Queer Book Club: The Devourers by Indra Das

The Devourers coverThe Devourers begins when Alok, a lonely academic in modern-day India, meets a man claiming to be half-werewolf. The story unfolds through scrolls the stranger has Alok transcribe, which take him back to the Mughal India of the Shah Jehan, following the lives of long-lived flesh eaters and the mortals they hunt and love.

This book is unique and powerful, balanced on the line between desire and terror for much of the story, playing with the Gothic sublime with a skill that’s electrifying. I was seduced by the richness of language, the characters and their relationships and the grizzly, visceral horror and violence of the flesh-eaters’ lives. Although the creatures sometimes known as werewolves, sometimes rakshasa, are fascinating, it’s really Cyrah, a human woman one of them falls in love with, who is the heart of the story. Through her trauma, and the uncompromising way she lives her life, Cyrah gives a new perspective to the idea of power. Her sections feel the most fluid and alive.

Through this beautiful, violent tale, Indra Das explores fractured identity, colonialism, gender, queerness, trauma and the risks we take to truly feel alive in our own skin. It’s also a story of stories, of different beings trying to construct a narrative and a legacy from their chaotic lives. The themes are woven seamlessly with the story and the supernatural elements, as we’re seduced along with Alok into this world of animalistic violence and transgression. Reading The Devourers is an intensely visceral, emotional ride, but one that’s remained with me on an intellectual level, with so many layers to unpick. This is speculative fiction at its very best.

The Devourers is an adult horror novel. Read as part of my queer horror reading challenge.

Queer Horror Reading Challenge 2020

prideskullThis year, I’ve set myself a challenge of discovering good queer horror. I’ve already started, but I thought I might formalise this whole venture with a post.

Even though I’ve gone out of my way to read queer fiction, I’ve struggled to find a lot of horror amongst it, even though that’s one of my favourite genres to read and write. When I look for lists (I love a good recommendation list), there’s often a lot of queer horror from the 80s and 90s, or even the 1890s! (Hello, Dorian Gray.) It’s not surprising as the history of queer horror fiction is a long one. I often read older fiction and have reviewed a few queer classics on here, but I was in my teens during the 90s. It’s not news to me that there was some great queer media happening in that decade. I want a list that tells me something I don’t know. I also want to know about more trans and gender diverse fiction, something that wasn’t so abundant during that period. So, I’m going to make my own list of more recent queer horror.

Who am I?

I’m a queer man (trans, bi) in my early 40s, which for fans of generational labels apparently makes me a young Gen-X. I’m an English and media graduate. I’m based in the UK. I’m white. I work in an indie bookshop. I have a 12 year old son. I have a history of trauma and related mental health problems.

I love reading across a variety of genres, but my favourites are sci-fi, horror, Gothic, literary, historical and classic noir. My favourite horror sub-genres are cosmic, weird and folk horror. I love fiction that experiments and pushes the envelope; I love to be surprised. I’d rather a writer try something new and not fully succeed than play it safe and retread old ground.

I also write weird, queer, Gothic, sci-fi and poetry. Really, all sorts. I write a lot about trauma, whether I mean to or not.

What do I mean by queer?

I’m using queer as an umbrella term in place of the increasingly unwieldy LGBTQIA+ acronym, though I realise not everyone in that acronym identifies as queer. Here, it’s a shorthand for stories with significant LGBTQIA+ characters. It’s also the name of an actual Queer Book Club I joined a few years ago, which started off my reviews of queer fiction on my blog. It’s not an accident that I’ve chosen a more politically charged label, but that doesn’t have to be relevant to this challenge.

What’s the scope of this challenge?

I only do positive reviews on my blog, so in the end what I hope to have is a list of recommended queer horror fiction, linked to more detailed reviews, which I’ll write as I go. I’ll include horror hybrids, Gothic and other dark fiction if I feel it’s of interest to horror fans. I’ll focus on books from the last 10 years, because I’m hoping this will be a new resource, not a rehash.

I’m going to focus on long-form fiction – novels and novellas. There’s some great short fiction out there, but there’s so much, and I don’t think I can do justice to it all. There are also practical and financial limits to how much short fiction I can realistically access, so it seems fairer to focus on longer stuff. I read and review both adult and YA. I’ll probably include some graphic novels.

I’ll end up reading a bunch of fiction that either I don’t like or I don’t think is horror and that won’t be included. (Though I might review the non-horror anyway.) This list will be subjective. It will be a product of my tastes and biases. I’ll comment more on things closer to my own experience (e.g. being queer, some types of mental health experience) and less on things I don’t have personal experience of (e.g. representation of race), but I’ll try to keep in mind all types of diversity in what I choose to read. I’ll include books I feel broadly positive about, even if there are elements that make me uncomfortable, not least because darker fiction is inherently an uncomfortable experience, but if I spend a whole book cringing my arse off about the queer representation or some other aspect, it’s not on the list.

I’d welcome recommendations, so please point me in the direction of queer horror you’ve enjoyed from 2010-2020. Obviously, I’ve met a few writers whilst working on my own writing. In the past, I’ve reviewed some of their books, but I won’t include any books on the list that are written by writers I know, because I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest or for this to become a promo exercise. This is a list made by a fan of horror fiction for readers of horror fiction.

I’ll be buying the books, mostly paper, some ebooks, myself with the help of my trusty staff discount.

I hope you’ll join me for the ride. I’ll start an index for this challenge on the Horror/Gothic tab on this blog (there’s also an index of all my queer book reviews under the Reviews Index tab). When I’ve got a good size list, I’ll put it all together in an overview post.

Happy New Year

Wishing all my readers a Happy New Year and good things to come in 2018.

I have lots of final edits to complete in the first half of the year, from my 1920s Lovecraftian horror novel to a fantasy-romance novella with a trans main character. No more avoiding editing by starting new projects! My reading from last year is a weird mix of horror and romance, reflecting my writing projects, with some historical fiction and a few other genres thrown in the mix for variety. Here’s my cute year in view page on Goodreads. At least no one can ever accuse me of getting stuck in a genre rut with my reading choices.

My other plans for this year are to complete my vampire trilogy with a final novella and start a new novel exploring trauma and self-discovery. I want to really push myself with that project and try new narrative techniques and writing styles. I’m going to keep going with the short fiction on Medium, as well, as I love sharing work there with other writers and it’s a good way to try new things and keep my work fresh. If you haven’t given Medium a look, check it out. They pay writers, which makes them okay in my book.

Good luck with all your plans and goals for the New Year.

Short Story: Transactions on Medium and a Blog Update


ribsThe Medium publication, Literally Literary, have just published my short story, Transactions, on Medium. I’ve got a bit of a preoccupation with human monsters and transformations (as people who’ve followed this blog for a bit will know), so this story is a continuation of a theme. Check it out. It’s either dark magic realism or noir-horror, not sure which. I never was any good at fitting into genres.

Apologies to people who enjoy my book reviews. I ran out of money to splash out on the queer fiction I read so much of last year. The print copies I read tend to be a bit more expensive than the average, as a lot of it’s published by small indie publishers, and my credit card was starting to smoke, so I’ve had to give it a rest for now. I hope to get back to it soon. One of my favourite books this year so far has been The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. It’s a lovely character focused exploration of friendship and human need. I’ve also enjoyed The Books of Blood by Clive Barker.

I’m intending to write more about writing craft, themes and representation, but have been working flat out on editing some longer work and getting new shorts up on Medium. I’ve been having a lot of fun writing and that’s always going to be my priority. I hope you enjoy reading my shorter work.

Happy New Year and 2016 in Books

Happy New Year to my readers. Lots of love to everyone for 2017 and all the challenges ahead.

I resolved to make 2016 a year of books, so here’s my year in books.


Here’s my Goodreads overview for 2016.

Next year, I plan to do plenty of reading, again. Maybe I can top this year. Making time for books has kept me sane. In 2017, I’d like to read more horror and more speculative fiction and counter-culture fiction with trans characters. Recommendations, as always, are welcome.

In 2016 I published two vampire novellas and finished the first draft of a 1920s horror story I’ll be editing and completing in the New Year.

I’ll see you on the other side.


Queer Book Club: Guapa by Saleem Haddad


Guapa follows the life of Rasa, a young translator living in an anonymous Arab city, the day after his grandma finds him and his male lover in bed together. Rasa has never been open about his sexuality outside Guapa, an underground club, and a small group of friends. His lover, Taymour, is due to get married that night, seeking to conform to society’s ideals. As the optimism of the Arab spring turns to violence and oppression, Rasa’s friend, Maj, a drag queen and activist, is arrested.

Although the story is a day in the life of Rasa, there are a lot of flash backs throughout the story, which piece together and make sense of the present. (So, if you don’t like flashbacks, this isn’t for you.) I like the way that these different stages of Rasa’s life contribute to the person he’s become and how he relates to both his sexuality and his culture. The different stages of Rasa’s development really come through. Haddad weaves a complex picture of the conflicting forces of Rasa’s family and culture, Western liberalism, Western racism and Islamophobia, and Rasa’s internalised homophobia and conceptions of masculinity. At times, the whole book feels like one big closet.

Haddad’s nuanced portrayal of the sometimes irreconcilable pressures on Rasa is the strength of this novel for me. Nothing is perfect, everything is a compromise, whether in the personal or the political sphere—Rasa has to decide which compromises he can stomach.

Queer Book Club: Every Day by David Levithan


Every Day is YA speculative fiction. Every morning, A wakes up to find themself in a different life, in a different body. They spend only a day in each person’s body and then move on. A has always moved from life to life, unable to make long-term relationships, careful not to leave a lasting mark on the lives they touch. But then they meet Rhiannon and fall in love and everything changes.

Every Day was a random second-hand bookshop find for me, although I read and enjoyed another Levithan book earlier in the year (you can find the review in the index), so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. Each life that A touches was well realised, a brief glimpse into someone else’s reality. Levithan jumps from life to life with incredible skill.

A is effectively gender fluid, taking on the gender of the person whose life they’re borrowing. They’re also pansexual/bisexual. I’m not sure why there is a male pronoun used in the blurb as A is explicit about not identifying with one gender more than another in the story. Probably marketing department shenanigans. Gender is handled quite subtly for most of the story—for A it’s not that big a deal, but it’s clear in the way the A interacts with others that their varied experience has given them a lot of empathy for others. This particularly comes across in A’s concern for the way that Rhiannon is treated and devalued by her shitty boyfriend and there’s a nice feminist undercurrent to that. There’s a little more explicit gender reflection towards the end and in some ways I preferred the more subtle gender and identity stuff because the whole model for the story gives ample opportunity for that sort of reflection. The trans person that A hops into towards the end becomes a bit of a vehicle for this. I liked the diverse representation (and overall there is plenty), but found it a bit odd that this was the only character that got an enormous coming out back story.

The only thing that is missing for me in the story is a little more existential reflection from A. There is a little, but as the whole set-up is such a huge opportunity for that, I think more big questions could have been asked. There are some slightly bland generalisations about people being 98% similar and religions all being similar which I was fairly ambivalent about. I guess that the big questions of existence are just something Levithan didn’t want to go near, maybe so as not to alienate people, so the story keeps a tight focus on personal experience and identity. Having said that, I’m happy that no explanation is provided for A’s hopping, though I’m sure it would drive some readers nuts.

This is worth reading for the deft way Levithan realises the different lives that A glimpses. Each chapter is a day and there are so many different experiences brought to life in the story. For me that’s really the main attraction of the book.

Queer Book Club: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

eileen-coverEileen is the story of a young woman set in the early 60s, in a small New England Town. It’s told retrospectively by Eileen when she’s much older, and there’s a wry humour to the retrospective viewpoint. Younger Eileen is trapped, living with her alcoholic father in their run down house, and working as a secretary in a juvenile prison. Nothing is rewarding about Eileen’s life, and she dreams of escape. She fantasises about Randy, one of the prison guards, and stalks him from afar, but really she’s quite alienated from her own desires, and her own body. Increasingly, we learn in snapshots from her childhood, that the whole of her life has been loveless and without affection. When a beautiful woman gets a job at the prison, Eileen’s desperate need for companionship transforms into a powerful crush.

This book caught my eye on the Man Booker shortlist. I’m slightly iffy as to whether it belongs in Queer Book Club (the main character isn’t explicitly queer), but the action hangs around Eileen’s crush on the beautiful new prison educator, Rebecca, so that’ll do I reckon.

I’ve seen the book labelled thriller, but it doesn’t really have the pacing of a thriller. Most of the book is more of an intricate character study of Eileen, following her around for a week, leading up to an unknown event which will cause her to leave her hometown forever. I loved the characterisation. Some of it is pretty grim—Eileen lives in filth and squalor, and hates her body to the point where she near starves herself, and then purges with laxatives, whilst drinking pretty heavily. Her relationship with her father is strained—he’s been a drunk for years, and has delusions and paranoia. But as the story takes shape, it becomes apparent that there never really was a golden time for Eileen. The retrospective style of narration, with the promise of escape and a better time, lifts the book from utter bleakness, so there’s humour and hope.

Whilst Eileen’s situation is not typical, there are some interesting reflections on women and sexuality at that time, and the limited roles available. Eileen’s not simply a victim of circumstance. She’s often quite an unpleasant, frustrating character, although I actually found her sympathetic as well.

The thriller element only really makes up the later part of the story, when Rebecca embroils Eileen in a surprising plot that finally snaps her out of the trap her life’s become. I won’t spoil the twist, but it was unexpected for me, even though the narrative is shaped towards that moment.

Eileen’s well worth a look, if you go in expecting a deep character study, and not a pacey thriller.

Queer Book Club: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

not-otherwise-specified-coverThis is a YA contemporary novel. Etta doesn’t seem to fit anywhere—her bisexuality gets her into trouble with the “Disco Dykes” group at school, she’s not skinny or white enough for the ballet she loves, she’s not ill enough for people to take her eating disorder seriously, she’s not a good enough singer to go to theatre school. Etta’s struggling with social isolation, and being the only person who is providing the support she needs. Then she finds unexpected friends at her group counselling, in a younger white anorexic girl and her gay brother. Bianca and James are from a very religious family, and are having problems all of their own.

When I first picked up this book, I was a bit stunned (in the sense of being hit round the head). The style is pretty intense—Moskowitz gets right in Etta’s head, and she has a pretty full on pile of anxieties which she cycles through constantly. The style is both a positive and a negative—on the one hand, it feels realistic, and I could really feel Etta’s struggle to cope with all the problems around her, and try to stay positive and on top of them. She keeps telling herself she’s really up-beat and happy, even when she’s falling apart, and eventually it comes true. On the other hand, the style makes for a somewhat unhinging read at times, especially if you’ve had mental health problems yourself.

Moskowitz does a really good job of showing some of the difficulties faced by bisexuals in finding acceptance, and in facing bi-phobia and bi-erasure. I’ve not read a lot of books with bisexual characters, and so that made a nice change. The bullying Etta faces at the hands of the girls at school actually gets pretty nasty at times, and that’s never completely resolved, which was a bit unsatisfying. Etta does stop looking for their acceptance, at least.

This is a bit of a novel of extremes. The characterisation is excellent, but that makes it a tricky read at times, and not all of the emotional loose ends feel completely tied up.