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REVIEW: Striking Balance – Jeanne G’Fellers

Striking Balance - Jeanne G'Fellers

Genre: Historical Dark Fantasy, Magic Realism

LGBTQ+ Category: MC is non-binary bisexual intersex by today’s terms, other rep includes lesbian, ace, aro, gay, bi, gender-fluid, poly

Reviewer: Dan

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About The Book

An Appalachian Elementals Historical Dark Fantasy Side Tale

Benjamin Schnell is the possessor of secrets he wishes he could bury beneath the rich Nolichucky river flat dirt he farms alongside his dear friend, Conall. But secrets lead to lies, lead to more secrets, and all eventually come home to roost in a bed of distrust, even on the 1779 Appalachian frontier.

After Ben is injured, he realizes there are odd things happening around him that others cannot see. Corner shadows take human shapes, lightning bugs dance in broad daylight, and the farm’s strange owner, Master Gow, returns with an offer Conall cannot refuse if Ben is to live. But making a deal with Master Gow will take them deep into the mountains to where a haunted king reigns and Fire balances Water in a delicate natural friendship.

Ben must learn self-acceptance and trust if he and Conall are going to survive because there can be no secrets in the mountains, only truth.

Another rich tale from the Appalachian Elementals world focusing on complex families containing rich LGBTQIA+ characters.

The Review

This book reminds me of several things and nothing all at once. It reminds me of the living history of the Little House on the Prairie series, the dark otherness of Witch Child, and the rambunctious adventures and spunky protagonist of Bloody Jack books. As much as it had elements from those, it stands alone in a lot of ways.

For example, it is unabashed in its queer characters. In fact, almost every single character belongs under the queer or trans umbrella in some way. The King of the Hunters seems to have gathered them on purpose to create a small, human free kingdom of those who’d be misfits and outcasts in the human world. It’s refreshing to see these sorts of characters find happy endings in a historical fantasy setting, since queer people are often overlooked in historical fiction and fantasy.

Even though this takes place in a fairy court, it’s much different than what one traditionally imagines from fairies. It’s not any darker, but it’s much less beautiful and glamorous. The characters lack the glitter, shine, and pretty wings of most fairies, in fact, they all have black hair and eyes, and monstrous, bat-like wings. This makes it a little hard to visualize them as unique characters based on anything other than their size. The main character is very small, his love interest is very large, there’s a plus-sized conquistador, and a trans couple, but they sort of all look the same in my mind’s eye.

The plot at first seemed less than cohesive at first, but it came together at the end. The solution does come literally running into the magical grove where Ben is hiding in the form of a familiar face who also happens to know about a unique (meaning non-Scottish, I think) magic the main antagonist can’t counter.

Some of the pieces of the plot fall a little too neatly and since the Hunters are nigh immortal, the stakes felt artificially high at times. I understand that what they faced under the rule of the antagonist was painful and traumatic, but in the face of hundreds of years, it felt more tenable than it should have.

Sex is a key feature of the story and although the author never goes into details and many scenes are ‘fade to black’ and provides a healthy exploration of sexuality and sex itself. It did feel slightly odd that so many people want to fall into bed with Ben, but it’s a far cry from intersex people being presented as strange and undesirable or as little more than a curiosity.

Sometimes it feels that the author intentionally took tropes and worked to subvert them, but that counter correction can be slightly overwrought at times. However, it’s far preferable to feeding into tired old stereotypes that contribute to the harmful ways diverse people are treated.

The author clearly took the time to craft a detailed world with language and cultures accurate to the time period and to include people from different races, creeds, and genders. The world has its own rules, of which the author makes us aware without hammering the readers over the head.

Overall, it’s an interesting story with characters unique to the historical fantasy genre. It’s great to see Ben come into his own and become comfortable with his identity and for the people around him and closest to him to accept him as he is, instead of expecting him to conform to either side of a binary.

The Reviewer

Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They received their BSED from CCSU in 2013 and wrote their Master’s thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema. Currently, Dan is studying for a second MA in ABA and works in a center school for students with a variety of intellectual, developmental, or multiple disabilities. In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming.  

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