Fascinating story of an interesting, if troubled, person. I first encountered Tiptree's work shortly after the Big Reveal so I knew "he" was a woman p...moreFascinating story of an interesting, if troubled, person. I first encountered Tiptree's work shortly after the Big Reveal so I knew "he" was a woman pretty much from the get-go, but this book made it easy to understand how surprised -- even shocked -- people must have been (particularly the ones "he" had been corresponding with!). Sheldon's family background is given in some detail; her mother Mary Bradley, intrepid African explorer/travel writer/novelist, is almost as interesting as Sheldon herself though their relationship is portrayed as ultimately unhealthy. Sheldon's struggles with and eventual surrender to depression (which I did not know about before reading this, made me very sad) are shown clearly and accurately, but shaded with warmth and sympathy.
Well written, well researched, a very interesting biography as well as making some forays into question of identity and gender and how they can shape or warp our lives. Definitely worth a read.(less)
The author describes this as "a fairy tale about syphilis," which is true as far as it goes, but it's also a story about three women and how/where the...moreThe author describes this as "a fairy tale about syphilis," which is true as far as it goes, but it's also a story about three women and how/where they each eventually come into their strength and power.
The author has clearly done a lot of research into 16rh century Scandinavia, particularly disease and medicine (if graphic descriptions of oozing sores or medieval gynecology bother you, you'll probably want to skip certain scenes) and it shows in the occasionally stomach-turning vividness of her descriptions. I'm not quite sure why she felt it necessary to be so explicit; I think the story would have been equally compelling with about 15% less of a yuk factor. And although it's being billed and reviewed everywhere as YA, I am not at all convinced. Or maybe YAs these days are just a lot less Y than they were when I was YA.
That said, the writing itself is lovely, the story original and compelling, and the characters intriguing, from the doomed King Christian and the nearly-mad Queen Isabel to the darkly seductive Nicolas and the fey princess Beatte. The seamstress Ava and the black servant Midi, who together with Isabel are the three main characters, are as different as one could imagine and yet they have in common that they are all in some sense slaves: Midi literally, Ava in the form of class barriers that she cannot surmount, and Isabel in the form of royal obligations (at which she has largely failed, since all her children are sick or dying).
How these three women survive and how their stories connect and reconnect make for a remarkable, if more than a little disturbing, tale.
As a bonus, it's one of the most physically beautiful books I've seen in a long time, with lush, jewel-tone colors on the cover and intricate black-and-white designs reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts on the dividing pages between each chapter.(less)