Genre: fantasy (silk punk) (novella)
Pairings: trans (masculine)/m
Queer Representation: transgender, nonbinary
Rating: 4 stars
(this is one of the rare times when the back of book blurb is accurate, so I'm just going to copy it below)
Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed a strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What's more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother's Protectorate.
A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as spawn in their mother's twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But ever step Akeha takes toward the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?
Nonbinary fiction written by a nonbinary author is right up my alley! This novella was short and sweet, with excellent pacing and perfect character development. The twins, in particular, are very well thought out, and their evolution from children to rebels is delightful at every turn. The mother (The Protector) is that kind of delicious evil you can salivate over--power hungry but respects a challenge ala Lionel Luther from Smallville (don't pretend you never watched that show. It was on for ten seasons. You had to have seen it once, if only for Johnathon Glover's hair).
The world, in particular, is very well done. The idea that children are born and raised androgynous and then must declare their gender (and then go through a medical transition to achieve it) was much more intuitive than other instances I have read, likely due to the author's intimate familiarity with nonbinary genders. Akeha's struggle to pick within the binary when they (later they use 'he') don't have the strongest of urges to move in either direction, resonated well. The deeper look at the trans masculine experience was also fresh and authentic, and will resonate with many trans masculine and trans nonbinary readers.
Steampunk versus silk punk
While steampunk has never been a favorite genre of mine, I have to say that I'm now well hooked on silk punk. It has all the fun trappings of the steampunk genre (cool machine weapons and budding technology), but without the tired European aesthetic. While the pacing in this book was ideal, I wouldn't have minded staying in the world a bit longer (overthrow the Protectorate!!), especially in the last thirty pages or so (OMG WHY IS THE MOM SMILING KILL HER KILL HER WITH FIRE!) when you get a bigger look at the tech and the politics at play. I'm eager to get my hands on the other book in the duology, moreso for the world than anything else (although the characters are a bonus!).
The only downside to the book was a lack of strong overarching narrative. I was happy to be along for the ride, but I was never really sure where the ride was going, or what the goals of the characters were. Not everyone needs or wants that in a book, however, and the pacing was strong enough (and the book short enough) that it wasn't a major hurdle. It did leave me wondering in several places as to what the actual plot was, but then some cool new tech would come around, or Akeha would have a gender moment again, and I'd be right back in the story.
Lovers of steampunk and/or lovers of enby fantasy will have a great time with THE BLACK TIDES OF HEAVEN. Bonus- the author is on Twitter, active, and they are an absolute delight to follow.
You can buy THE BLACK TIDES OF HEAVEN in paperback here and ebook here.