Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
I’ve always said that what The Legend of Korra needs is more subtle gay stuff. I’m going to assume that everyone agrees with me, but I’m sure as hell not googling it to find out. Meanwhile, The Last Throne is a YA LGBT fantasy novel by Tristen Davis. A good fantasy novel balances tropes and originality; does The Last Throne manage to keep the scale level?
Our story begins when the main character Emma enjoys a clandestine booze up at the local fantasy tavern. She and her friend Lilliana are in disguise, so they can sneak out of the palace and have a drink while listening to some juicy town gossip. At this point I immediately changed Emma’s name to Jasmine in my head, which became confusing for reasons that will become apparent later, but what else could I do with a boring name like Emma? As someone who wrote a book about a woman named Emma, I can testify that Emma is the noise your brain makes when you’re trying to name a character and you’re out of ideas. A bar fight breaks out, in which Emma uses her martial prowess to shank a drunk guy in the back. What is it with fictional bars and mandatory brawls? I have never seen a bar fight in my life, and ever since I aged enough to no longer match the “do not serve this woman” posters around town I go to a lot of bars. I think if I ever witnessed an honest-to-God barroom brawl, I would hit someone with a chair just to participate, not realizing that in the real world hitting someone over the skull with a mahogany bar stool so hard that it splinters is definitely fatal.
“As I comb my hair, I look out over the moon festival’s tents from my window and think of a day when I may attend.”
Back at the palace, Emma and Lilliana are kicking it when ninjas attack. There is a brief scuffle in which Emma fights off one of the ninjas, but they still manage to kidnap Lilliana and take her back to Ninjaland, mostly because they can move rocks around by magic. In the aftermath we get the straight dope on our girl Emma. She is the Ornae of Nadeem. To translate, she is the orphaned Chosen One who is destined to master the five elements and become the Voya, a sort of spiritual leader of the country. That’s right, we have elemental magic in this book, with conscripted elemental magic soldiers and everything. You thought elemental magic was dead. You saw Severus Snape throw it off the top of Nakatomi Plaza into a magma pit, and yet here it is. But there’s a twist. Notice I said there are five elements? No, the fifth one is not “lightshine” or “soulbinding” or “being the protagonist.” It’s the power to rip people’s blood out of their bodies, and it’s called “heart.” Yeah, after all those years we spent ridiculing Ma-Ti for having the stupidest power on Captain Planet, it turns out that dolphin-squeezing bastard could have murdered us with our own circulatory systems any time he wanted.
“She moves from the door and proceeds closer to me. I feel her cool heartbeat as she gets closer, and my own heart races.”
There are a few other characters I should mention. There is the abusive teacher, because no one is looking out for child safety in young adult novels. A cook named Nora fills in as a parent surrogate. There are the evil nobles, the Marquess and the Marchioness. Props to Tristen Davis for unapologetically using Marquess as a masculine title without explanation, as opposed to the more digestible Marquis or Margrave. It’s no spoiler to call them evil double crossers, because they display the three cardinal sins of anyone of a noble background in fantasy: they are casually racist, they stare too long at young girls, and they like other nobles. That’s the hat trick. Evil for sure. Then there’s Jasmine. As in, actual Jasmine, like that’s her name in the book. I could have stuck with calling Emma Jasmine, though, because Actual Jasmine was quickly renamed Whiplash based on her strobing allegiances and attitudes. This lady is Pyrex. She goes hot to cold and back again without cracking. It seems almost every chapter Whiplash does something that is undone in the next chapter. I assume this is a plot device, a natural extension of the Girl trope: she provides obstacles, twists, ultimata, motivations, and whatever else Davis needs to move the plot forward. Jasmine and Whiplash, i.e. Emma and Jasmine, do some ninja training because no one else is working hard to rescue Lilliana. For once we’re not seeing a training montage because the main character is the chosen one; she just coincidentally happens to also be the literal chosen one.
The Last Throne is described as an LGBT fantasy novel, and you’ve seen the kind of ripe tomatoes I’ve had hurled at my head since I started clicking on random self-published LGBT romance, so I was braced the whole time. With my luck, I would turn a page and find myself in a foot-focused orgy, or a highly erotic farting contest. But clenching various parts of my body in anticipation was unnecessary. There’s no erotica here, and in fact little in the way of overt romance. Korra, i.e. Emma, clearly has an emotional intimacy with her friend Lilliana, and later with Pyrex. But it never rises above the level of noticing that someone’s hair smells good or something. I’ve said before that I like this sort of thing. Now I’ll say that I love it. Normalizing homoromantic characters means having more of these casual moments where a character’s feelings are on display without being framed as a romantic “event.” You never notice background noise until someone turns it off, and that’s true too of the background noise of traditional fantasy and romance.
“My insides turn molten as I recall us cuddling up by the fire after we just escaped a torrential downpour from the gardens, both soaked to our skin.”
In case it’s not obvious, The Last Throne was a pleasant surprise. The plot ransacks the dustiest corners of TVTropes to regurgitate tired YA fantasy cliches, but somehow manages to pack a few surprises into the otherwise formulaic story. The main character is likable enough as blank reader insertions go, and I did care what happened to her. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but fun and competently written. It’s five dollars on Kindle.
Quick update: with the holidays coming up and a new job, I’ll be switching to one post a week, at least for the next couple of months. I’ll make them worth your while. I even have a real, grown-up book review tour coming up!
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