An #OwnVoices, All LGBT+ Fantasy: City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault

by - 1:46 AM

This review was going to be part of an #OwnVoices mini reviews post that will be up later this week, but it got a liiiiiiittle too long to be considered a mini review. I don't typically like doing review posts dedicated to just one book, but this particular one deserves an exception.

Isandor, City of Spires.

A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.

Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor's most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.

Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myria’s favours for profit.

In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor must fight to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.

4/5 unconventional resting places.

Y'all. This book is exactly what we need, and not a moment too soon.

We in the LGBT+ community often get told we can't be represented in fantasy because it's not "realistic." Let's break down why this is. Classic fantasy is often based off of Medieval Europe, and there were practically no out and proud gays in Medieval Europe. (We were too busy being burned at the stake.) So those who write fantasy have adopted this mentality that it's not "realistic" to have gay people in fantasy stories, as if we didn't pop into existence until the 20th century. (Dragons and magic are much more realistic, of course.)

Arseneault takes this bigotry to task with her City of Spires trilogy, a fantasy series with an all LGBT+ main cast. And she doesn't just stick to the most-repped identities like gay and bi. She has characters who are gender fluid, agender, asexual, aromantic, and more. Plus, nobody's sexuality or gender is a defining feature of their character arc. Yes, coming out and self-discovery stories are critical. But just as important are ones like these, stories where the LGBT+ characters live lives, kick butt, and take names regardless of their identity. Our sexualities and gender identities are only part of who we are, and how large a part that is varies from person to person. It is essential that we tell stories that show our lives beyond the moment we came out. And Arseneault does that beautifully. She shows that not only can LGBT+ characters be in fantasy stories without compromising the quality, the whole cast can be LGBT+. It's not that hard, and the story is just as awesome.

(Plus, Arseneault herself is aro + ace, so that particular rep is #ownvoices.)

Speaking of the actual story, let's discuss that now. Far and away, the characters are the element of City of Strife that stand out to me the most. I got so invested in everyone's storylines, even those of characters I didn't particularly care for. But honestly, those are in the minority. I adore the vast majority of them, from Diel and Jaeger to Nevian and Varden to Hasryan and Arathiel. Even antagonists like Sora, Jilssan, and Yultes grew on me, so that by the end of the story I cared almost as much for them. (And you know your girl loves a good romantic subplot! I definitely wasn't disappointed in that arena.)

There are a couple of things that knocked this down from 5 to 4 stars. The pacing was a little slow at times, and while the writing was good and kept me turning the pages, it was nothing special. However, those flaws are nothing that should prevent you from reading the book if what I've said so far interests you.

tl;dr LGBT+ people are often under-represented in fantasy literature, which makes Arseneault's all-LGBT+ fantasy novels incredibly special. If you're interested in political intrigue, antiheroes, or high fantasy or are searching for rep of uncommon genders + sexualities, City of Strife is the book for you.

Let's chat! What are your favorite LGBT+ reads (bonus points for fantasy)? I'm trying to read as many LGBT+ books as I can this year, so give me all the recs! What are other books you think have been particularly innovative in some way? What books are examples of what you wish authors would do more of? Comment below, and have a lovely day. <3


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  1. There are so little LGBT+ books around! It's 2019 people I want to see more! Of course one of my favourites HAS to be Simon vs. The Homosapian Agenda! Gorgeous post Hun I loved reading it so much :) x

    Grace Louise ||

    1. I agree. There have been huge strides in the past few years, but there are still more of our stories to be told. If you haven't already, you should definitely check out the All for the Game trilogy by Nora Sakavic, Autoboyography by Christina Lauren, The Wicker King by K. Ancrum, and Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee. They're some of my favorite lgbt+ books from the past few years :) thank you, and happy reading!

  2. That sounds so interesting!! This book is fantasy and has awesome characters and they're LGBT+???? Could that get any better???

    Nabila | Hot Town Cool Girl


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