To our fellow adventure lovers and connoisseurs of fine smut, we bid you welcome to our annual review of the best blue and yellow-backed novels of the year.
We dare say it has been a very good year for publishing. The printing press has dropped tremendously in price due to advancements in pneumatic technology, spurring a tremendous expansion in publishing; whereas we can remember a time when there were only the two main publishing houses in the city proper, as of this spring there were more than thirty-five. We can only hope that further innovations will continue to drive the industry to even greater heights in the coming year.
As for matters of content, what we have seen so far of our new emperor hints at a liberal character, and it is not unlikely that he will ease many of the publishing restrictions with which readers have voiced dissatisfaction in the past. We may be forgiven for hoping that the ban on recent politics in literature will be annulled, or at the very least that the definition of “recent” be revised to fifty years rather than a hundred. Perhaps the restrictions on more explicit sexual content will be similarly relaxed, although we admit that euphemisms and innuendos are such a hallmark of the genre that it would be sad to see them disappear entirely. (That old classic, “throbbing tashin sticks” will always have a place in our heart.)
Now before we soldier on to the reviews, a bit of housekeeping:
Many of you have asked why we still separate the two genres in our reviews. And it is indeed true that the gap between blue and yellow is much smaller than it was when we first published this column a decade ago. One sees romance in the yellow-backs and adventure in the blue-backs at a much higher rate than one used to. One can even do away with the division entirely and purchase the old classics in leather-back, so no one on the streetcar knows you are reading delightfully smutty adventures on the way to your place of employment.
However, we believe there is still merit to examining the two genres individually. Some readers may love one and loathe the other, and besides- we are a curmudgeonly traditionalist at heart, and it is our column, so there.
For those of you still fain to whine about the format, we present this handy checklist.
Are buckles swashed, blades brandished, oaths sworn, and at least one maz muttered? Tis Yellow.
Are bosoms heaved, corsets ripped, tongues dueled, and members swollen? Tis Blue.
(Breaths one forgot one was holding, orbs of improbable colors sheened with tears, and last minute divine interventions may belong to either genre.)
And with that, dear readers: on to the books.
Runner Up: The Chadevan Charade: Being the Account of an Orphan’s Daring Adventures on the High Seas
Eishan Udretamin, Seven Stars Press. 253 pages. ⌘90.00.
Pirate stories have always been a hallmark of the genre but have fallen out of favor in recent years, perhaps due to the many stale retreads of the theme that glutted the market after Omdar’s Twenty Tales of Basthu the Bold achieved critical acclaim.
We are happy to inform you that Min Udretamin’s tale is no such facsimile, but instead is a charming twist on the classics, adding a great deal of novelty to supplement the classic tropes we have all come to love.
The tale, as one may glean from the title, tells the story of a poor yet plucky orphan from the streets of Cetho that manages to commandeer a ship and takes to the high seas. But the vessel is no traditional ship, but instead a state-of-the-art airship named the Iron Griffin that lends the tale a uniquely futuristic feel. And furthermore our hero is not the standard street boy, but instead a delightfully scrappy half-goblin girl named Csobenu, who is well versed in lock picking, fisticuffs, and all manner of other skills that girls in these tales are rarely allowed to try their hands at. She is joined by a motley crew of misfits and malcontents, including Captain Valitka, a disgraced barizheise knight; Ksedrigau-Nine-Claw, a liongirl warrior with a pyromaniac streak; and Mer Onatheva, a dachenmaza of considerable power who is unfortunately afraid of heights. Together Csobenu and her crew pilot the Iron Griffin across the Chadevan Sea in search of a variety of fabulous treasures, though of course the real treasure is the friendships they make along the way.
The characters are certainly the crown jewel of the novel but aficionados of action and romance will be satisfied as well. There are several delightful duels, one of which takes place fully underwater, the physics of which is not fully explained. There is also, is no particular order, a bank heist, three airship races, a parachuting contest, and an inter-ship battle conducted using only Soluneese fireworks.
As for romance, Min Csobenu finds herself romanced by both her first mate and her maza, and in a refreshing break from the traditional love triangle, decides she is satisfied with both of them. In terms of physical affection, the story is rather tame, although repeated references to a greater Barizheise armfish living in Captain Valitka’s washbasin may raise the eyebrows of veteran readers.
Overall it is a delightfully satisfying romp, and we hope the commercial success it seems to have garnered will encourage Min Udretamin to write many sequels that we may enjoy in the years to come.
First Place: In Service of Thy Master: being a tale of a Maza's Betrayal and a Nohecharis' Fidelity
Nevetro Cabaran, Eilu-Csanu House. 329 pages. ⌘1300.00.
We imagine several of you are more than a bit incredulous about this book upon reading the title. Yes, we have given top honors this year to yet another Haneviad.
But merrem, you say, we already know the story of Orava the Usurper and Hanevis Athmaza! We have read it in both poetry and prose, heard it as an opera, and seen it as a puppet theatre countless times. And we assure you, we understand your complaints. Like any good student, we too were beaten over the head with The Elegy of Beltanthiar’s Champion and The Lay of the Faithful Fallen by our grammarian, and if we see the sentence “Sing, Cstheio, of the honor of Hanevis” one more time we will surely retch.
But dear, dear friends: this is not your grandmother’s Haneviad.
Merrem Cabaran wisely takes advantage of her reader’s familiarity with the story and leaves many of the fussy details in the background; freed from the need to explain the intricacies of Beltanthiar’s constitutional reforms and the technical details of Orava’s spellcraft, she is able to concentrate on what really matters: the spectacle of aerial mazei fights, and the doomed homoerotic love of nohecharis and emperor.
The former is worth the price of purchase alone: Cabaran has a knack for fight scenes, though we daresay any dachenmazei reading might raise their eyes at some of her descriptions. And to be fair, the possessed gargoyles that the two mazei ride while flinging bolts of lightning at each other are not in most accounts of the tale, nor is the thousand-strong army of dead warriors that accompany Orava into battle. Orava himself has also been subject to a creative character revision of some magnitude. Whereas the historical record notes he was in his early sixties and balding at the time of the attempted coup, Cabaran’s Orava is a prodigy in his late teens, with flowing ivory hair that reaches his ankles. He fights all of his battles in skintight leather breeches, and also seems to be allergic to shirts. He does manage to wear a very atmospheric cape, which is likely imbued with magical properties as it is noted to billow majestically both indoors and out.
Yet despite Orava’s fabulous scenery-chewing (though the puns can at times be a bit much), what won the novel top honors this year was the heart wrenching depiction of Beltanthiar and Hanevis’ doomed love. Merrem Cabaran does not follow in the footsteps of so many other Haneviad writers who play up Beltanthiar’s relationship with his wife; for once she manages to stick with the historical record and keep the zhasan in relegation at Cethoree for the duration of the story. Beltanthiar and Hanevis, however… we fear we cannot do justice to the purity and depth of their love in this column, or in any column at all. You will have to read the book and experience it for yourself. We will say that we were very affected by it, to the extent that we ruined seven handkerchiefs with our tears, and even knowing how the story ends, we were so overcome at Hanevis’ death that we hurled the book at the wall, breaking a mirror and thoroughly scaring our cat. And we ask you: is that not the highest praise one can give an author?
Runner Up: In the Harem of the Maru'var: a Tale of a Princess and her Fated Love
Hasiva Trithsar, Dachen-Dav Group. 295 pages. ⌘1050.00.
On the blue-backed side of things, our first selection and runner up is a delightful tale penned by a Mer Trithsar, a newcomer on Cetho’s publishing scene.
The plot is as follows: our heroine Ksthagu is a princess of the lion girls (and also a dachenmaza, and also possibly an avatar of Cstheio, although this aspect is never fully explored). She is poised to inherit the matriarchy from her mother, until her devious sister poisons her and casts her out in the desert to die. Though she survives the ordeal, she loses her memory as a side effect of the poison (we can hear our alchemist readers gnashing their teeth from here). Happily, she is found by an ifrit who is so entranced by her otherworldly beauty- this is a bit of a recurring theme- that he spirits her to an oasis to recuperate. Unhappily, said oasis is promptly raided by slavers, and Ksthagu is captured and sold into the harem of the Barizhiese Maru’var, who happens to be young, handsome, and in want of a wife. He is of course a hopeless romantic at heart, despite swearing off love forever after his first wife betrayed him. You can likely guess what happens next.
We will freely admit we were skeptical when we read the publisher’s blurb. Mer Trithsar cheerfully includes every trope of the genre, including but not limited to huddling-for-warmth, secret babies, and prophetic dreams. We were afraid that the novel would read as a stale retread of the classics, or worse: a parody. As we all know, nothing is more boring in genre fiction than self-congratulatory satire.
Imagine our relief that the novel reads as an affectionate love letter to the genre instead, with loving callbacks to the works of giants like Omdar and Bucarezh scattered throughout (a sharp-eyed reader may note Omdar’s heroines Hetharo and Sairu running a cocoa shop in the background of one of the market scenes). Make no mistake, the tropes are prolific and utterly over the top. But like a child that surfaces from one’s jewelry cabinet wearing every single ring and necklace one owns, the overall effect is so charming that one cannot help but forgive the excess. If Mer Trithsar can replicate the magic of his first work in his second, do not be surprised if his next novel makes our list in the coming year.
First Place: A Great Mirror of Love: Forty-Seven Tales of an Amorous Courier
Pennis Vulvar, Aithara & Associates. 569 pages. ⌘1000.00.
For avid readers, we doubt this is the first you have heard of Mer Vulvar’s magnum opus. Indeed, we received more letters in either gleeful support or outraged denouncement of this particular novel than we have for any book since we began this column ten years ago. And while we had our reservations when we first heard about it, we figured that we were ever your faithful servant, and thus endeavored to read the book and give our honest opinion on it. And we have done so.
Before we delve into the specifics of our review, we have been prodded to to remind any barristers reading that our opinions are our own, not endorsed by our publisher, and that we wholeheartedly support the morality guidelines set forth in title XII of Varevesna’s Legal Codes.
Now that we have put such niceties out of the way: ladies, ladies. Sweet Csaivo, we must thank you wholeheartedly for bringing this work to our attention. We are frankly astounded that it ever saw the light of day, let alone managed to snag a publisher. Considering its lewd connotations, Pennis Vulvar is quite obviously a pen name, but we cannot help but assume whoever is behind the curtain answers to osmer or osmerrem at least, else the censors were asleep at their posts when the manuscript came along for review. (This is a joke. We have nothing but the utmost respect for the imperial censors)
To whit: the story is utterly, delightfully, and unapologetically filthy- and you must read it immediately. The plot is as follows: we meet “Vinu” the virginal courier as he arrives in Daiano to tour the local baths, whereupon Vinu in turn meets a variety of men and women in both the new and old senses of the word. That’s it. That’s the story.
We fear we cannot expound upon Vinu’s sweet delights and anguishes in any degree of detail, as we doubt our publisher would be amused and we do have a monthly rent to pay. But here are some tantalizing tidbits for the curious. In chapter one, Vinu meets a linguist from the University at Cetho, who shows him all manner of interesting things one can do with one’s tongue. Next, Vinu meets a dealer of fine sharadansho silk, who illustrates all the ways a man may be tied and driven to distraction with a length of knotted rope. Third, Vinu meets a cruel and haughty marquis, who abuses our poor hero in all manner of horrid and delightful ways with his riding crop (for those concerned, Vinu is very much a willing participant in the proceedings). Fourth, Vinu meets a pirate captain on shore leave who regales him with tales of far off lands and then takes him in the middle of the bath house to the great amusement of the rest of the patrons and Vinu himself, to his surprise. And ladies, those are only the first four chapters. There are forty seven in total.
For those intrigued and wishing to read more, we have been told by a friend that Great Mirror is available only at Nalesthu’s Book-Stand, 741 Copper Street, Cetho’s Fifth District. We are also told you may enjoy a fifteen percent discount if you mention our name. You’re welcome.