Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Fires of Aggar

Chris Anne Wolfe
Windstorm Creative

Originally published in 1994, Fires of Aggar is a re-release of the second "Aggar" planet sci fi/fantasy novel by Chris Anne Wolfe. Occurring some 500 years after the events of Shadows of Aggar, Wolfe took this opportunity to explore the impact of the relationship between the Amazon Diana N'Athena and her "shadow" and life partner, the blue-eyed, Aggar woman, Elana, two characters from Shadows. In the intervening years, Aggar's ruling Council and the women of "dey Sorormin " (a planet populated by lesbians, known as the sisterhood) forged an alliance that led a colony of "dey Sorormin" women to settle on Aggar in the Valley Bay.

The war that was postponed in Shadows eventually consumed the Terran Empire. In the last five centuries, the descendants of those Terrans stranded on Aggar continue to clutch at their former, and now decaying, technology. They struggle with Aggar's natural habitat and against the native population.

Fires opens with a request for Gwen'l N'Athena, Royal Marshal to the council, to go to the aide of the Dracoon, the heir apparent of the city state of Khirla located to the South. Gwen is a "Niachero" or "daughter of the stars." This is the name given to those "dey Sorormin" that carry the appearance of the women of the N'Athena House or "Amazons." The Dracoon, Llinolae is a very gifted Blue Sight, a skill she has been carefully hiding. Fires is an espionage thriller with government intrigues and spies between various factions. Gwen is assisted by Ty and Ril, a pair of sentient sandwolves, and two shadow bound Amazons, Sparrowhawk and Brit.

Wolfe creates a refreshingly non-homophobic society on Aggar that values the strengths of "dey Sorormin" and respects their integrity. This is illustrated by the farmer who Gwen assists on her trip south, as well as the acceptance by the general population of same sex romantic relationships.

Finally, Fires of Aggar is a love story. Gwen and Llinolae, faced with a political knot, must balance their respective duties with their personal desire and the possibility of a future together. Fires draws the reader into their struggles to root for their success on personal and professional levels. Thankfully, the publishers have re-released this enchanting fantasy. Regretfully, they've changed the cover from the original illustration. The new image is not an improvement. Ignore the cover; enjoy the book.

-MJ Lowe

Friday, May 3, 2002

Staying in the Game

Nann Dunne
Quest Books

Several young women, students from nearby colleges in semi-rural Pennsylvania, have been found murdered in Nann Dunne's Staying in the Game. The various police departments have yet to find the killer who favors tall, dark- haired victims and butchers them with relish.

Shelley Brinton is a new student at Spofford College and on the women's softball team. Tall, dark-haired, and beautiful, she is a skilled and powerful player who seems to harbor many secrets as well as a fierce temper. Angela Wedgewood and her teammates are curious about the enigmatic Shelley who will be competing with Angela to play first base. An equally skilled athlete, Angie, who has been nursing a broken heart for months, is actually more than curious. She is very attracted to Shelley. Is there some connection between Shelley and the murders? Some of the teammates find her secrecy suspicious. Could Shelley actually be the killer?

Dunne's mystery seems to go in two directions at the same time. The youthfulness of Angie and her teammates creates an almost comic quality of a Nancy Drew parody as the gang sets out to track down the killer! However, it was sometimes difficult to keep track of who all the ball players are. And some of the information that they discover seems unlikely. The severity of Shelley's situation is unnecessarily complicated. So much so that it makes her chances of returning to Spofford seem slim.

Dunne's descriptions of the softball games as well as the practice sessions are detailed and engrossing. The development of the romantic relationship between Angie and Shelley is
pleasantly paced. And the depiction of players willing to help one another improve their skills for the betterment of the team, is positive and makes an encouraging role model. It seems unnecessary to include the grudge carrying Hurtz who resents loosing her position because of Shelley. These elements maybe typical of women's collegiate athletics but they don't seem to fit with the high suspense and deadly threat of the grisly murders.

From the first page of Staying in the Game, the reader knows that the killer is female and lesbian. This reader understands the point of this choice as a plot device. However, it is both tremendously improbable and feeds into unfortunate, homophobic stereotypes to use such a ploy. Neither the killer's apparent mental illness nor the prominence of other "positive" lesbian characters justifies or compensates for the killer's lesbian identity.

Overall Staying in the Game is not a bad story and as Dunne's first novel, it does show promise. It will be interesting to see what future stories she pens. Hopefully she will continue to explore the craft.

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Gun Shy

Lori L. Lake
Renaissance Alliance Publishing, Inc.
1930928432, $18.95

Lake's Gun Shy is the story of two somewhat reluctant women who finally learn to believe in themselves and each other enough to commit to love. Covering just over a year in the lives of these women, the novel reads like a season's worth of episodes from a television show that lesbians might wish was on TV. The story opens with Desiree Reilly, a formidable cop over six feet tall with dark hair and startling blue eyes, capturing a pair of serial rapists and in the process saving two young women, Sara and JayLynn. It is a meeting that electrifies both JayLynn and Desiree. JayLynn Savage, a lesbian in her mid-20s, decides to become a police officer in order to get to know Desiree, the hero of her dreams, literally. Lake follows Savage through the academy and most of her rookie year on the St. Paul Police Department.

Gun Shy is also the story of Desiree who is struggling with the loss of her partner and good friend, Ryan. Early in her career Dez was a conquest for a rather superficial older female cop who apparently made a hobby of bedding young dyke officers. Hurt and embarrassed, Dez has made a rule not to date cops. Presumed by many of the other cops to be lesbian, Dez has rarely dated at all, let alone been seriously involved with a woman for almost eight years. Already known as the "Ice Queen" the tall and intimidating Dez has withdrawn even more since Ryan's death.

Reilly becomes Field Training Officer for Savage and the two women begin a long complicated dance toward friendship and love. Along the way, the bright and innovative, if diminutive Jay becomes a good police officer. She learns to develop her own attributes in her work, deals with the trauma her first shooting and the pries the elusive Dez out of her shell. Meanwhile Dez comes to grips with Ryan's death. Over the course of the year the partners learn a great deal about each other and themselves. And the reader learns about life as a patrol officer in St. Paul as well as being treated to an inside view of the world of amateur bodybuilding.

Gun Shy is an engaging, readable book. This second edition includes some editorial clean up that improves the flow of the novel and features new cover art. The characters are interesting and the action drew this reader into the story. Amusingly, Lake seems to have created two lesbians that are the antithesis of the standard u-haul joke. This reviewer was relieved when Jay and Dez finally got together! Overcoming the barriers to expressing their love is the theme of Gun Shy. The sequel, "Under the Gun" is due out this fall. It will be interesting to see how she depicts Jay and Dez as a couple. In the meantime, treat yourself to a copy of Gun Shy.

-MJ Lowe

BN: There is now a third in Lake's Gun Series, read them in order, they're more fun that way.