Book Review: PETITE MORT by Beatrice Hitchman

petite mort

In my last book review here, I mentioned that I am a huge fan of choosing books on recommendation. PETITE MORT is another one of those books! This time, the recommendation came not from an awards short-list, but from an independent bookshop – one of my favourites – Gay’s The Word.

I don’t often get the chance to pop into GTW, I live (just) outside of London but study in the Midlands far away from the lure of my favourite London shops, but thanks to social media, I still find out about so many awesome new titles from my favourite booksellers while half the country away!

I really enjoyed this one, here’s just a quick review, cross-posted from my Goodreads account.

PETITE MORT | Beatrice Hitchman| 5* of 5

Adèle Roux is a 17-year-old aspiring silent film actress who runs away from her provincial town in the south of France to Paris, with dreams of taking up at Pathé and emulating the beguiling Terpsichore. Unfortunately for Adèle, such high aspirations aren’t as easy to achieve as she’d hoped, and instead of walking into a starring role she finds herself embarking on an affair with Terpsichore’s film inventor husband to advance her fledgling film career.
Installed as a concubine and personal assistant in Terpsichore’s home, Adèle begins to care less for her dreams of a film career and more for the beautiful, brittle Terpsichore, whose own history is seemingly pitted with mystery and secrets…

It’s so difficult to review a book with a big twist – I don’t want to ruin the mystery of the story and that really fantastic big reveal at the end! So briefly,

Petite Mort is a story delicately woven and unlike anything I’ve read previously. The characters are complex and intriguing to learn about. Indeed, Hitchman seems to know exactly when and exactly how much character history to introduce – in tantalising flashes – so that the story and the mystery unfolds without being either illogical or predictable.

It was also a joy to read a great novel with queer characters in a sensitive affair. The title does hint at this; the ‘petite mort’ being an euphemistic term for ‘orgasm’; the sexual exploits of the characters are critical to the book, and are handled wonderfully and in a way that isn’t sensationalist or smutty.

I would reccommend Petite Mort to fans of Margaret Atwood and Sara Gruen, and to anyone who enjoys fiction with a queer historical angle, or anyone who loves a good ‘whodunnit’.

In a Blaze of GLORY

I read a lot of comics, but for the past year one title in particular has captured my heart and stuck its head above the superhero-white-noise-parapet and started something spectacular and beautiful. That comic is GLORY, which, to my infinite sadness, had its final issue published last week.

So, in memoriam: GLORY.

GLORY covers #23 and #34

GLORY covers #23 and #34

2012-2013

The baby of scribe Joe Keatinge and artist Ross Campbell, GLORY is the story of Gloriana Demeter. Bred as the peace-child to settle a war between her parent’s races, Gloriana is raised to be a weapon; to be able to strike and kill an entire race, should either of her parent’s people break the peace between them. But Gloriana has other plans; she wants to be on earth and help its beautiful, fledgling human race survive. On Earth she is known as Glory; a hero, not a weapon.

After returning to her home-world of Thule to wage the war she was born to fight, Glory seems to disappear from Earth. Riley Barnes, a lifelong fan of Glory’s begins to have vivid dreams of Glory’s life in her absence which lead her to a small, provincial French island where the broken and battle-torn Glory has been slowly healing, waiting to become strong enough to fight again…

GLORY23

From GLORY #23

What makes GLORY so special is its sheer vision and just how beautifully crafted the articulation of that vision is.

Artist Ross Campbell is just fantastic at bodies. Maybe that’s an odd compliment to make for an artist whose job is surely primarily to draw people, but sadly, in comics, those artists who can effortlessly render tangible, diverse and un-objectified casts (particularly their women) aren’t as common as they should be. Campbell is at the very top of that league, for me.

Take Glory – a warrior princess. Let’s take a look what pops up if I google ‘Warrior Princesses’:

glorywarriorprincess
Hm. Now, let’s see Glory herself:

From GLORY #32

From GLORY #32

The fact is that I have never read a superhero comic where the female character has been designed firstly and most importantly to communicate her strength and ability over her adherence to the standard ‘strong babe’ model that other super-powered women often fall prey to. (She-Hulk being the most notable example of this – Hulk looks like the proverbial brick shit-house, She-Hulk generally looks like a casual gym-bunny at most.)

This topic is huge for female comic readers right now. This past year has seen the rise of blogs like EscherGirls and The Hawkeye Initiative – both of which expose the double standard that divides the representation of men and women in comics. GLORY is wonderfully free of such problems. Besides Glory herself there’s Riley, another comics babe mould-breaker, being short, slight and Asian (and adorable), and Nanaja, Glory’s younger sister who aside from having the most bad-ass character design in possibly forever, also avoids the common pitfalls of the warrior-princess archetype.

In fact, a great strength of GLORY is that while none of the female characters embody a stereotypical femininity, they also don’t treat femininity as a weakness; indeed, here’s Glory in a cat jumper.

From GLORY #29

From GLORY #29

And Nanaja’s pink, swirly armour (which she wears while swearing like a sailor and causing much bloodshed. How’s that for subversion?)

From GLORY #28

From GLORY #28

Look at these wonderful female characters having layers and being developed, interesting characters! With the state of mainstream comics at the moment, who’d have thought it was possible, eh?

Even more impressive is that GLORY is a reinvention of a 90’s comic that fulfilled every irritating warrior-princess cliché. Boob armour, impractical outfits, truly impossible anatomy…

GLORY drawn by Rob Liefeld

GLORY drawn by Rob Liefeld

And then, the writing; beautiful art is nothing if the story falls flat.

Happily, GLORY was by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and poignant. As well as shattering the Bechdel test into 50 pieces, Keatinge has a way of weaving humour into completely bizarre situations that make them relatable and readable rather than alienating – something that sometimes makes me shy away from ‘fantasy’ as a genre in general.

"Xavier. This is awkward. Obviously, I'm not your wife." from GLORY #26

“Xavier. This is awkward. Obviously, I’m not your wife.” from GLORY #26

Also significant for me in GLORY was a sensitive and unexploitive representation of fluid sexuality and love not only between Glory and her significant others of different genders, but also between Glory (who is hundreds of years old, despite looking young) and her long-time lovers who, as humans, have naturally aged as such.

From GLORY #29

From GLORY #29

from GLORY #34

from GLORY #34

It’s not often that both queer and aged sexualities are addressed in such a way, and hardly ever in the comics medium with any level of subtlety.

It’s so rare to come across a comic that reminds you that comics can be a place for innovation and beautiful storytelling; a place for art. GLORY, for me, is a comic I know I will be re-reading for years to come… at least until it hopefully gets another shot at the monthlies (please, please Image Comics!). An absolute joy of its medium and I implore you to give GLORY the sending off it deserves by giving it a try.

To find your local comic shop visit http://www.comicshoplocator.com, or buy online at comixology, where the first issue (#23) is free. The collected trade paperback of #23-28 (GLORY: THE ONCE AND FUTURE DESTROYER) is out now, with the second predicted to be out around July/August 2013.

And if you enjoy GLORY you might also enjoy:

  • Rachel Rising; Death is the end. Right? For Rachel, it doesn’t seem to be. An ongoing horror comic self-published by Terry Moore, the first two trades out now V1: THE SHADOW OF DEATH and V2: FEAR NO MALUS
  • Wet Moon; also drawn by Ross Campbell, on Oni Press. The first 6 books (of 8) are available now.
  • Storm Dogs; another Image Comics title with a diverse cast, this time a sci-fi fantasy. A mini-series nearing completing and completely worth checking out.

Book Review: IN DARKNESS by Nick Lake

In DarknessI am definitely someone who reads on recommendations; some of my favourite books were loaned to me by friends, or bought on the advice of a bookseller or reviewer, or – as is becoming more common for me – found on awards shortlists.

I bought IN DARKNESS for my ereader after it was announced as part of the Carnegie Medal 2013 shortlist. Being amongst such prestigious company as the fantastic MAGGOT MOON by Sally Gardener and WONDER by R.J. Palacio, I couldn’t help but believe that any book considered good enough to challenge two of my favourite books of the last year for arguably the most important Children’s book award couldn’t be a bad investment.

The following review of mine was first posted to my Goodreads account April 5th 2013.

IN DARKNESS | Nick Lake | Rating: 5* of 5

IN DARKNESS is an absolute triumph of a book that ticks so many of my favourite literary boxes – child narrators, historical context, tight, powerful chapters – and yet feels so entirely unlike anything else I’ve read.

Set in Haiti, IN DARKNESS alternates between now and then, exploring the stories of Shorty, a 15year-old Haitian slumdog, and Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution in the late 18th century. Shorty and Toussaint’s lives are interwoven by virtue of their losses, their betrayals, and ultimately, their times in darkness.

Fantastically layered and expertly told, IN DARKNESS explores the lasting effects of colonialism and slavery in an immediate and affecting way. The Haitian setting of the novel is absolutely integral to the characters and their stories; the involvement of the hybrid-religious beliefs borne from the African origins of Vodou and Lwa brought to Haiti by slaves, and the Christianity introduced by colonisers was particularly interesting for me personally, having learned a little about Lwa previously at an exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary.
It’s refreshing to read a fantastic YA novel that deals with these issues in a sensitive way and makes the absolute most of the history of it’s location.

An essential read. I can fully understand it’s nominated for the Carnegie Medal alongside one of my other favourite books of 2013 so far, MAGGOT MOON].

If you liked this you might also want to check out THE GARBAGE KING by Elizabeth Laird and also AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor, another fantastic, non-Europe/North America based YA novel.