Ok, so this one is kind of cheating, given that I’m also writing a thesis on Dungeons & Dragons, and I’m very much hoping that my PhD and lockdown will not overlap for the full 3.5 years (*sob*).
However, I do feel like quarantine has changed the context in which I play, watch, and think about D&D, massively. As each of us are isolated from one another and forced to communicate online via Zoom, there is a clear fantasy and wish-fulfilment about joining in a collaborative game in which you work alongside allies to enact change within a world, and hopefully defeat unimaginable evil.
Hell, there is clear wish-fulfilment in simply roleplaying you and your friends getting wasted in a high fantasy tavern, at this point.
D&D has been a lifeline for me throughout the different, equally lonely phases of UK lockdown. It is both an intense creative outlet and an equally intense social space. I have even somehow managed to make new friends and strengthen existing friendships through quarantine D&D, without ever leaving my house!
But more than anything, I think the agency that D&D gives you is something that has helped me battle pandemic apathy. I’m talking about this solely on the level of the imaginary world: while many people discuss D&D as catharsis or therapy this is not something I’m an expert in, and I don’t necessarily think D&D has changed me as a person so much as given me an outlet for elements of personality already in full bloom. Having a storyworld to get invested in, having problems I can actually solve (rather than the crushing overwhelm that is my government’s mishandling of the pandemic), and enemies I can defeat (still illegal to assassinate Boris Johnson, unfortunately, and also I am a tissue paper person with no martial skill) have all distracted me from a crushing reality and also stopped me from feeling powerless, in a way that I didn’t consider of importance until the environment of 2020-21.
For me, D&D – or at least D&D the way I play it – has become an exercise in hopepunk storytelling.
2020 was not a particularly brilliant reading year for me, even though I managed to meet the lower reading goal I set for the year, just in time. Apart from the obvious (a global pandemic), this is partly because of the fact that I spent a much larger portion of my year writing. My wordcount for the year was the highest it has ever been in my life (again, global pandemic), and that had a corresponding effect on the amount of books I read.
However, while 2020 was not particularly notable in terms of numbers – 50 books, podcasts, and one fanfic that was long enough I felt it warranted a goodreads mention – it was notable in the fact that I discovered some new insta-buy authors! I don’t have many ‘Best Books of 2020’, but the ones I do have are phenomenal!
This blogpost has been sitting in my drafts for several years… since a certain TV show’s ending… and I was never sure if/when to post it. But you know what, 2020, with its unrelenting bleakness, has made it relevant again, so I decided to resurrect it from the bottom of the pile.
As I’ve discussed before on my blog, I’ve fallen a little out of love with the genre of grimdark fantasy in recent years.
Ughh, how to keep on going during the end of the world? I don’t know about you guys, but I’m struggling for motivation, outside of cats and fanfic.
And still, the world keeps turning. October 2020 has seen a big change for me: I started my funded PhD at the University of Glasgow! I’ve been looking forward to this for the last few months – let’s be honest, even if this wasn’t a huge milestone in my hopes for a future career, any change in the pandemic routine is a novelty at this point. My project, which focuses on the influence of Dungeons and Dragons on literary fantasy, is something I’m super excited to get stuck into. Everything feels a little daunting right now, but mostly I’m just reading, and getting to know people in my university as well as I can via Zoom.
Other than that, not much has changed for me, as we go into second lockdown in Scotland and I prepare for a socially isolated winter. I’ve been playing Divinity: Original Sin 2, which is a fantasy RPG that is more combat oriented than I’m used to, but I’m really, really enjoying. I also watched Dimension 20: Fantasy High – finally! – and enjoyed the show’s imagining of a fantasy high school, particularly one which teaches adventuring and basically fully sanctioned murder. My favourite episode was definitely the one shot involving the school’s theatre kids.
I’ve had this blog post chilling in my drafts for a long time, and have never gotten around to it (too busy… writing fanfiction, I’m not going to lie.) However, recently a Discourse On Twitter happened on the topic of fanfiction, so it seemed like a good time to revisit this.
Well, it’s fair to say that, in the Year of Our Lord 2020, happiness is in short supply. You’ve got to take your joy where you can. And fanfic, with its sweet and calorific tropey overload, its dedication to intense character-driven romance, the SLOWBURN, the YEARNING, is a place where joy (and yes, smut, and queerness, and angst, and all the other good things that… ultimately, just bring their readers joy) exists on tap.
Regardless of The Discourse around quality – you can find really bad fanfic, you can find fucking amazing fanfic, it doesn’t matter, it’s all free and made with love – even a fic which is written in a way that annoys you or is plotted badly or grossly underedited (and really, is that what you’re going to fic for? the editing?) nearly always hits the itch you opened AO3 to scratch. The question “does this spark joy?” is pretty much the only thing that you have to ask when you’re reading a fanfic, and anyone who brings a value judgement to that is clearly dedicated to their Grumpy Bastard hours.
In the last few months, whenever I’ve felt the need to mainline some serotonin, I’ve basically just opened AO3.
Ever since a faerie cursed her, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear, embarrassment, or even happiness—a condition which makes her sadly prone to accidental scandal.
Why did I want to read? It’s a regency fantasy romance with fairies and women with no sense of propriety, of course I wanted to read it!
Half A Soul was such an unexpected, delightful find. This 250-page story (is it a novel, or a novella? it doesn’t matter, I read it in half a day!) follows Theodora Ettings, a young woman whose emotions have been muted by a fairy curse she was given as a child. When Dora and her cousin meet the Lord Sorcier, Elias, in London,this talented magician offers her a potential cure.
But what will the cost of finding that cure be? And does Dora even want to be ‘fixed’?
The Scholomance is a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death. Until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.
Why did I want to read? Uprooted and Spinning Silver are two of my favourite books, and I love magical school stories, so this was kind of an insta-buy for me.
I’m not going to lie, and honestly it would be counterproductive to hide this fact: this review changed a lot from what I envisaged upon finishing the book. Truthfully, I loved A Deadly Education, and gobbled it up in a day. I’m always a fan of books which feature an unreliable narrator who is unreliable about themselves, rather than events in the story, and that’s absolutely what Galadriel Higgins is, without a doubt.
I flew through this book uncritically, and it was only as I had time to think about it afterwards that I started to see the flaws. Even upon finishing, there was some things that felt a little off. This book certainly had flaws. I think it suffers in comparison to Naomi Novik’s standalone novels, because rather than a climactic conclusion that I’ve come to expect from her plots, everything felt like it… petered out a little. I left the book simply feeling like it had laid groundwork for whatever came next in the series.
But – more importantly – in the two weeks since I’ve finished this book, discourse around A Deadly Education has blossomed and also brought to light a number of problematic and ultimately tone deaf aspects of its handling of race.
Princess Soraya was born with poison in her veins, hidden from the view of the rest of her court. When her brother’s wedding draws closer and a new stranger approaches her in her solitude, she tries to change her fate.
Why did I want to read? Because of pretty book covers and monster girls.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn was my first Melissa Bashardoust book, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect other than the fact I was expecting it to be queer. It didn’t fail me, in that respect. However, while I really loved the plot, I felt there was some issues with its execution. Whether it was constrained by its page count as a standalone YA novel, I felt like the story was rushed in some places where I would’ve liked to take a little more time.
Cordelia Carstairs is desperate to become a hero, save her family from ruin, and keep her secret love for James hidden. When disaster strikes the Shadowhunters, James, Cordelia and their friends are plunged into a wild adventure which will reveal dark and incredible powers.
Why did I want to read?Cassandra Clare is my guilty pleasure, and let’s face it, it’s 2020. Everyone needs a comfort read.
Everyone knows the general formula of a Cassie Clare book by now: a ragtag group of queer teens, messy love geometry that’s creating chaos and angst all over the place, and a life or death/end-of-the-world-type situation that somehow no one believes in happening even though they’re kind of all part of the course right now. And a lot of self-referential content – I went into this only having read the Infernal Devices but apparently lots of these characters also turn up in novellas I’ve never looked at so maybe I played myself.
Chain of Gold doesn’t really break the mould in any meaningful way, but this book broke my reading slump so definitely deserves a review. The things I loved about this particular addition to the Shadowhunters universe were:
the Edwardian England setting and the amount of fun clearly had with it
getting to see all of the Herondales again, as The Infernal Devices has always been my favourite trilogy