(Originally aired 2022/08/06 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for August 2022.
It’s getting to be that time of year to start beating the drum for next year’s fiction series! Each year I usually have a moment when I think, “Do I want to do this again? Is the fiction series doing well enough to keep going? Are people interested enough that it makes sense?” But this year I’d already committed myself back at the beginning of the year when I agreed to commission a story for next year’s series. It’ll be the sixth year for the series, which feels like we’ve been doing it forever. Let all your author friends know that we’re doing this again! Check out the show notes for a link to the Call for Submissions, which will have more details than you ever wanted to know about what we’re looking for and how and when to submit it.
And speaking of audio fiction, I’m really excited about the release of the audiobook of my first novel, Daughter of Mystery this week. It should be available from all the usual audiobook sites. I’m looking forward to hearing what the narrator did with it. And if sales are good, we should get the other Alpennia books out in audio eventually. I know that I’ve been getting much more into audiobooks lately and I hear a lot of people saying something similar. So here’s hoping that this will open up a new audience for the Alpennia books.
News of the Field
If you’re a fan of queer podcasts in general, I’d like to direct your attention to a website that I recently learned about. QueerPodcasts.net is an aggregator of information about … well, what it says on the label. You can use it to search for new shows to check out, and filter by topic or representation. And if you don’t have a preferred podcast delivery system, you can use it as a place to subscribe to your chosen feeds. It’s a relatively new site and is looking into adding more features, so if you have suggestions about features you’d find useful (or shows they haven’t included yet) I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.
And speaking of shows I hadn’t heard about, QueerPodcasts.net tipped me off to the existence of another lesbian history show that I’d somehow missed previously. It’s called Vintage Lesbians and mostly focuses on biographies of historic figures. Alas, the show appears to be on hiatus currently. I had no luck trying to contact them to see if there was an update. But all the previous episodes are still available through your favorite podcatcher. Check out the show notes for links to both these resources.
Publications on the Blog
In July, the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog read through Terry Castle’s The Apparitional Lesbian. This work written in 1993—and especially the title essay—still gets cited regularly when discussing how lesbian identity gets “disappeared” or displaced into the realm of unreality in popular culture. It’s an interesting theme that appears in various forms across the centuries. Castle asserts that lesbians always exist in some other place, at some other time, or in some entirely fictional space, never right here and now. Does that conclusion stand the test of evidence? Check it out and decide for yourself.
For August, I’m lining up some articles from the collection The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World edited by Sabine R. Huebner and Christian Laes. Some of the material in this collection helped inspire Ursula Whitcher’s story “The Spirits of Cabassus” which we aired back in April. In fact, it was her reference to the book that led me to pick it up, and it joins the other books and articles on the theme of singlewomen and how their lives can provide inspiration for sapphic stories.
I haven’t done any recent book shopping for the blog, alas. I mean, not that it’s an enormous tragedy, given how many titles are on my to-do list! But it’s always fun to talk about new discoveries.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
Fortunately, there’s never a lack of new fiction to talk about every month! Let’s start with a couple of July books.
The Valkyrie's Daughter by Tiana Warner from Entangled: Teen follows the usual trend for stories with an early Norse setting in having strong fantasy elements. It’s probably a bit questionable to consider it a historic story, but the dearth of more historic Norse settings makes it hard to know where to draw the line.
For as long as Sigrid could remember, she’s wanted to become a mighty, fearless valkyrie. But without a winged mare, she’s a mere stable hand, left wondering who her parents were and why she’s so different. So when the Eye shows her a vision where she’s leading a valkyrie charge on the legendary eight-legged horse Sleipnir, she grabs the possibility of this greater destiny with both hands, refusing to let go. Too bad that the only one who can help her get there is Mariam, an enemy valkyrie who begrudgingly agrees to lead her to Helheim but who certainly can’t be trusted―even if she does make Sigrid more than a little flustered. As they cross the nine worlds, battling night elves, riding sea serpents, and hurtling into fire to learn the truth about Sigrid’s birthright, an unexpected but powerful bond forms. As her feelings for Mariam deepen into something fiery and undeniable, Fate has other plans for Sigrid. What happens when the one thing you think you were meant to do might end the nine worlds?
Lex Croucher’s Infamous from Zaffre Books looks like it follows the path of her previous novel Reputation in blending modern rom-com sensibilities with a Regency setting.
22-year-old aspiring writer Edith 'Eddie' Miller and her best friend Rose have always done everything together-climbing trees, throwing grapes at boys, sneaking bottles of wine, practicing kissing . . . But following their debutante ball Rose is suddenly talking about marriage, and Eddie is horrified. When Eddie meets charming, renowned poet Nash Nicholson, he invites her to his crumbling Gothic estate in the countryside. The entourage of eccentric artists indulging in pure hedonism is exactly what Eddie needs in order to forget Rose and finish her novel. But Eddie might discover the world of famous literary icons isn't all poems and pleasure . . .
When I was mining the forthcoming book listings at the Reads Rainbow website for August books – and, by the way, I highly recommend Reads Rainbow for hearing about queer books – I ran across a new-to-me author writing solidly-grounded medieval stories. Reads Rainbow indicates that Coirle Mooney’s My Lady's Shadow from Sapere Books has a sapphic main character, but as is often the case, there’s no clue to that in the cover copy.
1198, France. Lady Maria of Turenne has long been engaged in a flirtation with Count Hugh La Marche. It is a match which her father has strongly encouraged. However, Maria is her own woman and she is determined to choose for herself. Maria is unaware that her clever, scheming maid, Maryse, is secretly in love with the count. Soon after, the young troubadour, Gui d’Ussel, arrives at the castle and Maria is instantly captivated by him. He shares her distaste of convention and her love of the arts and they soon become inseparable. Meanwhile, Maryse develops a strong dislike for Gui and her resentment for Maria grows. Angered by her treatment of the Count of La Marche, Maria’s father has arranged a new wedding match. This time, Maria will not be allowed to decline. Forced into marrying a wealthy viscount against her will, Maria and Gui are torn apart from each other. However, Maria is determined to find a way to use the power she has gained through marriage to raise Gui in society. Will Maria and Gui find a way to be together? Can Maria escape her marriage? Or will they be fated to remain apart?
As I say, no clue what the sapphic content might be. I might have skipped including this book on the principle that if the publisher is that determined to hide any hint of queerness, who am I to argue? But researching the question turned up a duology by the same author published earlier this year where a sapphic relationship is more clearly indicated. Since I didn’t find these two when they were originally released, but it wasn’t too long ago, I’ll go ahead and include them now. The first in the two-book series is The Lady’s Keeper.
1168, France. At Eleanor of Aquitaine’s palace in Poitiers, fourteen-year-old Lady Joanna of Agen is coming of age. Her aunt and guardian, Alice, rescued Joanna from her brutal father by bringing her to court. But now Alice fears Joanna could once again be at risk from the men around her. When Queen Eleanor’s son, Henry, arrives at court, Joanna quickly catches his eye. But Alice overhears the lewd conversations of the male courtiers and worries that Joanna’s honour is at stake. And as the relationship between Queen Eleanor and King Henry II of England becomes fractious, a dark mood settles over court. Drawn into a world of intrigue, danger and adventure, Alice must fight to keep her and Joanna safe. Will Joanna find a love match? Can Alice secure her place at court? Or will they fall victim to the dangers of court life?
The sapphic reference shows up for the second book, The Cloistered Lady. Both of these are also from Sapere Books.
1173, France. Eleanor of Aquitaine has been arrested for rebelling against her husband, King Henry II of England. Her loyal ladies-in-waiting, Alice and Joanna of Agen have fled to the nunnery at Fontrevault, where they are anxiously awaiting news of their queen. Alice and Joanna struggle to adapt to their cramped new home at the Abbey. Each is secretly nursing a broken heart – and harbouring unholy desires. Joanna left behind a lover, Jean, at Eleanor’s court in Poitiers, and Alice has long been in love with the queen’s daughter, Marie. And as the days stretch on with no news, they both begin to fear the worst. What has happened to Eleanor? Will Alice and Joanna be forced to remain at the Abbey indefinitely? And will they ever be reunited with the ones they love?
We have an unusually large proportion of books with medieval settings this month. The next item is Set in Stone by Stela Brinzeanu from Legend Press.
In medieval Moldova, two women from opposing backgrounds fall in love. But this is a world where a woman’s role is defined by religion and class. To make a life together means defying their families, the law, and the Church. The closer they become, and the more they refuse the roles assigned to them, the more sacrifices they have to make. While Mira’s rebellion puts her life in the gravest danger, Elina must fight to change her legal status to ‘son’ so she can inherit her father’s land and change their destiny. Set in Stone delves into the past to uncover a story which is just as relevant today: the desire to forge your own path while constantly having to resist a patriarchal fear of women’s strength – and how ultimately love can help you choose your own truth.
If you’re a reader who prefers your sapphic romance free of complications involving male characters, you may want to be aware that Mademoiselle Revolution by Zoe Sivak from Berkley Books involves a romantic threesome that includes a man. But the setting and central character sound intriguing enough to potentially balance that.
Sylvie de Rosiers, as the daughter of a rich planter and an enslaved woman, enjoys the comforts of a lady in 1791 Saint-Domingue society. But while she was born to privilege, she was never fully accepted by island elites. After a violent rebellion begins the Haitian Revolution, Sylvie and her brother leave their family and old lives behind to flee unwittingly into another uprising--in austere and radical Paris. Sylvie quickly becomes enamored with the aims of the Revolution, as well as with the revolutionaries themselves--most notably Maximilien Robespierre and his mistress, Cornelie Duplay. As a rising leader and abolitionist, Robespierre sees an opportunity to exploit Sylvie's race and abandonment of her aristocratic roots as an example of his ideals, while the strong-willed Cornelie offers Sylvie safe harbor and guidance in free thought. Sylvie battles with her past complicity in a slave society and her future within this new world order as she finds herself increasingly torn between Robespierre's ideology and Cornelie's love. When the Reign of Terror descends, Sylvie must decide whether to become an accomplice while a new empire rises on the bones of innocents...or risk losing her head.
Jane Walsh continues her focus on Regency romances with the start of a new series: The Inconvenient Heiress (The Spinsters of Inverley #1) from Bold Strokes Books.
In the quiet seaside town of Inverley, nothing exciting ever happens to gently bred spinsters like Miss Arabella Seton. Content with her watercolor paintings and her cats, she is confident that no one suspects her forbidden and unrequited passion for her best friend, Caroline. The eldest in a family of six children, Miss Caroline Reeve has the unenviable task of shepherding her siblings into adulthood with little coin and even less patience. The only benefit to being an eternal chaperone is that no one ever expects her to marry. When the Reeve family inherits an unexpected fortune, Caroline must take her rightful place in high society. Fortune hunters abound, and it is up to Arabella to save her from their snares and convince her that love has been in front of her all along. Can the heiress and the spinster discover an unconventional love outside of the Marriage Mart?
Ashthorne by April Yates from Ghost Orchid Press feels like it has a bit of a gothic horror vibe with a romance overlay.
In the aftermath of World War One, Adelaide Frost is on the run from a family who do not understand her. Hoping to do some good, she signs up to become a nurse at Ashthorne, a manor house newly designated as a convalescence home for injured soldiers. She quickly falls in love with the owner's daughter, Evelyn, who hides a warm heart beneath a chilly exterior. But Evelyn has her suspicions about what's really happening at the hospital, and as Adelaide helps her investigate, it soon becomes apparent that there are more inhabitants residing at Ashthorne than first thought.
The Lady Adventurers Club by Karen Frost from Bella Books sounds like it’s aimed at fans of properties like Indiana Jones, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
A barnstormer. A Wild West trick shooter. A mathematician. When archaeologist Anna Baring announces the founding of the Lady Adventurers Club in May 1923, none of the other three members expect to ever meet again. After all, they live halfway around the world from each other. What could possibly bring them together once more? Then they each receive an unexpected letter. Anna has found a tomb that promises to be even grander than that of King Tutankhamun, and she wants them to come to Egypt for the opening. It’s the find of the century. The tomb will make old Tut look like a pauper. But will the women of the Lady Adventurers Club get to see it? Egypt is a political powder keg. Unscrupulous criminals keep shooting at them. And weird, unnerving things seem to happen wherever they go. As the women race across Egypt, their friendship will be tested as they fall deeper into danger. They’re not the only ones after a pharaoh’s treasure.
As long-term followers of this podcast may know, I have a special place in my heart for stories set in medieval Wales. So it may come as no surprise that I’ve already pre-ordered The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both. The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.
The Oleander Sword – the second book in Tasha Suri’s alternate-India Burning Kingdoms historic fantasy series from Orbit Books – continues the story of two women whose lives and hearts are entwined even as their fates pull them apart. I loved, loved, loved the first book in this series, which I strongly recommend reading first.
The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight. The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa's poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries. Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya's souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.
What Am I Reading?
So what I have I been reading or otherwise consuming? I do my best to keep a log as I go, which definitely helps to jog my memory both for this podcast segment and when I go back to do reviews (which I am very seriously behind on). But sometimes I’m startled when I look at the log and wonder if I’ve been forgetting to enter things…and then realize that I’ve had a month go by without finishing much of anything. The only titles in the “completed” list this month include the third book in Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor series, titled The Grief of Stones. The series is evolving into something like a fantasy police procedural. There’s solid queer representation though it's not sapphic. But if “fantasy police procedural involving a main character who listens to the dead” sounds intriguing, you might want to check out this series. The first book, The Goblin Emperor centers on an entirely different character and plot, but provides the setup and background for the later books.
The other item I finished this month was the audiobook of Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union, the first in a historic romance series set during the American Civil War and featuring Black protagonists. I’m developing the realization that Cole is rather hit or miss for me. Too often, her romances seem to depend too strongly on an immediate, non-rational, sexual chemistry between the characters. And that just doesn’t work very well for me. I love the topics and characters she tackles, but I’m not the right reader for the ones that depend so strongly on insta-lust.
And to finish up, this month, we have an interview with author Rebecca Fraimow about her story “A Farce to Suit the New Girl” which we aired in the last episode.
[Interview transcript is pending.]
Your monthly roundup of history, news, and the field of sapphic historical fiction.
In this episode we talk about:
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online
Links to Rebecca Fraimow Online