Rating: 5 out of 5
In Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Winterglass, Nuawa, trained and shaped since birth to destroy the Winter Queen, won a tribute tournament and became the newest officer in her armies. Part of the reason she’s so good at what she does–and why the Winter Queen wants her–is that Nuawa has inside of her a shard of the Winter Queen’s magic mirror. Nuawa and General Lussadh swiftly developed a complex and lovely relationship, despite the fact that the Winter Queen holds Lussadh’s heart. In Mirrorstrike (Her Pitiless Command Book 2), the magistrate of Kemiraj–Lussadh’s homeland–has revolted against the Winter Queen. It’s time for Lussadh, with Nuawa’s help, to clean house. Nuawa gets to meet another of the shard bearers, Major Guryin, who is a chatty gossip who’d love to see Lussadh and Nuawa get together on a more permanent basis. Meanwhile, the Winter Queen has Nuawa tracking down an inventor named Penjarej Manachakul, who’s in hiding in Kemiraj. Nuawa finds out additional information about how her mothers expect her to take down the Winter Queen, and she’s trying to prepare herself, knowing that it’s highly unlikely she’ll succeed.
The author tends to write gender and sexuality in such beautiful ways. it isn’t just “oh this couple is same-sex” or “oh this one person is trans.” Frankly I don’t think that she actually has a single heterosexual male-female relationship in the entire book, and not because it was a small cast. She just does it so effortlessly–you can see it’s just a natural part of what she writes, not a studied attempt to do something different. (She particularly tends to write butch lesbian warlords, and I am here for that.) It’s nice to see the status quo get flipped on its ass.
The Asian milieu is also wonderful, and for someone who has mostly read Western fantasy, it’s like a breath of fresh air. I love the feast held at Lussadh’s palace where people wear saris and eat poppadum and samosas. (I love it for more than just the clothing and food of course–you get to see the very strange fruits of treason!) The prose in general has a poetic and sensual feel to it, and often there are contacts between Nuawa and Lussadh that could be considered entirely chaste, but that are so loaded with meaning that they become very hot. Because of that, it doesn’t take much sexual material to make the relationship a very sexy one. Nuawa’s also having some difficulty with it because she’s never been in love before, and the mirror shard blunts the emotions.
One of the queen’s old retainers is trying to kill the shard-bearers, and both Lussadh and Nuawa end up in danger. There isn’t much action in these books, but when there is, it’s gorgeous and the author totally commits to it. It tends to come in sharp, sudden bursts.
I love every book and story by this author that I’ve read. I can’t wait to read more. (Hopefully with more butch lesbian warlords!)
Content note for sex.