Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Summer Prince

I just finished reading a book that will do double duty for both LGBT Month and The Artful Readers Club. It wasn't actually on my list for the latter, but I took so long reading it that I didn't touch anything on that list last month. So the list is about to get altered.

The novel in question is The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I was expecting it to be a light read, and I guess I got bogged down when I realized that it wasn't quite so simple. There are so many layers to the book. I wasn't expecting that.

On the surface it's about a matriarchal country where a king is sacrificed in the choosing of the queen, and it's the story of one of those kings. But it's also more than that.

It's about the nature of art. Love. Family. Betrayal. Forgiveness. Death. Life. Matriarchy versus patriarchy. Politics. Friendship. Loss. Sacrifice. Technology. Reconciling the old and the new. I don't really know how to say more without saying too much.

Part of what caught my attention about the novel was that someone compared it loosely to the Epic of Gilgamesh. When I got excited about "OMG Gilgamesh!!!" I was told that it was a very loose comparison. I acknowledged what I was told, but said I'd have to write about the similarities and differences between the epic and this.

And I'm here to say, this book needs a second reading before I can say anything intelligent on the matter. I suspect it's possible to write a comparison, and two of the names (Enki and Gil) certainly indicate that the author had Gilgamesh in mind, but I'm puzzled. I'm only bothering to mention this because if the person who recommended it sees this post, she'll probably wonder "Yes...but how do you think it compares to Gilgamesh? You said you'd write about that." I still want to, but that'll have to be at another time.

Of course, since this book is part of LGBT Month, I should discuss the LGBT side of things. At least three, maybe four, of the characters are bisexual. They're very open about who they love, and the novel shows different kinds of relationships. One person is married to someone who she is in a committed and closed relationship with, and I'm basing my assumption of her bisexuality on the gender of her previous spouse who she had also been in love with. Two others are in a very open relationship and are definitely into more than one gender. The fourth, whose sexual orientation I'm just guessing at, only has one lover during the book. I've got to say, I like that it shows different possibilities in terms of relationships. That is, some prefer multiple partners, while others are happy with just one person.

One thing I have to address: Any bisexual will notice when reading this book is that the B word is never actually used. That is, no one is ever called bisexual. This is something that is sometimes done with bi characters because of uncertainty how to approach the subject, or because the writer doesn't want to put words into the character's mouth. It's something that irks a lot of us, since refusal to use the B word can be a way of pretending we don't exist. Since any bisexual will be noticing the absences of that word, I want to suggest a different reason for why it isn't used.

This book takes place in the far future (I didn't mention that, did I?) in an imaginary city whose culture is so different from anything I know that I may have stared at the book in shock. I suppose it's possible that the author just didn't want to use the word bisexual, but I prefer to think that in her imaginary world any sexual orientation is considered unremarkable. Possibly even something that they don't have labels for. It's certainly something that's never mentioned.

This is the first art for The Artful Readers Club that I'm actually properly pleased with. It seemed appropriate to rethink how I draw trees for this book.

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