Bingo 23: They She He
I have to admit, I think I saw C.L. Polk saying on social media she/they (both pronouns are noted in the bio at the back of the book) was either non-binary or bisexual, or maybe both? Thing is, I’m not sure, but it turns out it didn’t matter and I can use Soulstar for this square anyways, as one of the main new characters is most certainly non-binary.
Soulstar is the final of the Kingston Cycle trilogy, each of which takes a different main character focus. This time, it’s Robin Thorpe who was introduced in the previous novel. In Aeland, it has been illegal to openly be a witch or use magic if you are not a member of the nobility. Those ordinary citizens who got caught being magic or were accused get sent to an Asylum. Many horrific atrocities were revealed in that system in the first two novels. Robin is a social justice organizer on behalf of the witch community, and early on in Soulstar, she makes a deal with Grace Hensley that the Asylum system be shut down, the witches freed, and magic be legal for everyone. Robin spends much of the rest of the novel fighting for better social conditions and reparations, which means lots of politics and intrigue, and some violence. It’s an interesting adventure that fits pretty well with the first two parts of the story.
What makes Soulstar different though is how much it adds to the world of Aeland. One of the first twists is that Robin discovers her long-lost spouse of 20 years, Zelind, as she frees the witches imprisoned in Asylums. Zelind uses ‘khe/kher’ pronouns (fictionalization version of ‘zhe/zher’ I’m guessing; I did look the pronoun up and all I found was references to this novel) or rather these are the pronouns used to refer to Zelind, which implies non-binary identity. Zelind is not the only character who uses this set of pronouns, but khe is certainly the one who gets the most attention. I actually wish we had a little more about the relationship since it’s pretty important to the story but it’s not really explored much. Robin and Zelind met in school and married without Zelind’s family’s permission, and now that the partners have been reunited, they have to figure out how to maybe still be a couple. Zelind seems to be the slightly more domestic and sensitive one, and khe and Robin seem to have a touching problem at first and I’m not sure where that’s from. If this is supposed to be a romantic re-engagement then I wish we had a little more of the relationship reforming. Zelind is an inventor which plays a part in the story, and khe certainly gets drawn into the adventures Robin has to follow to save everyone.
The other interesting suggestion is that, suddenly, Robin starts making comments about how “white Aeland” sees things; this brings race into the story where it had been virtually absent before. The suggestion of the noble class being white and the lower classes being something else adds another layer to the world, but it’s again not very developed since there isn’t much description of what most people look like. Robin was described briefly in an earlier book and there’s a reference or two to her darker skin, but if skin color matters in this world, what does Zelind look like? Or Jacob, or Jean-Marie, or any of the other people who are a part of Robin’s world. The inconsistency on the one hand could suggest that it’s an unseen, almost naturalized part of the world, but for those of us who don’t live in the world, a little more detail would be useful for seeing who might know, think, or feel what about certain other characters or situations.
This is a good ending to the series, although I do wish a few of the world-building holes were filled in a little more. I also would have liked a little more Tristan and Miles. They were so much fun in the first book, and they take a back seat to Grace for the second book in a row.