Xan West's Reviews > Huntsmen

Huntsmen by Michelle Osgood
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Jan 12, 2017

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3.5 stars, rounded down.

My favorite part about this book was the chosen family, and how it worked. Watching them together, seeing how they supported each other, it warmed my heart, and felt very much like home. For me, that is the most compelling reason to read this book. It is so very rare for queer romances to center queer community and chosen family, and this one really does. The queer community settings felt real, resonated with my own experience. The MCs have a bunch of queers in their lives, and I loved that, and need that kind of story so badly.

I liked the geekiness of it quite a bit. This is also present in the first book in the series and I have hopes that it will be in the third as well. Osgood does geekiness very well I think, it’s woven into so many of the interactions in a really casual way that just gave me happy pings. I also liked spending time with the characters from the first book again, that part was a real joy.

I felt for Kiara quite a bit; she is struggling and angsty and trying to figure out what to do, and feels very apart from the others even as they try to draw her in, and generally a turmoil of feelings. I wish she was able to lean on her community more, trust others more, I wanted that for her, wished she trusted them and herself more than she did. And it felt real to me that this was a struggle, that it was one showing in flashbacks to her youth too. I wanted to see her grow a bit more in this area, but she does grow some and that felt good to see.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get on board for the central romance. It didn’t feel earned. The core conflicts that were there when they were together before were still present, and didn’t feel fully resolved by the resolution of the external conflict. I kept thinking that while they had a great deal of heat, they didn’t have much else that could hold them together. The prior incarnation of them as a couple was this thing where they melded together into oneness and intensity and heat, and ignored the rest of their lives. I just don’t find that kind of relationship particularly swoony. (It actually feels fairly fraught to me.) I think I was supposed to be swoony over the flashbacks and root for them as a couple based on that history, but I honestly had the impression that they were fairly bad for each other first time around. I had trouble getting on board for them in the present because there wasn’t enough there there, in the present, to convince me.

I want to talk about the genderqueer representation. Taryn, Kiara’s love interest, is clearly named as genderqueer on the page. There are references to dysphoria, and the ways that impacts sex in particular, that come up in sexual negotiation between them. When Ryn is first introduced to the rest of the group, someone offers their own pronouns and Ryn says either she or they. Ryn’s genderqueerness is incidental, not a part of the plot in any significant way, not presented ever as a problem, and not particularly notable to the POV character for the most part. Unfortunately, there were a few things about the genderqueer rep that made me uneasy, and it was done with such a very light touch that I was left with nothing to balance those.

The first thing that made me uneasy was that despite the fact that Ryn said clearly that they used she & they pronouns, nobody in the book ever used they. Kiara thinks of them as she, uses she to refer to Ryn, and everyone else does the same. That’s within range of potentially ok, as she is a pronoun that Ryn did say she uses, but it felt kind of relentless and off to me as a genderqueer reader, that nobody ever used they. And particularly that Ryn’s love interest thought of them as she all throughout the entire book, and refers to Ryn as her first girlfriend. It didn’t sit right, for this cis queer woman to do that, felt too familiar, reminded me of the ways my genderqueerness has been erased by cis queer women, including lovers.

The second thing regarding genderqueer rep went further than making me uneasy. It hurt. There is a flashback, early in the book, in Kiara’s POV, to when she first meets Ryn. At this point in the book (about 25%) the reader knows that Ryn is genderqueer and had told Kiara in the past that she is not a woman or a man, and knows Ryn uses she & they pronouns. In the flashback, Ryn is referred to as a “girl”. This moment of misgendering felt like a slap in the face to me as a genderqueer reader. While being potentially realistic, as Kiara perhaps is not aware that Ryn is genderqueer in that moment, it was also not needed . The sentence could easily have been restructured, or another word could have been used, that would not misgender Ryn (e.g. person, barber, hairdresser, werewolf, genderqueer). I want to acknowledge that some genderqueer folks might be perfectly fine being thought of as “girl”. But, many would experience it as misgendering. In the absence of more information or context, and particularly as Ryn is never characterized that way again by anyone at any other time in the book, I am inclined to think that Ryn would experience it as misgendering.

Ryn’s genderqueerness was fairly different from my own. Their characterization might work for other genderqueer readers. But these two things, particularly in the absence of deeper characterization around Ryns gender, left me feeling uncomfortable. They also led me to doubt whether Kiara respected or got Ryn’s gender, which made the rest of the book harder for me.

Particularly the sex scenes. Osgood is really good at writing hot sex, I can attest to that from reading The Better to Kiss You With. And if you assume that Kiara is a reliable narrator regarding Ryn’s gender, the sex in this book is very hot. But I doubted Kiara. So I doubted the language she used to think about Ryn’s body, particularly body parts that are often perceived as deeply gendered (i.e. (view spoiler)). The language used is exactly the same as language Osgood uses to describe the bodies of her women characters. Had I trusted Kiara, I’d believe that Ryn thought of their body using that language—some genderqueer people do, and Ryn very well might. And Kiara remembers Ryn’s dysphoria from when they were together before, confirms consent and boundaries that Ryn has set around that dysphoria, so you do get the sense she is trying to be careful and respectful. But that misgendering moment, in combination with Kiara never using they pronouns and calling Ryn her girlfriend threw that all into question for me. Many genderqueer people do not use highly gendered language for their bodies, especially language that matches the language used to describe the bodies of the gender they were assigned at birth. I just didn’t trust Kiara, and that made it hard for me to read that language, because I was worried Ryn would cringe if they knew Kiara was thinking about their body that way. As a genderqueer reader, this made the sex scenes hard to read.

There were so many ways that Ryn is written with language that feels like it doesn’t acknowledge their gender. That added up to a general sense that my own discomfort with the rep wasn’t about her genderqueerness being different from mine (which is a personal thing, but not an actual problem in the story), but that Ryn’s genderqueerness was too thinly characterized. It is my feeling that the genderqueer rep needed some fleshing out and deeper consideration, ideally with feedback from a genderqueer targeted beta reader.

I went into this book wanting to love it. I adored the first book in the series, eagerly anticipated the next books, was excited about this one, particularly the lone wolf/pack aspects. I got even more excited when I realized that one of the MCs was genderqueer because genderqueer rep is so rare. I ended up having mixed feelings about this one. I still want to read book 3 in the series, and am hoping it will be the joy that the first was for me.

I would like to thank Michelle Osgood and Interlude Press for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warnings: (view spoiler)
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Reading Progress

January 12, 2017 – Shelved
January 12, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
March 16, 2017 – Started Reading
March 16, 2017 –
page 43
19.72% "So I thought Ryn was nb when they said their pronouns were she or they and there was a ref to her gender dysphoria. On the page named as genderqueer now. My question is, why is the MC only using she/her pronouns to think of her? And why is the book being discussed as an f/f romance?"
April 3, 2017 –
page 96
44.04%
April 3, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Avery (Book Deviant) I'm really glad you pointed out the iffy genderqueer rep. I felt a little off while reading this as well, as Ryn was never referred to as they or anything really neutral. I was really just passing it off as being personally different from my own experience, and didn't want to discount another's experience. Ryn's experience seemed extremely different then myself, so I figured not to say anything.

I think I'll be editing my review a bit, as I'm now aware that it wasn't just me, so thanks! :)


message 2: by Xan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Xan West Yeah it wasn't just you. I too was wondering if maybe Ryn was just very different from me, so you are not alone in working to parse that. There are so many ways to be genderqueer!


message 3: by Alexa (new)

Alexa This sounds exactly like my problem with One Day At a Time (the show). There's a genderqueer character, Syd, that uses they/them pronouns - and the pronouns are always respected, but at the same time Syd is almost always referred to as a girl or the main character's girlfriend. This sounds even worse, given that nobody even uses "they" :(

I feel like this CAN be acceptable, since there ARE genderqueer people who are comfortable with gendered terms (I used to be, though less so lately), but when it's your ONLY genderqueer character... then I think that at the very least, you should have a conversation where the character talks about being okay with it. This goes double when it's a cis author.

I really appreciate you talking about this in your review -- I was going to read this book but now I'm kind of reconsidering. ^^ I'll see.


message 4: by Xan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Xan West Alexandra wrote: "This sounds exactly like my problem with One Day At a Time (the show). There's a genderqueer character, Syd, that uses they/them pronouns - and the pronouns are always respected, but at the same ti..."

Yeah there absolutely are genderqueer folks who are okay with it, but when the character clearly says she or they, to only use she felt off to me.

For what it's worth, in book three, the characters alternate between she & they when talking about this character.


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