Realm of Monsters by Eve Roxx

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, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

What do you look for in your erotica? Nonsense? Faff? Extraneous things like relatable character motivation? You’ll be getting none of that claptrap from Eve Roxx, and you should thank her for it. Realm of Monsters is an isekai erotic fantasy that asks the question: how many dudes can you stack on top of yourself before it compromises your structural integrity?

Madison is playing the bouzouki in her apartment when our story begins. This establishes right away what an insatiable strumpet she is. That’s story telling right there. Actually, I get the impression this woman does enough pearl diving that the downstairs neighbors are complaining about water damage. Of course, we don’t know right away that she’s in her apartment; instead we are treated to her fantasy of boinking her cop partner on a stake-out, with a brief aside about how hot it would be to bring any of the other hard-bodied young men on the force into the mix. Make note of that, it’ll be a theme. Storytelling! Honestly, I’m pleasantly surprised that our protagonist has a discernable personality at all.

While Madison is ringing the Devil’s doorbell, someone rings her actual doorbell. Just kidding, they don’t. They kick it down because they’re the SWAT team. At first, Madison has trouble processing this, and her first instinct is to incorporate it into the fantasy, like a fire engine that blasts past your window while you’re having a dream about pirates or something. But alas, it’s a very real SWAT team, and since Madison is white and a cop, they do her the favor of arresting her alive, on the charge of murdering her boss.

This notion of half the police force in riot gear going absolutely nuts on a woman in her living room is thematically appropriate, since Ev- I mean Madison’s big Thing is group sex. That’s a fine kink to have if that’s your thing, but it’s definitely not for me. I have enough anxiety about disappointing one person at a time. I mean, how do you even keep track of whose hand is where, especially when everybody is covered in the same sweat and lube… Uh, sorry I got distracted thinking about sports.

Anyway, I love this scene. When I first started reading, I was ready for some generic crypto-prologue about a mashed potato sculpture qua protagonist and her shitty job at the not-getting-pounded factory. Instead I got a shameless fantasy that combines blatant violations of HR’s Me Too era dating policies with not even doing your damn job in the first place, a heroine who is so horny her brain fog is only gently wafted out of the way by armed intruders, and a fantastic hook to draw me into the next chapter. Bravo, Eve Roxx.

So there’s a sham trial in which Madison is convicted of killing her extremely murdered commissioner. They planted the weapon on her, put a manifesto on her computer, CGI’d a deepfake of her saying she wanted to kill her boss, jammed a “you’re fired, Madison!” note into the dead woman’s hands, sprayed Madison’s DNA on every surface of the room with a Windex bottle, collected an army of supposed eye witnesses including the Pope and a bald eagle, created a profile for her on, and invented the entire future predicting apparatus from Minority Report. You know, all the lengths you have to go to to convict a cop of wrong-doing. Apparently, Madison made their job easier by facing disciplinary action in the past for… you guessed it! Beating up a child molester. This is such a default way to show what a loose-cannon-Johnson cop protagonists are. Where are the cops who are on thin ice because they refuse to upgrade to the latest broken version of Google Calendar? Are there no more heroes left?

You probably guessed someone has framed Madison to use her for some nefarious purpose. Instead of going to cop prison (another fantasy trope), she is carted away to a secret science location, where Elon Musk and some scientist with a severe ponytail and glasses (No, she doesn’t get a makeover later; I was surprised as well) shove her into a secret science room and pull a lever. This zaps her into some mysterious realm… a monstrous realm, one might say. Waking up in an unknown place after being subjected to terrifying experimental procedures, Madison hears the rhythmic, rutting sounds of a man in the throws of passion, through a wall that appears to have no door. Now, try and guess what is going through our protagonist’s mind at this point. If you guessed “She is angry and sad that she cannot get through the wall to the sex that is probably happening on the other side,” you win. Actually, we all win. This woman is amazing. The middle of the book consists of Madison settling in to this strange place, and the three juicy cock monsters who inhabit it.

The titular (heh) Realm of Monsters is a place where there’s foosball and air hockey, a world where jacuzzi water makes great lube and nobody ever feels jealous or itchy. Madison finds herself in plenty of Xsomes, but never the “Devil’s Threesome” with another girl. In fact, in a curious distaff case of the Not Gays, Madison takes every opportunity to remind the reader how unappealing she finds every woman she knows, up to and including the evil scientist lady who zaps her to the Bone Zone. I guess if you’re going to write a straight power fantasy orgy simulator, you could do worse than being the meat in a double-decker sex hoagie, half a dozen chunky kielbasas rolling around your plate… I mean, if you’re into that. I don’t see the appeal. Shut up, you’re confused.

This book is adorable. I didn’t even talk about the ending, with what is possibly the most petty, trivial, satisfying revenge subplot that has ever gone down in a fast food restaurant. That’s what I like to see, bringing it home after a couple hundred pages of dick Jenga: wacky hijinks. Oh, and don’t think I didn’t notice Eve Roxx out here making up categories so she can be Amazon’s best seller in “Occult Occultism.” Fully earned, fair and square. Realm of Monsters is a delight, and it’s four dollars on Kindle.

Does eating an entire pizza by myself count as getting laid?

The Odd and the Dead by Jody Smith

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, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Remember when books were gross and fun as hell? Like, those beat-era paperbacks that Charles Keating got mad about, and presumably also hard as a bar of steel? Remember rewinding Day of the Dead so you could watch Joe Pilato get turned into string cheese a second time? Jody Smith remembers. The Odd and the Dead is a being-covered-in-tiny-wet-bugs simulator, and horror anthology.

I’ll take a deep dive into one story, The Boyfriend, but they’re pretty much all in the same vein. Our protagonist, Justice, lives in a vaguely defined postapocalyptic Buffalo. The original draft of this review had a series of jokes about how one might distinguish postapocalyptic Buffalo from regular Buffalo, but in light of recent events I think I’ll just link to this food bank that serves the Kingsley neighborhood and others. Now that we’re all miserable, that’s actually the perfect mood for reading this story. Jody Smith paints a disgusting picture on a dirty canvas with bear bile. And the picture is a butthole. Justice works a five-to-nine at Globodyne or whatever Fafkanopticon passes for an employer in this future dystopia, where she is constantly pressured to find a mate so she can advance in a society trying to shore up its population. Around her, gaunt survivors shamble down the ruined streets of Buffalo, riddled with disease and with no hope for a better life. God, how am I supposed to not make fun of modern day Buffalo? It’s right there! I guess I could tell you about Homespace instead, a charity that helps young women in Buffalo forge a better life for themselves and their children. One day, Justice learns that she is up for a promotion, but it’s not right for a manager to be single. She makes up a hasty lie about a Canadian boyfriend, and proceeds to stress and fail her way through the sitcom plot of trying to find a male who doesn’t suck to rope into her scheme.

The defining feature of this story is that Jody Smith hates your lunch. Jody Smith doesn’t think you and your lunch should be friends anymore, and intends to do something about it. The Buffalo of the future is full of danger and disease, and people die in ways that are at once quick and ridiculously graphic. Smith types out loving descriptions of human bodies bursting like time lapse footage of fruit on a hot day, and you can hear the squelch of the author’s clammy tentacles on the keyboard. Jody Smith loves this shit. Oh, speaking of, every sort of bodily discharge is involved as well. Normally I would include that to say “do not read this book,” because even I, give-me-every-dubcon-shibari-tickling-you-have Madeline, have standards. A list of my least favorite things would begin with private dog parks, the State of Indiana, and bodily functions in books. But the visceral body horror is purposeful, and believe it or not builds up to the final twist. Somehow all the ooze and slime really makes you feel like you inhabit the body of the protagonist, makes you feel like you’re in a miserable, inescapable hellscape, also known as every day in Buff- God damnit! OK, look, PUSH Buffalo is an organization working to end the lack of affordable housing, one of the main engines of inequality in the Buffalo area.

If you’re anything like me, you live your life like it’s a mission to ruin the recommendations algorithm for all the friends and loved ones you’re stealing streaming passwords from. Your girl will never say no to a sci-fi horror offering, be it a tongue-in-cheek slasher in space like Alien, or that one where Elizabeth Moss runs from a gaslighting CGI shimmer for two hours. It’s such a natural combination for a pessimist like me: speculation about the future and scaring the hell out of myself. But sometimes I’m not fully on board with what authors think will make their stories scary.

There’s a theme running throughout science fiction that it would blow a person’s mind to realize how insignificant they are compared to the crushing enormity of the universe. In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (admittedly not a horror story) this is made overt: grasping the scale of the universe and oneself in relation to it drives people insane. I’ve always wondered what kind of sociopath would have this reaction. Who thinks that they are important? Who is surprised to learn how paltry they are in the grand scheme of things? Every time I read scenes like this it makes me want to give the tears in the rain speech about all the bullshit going on in the part of my brain where I’m apparently supposed to store my feelings of enduring specialness.

Similarly baffling is the Lovecraft truism that “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Like, literally what? My internal demons and I laugh over salad about how stupid this idea is. What’s scary is all the stuff that’s chasing me of my own creation, the stuff I know every contour of. What’s scary is that any of those voices in my mind might be right about me. Bleeding Christ, give me the unknown! Give me whatever bashful, Disney-eyed beast slouches toward the Bethlehem of your untroubled mind, Howard Phillips. Swapsies, no backsies. Jody Smith gets it. The Boyfriend draws all of its creep factor from what the protagonist knows that no one else does.

I usually avoid short story and poetry collections, because I’m worried I won’t have enough to say, and I can’t let my readership the size of a middle-class Protestant family down. But maybe I should rethink that, because it’s been a while since I enjoyed something this much (and the last anthology I read wasn’t bad, either). Is it revolting? Is it scary? Does it make you clench every time you turn a page? Do I need to examine why I giggle at descriptions of people’s skin being sloughed off their bodies while a bus driver clicks his tongue at the mess? Yes on all counts. If you’re looking for something disturbing, you could do a lot worse than The Odd and the Dead. It’s one dollar on Kindle.

Ask me how I know Lovecraft never met a clown.

Through The Ages (The Fox and Crowe Chronicles Book One) by Sarah Allder

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, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Through the Ages opens with our protagonist Eliza Fox strolling down the leaf-cobbled streets of a quaint New English town. She stalks some old couple as they shuffle between the haberdasher and the malt shop or whatever it is old people get up to, and seethes with jealousy. You see, Eliza is one of those TV child stars. Her family does a ghost hunting show, and it sucks. The lifestyle, not the show. I haven’t seen the show, but given what an easy mark I am when it comes to reality television, I’d probably watch the whole thing. Eliza’s mother is a domineering figure whose only concern is the care and feeding of her baby, the show. Eliza is a loose cannon who’s on thin-ice-Johnson, and also fat. Gotta make time to give your daughter an eating disorder. The real world is hardly any better, full of fawning stans who don’t get how their voyeurism affects her, or boys who don’t want to date her because of… I don’t know, pointy elbows I guess. A few minutes alone in a sleepy little town is the only vacation she can look forward to.

In general Sarah Allder does a good job of making minor celebrity look like a prison sentence. But I never find it very compelling when the protagonist starts off in sad, Debra No-Date territory. It’s a romance. We know the hunky guy is going to be obsessed with her in, like, two paragraphs. Just watch. In the cute little cafe, Eliza gets accosted by a human Star Wars crawl, who presumably wanders the Earth seeking young protagonists with the whiff of a Scene I fade in still hanging off of them, so she can swoop in and tell them why nobody in town crosses the tracks after dark. Margie, Arg to her friends, tells Eliza about the Crowe Manor. So, rewind. The Fox Family Ghastly Ghosts n’ Friends is in town to do a bit on the Crowe Manor, so they can pretend to be scared and exploit society’s desire to believe in something frightening that’s not climate change for once. Luckily for us, Eliza didn’t do any research, so she gets to sit and listen to the local chamber of commerce list all the bad things that happen there, in accordance with Massachusetts state law. The keystone of the story is the murder of William Crowe by his incel failson brother Oliver.

And boy, does she get into it. This lady delivers exposition like a coal barge. As it went on and on, the backstory started to blend psychedelically with the other conspicuous feature of Allder’s writing: the fact that she needs to tell you every inane detail. We read about a phone coming out of a threadbare cardigan pocket; we read about it descending back into said cardigan pocket. Strangers momentarily pause as they walk down the street, then, after that, continue walking in the same direction. We receive regular updates on the state of puddles. There is a running subplot about a cup of tea that goes from being slightly too hot to moderately hot, to just right. There are rocks on the sidewalk. But wait, there’s less! Pumpkin spice lattes get a sociological breakdown, while tea gets a nutritional one. Then it all loops back to Margie Barge, who is still talking about this one house through history like it’s the architectural equivalent of Black Adder. It’s like Allder is stalling for time, but then the thing she doesn’t want to get into yet is also an interminable wasteland of chatter anyway, so the prose cycles back to counting spots on the linoleum like it’s bored with itself.

But luck, Hunk Dude is here (see, I don’t you). William Crowe is a ghost, and wears ruffles because this is that kind of romance. He is immediately obsessed with Eliza and doesn’t think her elbows could pop a balloon at all, no matter what her mother says. Not only is he infatuated with the certain… energy, the certain… je ne sais quoi, the certain… protagonistness of this young woman, but he also muses to himself that she might be “the one.” If you’re like me, you have the same thought about all these romances with a hot guy from Kate and Leopold times. He’s… He’s gotta be super racist, right? Or sexist? At the very least, he’s going to “just have some questions about crime and Black culture.” And he’s going to talk funny. There’s this thing called the Kissinger age. See, Henry Kissinger and his brother came to American when they were fifteen and fourteen, respectively. Walter Kissinger lost his accent, while Henry Kissinger spoke with a distinct accent until his death in (checks notes) Jesus Christ, he’s still alive? The point is, anyone who’s old enough to have hot, consensual Bridgerton sex with (OK, bad example) does not have full linguistic plasticity. As the centuries go by, they’re just not going to keep up. Our boy Billy is definitely going to speak in Gregorian chants. About ethics in games journalism. I can’t be the only one who thinks this when reading these books, right?

I’m not going to spoil the middle any more than to say that there’s sock-hop-and-Suzie-Q time travel, chosen one underworld transiting, and of course breakfast in bed. But I could. I could spoil all of it and it wouldn’t matter, because about ten pages before the end of the book Sarah Allder stomped her manuscript into the garbage and wrote the ending to another book instead. I can’t even describe to you the experience of feeling my Kindle administer Ambien directly through my eyeballs for hundreds of pages, with entire subchapters dedicated to the texture of water droplets falling on a newspaper, or the progress of a boiling pot of water, only to be picked up at the very end and thrown off a building. I wish I could tell you all about it, but even if I wanted to I don’t think I could.

This is the sort of thing that makes me appreciate indie books. There are just so many people throwing spaghetti at the wall, and every once in a while somebody runs out of spaghetti and just throws a live squid against their kitchen tiles. Does Through the Ages work? Who knows, who cares? But it’s the first part of a trilogy, and it definitely hooked me, so I guess? Through The Ages is five dollars on Kindle.

Hamilton rearranged for Gregorian chant actually doesn’t sound that bad.

The Princess’s Pet by J. K. Jeffrey

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, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

This is a real treat for me. I read a lot of romance and erotica for this blog, and I rarely get to talk about lesbians. Although technically, if they’re not from the Greek island of Lesbos, the proper term is “sparkling gays.” The Princess’s Pet is a love story by J. K. Jeffrey that asks the question “What if Christian Gray was a feudal lord at Vampire Hogwarts, and also a chick?”

Eighteen year old Persephone, Percy to her friends, loves gardening behind a seaside cottage with her happy family. I agree; it’s a miracle this girl is even still alive. The whole gardening thing is a lot easier when you’re half witch. And the other half is something called “beast shifter,” or rather three eighths beast shifter and one eighth vampire (it’s quite a pie chart). But not the good kind of vampire like the ruling family. Oh, speak of the devil, a Princess shows up to take Percy away. So, OK. So, in this world, everyone gets mandatory blood screening to see if they’re soul mates with anyone in the royal family, and guess what? Percy is now the personal property of Princess Selene Borealis, a gigantic vampire meanie face who we are told in various non-committal ways is super hot. Not too this, not too that. Just fill in what you like, I guess.

Selene takes Percy to vampire college, aka “Sanguis Academy,” where everybody dresses like they’re about to play a spirited game of whiff-whaff. Percy has to escort her mistress to some boring prat classes where we learn about some prat feuds and prat wars that J. K. Jeffrey spent too much time working out to just not mention in the book. Percy has her own classes on servitude, and makes some new servant dude friends, which makes Selene jealous. Nobody bothers to ask Percy her orientation, but I’m guessing this is one of those romance universes where everyone is bi by default. I’m not complaining, but Princess Gold Star is not about to let her new slave have any other romantic connections, or any external support network. That would make her harder to abuse.

Just as there is no aspect of traditional masculinity so undesirable that it can’t be incorporated it into the “girl boss” trope, there is no toxic heteronormative power dynamic that is not gleefully reproduced in glitter by the authors of gay erotica. The verbal and physical abuse starts from day one, culminating in Selene restraining her servant and drinking her blood (Capitalism, amirite ladies?). This is all very erotic, because of course it is; this is what you came here for. Percy is clearly into it as well, given her heightened state of arousal any time Selene is kicking the shit out of her. She starts to fall for her overlord, using her witch powers to create gift baskets or something, and learns to love being treated like a carton of milk that answers to a name.

Eventually a sort of mutual care and respect develops between them. Selene defends Percy from the obligatory Malfoys that want to pass the new girls around, and even manages to comply with basic consent. This is a great victory of will, since, as Selene puts it, Percy “smells appetizing” to the point that the princess can hardly hold herself back. Heck, you know they’re in love when Selene puts balm on the fang-holes in Percy’s neck. Why is dressing wounds such an erotic experience in fantasy novels? Actually, it kind of makes sense. People had a lot of babies in ye olden times, and they were constantly having to lance a seeping boil or suture a rabid weasel bite. Their deadly, disgusting world was basically a never-ending tease.

Speaking of setting, I never quite got a handle on the time period, but it seems to be part of the classic Early Modern fantasy setting. Military dorks call it “pike and shot” times; the rest of us know it as the golden age of the quick-release bodice. It’s great for authors, since you don’t have to worry about technology when your book takes place in that one moment of history where people thought it was totally fine to bring a halberd to a musket fight, or take a steam train to the jousting match. But from a reader’s perspective, it deprives the setting of any tangible character it might otherwise have. It creates a blank canvas that the author has to fill with their own ideas, and Jeffrey mostly leaves it empty. This is a common problem with Pigpimples Legally Distinct Escuela de Magic type books, where presumably you’re just supposed to fill in all the blanks with your favorite Harold Jim Potter fan art. See, for example, the very first book I reviewed on this blog, The Soul’s Aspect. But I’ve never enjoyed that as a reading experience. Maybe because I’m not nostalgic for Hank Potter in the first place, or maybe because the only character in those books I ever related to was Kreacher. The problem is me; I’m more than willing to admit that fact.

Otherwise I didn’t hate The Princess’s Pet. It’s all about deriving pleasure from behavior that would lead to an amber alert in the real world, but that’s the point of dark romance. The big strength of The P’s P is that it understands the romantic, pre-sexual side of a story like this. I had to wait a few chapters to even get a kiss, let alone anything more, and in the meantime Jeffrey built up the tension and relationship between the leads. That alone puts this book on a higher shelf than the “Orc Bosoms” subgenre that frequently makes its way into my fantasy romance TBRs. It’s five dollars and eighty seven cents on Kindle, a baffling amount that probably gives us a very specific insight into the author’s level of debt (update: it has dropped to five fifty four!). That’s a little steep, but I guess it’s the price we pay to queer our dark fantasy erotica.

Kreacher doesn’t want to be free, Hermione. Vote New Labour.

The Cartographers’ Guild by Aaron Cummins

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, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Have you ever wanted to smuggle a mummy out of Cairo Airport? Does the phrase “gentleman’s bastard” intrigue you? Do you have a very specific idea of what mustaches looked like in the 1930s? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this book is for you. The Cartographer’s Guild is a George-Lucas’-childhood simulator by Aaron Cummins.

The titular Guild is a group of scientists digging for Elgin marbles or whatever in Turkistan, when our story begins. Professor Oak, aka “Doc,” is captured by angry Uzbeks, while his assistant Jimmy Olsen cowers on the ground. Ace pilot Launchpad and grizzled grumpyman Davis try and fail to rescue him. Back at base camp, leader Marge and Intern the intern discover that doctor Carambo, who unlike Doc is an actual medical doctor, has been taken by mystery nomads. The kidnappers chose their victims curiously, took no money, and showed the clothing of disparate ethnic groups. Since this is the 30s, I’m guessing Marge also noted their relative skull shapes and Cummins was good enough to leave that part out. There’s nothing to do but go back to town and hope that the authorities can help.

On the way, Launchpad has to get into a gunfight, because this book has the tonal range of a vuvuzela, and heaven forbid we should have two pages where some Dudes Rock stuff isn’t happening. We get a tavern brawl, an unhelpful magistrate who I guess works for the Soviet Union but nobody ever talks about it, another tavern brawl in the warehouse district, then finally the gang catches a break. See, there’s a young boy tailing them, who is paid by the mysterious Yando, who has a map to a hidden Roman city that contains a magical mask, and their timing couldn’t be better, because the angry mob of Lawrence of Arabia extras has converged on their position, presumably hoping to hand them a bill for broken tavern furniture all over town. This kicks off a mad cap adventure that travels by red line across half of central Asia, encountering yeti caves and warlords.

This particular “action archaeologist” subgenre is part of the ecosystem of boys’ adventure serials that made up a big part of those pulp magazines with Frank Frazetta covers and ads for decoder rings. In interviews about Raiders of the Lost Arc, George Lucas made it pretty clear he was operating from nostalgia. “ ‘I started out by asking myself ‘Gee, when I was a kid what did I really like?’ ’ Mr. Lucas recently explained. He liked the derring-do of the serials, and the unbeatable courage of their characters, not to mention the 30’s settings. ‘Practically every movie star of the 30’s has one movie like this, be it Alan Ladd or Clark Gable or whoever – playing a soldier of fortune in a leather jacket and that kind of hat,’ Mr. Lucas said, referring to Mr. Ford’s snap-brim. ‘That’s a favorite period of mine, but it was more the character we were after than the period, although they’re obviously both rooted in the same ground.’ ”

Boy are they! That soldier of fortune bit is telling, since mercenaries filled out a lot more of those stories than scientists ever did. The writer Larry Kasdan made the connection to deliberate historical narrative ever clearer: “With ‘Raiders,’ Mr. Kasdan added, the filmmakers hoped to draw upon ‘all of our greatest, most productive myths about ourselves. Being strong, resourceful and quick. It’s your best dream of heroism- a time of no fears and absolute resourcefulness. And a certain kind of competence in the face of almost any adversity… George is a real American boy. A lot of things he’s interested in have touched a lot of us American boys. One of the things George understands in a very liberating way is what his audience is about. It’s not the only audience in the world. But it just happens to be an enormous one.’ “

History, that heinous killjoy, is as usual more complicated, with multiple cultural trends converging over the course of the twentieth century. Orientalism has always been an integral part of how archaeology is presented to the public. Ever wonder why natural history museums are full of human artifacts, like there’s a T-Rex skeleton and then you turn a corner and you’re in an exhibit on Tibetan Buddhism? You can thank people like Agatha Christie’s husband. They did a fair bit of traveling between historical sites together, and the paternalistic vision of consequence-free galavanting, a sort of imperial Grand Tour, pops up time and again in her books. In the seventies Elizabeth Peters standardized the setting by taking it out of the mystery genre and using it for historical fiction. Crocodile on the Sandbank combines irreverent humor with second wave white lady feminism instead of misery with classism, so that’s an improvement I guess. This was the transferable aesthetic that had been established by the time Indiana Jones was written. So like most instances of nostalgia, the vision Lucas et. al. were working with was largely the invention of intervening decades. Now we’re nostalgic for the version of the thirties that was invented in the seventies.

It’s not for me to say how people should enjoy stories like this. If I were in charge of what media gets created everything would be box-ticking tropey horror anthologies, and that stuff is no better. There’s enough transphobia in classic horror to fill J. K. Rowling’s entire Twitter feed. If we approach it with an open mind, The Cartographer’s Guild is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the ending is a blatant “our princess is in another castle” sequel-bait, but on the other hand, yeti cave! It’s an entire genre based on the question “what if the people looting antiquities for a living were the good guys,” but on the other hand, and I cannot believe I even have to repeat this, a cave of yetis. This is the quintessential example of big dumb fun. It’s three dollars on Kindle.

My childhood was based on George Lucas’s childhood, and I’m surprisingly OK with that.