The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen. Less Than Three Press. 2018.
Note: I do not recommend this book to trans and/or non-binary readers.
Content Warnings for review (in white, highlight to read):
Discussion of trans antagonism and transmisogyny targeting both an adult trans person and a trans child, including trans antagonism between intimate partners. Discussion of threats to “cure” transness in a child. Discussion of an aroace character experiencing continued harassment after saying no to dating.
Content warnings for the book are at the end of the review.
I wanted to read this because it was described as fluff, centers a dragon who is not an antagonist, has a largely queer and trans cast and I had heard good things about the aroace representation. Honestly, even without the rest, I am pretty much sold on most stories that center dragons who are not antagonists. I yearn for dragon stories where they are full complex characters and not the enemy of the MCs. Perhaps even an MC themself!
There are some lovely aspects to this story. I adored Snap, the dragon, and enjoyed watching his relationship with Violet evolve. There was a sweet fairy tale feel to the prose and structure of the story. I liked the details about the dragon’s hoard, quite a bit. In general, Snap stole the show, for me.
As an ace spec and aro spec questioning reader (likely demiro and gray ace or demisexual), I had mixed feelings about the aroace representation. I’m not aroace though, and I want to note that this aspect of the story is ownvoices.
Violet’s aroaceness is rather understated, and I had hoped it would be a bit more prominent in the story, as Violet is the main POV character. I was glad Violet knew he was aroace and never tried to be allo, and I liked that Snap supported him in who he was. I struggled with the fact that his aroaceness is revealed to the reader when folks hit on him. (This is a common issue with aro spec and ace spec identity reveals in fiction; so common Claudie Arseneault wrote an essay about it (you can access that via links in this thread). And I was uncomfortable that one of these people continue to “tease” him by acting romantically toward him (giving him pet names) after he very clearly tells her he isn’t interested. So much of the message of the book was around accepting people who are different, but it never really felt like anyone accepted his aroaceness beyond himself and Snap.
I was deeply troubled by the trans representation. I need to explain a bit about the plot in order to discuss this. (Spoilers in white, highlight to read.)
The secondary characters are a cis lesbian (Juniper) and a trans lesbian (Holly), and they are a couple. They spark the central action in the story: they have a fight and Holly gets very upset; the next morning Juniper is missing. The central quest in the story is looking for her.
The fight was about a young trans girl whose mom just realized she was trans and sought advice from Holly because Holly is trans. But the mom, Moss, didn’t listen to Holly and decided to try to force her six year old kid not to be trans. Holly was upset and worried she made things worse for the kid. She gets in a fight with Juniper when her cis wife says that Moss is just trying to keep her kid safe (by trying to cure her transness). Holly gets really upset and says if her wife doesn’t even understand and isn’t on her side, nobody cis will ever get it.
This is the inciting incident for the main plot. It’s not ideal to have a quest sparked by transmisogyny, as it uses oppression as a plot device, but I was more deeply troubled by how this situation gets resolved. In my read, the book sends the message that Holly was “wrong” to say that to her wife. That it was a “horrible” thing to say. Holly seems to believe this herself. When they are reunited, she apologizes to Juniper for saying it and getting mad, takes all the blame for the fight onto herself.
Meanwhile, her wife went on a quest for a magical solution to convincing cis people that transness is valid. Juniper never apologizes for anything except taking off without leaving a note to say where she was going. Yes, ideally you would trust that your wife didn’t intend to wave away your fears for that little trans girl and try to cisplain the transmisogynist gender policing parent as a good parent to you. But it’s also perfectly reasonable and makes a lot of sense that you might not. The idea that you must always trust that your cis wife has your back as a trans person no matter what she says is bullshit.
Once I realized that Juniper likely took off on her own and hadn’t been kidnapped, I was much more worried about that little trans girl who was going to get gender policed and abused around her transness by her mom. That was where the high stakes were for me, but this issue was ignored by all the characters; nobody was worried about that kid; they all just leave town. Which felt like a clear message that the book was saying Juniper was right to take the mom’s side and say Moss was just protecting her child by trying to cure her transness.
Most of the story was about the quest, which was partly focused on Junipers plan to make the world better for trans people. She gets a lot of kudos for that in the story, and is never held accountable for what she said in the argument with her wife. The story seems really invested in framing her as the best trans ally ever.
When they return, the issue with the little trans girl has just been kinda resolved off page without explanation. We just see the kid all bubbly about her new name and her awesome new dress, and Moss thanks Holly for talking to her, doesn’t mention how she’d left vowing to make her kid not trans. Then Holly thanks Moss, tearfully, and hugs her. She doesn’t say why, but it’s implied that she is thanking her for letting her child be trans/accepting her child’s gender.
So what we have are two cis people that may be well intended but have done hurtful transmisogynist things who are then not held responsible for them at all but instead are celebrated for their efforts at acceptance and activism as allies by the narrative and the main trans character. In short, this feels like a narrative where cis people get patted on the back and given ally cookies and trans people get gaslighted for being upset about transmisogyny. It felt awful to read, and made me sad.
While I can see why folks described it that way, this book didn’t feel fluffy to me. The trans representation ruined my reading experience; I was deeply distracted by a situation where I felt a child was in peril and none of the cis people in the story were trying to help her, and I could not root for the romantic relationship given the dynamics around transness. It made it difficult to enjoy the quest or care about any of the cis characters.
- Aroace main character
- Trans lesbian secondary character
- Lesbian secondary character
- Trans girl minor character
- Aroace author
Content Warnings for the book (in white, highlight to read)
Trans antagonism. Young trans girl child is not accepted by her mother who intends to force her not to be trans. Trans woman secondary character is blamed for being upset about her wife taking the parents side. The story frames this as her being horrible to her wife; she apologizes and her wife is framed as the perfect cis ally. Aroace MC is hit on repeatedly even after clearly expressing discomfort and saying he is not interested. Characters on quest are in minor peril; no one is physically harmed.
- Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
- I have had some contact with the author on Twitter
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