Getting Between the Sheets: Homoerotic Tendencies in Play and Production

*An essay written while studying abroad for my Shakespeare and His World class.*

People have always been curious about the unspeakables, topics of conversation that are never to be mentioned, and yet are constantly brought up in hushed tones. Probably because people were interested in the dirtier ways of life, the thrill of gossiping. One prime example of this is the topic of sexuality and particularly homosexuality, especially in the Early Modern Period. Roger Thompson’s article “Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in the Seventeenth-Century New England Colonies” expresses the idea that “sodomy was literally unspeakable. It was customarily described as ‘a sinne not once to be named’” (31), although there were clearly people discussing this subject and even partaking in the act, or else there would not be these theories today. Everyone was interested in the things they were told to turn away from either by their family, government, or church; but censoring only made the curious strive for outlets to learn and discover these tainted topics.

The Early Modern Period was witness to plays and stories highly charged with eroticism, specifically homoeroticism. Charles Forker explains that the “Restoration comedy…[was] often thought of as obsessed with sex and dominated by lubricity” (1). The authors and playwrights in this time capitalized on the sexual comedies that their audience wanted to read and see; one of the authors leading this trend was William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s characters Iago and Rosalind can be read untraditionally as having homoerotic tendencies that add interest and help explain the storyline better, therefore these tendencies should be shown in productions. Shakespeare’s plays contain many layers and are capable of being read on many different levels, such as the homoerotic. In this essay, I will focus on the plays As You Like It and Othello, and using a video production of each, discerning whether or not the production succeeds in showing this other, “unspeakable” side of the play.

Shakespeare’s time may have seen a rise in plays and stories that depicted curious interactions with two men, however according to Robert Matz and his article “Slander, Renaissance Discourses of Sodomy, and Othello,” “the early modern period recognized no distinct homosexual, or therefore heterosexual, identity” (261-62). Forker agrees with Matz and adds on the “notion of sexual orientation or preference as implying a gay subculture within the predominantly heterosexual one would probably have been unrecognizable to Marlow and his contemporaries” (1). Simply put, the time period did not have the terminology used today, and obviously, that topic was quite delicate and therefore not mentioned enough to have required its own terms. Nonetheless, Shakespeare still experimented with this genre of sexuality. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience, written by Marilyn French, argues this by saying: “Shakespeare…attempted to synthesize the gender principles in more earthly locales…[such as the] male figures assimilating, absorbing the qualities of the feminine principle through education and…suffering” (30). And Valerie Traub’s article “Gender and Sexuality in Shakespeare” even further backs up French’s argument idea: “Masculinity, for instance, is typically associated with sexual aggression in our own time, whereas during Shakespeare’s life, women were considered to be more lustful than men” (129). Shakespeare, as seen in Othello and As You Like It, manipulates the gender roles in his plays, deciding for himself who can be more lustful or feminine and who cannot.

The play As You Like It contains one of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters: Rosalind. Traditionally read, Rosalind disguises herself as a man named Ganymede and retreats to the woods to find her father, the Duke Senior, and have her family restored to their original power back in the city. There are romantic interests involved, the wrestler Orlando and Rosalind have a blossoming relationship while she is disguised and it truly flourishes in the conclusion of the play when her father becomes the rightful duke and she can remove her disguise. This is the traditional read of the play and how it is generally performed on stage or in movies.

There are, however, many other ways of reading into the character of Rosalind and her interactions with others. As Catherine Belsey explains in her article “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies”: “[Shakespeare’s comedies call into] question a set of relations between terms which purposes as inevitable an antithesis between masculine and feminine, men and women” (171). In As You Like It, Rosalind impersonates a man and completely succeeds. When she finally removes her disguise, no one is embarrassed or chastises her, which is how one would assume that, as a woman, she would have been reprimanded for her actions. Belsey also reminds that the “place of the woman in the dynastic family is clear and well known” during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it is clear that Rosalind is stepping out of her intended place by dressing herself as a boy, which allows for her to “escape the constraints and the vulnerability of the feminine” (176, 182), “perform heroic actions that were generally reserved for men” (Rackin 74-75). Women were held down during this time, and Rosalind is definitely no exception. Her father was banished from the city and she now lives under her uncle’s roof, only to be banished as well. It is reasonable that she despises being a woman, which is shown when she tells Orlando, while dressed up as Ganymede: “I thank God I am / not a woman” (Shakespeare 3.2.337-38). Perhaps Rosalind is simply boosting her masculinity by appealing to something many men would have agreed upon, but she describes it as being too “giddy” (3.2.338) which in turn has ruined the whole female sex for her. Valerie Traub’s other article about homoeroticism states: “Of all the male names available to her, [Rosalind] chooses that of the young lover of Zeus” otherwise known as Ganymede. Traub also explains that this male name “was used from medieval times well into the seventeenth century to mean an object of homosexual desire” (137). Shakespeare must have been aware of this knowledge when picking Rosalind’s new persona, therefore creating her to have homoerotic tendencies.

There are two separate characters that intertwine with Rosalind/Ganymede. First, there is Rosalind’s cousin and childhood friend, Celia, who gives up her royal life to disappear into the forest alongside Rosalind. She too changes her identity, but to that of a lowly farm girl since her stature is smaller than Rosalind’s. In the traditional read of the play, Celia/Aliena is being an understanding cousin and friend by helping Rosalind find her father and restore her rightful place in the kingdom, even though that means removing herself from royalty. To Celia, nothing is stronger than friendship, other than love. An un-traditional read brings forth the idea that Celia is actually in love with Rosalind, who does not return this romantic love. The one-sided relationship is clear from the first act when Celia claims that she can “see [Rosalind] lovest [her] not with the full weight that [she] love [Rosalind]” (1.2.7-8) and the way in which she addresses her cousin: “my sweet Rose, my dear Rose” (1.2.21). Familial love is very present in this society and Celia and Rosalind had been friends since early childhood, however, Celia’s love for Rosalind is vastly different than Rosalind’s love for Celia.

When Duke Frederick, Celia’s father, and Rosalind’s uncle, banishes Rosalind, Celia does not think twice about running away with her cousin, whereas Rosalind does not think of anyone but herself and allows her innocent cousin to leave the safety of her home to follow her. Celia demands that she be banished by her own father, and with a simple argument from Rosalind, Celia is determined to flee to the forest with her cousin, saying: “Rosalind, lack’st thou then the love / Which teacheth thee that thou and I am one?” (1.3.95-96). Rosalind not only does not persist any further that Celia should stay where she belongs, but she is also oblivious that her cousin and dearest friend has romantic feelings for her.

Another example of Celia being in love with Rosalind is when Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, demands to be married to Orlando in the woods:

Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good

thing? (To Celia) Come, sister, you shall be the priest

and marry us.–Give me your hand, Orlando.–What

do you say, sister?

Orlando: (To Celia) Pray thee, marry us.

Celia: I cannot say the words. (4.1.115-20)

Celia is aware of the game Rosalind is playing on Orlando, so why would she be so uncomfortable with helping in this childish marriage? Celia does not want to bear witness to her love being married to someone else, even if it is not a real wedding. Seeing Rosalind leave her for someone else is heartbreaking and she cannot even to joke around; and the audience only hears from Celia one more time after this wedding scene, as if she has been silenced from this scene.

This scene is also very important for the other relationship that intertwines with Rosalind/Ganymede. Orlando, son of Sir Rowland de Bois, falls in love with Rosalind in the first act, seeing her as a gorgeous and rich duchess at his wrestling match. When he flees to the woods from his murderous older brother, Oliver, he brings with his infatuation and defaces many trees with Rosalind’s name. He ends up meeting Ganymede and Aliena, where Rosalind/Ganymede convinces him to play in a love game in order to cure Orlando of his love for Rosalind, which is to make him dote on Ganymede as his love. This love cure means that Orlando must come “every day to woo [Ganymede]” (3.2.393-94), and oddly enough Orlando complies. The main question the audience has is does Orlando know that Ganymede really is Rosalind and is that why he plays along with her little game? Or does he in fact harbor some homoerotic tendencies? In the wedding scene, Orlando immediately jumps up to marry Ganymede. He does not question that he is about to “marry” another man, something known to be not allowed during this time.

The Globe Theatre put on As You Like It and filmed it to make it accessible to everyone. In this adaptation, there are definitely some homoerotic tendencies shown between Orlando and Ganymede. When Orlando first meets Ganymede in the woods, he is slightly perturbed by the young lad asking him questions, but does not immediately dismiss him and is instead curious about Ganymede. He tells Rosalind/Ganymede that his “accent is something finer than [he] could purchase in so removed a dwelling” (Shakespeare 1.2.331-32). Orlando, played by Jack Laskey, is questioning where Ganymede comes from, but Orlando’s words come out flustered and he hesitates frequently as if he is trying to understand who this person is in front of him. Perhaps this is because he recognizes his love Rosalind behind the short hair and men’s clothing, or perhaps he is discovering something within himself.

The ultimate scene that differs from the original text is the fake wedding scene. Once the two men speak their vows, they share in a kiss, which is not stated in the original text. The producer, James Whitbourn, definitely paid attention to the multiple layers that this play can be read. Once again, one could argue that Orlando does know that Ganymede is really Rosalind in disguise, and is, in fact, kissing Rosalind. However, if he really did know, then why wouldn’t he simply tell her, instead of playing along with the game? Instead, he steps willingly and excitingly into a homosexual marriage and kisses his new love before him.

This production was fantastic at portraying the homoerotic relationship between Orlando and Ganymede/Rosalind, however, it does fall short of portraying Celia’s relationship with Rosalind. In fact, Laura Rogers, the actress playing Celia/Aliena, is a stronger and more powerful character than how Naomi Frederick portrays Rosalind. Their relationship, and the two actresses who play them, is the only aspect of the production that disappointed me, other than those few scenes, the Globe did put on a great show and accurately stayed with the original text, even adding new and different stage actions.

Neely discusses in her article: “Othello, like the other problem plays, has generated passionate and radically conflicting responses–responses that are invariably tied to the critics’ emotional responses to the characters and to the gender relations in the play” (79). The play Othello features a Moor who is the general of the Venetian army. He has just married a beautiful woman, Desdemona, and has appointed Cassio to a higher up position in the army. All of these actions anger what I presume to be considered the main character of Iago. “[Iago] experiences himself doubly rejected when Othello…[marries] Desdemona and [chooses] Cassio as his most intimate professional associate” (Stockholder 95). Iago, much like Rosalind in As You Like It, can be read and interpreted on many different levels. Traditionally and simply put, he is jealous of Othello’s success and wants what he cannot have. However, I believe that there is more to this character that Shakespeare wants us to see.

Iago is upset because he wants both what Othello has possession of, and Othello himself. As Ronald Draper phrases it: “Iago’s feeling towards Othello seems to be a contradictory mixture of envy and resentment” (108). This interpretation can be seen in Act 3 Scene 3 where Othello discovers the handkerchief he gifted his new bride has been found in Cassio’s bedchamber, therefore insinuating an affair. Iago, the mastermind behind this false accusation, is present to comfort and console Othello by taking vows of homage that, as Matz describes,  recalls a marriage ceremony (264). The scene even ends with Othello telling Iago that he is now his lieutenant (3.3.481) and Iago replies: “I am your own for ever” (3.3.482). Matz also argues, however that “[the term] ‘friend’ (or ‘lover’) was a term that in the Renaissance included and frequently overlayed political and effective alliance: to be a powerful man’s ‘bedfellow’ was to have a most valuable political access–and honor” (262). Othello very clearly is gaining more and more trust in Iago, because Iago is making himself available whenever something negative happens that sets Othello off, and his trust shines through in this scene. Othello could very well be “marrying” a great friend who has brought forth some truth to his life, but perhaps while he is saying his own brotherhood-type vows, Iago is giving himself over to Othello. The scene ends with a very intimate sentence from Iago, and nothing from Othello, almost as if what Iago has said was under his breath or did not warrant a response from the angered Othello.

Iago will do anything for love–even kill. In the introduction to his casebook on Othello, John Wain argues that “Unaware of the power of love, [Iago] cannot imagine the suffering into which he will plunge Othello by plausibly slandering Desdemona” (12). Iago knows perfectly well about the power of love because he is controlling it. Even if one takes away the notion of Iago having homosexual feelings for Othello, Iago certainly still loves himself and will do anything to move himself up the social ladder to ultimately be successful like Othello. He knows that by framing Desdemona, he is setting her up for death because if she does not die at the end of the play, his secret of planting the handkerchief in her room will come out eventually and then Othello would come after him. Because of this, he has to be aware that Othello will be sorely upset about his bride supposedly cuckolding him, leading him to think irrationally. Randolph Splitter goes even farther saying: “Iago’s ‘love” for Othello, Cassio, Desdemona or anyone else is buried in a general mistrust of human relations” (193). Perhaps the only human Iago trusts is himself and his own actions, hence why he is always thinking of himself and his desires.

Using a modern adaptation of Othello titled “O”, I will describe how the movie portrays or does not portray any homoerotic tendencies from Iago. This movie, starring Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett and more, is a teenage drama that takes place in a high school setting. Odin, or Othello, is the only black student at a prestigious boarding school and is the star basketball player, winning awards like Most Valuable Player of the year from his coach, who also happens to be Hugo, or Iago’s, father. Hugo and Michael, or Cassio, are both on the basketball team with Odin and when Odin wins his MVP award, he shares it with Michael instead of Hugo, which starts Hugo’s plotting to make himself succeed more than Odin.

Overall, the movie does excel at keeping with the overall plotline of the play all while keeping it in a modern setting and interesting. Almost all events from the play happen in some way or another, despite all of the murderings. However, what is left out is the homoerotic tendencies that Iago possesses in the play. It is clear that Iago obsesses over Othello and Othello’s actions, which is evident in this adaptation. The camera is always cutting towards Hugo’s reaction to something Odin does, for example during the basketball games when Odin only seems to pass to Michael, the camera will cut to Hugo’s expression of anger. Hugo accurately portrays Iago’s jealousy towards Michael/Cassio, but falls short when it comes to the intimate male-male scenes. There are small interactions between Hugo and Michael where Hugo says phrases such as: “I love you man, but you’re a momma’s boy” or “Mike, am I your boy?” Taking out of certain context, these sentences can be portrayed slightly homoerotic, however, in the movie, Josh Hartnett (Hugo) does not indicate any romantic feelings towards Michael, but instead says these phrases towards him with a brotherly love.

Because the movie leaves out these homoerotic scenes that take place with Iago and Cassio and Iago and Othello, the movie loses what makes Iago so interesting. Since this movie is newer, having been filmed in 2001, I assumed that there would have been more tolerance and willingness to include such things. The setting, a private school with connected dormitories, would have fit extremely well with having one of the characters be gay. But instead, the director decided to stick with the traditional and in turn lost the many-layered Iago from the play. If the movie accurately portrayed these scenes, they could have earned a better following of younger fans and ultimately portrayed Iago how Shakespeare wanted.

Both Rosalind and Iago are complex characters, to say the least. They leave many things up to the interpretation of the audience and reader, but what is important is that all of the facts are presented when reading and/or watching Shakespeare’s works. When a production leaves out the necessary details, whether they be homoerotic or not, they are leaving out key points that Shakespeare originally intended to be seen. Forker agrees by saying:

“Shakespeare, as usual, provides the healthiest and most humane view of sexuality in the period by refusing to isolate sex from a more comprehensive view of the human condition, from those moral and spiritual values in the light of which he invites us to assess all aspects of human experience.” (10-11)

Shakespeare wanted to make his audience think. He could have come up with any simple storyline or character and create a normal play that entertained but does not stick with the audience. Instead, he toyed with his audience’s emotions and thoughts, making them see things they were curious about, but not brave enough to think about. He helped the people of the early modern period realize how closely their sexuality connected with their everyday lives (6-7). And to create a production that does not include any of these aspects is to offend and disregard the play and Shakespeare’s original meaning.

Works Cited

Belsey, Catherine. “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies.” Alternative Shakespeares. By John Drakakis. London: Routledge, 2002. 170-94. Print.

Draper, Ronald. “Unholy Alliance: Othello and Iago.” Othello. Ed. Linda Cookson. London: Longman Group, 1991. 106-26. Print.

Forker, Charles R. “Sexuality and Eroticism on the Renaissance Stage.” South Central Review 7.4 (1990): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

French, Marilyn. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience. New York: Summit, 1981. Print.

Matz, Robert. “Slander, Renaissance Discourses of Sodomy, and Othello.” ELH 66.2 (1999): 261-76. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Neely, Carol T. “Women and Men in Othello.” William Shakespeare’s Othello. By Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 79-104. Print.

  1. Dir. Tim B. Nelson. Perf. Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Martin Sheen. Chickie the Cop, 2001. Amazon Instant Video. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

Rackin, Phyllis. “Boys Will Be Girls.” Shakespeare and Women. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 72-94. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 655-80. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “Othello.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 873-907. Print.

Splitter, Randolph. “Language, Sexual Conflict and Symbiosis Anxiety in Othello.” Iago. By Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1992. 191-200. Print.

Stockholder, Kay. Dream Works: Lovers and Families in Shakespeare’s Plays. Toronto: U of Toronto, 1987. Print.

Thompson, Roger. “Attitudes towards Homosexuality in the Seventeenth-Century New England Colonies.” Journal of American Studies 23.1, Sex and Gender in American Culture (1989): 27-40. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Traub, Valerie. “Gender and Sexuality in Shakespeare.” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. By Margreta De Grazia and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 129-46. Print.

Traub, Valerie. “The Homoerotics of Shakespearean Comedy.” Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender. By Kate Chedgzoy. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001. 135-57. Print.

Wain, John. “Introduction.” Shakespeare, Othello: A Casebook. By John Wain. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994. 186-208. Print.

William Shakespeare: As You Like It. Screenplay by William Shakespeare. Prod. James Whitbourn. Perf. Jack Laskey and Naomi Frederick. Opus Arte, 2012. ITunes. Web. 8 Apr. 2015

Call Me By Your Name

I‘m going to preface this by stating that I did the worst thing any avid, professional reader–like myself–could do: I saw the movie first. Honestly, what’s probably worse is that I didn’t even know it was a book. I just thought it was a super romantic and transgressive movie. While I’m not wrong in thinking that, the book truly adds to the feelings I experienced when watching the film adaptation.

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Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Published by Picador; Media Tie In edition on October 3rd, 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Romance, LGBTQ, Identity, Heartbreak
Pages: 256
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I almost don’t even know where to begin writing this review; it was simply soul crushing (just like the movie was, but even more so). I needed a palate cleanser after reading a few YA books one right after another–don’t get me wrong, it’s still my favorite genre to read, but I needed something deeper. After seeing the movie, and discovering that it is, in fact, a book, I knew I was going to read it. So why not choose the present? And this book seriously took my breath away.

But I think I’ll begin by stating the obvious: this book is hot. It’s definitely hot in the way a trashy erotic novel has a clutching, slow build that sets the reader up with pure arousal before finally allowing the release when the two main characters meet together, but also in the way that Aciman creates the most romantic relationship I have ever read. Ever. And I’ve read plenty of books that contain relationships forming, breaking apart, re-creating, dying, flourishing, etc. And nothing has compared–to this day–to the beauty and rawness that Elio shows to us as the narrator.

What never crossed my mind was that someone else…in my immediate world might like what I liked, want what I wanted, be who I was (25).

The book is told by Elio years after his life with Oliver in the small Italian town, which is not how the movie portrays their meetings–it showcases it as it’s happening, not told years later. But this doesn’t lessen the romanticism of it all as fifty or so year old Elio reminisces, albeit painfully, on his seventeenth year at his home when Oliver, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, came to work with Elio’s professor father and their relationship blossoms. That’s, of course, the horribly watered down version of this tale, so I apologize for my poor summarizing skills. But what’s important is that Elio is seventeen, living in a wistful little beach town where the heat is tremendous and he doesn’t know who or what he is yet. He’s seventeen and we’ve all been there–unsure of ourselves, unsure of others, unsure of almost everything, but more importantly his sexuality. And what he finds in Oliver is what he didn’t even know he was looking for.

“Do you like being alone?” he asked.

“No. No one likes being alone. But I’ve learned how to live with it.” (76).

Like my previous reviews, I always want to include some critical analysis and literary tools to my thoughts on the book. In order to successfully show his readers the conflicting relationship between Elio and Oliver, Aciman’s writing style is extremely important–he couldn’t just throw together their dialogue and scenes, and he triumphs in showing us so much with so little. If you’ve ever read some of Hemingway’s short stories (particularly Hills Like White Elephants), then you might be familiar with his diction and dialogue choices. Specifically, the lack of flashy word choices and obvious sentences–Hemingway does away with those and makes his readers think about what he’s really trying to say. This is, whether consciously or not, what Aciman implores with his writing. Obviously, we know that this story is about a steamy romance, full of sex and heartbreak, between two men, but this is never explicitly stated (of course, regardless of the sexual scenes). The 21st-century terminology for LGBTQ love is endless, but Aciman doesn’t implore any of these. There is a special subtly to Aciman’s writing that allows for anybody to fill Elio and Oliver’s relationship. Since this story is about Elio finding his own path, coming to accept himself and what he desires in life, and needing to acknowledge and move on from the changes he cannot control, but this story could really be applied to anyone’s romantic life, which is definitely why the story is so deeply moving to anyone who reads or watches.

Another stylistic choice Aciman implores is that, in the movie, we don’t see Elio’s slight stream of consciousness that showcases his seventeen-year-old rambling brain, full of emotions and thoughts and desires and hatred towards himself, his family, Oliver. Being seventeen and unsure of your own identity isn’t a clean process; by having Elio go back and forth in the same sentence (that could be eight or more lines long) Aciman forces the reader into the messy brain of a young, confused man.

This book is a must for anyone who a) saw the movie (and if you did, then seriously, you need to read this because you are missing out on so much more background and future between the two) or b) anyone who wants to feel the heartbreaking whirlwind of a romance between Oliver and Elio because Aciman doesn’t just tell you about their flourishing love, but makes you feel it in your own soul, you feel the crushingness of Oliver leaving to return to the states that summer and then you feel their aging as the years pass for Elio without seeing Oliver, but never forgetting. We all have our own Oliver–that person who will haunt and materialize throughout our lives, both in good and bad shapes. He or she is the person we can never forget, nor want to because they made us who we are. We couldn’t be in our current or future relationships without having their love at the beginning of our life; without learning who we are through them. And Aciman gives us this story to reminisce through so thank you, Mr. Aciman.

I’m going to leave you with the most beautiful part of the whole book:

“You are the only person I’d like to say goodbye to when I die, because only then will this thing I call my life make any sense. And if I should hear that you died, my life as I know it, the me who is speaking with you now, will cease to exist. Sometimes I have this awful picture of waking up in our house in B. and, looking out othe sea, hearing the news from the waves themselves, He died last night. We missed out on so much. It was a coma. Tomorrow I go back to my coma, and you to yours.” (240-41).

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A Darker Shade of Magic

When I picked up V.E. Schwab’s, A Darker Shade of Magic, I had also picked up the beginning of her other series, This Savage Song and when I began reading ADSOM, I knew I would love it so much that I actually put it down in favor of trying to read This Savage Song first. Not that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, because as you can see from my previous review, I actually loved it quite much, but something about ADSOM that just captivated me. Perhaps because it is so well talked about, and I owned both the regular and collector’s edition before even opening either cover, but I knew I would fall in love, and fall in love I did.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Magic, Family, Friendship, Sacrifice, Power, Royalty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I pretty sure I fell in love with ADSOM more so than This Savage Song because it fits in to what I believe is an uptick in “adult” fantastical epics, and I’m obsessed. I use the word “adult,” in quotes of course, because technically–legally–I am an adult a few years over. I am not a “young adult” any more and teens these days, thirteen, fourteen year olds, are more “young adult” than I ever was at their age. To me, there is a rise in actual adult fantasy books–those that yes, include romance, but isn’t cheesy (and I hate to use that word because not only am I a big fan of really any dairy by-product, I also adore cheesy books); the romance generally includes more adult overtones, i.e. sex and adult relationship problems. The characters are not in high school, or if they are of that age technically, they are far more advanced due to circumstances. Smaller so, but still important, there are more swear words and the diction itself is mature, as if each writer sat with a thesaurus attached to their keyboard. Some examples that, not only do I love also, but would include in this strange hybrid category are Sarah J. Maas’ series’ (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses series simply because I enjoyed it better than A Throne of Glass) as well as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and A Crooked Kingdom. These novels, and including Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, are modern-day fantasy epics–encroaching on the classics of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings where the worlds are vast, the characters are multifaceted and there are tougher subjects being covered.

Though I was trying to meet my deadline of finishing ADSOM before the 14th (which I did!), I only put it down because I had to (family dinners, going through security, sleeping, etc.). Schwab truly has something special in her writing and I got a taste of it with This Savage Song and then a whole mouthful with this.

What I’m trying to do in my reviews, something I haven’t done in the past but I believe is extremely important now, is to connect the novel / book to any modern-day events or problems or happenings that I see manifest themselves through the author’s writing. As we continue the use of the hashtag #TimesUp, it only seems fitting that I begin my discussion of Schwab’s book with the woman in black, Lila.

Lila, Lila, Lila–what can I say about you? Honestly, dear reader, I hated her when I was first introduced. She just seemed so…stubborn and stupid and was probably going to get Kell killed (spoiler, it almost happens more than once no thanks to her) and she just all around annoyed me. It felt like Schwab was trying to make her too aggressive, to fit into that typecast of “I don’t need no man” womanhood, but little did I forget that I am reading a modern adult fantasy, where the characters grow and evolve much more subtly than that of regular YA novels and, at the end, Lila grew and evolved on me.

Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well… Why anyone would ever pretend to be weak as beyond her (66).

As someone writing my own strong, lead female character, I grapple with my creation. How strong do I want to make her? Even though I’m a millennial feminist in my own ways, I also do love a good trashy romance beach read where the female lead gets swept off her feet and falls in love–and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why can’t us women, in the 21st century, have both? Once again, I’m drawn to Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series lead, Feyre. She gets both–a life-altering romance that sweeps her not only off her feet, but changes her whole mindset, as well as has the strength to sacrifice herself for her kingdom. And though we don’t see any blatant romantic scenes between Kell and Lila, I believe that perhaps, if she graces the second or third books with her presence, perhaps there can be something between them and I would love it.

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Another connection I make between our modern world and the four Londons is the use of language. If you own the exclusive collector’s edition, then you know that there is an appendix consisting of a dictionary of words used by the Antari and Arnesian, but even without the appendix, the reader knows that language is important to the story. Kell needs his Antari tongue in order to travel between Londons, where he brings correspondences to and fro between the kings and royals–the only way the royals have access to each other is through Kell and Holland and these scarce formality letters. Furthermore, there are two different versions of speech: English and Arnesian. In Gray London, where Lila is from, everyone speaks English, but in Red London, where Kell is from, only the royals and wealthy speak English and even then, the accents are heavy.

The queen spoke in English. Kell knew that she hadn’t studied the language, that she–like Athos–relied on spellwork instead. So where under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin. Unlike the desperate tattoos made by the power hungry, the language rune was a soldier’s response to a politician’s problem. Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it (94).

What I want to focus on here is how Schwab notes that Red London treats the English language as a mark of high society–how true is this? Red London is the most decadent, but also the most pleasant London of the four. There are, naturally, unhappy people, as in any kingdom, but for the most part, the people are happy and they love their king and queen, and yet they have two different languages spoken: the common tongue, and English. There is a stigma, I believe, hovering around people like myself, who continue our eduction in a dying field: English. I have my Bachelor’s in English Literature, am currently getting my Master’s in it as well, and will hopefully add a PhD soon. I have a high vocabulary and read voraciously (if I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t make much sense would it?). I do remember during my undergrad, when I was still a dual major student in both literature and the art of teaching (as in I was going to be trained to become a high school or lower English teacher) and terms like code-switching and Ebonics came into my vernacular. I have studied the English language very, very little, but I do feel like I know some about it! I love reading about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary and just how language changes. Starting not even with the beginning, we have Old English that barely looks or sounds like English, then we move onto the Early Modern era (aka Shakespeare’s time) where “thee” and “thou” was prevalent, and we can fast forward even more so to somewhat modern, where words like “groovy” and “dude” come and go and the word “like” and “literally” and “can’t even” make an appearance. So while our language is constantly evolving, there are people who still believe English is the “true” and “right” tongue. Yes, perhaps English is technically the universal language, but that’s only according to some stuffy men at the UN. Even within the United States, where English is the native language, there are dialects: words that are said and used regularly on the east coast rarely pop off the tongues of those on the west, and don’t even get me started on the grammatical errors in the south. Will there be a time when my own country finds little use for English? Probably not, but will it continue changing? Of course.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Maas or Bardugo, to anyone who enjoys fantastical epics loaded with adventure, and to anyone who was impressed with This Savage Song and wants to see Schwab take it to the next level. To wrap up, I want to leave you all with a quote from Lila that some of us, including myself, need to think more about in today’s world:

“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love… Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing” (235).

Caraval

I actually don’t even know how to write a review for this book! There is just so much happening on every page and, at first, I really disliked it; there was too much going on, so many different characters and events to pay attention to, that I felt lost in translation. Perhaps I was overwhelmed because it’s been a while since I read a book that completely transfers the reader to a different time and place. There are many twists that lead the reader down different winding paths, allowing them to think they understand whats going on, but then completely changing what was originally going on. So while writing this, if I disclose any spoilers, I will make sure to alert before hand.

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Magic, Romance, Family, Mystery
Pages: 416
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: Both 3 out of 5 (in the beginning) ★★★☆☆                                                             and 5 out of 5 (at the end) ★★★★★


In one of my previous posts, regarding the firsts of 2017, I mentioned the first WTF book I read of the year being The Graces by Laure Eve, and the runner up is this book here: Caraval. Welcome to the strange, yet mystical world of Caraval, where a fantastical circus meets a late 1800’s theme park, mixed with the game Clue. There are magical shops that sell one of a kind items only found at Caraval, dresses that are bought not with money, but with truths like biggest fear, most kept secret, etc from the buyer. Now while the people need to be invited to the mysterious island and city of Caraval, there are two ways they can participate: either the person can be a watcher and spend the five days exploring, shopping, and ultimately watching the game that’s taking place before them. Which is the other way the people can participate: by being a part of the game. The game is different every time Caraval opens and revolves around clues that the players need to discover. Which is where the main characters, sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna, enter the game.

I’m not sure if this is planned, but Tella is my least favorite character. I mean, how dare she do this to her sister! I can’t give away what happens in the end–spoilers: there are tons of twists and turns!–though while Tella is annoying and selfish (to me) she is also brave and curious, leading Scarlett to amazement. I think what kept me the most entranced was the relationship between Scarlett and Julian. It’s the classic hatred turned love, and yet so much more. What about Scarlett’s relationship with the infamous Legend, even though she has yet to meet him, there is certainly a connection there. Scarlett’s love for both men is just beautiful:

She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out…

She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black (page 211 and 273).

The reader is taken on a wild goose chase throughout the canals and winding streets of Caraval as Scarlett and Julian are forced to search for the (spoiler!) now missing Tella. Much like Scarlett, the reader has absolutely no idea what’s going on and yet pushes through, desperate to understand what is happening in this strange game. Scarlett is certainly the most admirable character in the book–her only goal being to find her sister and right every wrong. She’s charming and innocent, but strong too; she’s strong enough to endure the craziness that Legend puts her through, the emotional ride that comes with Julian, and her own self-growth.

Garber’s world of Caraval is as captivating as the message of sisterly love portrayed by Scarlett and Tella. I want more from Garber and, though I’m not sure if there is a sequel coming out, the ending does leave much to the imagination and sets up for a sequel. I am desperate for more of Julian and Scarlett, and I still have no idea about Legend! So please, Stephanie Garber, give me some more! I want to feel the magic of Caraval envelop me again, it comes off the page and sucks the reader in. I can feel myself there at times, seeing the shops and bourgeois dresses, the scent of popcorn and candy mixed with apple cider and river, the laughter of the watchers as they observe the players scattering around. We feel all the emotions that Scarlett does, we are surprised with her too, just when we think we’ve figured it out, Legend has something else up his sleeve for us. The reader can feel it all as if she were a part of it, as if we were invited and are playing the role of the watchers.

Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed (page 318).

If you were given an invitation to Caraval, would you be a player, or a watcher?

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Jackaby

This is an old book! I’m not sure why no one has told me to read it, seeing as it has two sequels and it’s really good, but alas, I had to find it on my own and I’m glad I did.

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Jackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 25th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Romance, Friendship, Mystery
Pages: 304
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


The quote on the front of the book, by the Chicago Tribune, somewhat accurately sums up this book: “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”–I’m not sure I see the Buffy part, other than banishing demons, but certainly the Sherlock Holmes part. Particularly because Jackaby himself is quite quirky and odd, much like Sherlock or the eleventh Doctor.

The story follows immigrant Abigail Rook, who, coming from England, is searching for a job that can pay her enough so she can live, and seeing as it’s 1893, finding a place to sleep at night in the warmth is important. She stumbles upon an advertisement for Jackaby, an assistant in his investigative service, and the rest is the book. What really drives readers in is the mystery entwined with fantasy to the point that it seems real: there is some sort of demon on the loose, killing victims for their blood (oh here’s the vampire reference). Abigail, never having heard of any of this before, is of course bewildered but stays strong, thinking the murders are a mere sick joke.

What makes this book different however, which is important because the similarities to Sherlock Holmes are quite striking, is the charming demeanor of everyone but Jackaby. Of course he’s going to be odd, carrying around tons of random objects in his pockets, drinking potions that allow him to see through walls and what not–all of this is almost expected seeing as it is a piece of fantasy writing. However, having Abigail be a strong and smart woman–she wanted to be a paleontologist!–instead of necessarily a damsel in distress (she does have her few moments though, since we all do!) makes for an interesting pair. Ritter also could have made Abigail and Jackaby love interests to each other, and refreshingly so, he didn’t. Instead, there are certainly underlying backstory regarding Jackaby’s past, as well as Abigail’s, that keeps the reader turning the pages.

Furthermore, the non-lead characters, such as the ghost roommate, Jenny and the strange ghost-seer Hatun, are potentially more intriguing and just as influential as Jackaby. Women are important in Jackaby’s life, in fact all the female characters, save for a few classic strumpets who hate Abigail for not being more proper, are linked to the fantastical realm and are sought after by Jackaby. Hatun, for example, is described as:

see[ing] a different world than [Abigail] or [Jackaby], a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are (104).

Hatun may be called the crazy lady that takes care of an invisible troll to the towns folk, but to Jackaby, she is truly necessary in solving this case. Jenny, the ghost roommate, makes Abigail feel more at home, being the one to talk her down when the magical realm becomes too much her to handle, and allows her to steal the clothes Jenny can no longer wear (since she’s a ghost). Miss. O’Connor and Mrs. Morrigan are, as well, crucial to the murder investigation. And, of course, Abigail, being another set of eyes for Jackaby at all times. Ritter may unconsciously or consciously alerting the readers that no man can ever truly do anything on their own, and when they do, in the case of the bad guy (no spoilers here!), they will undoubtedly get caught by a woman.

At first, I was really hoping this story would be an historical, fantastical twist on the classic Jack the Ripper open case. Jack the Ripper being some sort of fantastical, demon-like creature, that instead of stealing organs to do god knows what with, is either eating them or using them for something else, much like the strange creature Abigail and Jackaby face here. Then, Jackaby, being able to see things that no one else can, would understand that he is simply a misunderstood demon and needs to be sent forth from our world–that’s how I would have wrote this story and maybe in one of the sequels, the story continues (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t looked at them yet).

Please give this book a chance, given its age, if you’re interested in something fun and quirky to read. Jackaby is laughable and the character relationships are deep. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick up the next two books, more because I have so many books to read already and less because I don’t want to. Jackaby doesn’t necessarily end on a cliff hanger, but it certainly does end with the reader interested in learning more about the dynamic duo.

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Italy, Gelato, and Romance, oh my!

Let me just start by saying this book made me want to travel. End of story.

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The Regulars by Jenna Evans Welch
Published by Simon Pulse on May 3nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Friendship, Romance, Travel, Family
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review 4 out of 5

★★★★☆

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Carolina, or Lina, isn’t having an easy life so far. Growing up fatherless, her mother and her share an irreparable bond. But when her mother suddenly gets diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with no hope for a long future, Lina’s life turns upside down.

So many questions swim through Lina’s head: What is she going to do now that her mother is gone? Who is her father? Why does her mom want her to go live in Italy? As her last request, Lina’s mom ships her off to Italy, to stay at a cemetery that is run by Lina’s mom’s friend Howard. Lina’s mom had never mentioned Howard before, but suddenly Lina’s grandmother says Howard is Lina’s father. This can’t be true, can it?

Following in her late mother’s footsteps, Lina begrudgingly takes on Florence, Italy. She wants to be swept off her feet by the magical city, but she can’t bring herself to want to stay. Howard is nice, yes, so are some friends that she meets, but she feels that her place is back home in the states. However, a lost journal of her mother’s winds up in her lap and she is forced to look at the city, Howard, and everything around her differently.

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This story is just so adorable, I love it. I plucked this book off of the shelf because of its cute, minimalist cover and two things one can’t not love: love and gelato. Although I wasn’t fortunate to visit Italy during my six months abroad, I knew that stepping foot into this little book would make me dream of going back.

After such a heavy and determined read of The Regulars, Welch brings me back to earth with her lighthearted voice and story. Perhaps lighthearted really isn’t the right word actually, Welch does have the power to make one crave gelato as they sob their eyes out. I actually had to stop myself from reading all the way to the end because I was crying so hard.

Though it took me a little while to fully feel absorbed by the story, once I was in, I was in. Lina became a young woman I could see myself in (although I won’t ever understand her hesitation to live in Italy. I mean, come on! It’s Italy!). Her mother passes, sending her into a totally understandable funk. Not only this but suddenly she is shipped off to a non-English speaking country to live with a man she’s never met and claims to be her long, lost father. Who wouldn’t be frightened of that life? She goes through the trials and tribulations of trusting the right and wrong people, finding out that there were many things she will never know about her mother and her time in Italy, and just who her father really is.

Of course there is a love triangle involved, every good story needs to have one:

He sat down next to me and I unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. OF course I loved it. But it was nothing compared to how I felt about Ren.

And yes. I’d totally just compared the only guy I’d ever felt this way about to a ham sandwich (page 294).

If I had a nickel for every time I compared my boyfriend to food, I would be a healthier woman. But this isn’t just some silly way to compare her crush–Welch subtly takes her reader on a walking journey of Italy. We see the towns of Florence and Rome through Lina’s eyes and we are new to the strange, yet utterly magical world of Italy just like she is. We learn Italian words, mini history lessons regarding famous points of interests in the Florence streets, and of course how amazing real Italian food truly is. So instead of rehashing the age-old tale of “girl goes to live with an estranged father, meets a boy, falls in love, the end”, Welch spices things up by giving us a reason to want to follow Lina to Italy, eat gelato and fall in love as well.

Not only this but she gives us a reason to believe in love again. The love that Howard has for Lina’s mother is indescribable. Welch truly paints a beautifully broken relationship that hurts my heart just thinking about it.

He settled in, like he was about to tell a story he’d told a million times. “When I was twenty-five I met a woman who changed everything for me. She was bright and vibrant, and whenever I was with her I felt like I could do anything” (page 336).

I want someone to talk about me the way Howard talks about Lina’s mother–it makes me have faith in love and humanity again. It makes me want my parents, who are happily divorced and friends still, to tell me about their short-lived moment of true love. Welch breaks my heart by forcing me to know that even though things can work out for Lina because she’s still so young, sometimes love hurts like hell and it doesn’t work out, even in magical Italy.

“One day with Hadley was easily worth a lifetime in Italy” (page 344).

Love is difficult. It isn’t something that can easily be grasped by a gorgeous prince on a white horse. Sometimes we make mistakes in love and Lina learns this lesson the hard way. Her heart is broken by her mother’s death, by finding out deplorable things about her father, and by hurting someone she didn’t even realize she loved. But Howard says it perfectly: “A life without love is like a year without summer” (page 376). Regardless of how much it hurts, we all still pursue love constantly. From our parents to friends and finally to that special someone who may have been unseen at first, but now glows brightly every time we look at them.

Thank you Jenna Evans Welch for providing me with a story that melts my heart, just like gelato on a warm day.

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