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Not My Own Voice

While sending out my alternate history World War II novel, I’ve noticed that a lot of speculative agents are looking for #ownvoice stories. This has given me some pause, as the three point-of-view characters in No More Hiding are a Slovakian Jewish woman, a gay German man, and a teenage German socialist. I’m not Jewish or gay or German, but I figured I could mostly get away with it. I’ve read books on Judaism and kabbalah and my own religious tradition shares a lot of sociocultural background with Jewish thought, and I’ve taken graduate seminars on queer theory and have a close sibling who is gay. One of the first agents who asked to see more of my manuscript was a Jewish agent, so I figured my depiction of Anya couldn’t be horribly off base.

With my current pirate fantasy project, however, I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ve stepped too far behind my own experience. It’s basically set during the age of sail, and the main character is half Spanish and half Native American. In the section I’m now editing, she’s visiting with her mother’s tribe, so the cross-cultural conversations and relationships are getting lots of close airtime. And by the end of the book, there are some seriously complex social and political situations between the colonial and native characters.

Obviously, one tries to be sensitive. Although we’ve opted not to align the mother’s tribe with any specific people group in the real world, we’ve done the research to try to make the characters and town feel “authentic” to their time and place. We’ve asked the questions: What kind of houses would they live in? What would they eat? What’s the social structure like? How would they actually think? That is, if it’s even possible to get outside of my own conceptions about what people hundreds of years ago from a foreign culture would think and feel?

There’s also the question—as there always is in fantasy and science fiction—of whether to try to imagine an idealized version of reality, or whether that’s sugarcoating reality. For example, we’ve consciously decided to make our fantasy world less patriarchal than our world was during the age of sail, so it’s not uncommon for women to inherit property or lead armies or rule kingdoms. That’s an area where we’ve allowed ourselves to imagine optimistically. On the other hand, we’ve chosen to maintain a high level of racism in the world, which means characters that I otherwise like and want to succeed are often making biased misjudgments and ugly choices.

At the end of the day, perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m uncomfortable creating thoughts and feelings and dialogue for my native characters. Our world, after all, has a long and terrible history of Europeans or people of European descent making up false and hateful stories about Native Americans. And maybe I’m simply not in a place where I should be attempting to write such characters at all. In my head, part of the essential power of fiction is that it allows all of us—the writers and the readers—to imagine what it would be to live other lives and have other experiences, and through the magic of story to become more empathetic people. But perhaps whether stories truly led to more understanding and empathy depends on who’s writing the story and what the story is.

Magic

This week I finished editing the first major magic/action sequence in my colonial fantasy novel. The bones of the scene were excellent (my sister wrote the first draft of it), so I was mostly going through to tighten up the pacing, clarify the point of view, and fill out some missing transitions.

Unlike the stories I wrote in my teens and early twenties, which were full of dragons and fire spells and overpowered wizards, I’ve been working in fairly magic-lite worlds more recently. My alternate history World War II novel has zombies, for example, but they aren’t flashy or pretty, and the “magic system” only works against the protagonists instead of for them. The zombie bacteria also has sinister origins and clearly defined rules, so it is rarely surprising and leads readers straight back to real atrocities during World War II rather than giving readers an escape from reality.

The other book I’ve worked on in the past couple of years is a portal fantasy, so the magic works in more traditional, almost fairy-tale ways. The magic is wondrous to the main character; dragons and monsters roam the world; inexplicable good things happen that can only be attributed to magic. But the magic is in the world and never in the people. There are no wizards, no spells, no fireballs, nothing splashy like Dumbledore and Voldemort dueling in the Ministry for Magic.

Somewhere in the middle of editing my portal fantasy, I remember texting my brother: “I kinda miss working on trashy high fantasy.”

So it was exciting and strange, yet familiar, to edit through a traditional fantasy action sequence this week, complete with ghosts and shape-shifters, pistols and cutlasses, magical animals and spirit light, saints and goddesses. I plugged in a trusty playlist of suspenseful music (heavy on Steven Price’s soundtrack from Gravity) and worked as closely as I could on visual spectacle, movement, and clarity, trying to walk that line so it’s tight without being choppy, in the moment without being confusing, detailed without getting bogged down.

Apart from a few high-drama action scenes, though, most of the magic in my pirate fantasy novel is more in line with my recent magic-lite work. A lot of the magic is more “real world,” adjacent to things that happen (or people claim happen) in our world. One of the characters, a priest, speaks with saints and ghosts or occasionally foresees future events. The magic of one of the native people groups is interwoven with the social and religious practices of the tribe, including magical rituals and sacrifice. Different regional saints and gods patronize and protect the local people.

I can’t say that I definitely enjoy working with one type of magic system better than another. Lighter magic systems demand that more of the plot stems from the characters and their mundane problems and desires, but heavier magic systems often come with more spectacle and excitement. I suppose that’s why I waffle back and forth from book to book.

Richter X Jonsí & Alex

A couple of weekends ago I was lucky enough to see both Max Richter and Jonsí & Alex live in Chicagoland. As fate would have it, they played their sleep albums (Richter’s From Sleep and Jonsí & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps), although they each performed an additional album as well (The Leftovers season one soundtrack and All Animals respectively). Needless to say, as a longtime fan of these artists, I. Loved. It.

The two concerts were vastly different experiences, which for some reason surprised me. I’d listened to the Leftovers soundtrack before, but I’m much more familiar with some of Richter’s other work (Memoryhouse, Four Seasons, Three Worlds). But the emotional distance from the music was actually helpful, as I didn’t have as many preconceived notions of what the music “should” sound like (more about this when I talk about Riceboy Sleeps . . .).

Richter performed with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble and soprano Grace Davidson. There were only seven people onstage—not all of them necessarily playing or singing all the time—so I could see and hear exactly what each person onstage was doing at any given moment. The clarity, precision, and synergy between the musicians was beautiful and allowed each instrument to take on a distinct role and personality.

Perhaps most striking to me was Richter’s use of repetition throughout the concert. In a TV show, repeating a character or plot theme can be helpful and even necessary, but I’m not used to repeated pieces at a live show. Some of the repetition was (as far as I could tell) verbatim, as in the same song played again later in the suite.  Other repetitions were the same melodies played by different instruments or arranged differently. Still other repetition is built into the musical structure of postminimalism, as the musicians and singer would often play short ostinatos over and over that were then layered over one another.

As an editor, I’m often keeping an eye out for repetition and trying to weed it out of my writing. I already used the word “river” in this paragraph—can I use “water” instead? I already used this tic to show that the character is nervous—can I use a different action or just delete the sentence? But watching Richter perform, and feeling the emotional resonance of the melodies and musical passages change over the course of the concert, I’ve been thinking more about not just removing repetition from my writing but thinking more constructively about how to use repetition to create moods, themes, and narrative structure.

Sigur Rós has been my favorite band since college, and I listen to Riceboy Sleeps probably at least every week. So I was thrilled to see Jonsí & Alex live, especially backed by an orchestra and choir. As I mentioned, I had a little trouble getting over my fanboy impulse that the live performance “should” sound exactly like the album, but the different live interpretations gave me a new appreciation for tracks like “Chapter One” and “Daniell in the Sea.”

In stark contrast to the clarity and intimacy of the Richter show, Jonsí & Alex performed with probably fifty people, the sweeping dreamscapes of their music coming from indefinable places onstage, wavering in and out of colored lights and fog. A clear piano line or Jonsí’s signature falsetto improvising over the melody would occasionally break through, a spotlight helpfully guiding the audience to its source.

While the Richter show felt like a “character piece,” Jonsí and Alex were pretty much the only clear characters at their show, existing in a musical landscape of lush, expansive choral and orchestral movements. More abstract, it felt almost too big to get my arms around. In writer’s terms, I suppose I might call it a rush of warm, embracing description without much plot, but it’s beautiful and so quietly joyful that you don’t mind one bit.

The Popol Vuh

I stumbled across the Popol Vuh on Wikipedia of all places. I was editing a manuscript that partly takes places in Guatemala, and the American main characters come across people speaking K’iche’. I had never heard of the people group or language before and went online to do some basic fact-checking. Fifteen minutes later I had ordered a copy of Michael Bazzett’s poetic translation of the Popol Vuh from Milkweed Editions, and a few days later I had the book in my hands, complete with a handwritten thank-you note from a sales associate. (From one indie publisher to another, I have to say that it was a nice touch.)

The Popol Vuh, which means “book of the people” or “book of the council,” has a complicated transmission history. The K’iche’ original has been lost, and we only have the text because of Dominican friar Francisco Ximénez’s eighteenth-century translation into Spanish. Understandably given book burnings and European violence against Native American literary cultures, many critics have distrusted the accuracy of Ximénez’s translation. But recent archaeological discoveries of ancient stone murals depicting scenes from the Popol Vuh have helped solidify its reputation, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into a time and culture very unlike and yet very like our own.

Like any translator, Bazzett had to make compromises in rendering the text in poetic English, but he is open about them in his introduction. Most notably, he has excised the kingly genealogy at the end, which links the mythical figures of the Popol Vuh to the dynasties of historical K’iche’ leaders. Without this section, Bazzett’s Popol Vuh divides nicely into a creation narrative, where the gods frame and shape the world, and a heroic narrative of the twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque, whose deeds prepare the way for the very first dawn. At the end, the Popol Vuh leaves Hunahpu and Xbalanque behind to tie up the cosmic story of the world’s first humans and the first sunrise.

I picked up the Popol Vuh for research, to add some ground and depth for the made-up native tribes in the pirate fantasy novel I’m writing. And culturally the Popol Vuh was eye-opening and far different from the cosmic narrative of creation and redemption I’ve lived with my whole life (which is Middle Eastern in origin). I’m not used to creation stories including mosquitos biting gods, or houses full of jaguars, or great macaws pretending to be the sun. The foreignness reached a peak for me when the lords of the underworld got upset because One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu were making such a racket above them playing ball, so the lords of Xibala sent their demon owls to invite the brothers down to hell to settle the argument over a ballgame.

The writing style itself feels bare and almost alien to me as a contemporary reader, and probably wouldn’t fly in twenty-first-century prose. But a lot of the basic human questions posed by the text—why are people here? What do we do in the face of pride and misplaced power? How do we reconcile ourselves to the loss of our loved ones?—still resonate deeply. The literary structure is a complex weave of themes and wordplays that require additional notes for the English reader to understand, but the way the story comes full circle through multiple generations of demigods and how this leads to the dawn of the first day shows a delicate layering of character arc and plot climax that does feel very modern. I suppose it’s a pretty deep human impulse to want stories of completion, justice, and forward-looking hope.

Deleting Words

I’ve been cutting whole scenes from my manuscript lately. 500 words. 1,000 words. 2,000 words. Dragging my cursor across several pages and deleting them with a single click.

In planning out our edits for the second draft, we made some significant changes to the setup of the story. We moved some major reveals. Changed some character motivation. Foreshadowed some plot points more clearly and removed others.

So now that I’m a good 140 pages into the edits and past the inciting incident, I’m running up against scenes and conversations that are outdated. Characters are reacting to and processing events that no longer take place. They’re skirting around difficult questions that have been thoroughly answered. They’re arguing over issues that haven’t been broached yet.

Deleting material can be bittersweet. I worked hard for every one of those words, carefully kept track of them during the initial drafting to meet my daily and monthly goals. But with all the extra scenes we’ve added in the first act, the draft has ballooned well past 450 manuscript pages. We always intended an epic story line, but we also want the thing to be publishable. So deleting thousands of words at a time is reassuring, must surely help with the pacing and the shape of the manuscript as a whole.

Of course there are the details, the sentences and paragraphs, that I want to keep. This description of Father Arias’s magical insight into the well-being of a family house. That telling exchange of dialogue between a young adventurer and his mother before he left home. For the most part I’ve tried to keep these, copying and pasting them to other places in the manuscript where they might also work, where I could transplant them without noticeable disruption.

Still, cutting scenes often comes with a little sinking feeling. It’s the rare scene that I can remove without having to replace it with something else. And drafting new material is always slower than editing something that already exists. The new words inevitably sound less formed, less supposed to be there to my ears, because I just made them up, and they weren’t already on the page. And even though I remind myself that readers won’t know where all the stitches are—where I added words, cut them, smoothed out the transitions—I know where they are, and I’ll still see them when I work through the manuscript next time for copyediting.

I’m still learning that it doesn’t pay to get caught up in the feelings of cutting scenes, whether I’m congratulating myself for being a tough editor on my own work or feeling sorry for myself that I’m going to have to write something new and make less progress today than I wanted to. Neither helps me make the manuscript better. And at the end of the day, I’m still a little further than I was yesterday. Slowly, I’m still getting closer to having an edited manuscript on my hands.

My Name Is Michael Holbrook by MIKA

Earlier this month British pop singer-songwriter MIKA dropped his latest album, My Name Is Michael Holbrook. I’ve been happily singing along with MIKA hits since 2007’s Life in Cartoon Motion, and my brother and I have threatened friends on multiple occasions that we’d do a karaoke duet of “Grace Kelly.” I also have fond memories of singing “Rain” at the top of my lungs with my sister and brother on our way to or from the airport one night. Somehow I completely missed The Origin of Love (2012), but No Place in Heaven (2015) was my soundtrack for driving to my summer internship at a publishing house. Needless to say, I was excited about MIKA’s newest release and have been listening to it moderately obsessively.

I will leave it to the good folks at Pitchfork and Riff for all the musical analysis, from the nods to Queen in “Tiny Love” to the rapid stylistic morphing from Euro lounge in “Sanremo” to dreamy orchestral in “Tiny Love Reprise.” For me, what I have always enjoyed about MIKA is his ability to capture whole stories in very small spaces, and his well-exercised vocal and emotional ranges—all of which are on display in his latest album.

When I think of MIKA’s storytelling, songs like “Blame It on the Girls” and “Good Wife” come to mind. Apparently MIKA must be prone to people telling him their sob stories, and in just a few lines of verse, he can give me a strong image of a man grieving his divorce or complaining about the tiny problems in his first-world life. My Name Is Michael Holbrook is full of these quickly drawn stories, though nowadays MIKA seems to be a participant rather than an observer in the stories, such as the Italian getaway in “Sanremo” or finding his sister (“Paloma”) after she fell out of a window and was badly injured.

The emotional and sonic range of his latest album delivers as well. In the gentle piano and strings of “Paloma” and the stripped-back “Blue”—which features MIKA’s voice barely accompanied by pads and harmony lines—MIKA explores disappointment, sadness, and trauma. But he sings just as comfortably on the bombastic “Platform Ballerinas,” a female-empowerment dance anthem, and “Stay High,” the penultimate track which turns the meditative lyrics from opener “Tiny Love” into an insistent, upbeat promise of forward progress.

At the end of the day, my two favorite tracks are “Dear Jealousy” and “Tiny Love Reprise.” In his open letter to jealousy, MIKA discusses jealousy’s destructive force on his personal and professional lives (“I can’t even write a song / If you’re standing over me”). I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of envy in my life lately, so this one hits me personally, never mind that the song is slinky and catchy and features, near the end, an apocalyptic-sounding background choir. “Tiny Love Reprise” is the track that blows me away, though, deftly tying together the relational and emotional themes of the album in just over four minutes. Featuring his sister, a sweeping strings section, and an adorable British boys’ choir, the final track leaves listeners with the assurance that the love we each experience in our lives, no matter how insignificant it looks to others, is enough.

Paradise by Toni Morrison

I listened to the audiobook of Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997) while road-tripping last weekend up to Mackinac Island. Morrison read the audiobook herself, which added a layer of intonation and timing to the prose that I enjoyed. But the text is dense enough—with nonlinear storytelling, complex POVs, and lots of allusions—that I’m pretty sure I also missed some things because I couldn’t reread passages. I checked the plot synopsis on Wikipedia afterward, which confirmed that I hadn’t caught everything (someone painted a black-power fist on the oven in the town square?) and that some of the questions I hadn’t answered aren’t supposed to be answered (the reader is never able to learn which of the women staying at the convent was white and not black).

I read Morrison’s Beloved years ago, but honestly at this point I don’t remember much except that the book is amazing. I didn’t remember, for example, how economical Morrison is with her storytelling. Paradise only takes six and a half hours to read, but it contains a broad range of characters with many interrelated story lines. In keeping her narrative distance from any one character and moving fluidly between them, she’s able to cover a lot of plot in a little time. She also isn’t afraid to straight-up tell the reader important background or interior thoughts and feelings, though she does linger over significant scenes, painting vivid detail for readers.

Morrison’s narrative control is enviable as well. The plot is nonlinear, and she moves freely through the story’s events, working forward and backward through time, offering one character’s perspective and then circling back to that moment later from another character’s point of view. She allows the reader to see that she’s withholding information from us, but she slowly feeds it to us if we are willing to trust the story and hold on to the facts we do know. In some ways it reminded me of films like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, and I would be curious to reread Paradise sometime to better see how carefully Morrison foreshadows the book’s fallout and themes from the very beginning.

As a speculative fiction writer, I was curious to see light fantastical elements throughout the book. Beloved, famously, features the ghost of Sethe’s daughter as a central figure. In Paradise, Lone DuPres teaches Consolata enough magic that she is able to resuscitate Soane’s son after a fatal car crash, and Consolata in turns performs some magic with the women at the convent. Unlike a fantasy novel, where the magic would permeate the book and play directly into the (positive or negative) resolution of the book, however, magic doesn’t solve any of the narrative’s problems. Magic is relationally important for several characters, but that’s it.

The other potentially fantastic element is that readers aren’t sure whether Mavis, Grace, Seneca, and Pallas really meet up with their families at the end of the book, or if they are merely ghosts or visions. Morrison doesn’t feel any compunction to tie things up neatly at the end, which makes me uncomfortable but certainly leaves me thinking. The intersection of racism, colorism, and patriarchy that leads to the brutal attack on the convent women that both begins and ends the book is clearly traced throughout the book, but the last word given to the women themselves is unclear. Did they survive? Are they forging their own paths now? As a reader, I’m not sure.

North Woods

Half an hour ago I got back from a weekend trip to Mackinac Island and Tahquamenon Falls. I hadn’t made it up north yet this year, and I was definitely feeling the itch. I was born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and my family spent some time up north most summers when I was growing up.

The highlight for me was walking between the Lower and Upper Falls at Tahquamenon, a four-mile hike (each way) along the river. The trail occasionally touches right up against the river, at other points swerving back into the forest. You go up tall ridges overlooking the river and then come back down into the valley. Stands of cedars and hemlocks, their roots cut into the hills like stair steps, give way to leafy canopies of maples, beeches, and birches. I was a little early for the fall color, but a few trees were already turning red and yellow, and I had to remind myself that I didn’t have to stop to photograph every beautiful scene or thing that I saw. Fortunately the nights have been cold enough in the UP that I didn’t see a single mosquito.

Hiking through the forest by myself for hours, without cell service or my computer, it’s probably not surprising that I started thinking about my fantasy stories—not least of all because I’ve literally set a scene in one of my books along the Tahquamenon River. But besides that, hiking outside in the middle of nowhere is something well beyond my everyday life: it was, very consciously, an escape for a weekend. And thanks to Papa Tolkien—as well as the writers of chivalric romance and pastorals and Norse mythology before him—walking through pretty landscapes is something characters are constantly doing in fantasy stories, probably in part as a way to take readers and listeners outside of themselves.

Unfortunately for me, endlessly describing the way that sunlight filters green through beech leaves, or the smell of dead cedar needles as you trample them on the forest floor, or the sound of a waterfall thundering in the distance, or the speckled lemon-yellow color of a mushroom blooming on a mossy log doesn’t meet the needs of contemporary fantasy readers, who want a little travelogue with their plots but don’t require hundreds of pages a la Tolkien. Clearly I missed my calling as a Romantic poet, or a Thoreau-esque hermit, or even a nature writer. (Although, let’s admit it, I’m too lazy to actually learn All of the Things that real nature writers know about the world around them.)

But I still think fantasy is about taking readers outside of themselves and offering a different perspective on what they thought they knew already. And in our cultural moment of global technological expansion and 24/7 advertising and social media consumption—with its accompanying backlash of back-to-nature hipsterism and climate outrage—I think many of us are looking to get a little more unplugged and offline.

And I will always take any opportunity I get to describe sunlight falling through trees.

The War of Art

My sister-in-law recently gave me Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I’ve heard about it for years from other friends, but I’ve read my share of inspiring books about creativity, and I think I’ve gotten a little jaded. Often when I’m reading a book about writing, or attending sessions at a writers conference, I find myself thinking, This is absolutely true and all—so why am I not just writing my book right now instead of talking about writing my book?

Steven Pressfield gets it. The “chapters” are short and to the point, he doesn’t wax poetical (although he’s plenty mystical about the creative process), and he too is skeptical about too much talk and not enough action (simply sitting down and writing/painting/composing/etc.). War of Art reads less like a how-to book on writing and more like a daily devotional for creators. Each chapter—which range from half a page to a couple of pages—gives the reader an insight or challenge, but then Pressfield leaves it up to the reader to mull it over or act on it.

Resistance is probably Pressfield’s central insight in the book, which I found very refreshing. The idea of “writer’s block” has always annoyed me, perhaps because I’ve never experienced it, but also because I’ve heard of many “cures” for writer’s block that just seem like fancy ways of avoiding writing. But I have absolutely experienced Resistance in my creative work, and I appreciate Pressfield’s honesty that Resistance is a daily problem that never goes away. Momentum is also a creative reality—it’s easier for me to continue with a project when I’ve recently made some progress, especially when I’m touching the project every day—but Resistance doesn’t go away simply because I’ve got some momentum on a book. As I was sharing with a friend last week, I’m a hundred pages into editing my pirate book (which is long at 450 manuscript pages); I’ve literally spent hundreds of hours on this project and believe it can be a wonderful book some day, and yet often I have a hard time getting into the manuscript because I feel like, What’s the point?

Pressfield does occasionally get a little woo-woo for me. Like, I have my doubts that people resisting their life’s creative work is a contributor to the prevalence of cancer, or on the flip side that engaging in creative work can help cancer go into remission. I’m also probably not going to be praying to the Greek muses any time soon, and I’m not sure what I think about angels being involved in the transmission and completion of creative work.

That said, I love Pressfield’s insistence that all people are creative—whether they know it or not—and that our creative work is part of what makes us human and gives us purpose. I like his certainty that creative work is worth doing, and doing every day, whether or not we earn a paycheck for it. And I completely agree that creative work—which builds empathy and connection between people in their various situations—is essential to human cultural and spiritual growth.

Carnival Row

A friend texted me a couple of weeks ago and asked, “When am I seeing you next? I desperately need to talk to you about Carnival Row.”

I’d seen a trailer on Amazon earlier in the summer, and my first reaction was an excited, Someone’s making high-budget steampunk? My second thought was less excited and perhaps more realistic: But, I mean, what are the chances that it’s actually any good?

I watched the first couple of episodes with my friend, and over the course of a week watched the other six episodes when I could.

And, no, it’s not a great show, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a fantasy fan. I think at some point I described it to my brother as “gothic trash fantasy.” But I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, the show got some things very right, and it surprised me in several ways I’d like to see happen more often in fantasy.

In the plus column, my first impression that the series was well-produced proved true throughout the whole show. The visual storytelling was wonderfully immersive, from the fairy creatures to the grungy nineteenth-century sets and costumes to the steampunk technology. It’s a fun show to watch, even when the character arcs and believability leave things to be desired.

The world building in general was strong, not only in the scenery and props. The war that provided the historical backdrop for the show had a number of opposing players with complex relationships between the different human and fairy populations, and the political systems made sense for the most part. Amazon provides a lot of trivia on Prime videos, which often are about the filming or actors; for Carnival Row, many of the trivia bits were extra historical details that the show creators knew about the world but hadn’t had space to work into the script.

And the plot for the main two characters was satisfying, although they were archetypal roles: the brooding detective inspector in his Derby hat and long coat and the feisty Irish fairy who protects her people and culture. Many of the other characters fell flat for me, though, because of the predictability of the storylines, especially the rich humans and their new faun neighbor trying to break through human stereotypes about fauns.

Like lots of good fantasy and sci-fi before it, Carnival Row used its distance from modern-day issues to in fact directly address those issues. Large populations of fairies and fauns have been displaced in the war, and the show uses their status as refugees in a human city to critique Western responses to the global refugee crisis. Racism is compounded in interesting ways by white, black, and brown actors portraying both humans (privileged figures) as well as fairies and fauns (disenfranchised figures). The critique of politics explored through Chancellor Breakspear and his family was also interesting but spoiled by too many unrealistic details (such as an assassination of a political rival that is glossed over without a police investigation, public outcry, or political retaliation in parliament?).

Probably my favorite aspect of the show, however, was the genre transitions between urban steampunk fantasy and high fantasy. One episode explores how the two main characters first met years ago in the war, and viewers are transported from the urban grunge of the Burgue to a snowy mountain monastery that would fit into a good epic fantasy series. With the continuity of characters and story, though, the mix of fantasy subgenres was seamless and effectively made the world feel a lot bigger and more lived in. I liked when the show creators were thinking big and didn’t let the viewers’ expectations box them in.