Wednesday 9 October 2013

Lisa's Open Love Letter to Pantomime by Laura Lam

Today, yet another set of reasons why you should be reading Pantomime by Laura Lam, this time, put forwards by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow.
Bookworms! I discovered something bloody amazing recently.

If you've heard these, or similar words from a fellow book geek, then you probably know the wonderful sense of excitement they're feeling, that goes along with the exclamation. If not, then I hope you experience it for yourself, and soon, because I love that feeling as much as I love being able to say that about a book. I've been saying nothing else about this one, since I finished it. But let's backtrack a little bit...

When I heard that Nina was looking for contributions to Rainbow Reads, I got curious enough to put my hand up and volunteer a guest review. Then came the puzzle over what to actually pick up and read, because however curious I was about the LGBT subject matter that is the theme of this event, I am most assuredly a bit of a newbie when it comes to actually reading relevant fantasy books...

So, when I conferred with Nina and she suggested I read Pantomime, which I had at least heard of by then, I thought 'okay, why not?'

That 'okay, why not' quickly became 'dear deity, what took me so long?!'.

I bet you know that feeling too.

Now here is where I ought to note that there will be potential spoilers ahead, though I will try my best not to give too much of the plot itself away. You are warned!

Pantomime is the story of Micah Grey, whose real name is not Micah Grey – but this aspect of his issue with identity is just the tip of the iceberg. We meet Micah as he joins a travelling circus, and from the outset it's clear that Micah is on the run from something – or someone. The first half of the book leads us down the twisty path of discovery, from the prominent events that led to Micah's abandonment of home and family, into the disturbing truth of why he ran away.

Micah Grey was born Iphigenia Laurus, and Iphigenia's parents wish for nothing but to have a real daughter. They want this so badly that they will do just about anything to turn 'Micah' into the child that they want, instead of learning to accept the child that they have. It is when Iphigenia (who tries and generally fails to insist upon being called Gene) learns just how far they intend to go in this endeavour, that she sheds the identity they've spent her whole life forcing upon her and runs away from home.

However, while joining the circus offers Micah much more freedom in terms of lifestyle choice, there is still that secret, and thanks to Gene's parents Micah is, for much of the book, too afraid to confess it to anyone – even when romance comes calling. And the problems of home haven't been left entirely behind, either. Gene's parents have set investigators on her trail with the task of bringing their child home...

The general plot (and plot-related events) in this book are largely straightforward fare. The plot twists, once reached, were less of a surprise to me than I had hoped after devouring the story until that point. Where it excels, instead, is in the drawing of Micah as a main character. There is some delightful worldbuilding and a few neat little teasers for the story's continuation in the second book (due out in January, I believe) planted along the way, as well as laid out in the book's final scenes, but despite my admitted love of such worldbuilding details I found myself ranking them second to the star player, here. Micah's story is such a unique one to me, and so smartly written by the author, that it kept me glued to the page from start to finish.

I had my reservations at first, I will confess. The last thing I wanted to find when I read this was the issue of Micah's gender identity being treated as a token plot point, or 'character quirk' – something that was tacked on for the sake of tacking it on and getting attention, yet failing to make the most of it. Thankfully, Laura Lam does the smart thing – not to mention the brave thing, as this is the first such book I've read and enjoyed so thoroughly where this has been the case – and makes this not a story about adventure with some 'scandalous' romance thrown in, but a story about her lead character's personal journey, their self-discovery and the places that their personal development might take them. It's a smart move that I long to see more of, and thankfully for the (admittedly few) forays I've begun making into YA fantasy fiction, this is much more the norm, or at least becoming it, than it was when I was reading fantasy fifteen years ago.

It's a big, wide, diverse and often scary world we live in, and teenagers have more invested in dealing with it than I think grown adults do. This is going to be their world soon enough, after all, and the times when we buttoned up these issues and kept them out of sight is (or should be) very, very over. That is why I want to see more books like this one, and it's why I'll be in the line to buy the follow-up. This is just plain excellent work, and beautifully written to boot.

Pantomime can be found on Amazon and Goodreads
Lisa can be found at her blog, Over the Effing Rainbow, on twitter, tumblr and goodreads.

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Thanks for taking time to read this!
Comments are much loved.
Nina xxx

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