I used to have an “As a Reader” tag. Oops. Fixed.
Okay, so: I really enjoyed this podcast interview from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books with author Jane Buehler. It ranges over “cozy fantasy” as a genre and writing more vulnerable, realistic sex scenes with human foibles — something I don’t write (I’d turn into dust, I think) but which is fascinating to hear about. [And there’s a transcript! Yay transcripts!]
I’d never heard of Buehler’s work till now, and as I commented there, I bought one of her books within five minutes of the conversation starting. I’ll admit here on my own turf, it was as soon as they hit the magic words “beta hero.” I am not fond of that term for a lot of reasons, starting with faulty research. But it’s the term used in the genre, and it’s not my place to question that from the outside — it’s a term I don’t like for a concept that I do like, blah blah, moving on.
Anyway, I finished The Village Maid today. I was worried/bummed out after the first chapter because the narrator begins in a dark, bitter place, and I wasn’t sure whether it was just that character, or if the hopelessness came from the setting. In particular, I wasn’t sure if it was the kind of fantasy setting where women couldn’t hold skilled jobs or have any hope in the future apart from Landing A Man, since that was what the narrator was fixated on. (To be fair, this is book 2 in a series and I did not read book 1. I knew that going in.)
And it’s a fine goal in life to want to have a partner, no problem there, I just get very bummed out if that’s the only survival option available to all women in a particular setting. Sure, it’s historically accurate in some cultures and contexts. Doesn’t mean I want to read about it.
The story opens up from there, though — it’s kind of just the narrator’s outlook, though it’s also her situation and life history. In short, yes, women can hold skilled jobs; the narrator in particular just thinks she isn’t good for anything but Landing A Man. And the “all the other women are catty bitches” flavor near the beginning… … … …mostly wears off too, and it’s kind of one of those situations that illustrate the concept “if it seems like you’re always surrounded by assholes, maybe you’re the asshole.” (On purpose; that’s only the start of her arc.) There is some truly breathtaking bullying midway through the book that gets mitigated somewhat by the end (j/k we did not do this absolutely heinous thing we said we did lol), and that still makes me feel Not Good… but I’m also midway through a TV series with really intense bullying themes, so maybe I’m just overloaded on that theme right now.
The story also sometimes seems like it’s about to slut-shame the narrator, but it never actually does? Which is nice. And another random thought, there was a LOT more action than I was expecting, after a certain point. But that’s fine, it kept the plot rolling.
In the end, it turned out to be a lovely, charming book that I enjoyed quite a bit. It is 100% a romance, so y’know, I would not necessarily say “if you like my work, this is similar, except professional.” I frankly do not have the chops to write romance. I’d recommend it if you like, as discussed in the podcast, magic and such but not lots of beheading/entrails — PLUS romance, which I do like some flavors of.
More broadly, it makes me happy to hear about the concept of cozy fantasy as a whole, whether it’s romance-based or not. Cozy science fiction is out there too, in Becky Chambers’ work for one.
And the “cozy” name to me — not speaking ex cathedra, just as a reader — doesn’t mean that a story sugarcoats its story or its characters’ troubles, or that nothing in the story matters. Just that the conflicts are human-scale. That may not relate much to the original genre of cozy mystery, since mystery is already more frequently at human scale than fantasy is, but I think it’s a key facet of what I’d call cozy fantasy. Big things may be happening in the world — they always are — but the story’s focus stays with people who are not the primary history-makers. That’s what I like to see.
So I read a book this week that I liked. (Two, actually; I also finished Network Effect by Martha Wells, one of the Murderbot books.)
I spent my writing hour doing this instead of editing. Whoops. 😀 Worth it.