained, dangerous to all but the object of his affections – he’s different around her. Or he’s the only one of his kind (vampires, demons, old-school faeries) with some semblance of a moral code, and the power of love makes him try to be better, to be more human. He could kill her, but he doesn’t, and she could fear him, but doesn’t (or she fears him but enjoys it).

Sarah Rees Brennan tricks readers into thinking they’ve got this trope, and then cheerfully, gleefully subverts it.

Her books are about two groups of siblings – two brothers, and a brother and sister – who fight against evil magicians who raise demons to do their bidding. The first book, The Demon’s Lexicon, is told from the point of view of Nick, one of the two brothers, who has a complete inability to feel normal human emotions like empathy. At the end of the book, we discover this is because he isn’t human at all. He’s a demon.

The second book, The Demon’s Covenant is told from the point of view of the sister, Mae, who is an ordinary human girl who got to know Nick and his brother Alan when her brother Jamie got marked by possession by a demon (this happened in The Demon’s Lexicon). Covenant is about the quartet’s ongoing struggles with various groups of magicians, Jamie’s growing magical powers,* Nick’s attempts to come to terms with his identity as a demon – and Mae’s attempts to define herself as a person amid all these supernatural shenanigans.

What makes this series so refreshing is its portrayal of Mae. She’s an oddity among teenage girl characters in that she’s a sexual being extremely comfortable in her own skin and confident of herself as a human being. Rather than angsting constantly about her lack of supernatural abilities (recall, Nick is a demon, Alan has been immersed in the supernatural world all his life, and Jamie has magical powers), Mae is happy to be herself. ‘I want things’, Mae tells Nick when he reminds her that, as a demon, he could make things happen for her, ‘but I want to get them for myself.’ She calmly recognises that as the non-magical person of the group she’s the weak link, and coolly asks Nick to mark her for possession to prevent any other demons from doing so. She’s attracted to Nick, she’s attracted to Alan, she’s attracted to Seb, but she’s honest about her feelings and never descends into soap-operatic love-triangle drama.

In the hands of a lesser writer, the development of the relationship between Mae and Nick could’ve been exactly the kind the quote above describes. But the two of them, dangerously genre-savvy, consciously reject and ridicule it. Rather than Mae’s love of Nick being the thing that keeps him from raging out of control at the end of The Demon’s Lexicon, it is his brother Alan’s love that keeps him earthbound. He wants to learn how to be human not out of love for Mae but because he knows it matters to Alan. And Mae herself is under no illusions that Nick is different or ‘more human’ than ordinary demons. To put it bluntly, he’s no tortured Edward Cullen and she knows it. She doesn’t think he loves her, she doesn’t think he’s a good person, and she doesn’t believe that she can change him.

Covenant ends with Mae recognising her growing feelings for Nick, and him apparently reciprocating, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that Rees Brennan ultimately intends for them to end up a couple. I think it’s far more likely that the series will end with both of them in the same messy situation they were in when it began – mutual attraction, confused feelings and nothing resolved. And that’s entirely the point. This series is not about epic, soul-redeeming romantic love. Instead, it’s about the power of family – families that are made, not born – and the fact that human feelings are messy and don’t fit easily into conveniently-labelled boxes. It’s a brave statement, and one that goes against the grain of hundreds of years of romantic fiction, and I applaud Rees Brennan wholeheartedly for it.

*Another commendable thing about this series is the depiction of Jamie. He’s an openly gay character who does not angst in the slightest about his sexual orientation. In fact, when Mae is upset that he didn’t tell her about his magical powers, even though he was perfectly comfortable telling her about his homosexuality, he angrily retorts that being gay doesn’t hurt anybody, but magic does. I wanted to stand up and cheer Rees Brennan for this. What she said (through Jamie’s mouth) shouldn’t need to be said, but the depiction of gay characters in mainstream fiction is appalling. Most depictions still revolve around the ‘coming out story’, as if that’s the only thing that matters to gay people. I’ve read, time and time again, arguments that gay characters, and in particular gay teenage characters, need to be depicted in ordinary, getting-on-with-their-lives stories in the same way that heterosexual characters are, if we’re ever to see a complete change in attitudes towards LGBTQ people in society, and I applaud Rees Brennan for doing so with Jamie. I’m not reducing this to a footnote because I think that it’s less important than the Nick/Mae storyline, and will be blogging about Jamie some time next week.

Things don’t get no better, better than you and me March 20, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, fangirl.
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Months and months ago I mentioned on Livejournal that I was intending to write a series of posts about my favourite literary couples – although I planned to expand that to include platonic couples, groups of friends, and families. Now I’ve finally got my act together and started working on this, and so I bring you the first of what will be a series of posts. This one is a rather arbitrarily-selected group of couples (in the romantic sense of the word). When selecting them, I had three criteria:
1. That they be a couple from a book or series that means or meant a lot to me
2. That they not be the sort of people usually found on such lists (no Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy)
3. That they be characters from books

The last criterion was simply to avoid massive headaches as if I’d included other types of texts, I’d be here still writing this after I’d finished my PhD!

Looking at the couples I came up with, I feel a bit disappointed at the heteronormativity of my list, and I know it’s more through my own fault than that of existing literature: There are great stories with GLTBQ couples, but I haven’t read many of them (with the possible exception of Written On The Body by Jeanette Winterson). But I certainly don’t blame the straightness of this list on the ‘lack of good GLTBQ couples in literature’; that’s an unfair argument, and the fault is entirely my own.

At this point, I should warn you that there are spoilers for:
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott
Galax-Arena and Terra-Farma by Gillian Rubinstein
Romanitas and Rome Burning by Sophia McDougall
The Space Demons trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein
The Troy Game series by Sara Douglass
The Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden
The Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor
The Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

1. ‘I touch the place where I’d find your face’: Breaking my heart into tiny, tiny pieces, every single time
Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

They save the multiverse together by falling in love and acting on that love. Then they realise that they can’t live in the same universe, and they have to close all the windows between all the universes, or all consciousness will leak out of the entire multiverse. I cried for three days straight when I read how their story ended, and it’s still heartbreaking to think about.
Theme song: ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’ by Snow Patrol.
I find the map and draw a straight line
Over rivers, farms, and state lines
The distance from ‘A’ to where you’d be
It’s only finger-lengths that I see
I touch the place where I’d find your face
My finger in creases of distant dark places

Even the video clip is Lyra and Will-esque.

2. ‘What’s that waiting about?’: An (arranged) match made in Heaven (Together, they fight crime!)
Captain Anji and Mai from the Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott.

The best thing about this pair is how practical they are, and how well matched. Anji is a shrewd military leader and manages to gain a great deal of prestige simply by showing up with his band of mercenaries at the right time in a threatened kingdom. But his success is almost equally due to Mai’s talents as a merchant – most particularly, her ability to negotiate and drive a hard bargain.

I’ve written before about how much I love this series because it’s a fantasy series that makes middle-class talents and middle-class occupations heroic, which is a very rare thing. I also love it because of the central couple. Anji and Mai marry for diplomatic and economic reasons, but they share a mutual respect that eventually blossoms into a practical, adaptable, generous kind of love. It’s not an all-consuming, country-destroying passion, and sometimes, you know, it’s nice to recognise that love doesn’t have to be that way.

Theme song: ‘Yours and Mine’ by Calexico’ (the song only comes in at 3.50, but it’s the only Youtube clip I could find).
Horses are chomping at the bit
The gate is nearly busted down
Moment before the calm of the storm
And everyone’s blood goes wild
Except yours and mine

3. ‘Everyone’s got a theory about the bitter one’: Kid-lit’s very own Spike and Dru
Presh/Wai-Chan and Allan ‘Allyman’ Manne from Galax-Arena and Terra-Farma by Gillian Rubinstein.

I have a huge soft spot for these two. Galax-Arena was the first book where I realised I was utterly uninterested in the heroine and wanted to read only about the villains of the piece. And what villains they are! Presh is from the streets of China, Allyman’s from the streets of Birmingham. They are among the ‘peb’ (‘people’) of the Galax-Arena, a circus arena in outer space that functions more like the Colosseum in Ancient Rome. The performers, all talented acrobats snatched from homeless, forgotten existences in the poorest cities of the world, believe they’re performing for aliens. In actual fact, their adrenaline is powering the immortality of wealthy, impossibly old people. If a performer dies, the rush of adrenaline is even greater.

Allyman eventually ends up as a recruiter for the Arena, with Presh initially as a sort of enforcer, and later, after falling pregnant, is abandoned in Terra-Farma, a place where the female children of dispossessed people are given away to wealthy men in countries with low female populations (such as China). The pair are profoundly messed up, with morality that is grey at best, and yet they are much more compelling than the mousy heroine of the story, Joella. I love them to bits.

Theme song: ‘To the Moon and Back’ by Savage Garden
Love is like a barren place and
Reaching out for human faith
Is like a journey I just don’t have a map for

5. ‘We spoke in tongues we never wanted spoken’: Across the barricades
Noviana Una and Marcus Novius Faustus Leo from the Romanitas series by Sophia McDougall.

Do I really need to explain this one? I adore stories about star-crossed lovers, particularly when they come from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Marcus is heir to the Roman Empire (but a Roman Empire which never ended, and is roughly contemporaneous with our own times). Una is a fugitive slave. But they met one another when they both possessed nothing but their lives – and even those were threatened – and they are delightfully co-dependent as a result.

I love them because they’re both such introverted, private people, and yet both of them find extroversion thrust upon them against their will: Marcus because, well, he’s of the Imperial dynasty and lives his life in the spotlight, and Una because she can read minds and thus hear the thoughts of everyone around her. They are so similar it’s uncanny, and I really hope things work out for them in the third book.

Theme song: ‘The Sea’ by Van She (the most introverted band I know).
And you said
Time would change these things
For you will always be the same
[…] Now that I’m awake
You know that we are broken
The tiny hand is past with doors
Were shut that now are open
.

6. ‘Why don’t you close your eyes and reinvent me? We can unwind all our flaws’: This is so messed up I need my head examined
Asterion/Weyland and Cordelia/Caela/Noah/Eaving from the Troy Game series by Sara Douglass.

This couple spend the first two books of this series hating (Asterion) and fearing (Noah) one another, mutually antagonistic. Noah (or Cordelia and Caela as she is then, wishes only for the love of Brutus. Asterion wishes only for Brutus’ ‘kingship bands’, which Noah has hidden. This being a Sara Douglass series, Asterion does some unspeakably awful things to Noah involving her womb (he plants an imp in it and causes the imp to be ripped out through her back), and then this is the start of a beautiful love affair of great epicness.

Theme song: How could it be anything other than ‘Mezzanine’ by Massive Attack?
We can unwind
All these other flaws
All these other flaws
Will lead to
We’ll see to
All these other flaws
Will lead to mine
We can unwind all our flaws
.

7. ‘No one’s gonna take me alive’: Love is about compromises
Ellie and Lee from the Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden.

And oh, what compromises! These two fell in love while fighting a guerrilla war (as 16-year-olds) against invaders of Australia. Living rough in the bush, leading raids on their former home town, blowing up airfields, being condemned to death, Ellie and Lee find the time to fall spectacularly in, and then out, of love, while coping with PTSD, bullet wounds and having to grow up way too fast.

Their on-again, off-again relationship spans the entire war and its aftermath, and I’ve always appreciated that Marsden had the guts to show with these two that love is not easy, it’s not the cure for everything, and it’s not necessarily empowering or a protection against depression and other kinds of psychological illness. It just is.

Theme song: ‘Knights of Cydonia’ by Muse
No one’s gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

8. ‘Where small birds sang and leaves were falling’: Love is not just for the young
Gordianus and Bethesda from the Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor.

These two are in their fifties and have known one another since Gordianus was a starry-eyed, penniless young Roman traveller and Bethesda was a surly Egyptian slave. (I admit, the beginnings of their relationship are a bit…troubling, and I have heard of the argument that any relationship between a master and a slave is non-consensual, as the power imbalance makes consent impossible. BUT! Gordianus frees Bethesda and they then enjoy what appear to be thirty very happy years of marriage.)

I love Gordianus and Bethesda because in most of the books I read, adult couples are either absent or not discussed, and I find their relationship really heart-warming. After 40 years, Gordianus still thinks Bethesda is the most beautiful woman in the world, and remains both impressed and terrified by her subtlety of mind. For her part, Bethesda seems to love Gordianus, although the books are told from his point of view so it’s difficult to know what she’s really feeling.

Theme song: ‘The Broad Majestic Shannon’ by The Pogues
Take my hand, and dry your tears, babe
Take my hand, forget your fears, babe
There’s no pain, there’s no more sorrow
They’re all gone, gone in the years, babe
.

9. ‘The will to greatness clouds the mind, consumes the senses, veils the signs’: Awwwww
Domick and Kella from the Obernetyn series by Isobelle Carmody.

I adore Domick and Kella because they’re just so adorable. He’s a Coercer, she’s a Healer. He’s a bit arrogant, a bit of a loner, and a bit at odds with the non-violent ideals of the rest of the Misfits. She’s compassionate, sociable, chatty, and totally horrified by any thought of violence. All together now…AWWWWW!

Of course, the fact that I loved Domick and Kella so much made it inevitable that Carmody would kill Domick off. I’m still bitter about that.

Theme song: ‘The Farthest Star’ by VNV Nation
Redeeming graces cast aside
Enduring notions, new found promise,
That the end will never come.

We live in times when all seems lost,
But time will come when we’ll look back,
Upon ourselves and on our failings.

Embrace the void even closer still,
Erase your doubts as you surrender everything:

We possess the power,
If this should start to fall apart,
To mend divides,
To change the world,
To reach the farthest star.
If we should stay silent.
If fear should win our hearts,
Our light will have long diminished,
Before it reaches the farthest star.

{Bonus awesome – the final lines of this song seem very Elspethy: Wide awake in a world that sleeps
Enduring thoughts, enduring scenes.
The knowledge of what is yet to come.
]

ETA; Jordan pointed out that I forgot to include my Space Demons couple. Well, you can find them here!

10.’Why don’t you play the game?’ : Best ‘It could never be, but I wish it would’ couple
Mario Ferrone and Elaine Taylor from the Space Demons trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein.

These two would never work. Even Rubinstein herself admits it in the epilogue to Shinkei, the third book in the series. Elaine grows up to be a famous dancer, touring the world. Mario grows up to be a ‘live fast, die young’ computer game writer, who occasionally phones up Elaine to tell her his life will be incomplete unless she marries him. ‘So far,’ Rubinstein writes, ‘she remains unconvinced’.

I shipped these two before I knew what shipping was. It seemed inconceivable that they could go through so much (being sucked into computer games and forced to work out whatever issues they might have – hate in Space Demons, fear in Skymaze and dreams (and the breaking thereof) in Shinkei) and not fall in love. Oh, how naïve I was!

I like Elaine and Mario because it’s a partnership of equals, and because the books are all about the need to work together, be less isolated and insular and live as part of a community. And, let’s face it, if you’ve travelled through an alternate reality built out of one another’s fears and dreams, you don’t really have much to hide from one another.

This pairing would never work out, and it’s not written for us to interpret it as working out, but I can’t help liking it quite a bit.

Theme: How could it be anything other than ‘Digital Love’ by Daft Punk?
You wrap your arms around too
But suddenly I feel the shining sun
Before I knew it this dream was all gone

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
I wish this dream comes true

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
We’ll make this dream come true

11. ‘The gentle genocide in your eyes’: Token Every Woman Loves a Bad Boy couple
Nick and Mae from The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Because come on, if you’re not shipping them, you’re insane!

Theme songs: ‘Gentle’ by Strawpeople, just for that above quote, and
‘Love is a Stranger’ by Eurythmics
Love is a stranger in an open car
To tempt you in and drive you far away
[…]And love, love, love is a dangerous drug
To take you away and leave you far behind
.