If there were a Mel Brooks movie that parodied classic sword and sorcery high fantasy tropes — Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, and the Northern European fairy-tale canon — with three lesbian leads, I expect a lot of people would add it to their Netflix queue before I get to the end of this sentence. That’s basically what you’ll find in Promises, Promises by L-J Baker. As someone on Twitter put it, “she messes with metatextual analysis like she’s humping the fourth wall.” References to Star Wars, Douglas Adams, and other fandoms join humorous anachronism and modern-day feminist, lesbian, and gender politics.
HOWEVER! This book is not just a bunch of gags strung together. There’s a plot that, while overall predictable in that comforting way that fairy tales bring, went in a lot of creative directions that were entertaining to watch unfold, and lots of different personalities of interesting female characters whose friendship and interaction I enjoyed. Basically, they wind up having to go on a quest to recover a number of improbable magic items–a dragon scale, a talking pearl earring, etc.–and in many cases the retrieval process went in a direction so original it would have stood on its own as a story played straight. (…not that kind of straight!)
My favorite character was Drusilla, irrationally optimistic, heroic in the face of everything and fighting her enemies with a paring knife. Her skin color was never mentioned in the book but the cover shows her as Black.
The three lesbian leads pal around with a straight sendup of the warrior woman trope. She was beginning to remind me of Rivka, my own take on the straight warrior woman cliché until I realized the author had made this one a radfem. So, every once in a while she said something that made me nervous, but all of the book’s lesbians had a different approach and that suited me just fine. There’s also a male ogre who turns out to be progressive in many ways including feminist, and I liked that, too.
This is a book that gives you double f/f-happy-endings plus a healthy dose of reassurance that physical attraction between women is normal (I need this, because it isn’t modeled enough in fiction.)
A sample of some of the fourth-wall mooning:
“Don’t forget how we managed to buy asparagus, marrows, pumpkins, cherries, and apples ripe all at the same time,” Bob said.
“I wasn’t actually going to draw attention to that,” Sandy said. “Because I don’t want whatever is causing it to get embarrassed and stop.”
and a gag that made me hoot out loud, warning for tasteless, when a barmaid is miffed they didn’t have anything to tip her with: “Even Tom the leper leaves me a little something!”
There’s also a wizard who’s so and so “the Off-White.” Yeah, it’s that kind of book. But it’s also a place where four women get to go on a quest, and three of them like ladies, and there’s friendship as well as f/f. And honestly, I did find poetry in all the pretty language Sandy spouts off when she gets going about how gorgeous someone is. I guess I’m just a sucker for that stuff.
BTW, if you find the word ‘dyke’ triggering, read cautiously, but this is a totally lesbian positive book so it’s up to you whether or not that’s worth it. No pressure!