Friday, May 4, 2012

The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum

I had heard this one was amazing, but cursory research showed it to be second in a trilogy, so I didn't immediately pick it up. When I did, it was at the same time as its buddies, and I read them in order. But it turns out you really don't have to; the books are linked only in that they are big events that happen to Isyllt Iskaldur, the necromancer the trilogy follows. I hesitate to call her The Main Character, though, because each individual book gives equal weight to her and her Supporting Characters. I really felt that Savedra was the primary character of The Bone Palace, and Savedra rocks.

Savedra is the prince's mistress; her mother would like her to reach higher than that, and Savedra has to keep pointing out that it is physically impossible for her to become queen; she can't bear children. Savedra was born a man.

This is not part of the magic system. This happens all the time in real life.

I really, really liked that the book made me look at transsexual people from another angle. In real life, we tend to look at people from the outside-in; we see the body first, and the mind only through what the body reveals (through motion or speech). But in the book, you get to look at Savedra from the inside-out: you're in her head, and she's always she, in the exact same way any other female is. She has a penis like I have dislocating knees: this is just one of the ways our bodies screw us over. Her problem screws her over a lot more, though, because society cares quite a lot about what's between your legs, and tries to define your role in life based on it.

So I loved the book for showing me that perspective, and I loved that the love triangle - Savedra, her prince, and the prince's wife - could have a happily ever after for all three of them together. (Although I frown upon - (highlight to read this spoiler) - the method of Ashlin's seduction of Savedra. It felt rapey - it was in the old-skool-romance style, in which every word that comes out of the woman's mouth means no while her body is saying yes, and that's super cool with the aggressor; yes it is!)

But I was also interested in what a real trans woman thought of it, and apparently it is not so hot - it sounds like Savedra's set-up was fine, but then the follow-through is incredibly insulting. Here is Cheryl Morgan's review of The Bone Palace (includes spoilers); I recommend the book, but I also recommend reading Cheryl's review afterwards. It's very eye-opening.

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