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Top 5 Wednesday: Hate to Love Pairings

This Wednesday’s prompt is couples who started out hating each other.  I didn’t realize I had so many contenders until I realized I had to cut this post into two: book couples and TV couples.  TV couples to come soon, hopefully.

 
tumblr_n2ngzh1iiL1qilgsoo2_r1_500Sansa & Petyr (A Song of Ice and Fire NOT the garbage show which takes a completely different and unwarranted direction with these two): Initially I thought this prompt indicated not pairings that went from hating each other to loving each other, but pairings that I love even in the face of blistering shame. Sansa Stark and Petyr Baelish fit that category rather well, because, well, have you ever seen a more messed up dynamic (well, there’s Jaime and Cersei, who happen to be my other favorite pairing from ASOIAF – do you see a trend here?)? Sansa is the daughter of the woman Petyr once loved.  She didn’t love him back in the same way, and ended up marrying someone else.  Petyr never moved on. Now, he has attached himself to Sansa, who happens to be the spitting image of her mother.  Petyr’s interest in Sansa alternates between fatherly love and lovers’ lust, a rather disturbing contradiction.  This bizarre combo is also interspersed with Petyr’s ambition: he claims to want to marry Sansa off in order to help her win back Winterfell, but whether he is doing this for Sansa or to further his own power (or both) is not quite clear, though he is certainly vocal about declaring his love (and lust) to her, and her consent to his sexual advances is dubious at best. Sansa’s feelings for Petyr are equally ambiguous – she admits she cares for him, but also recognizes that there are two sides to him, one kind and friendly, one scheming and ruthless.  She has trouble telling the two apart.  At the same time, he’s the only person she has left in the world, so she can’t help but rely on him. Their relationship is so bizarre, so complex and twisted, so multi-layered, so dark and creepy and inappropriate, that I can’t help but be utterly fascinated by it.

darklingalinaAlina & The Darkling (The Grisha Trilogy): Remember what I said about loving messed up pairings? Alina and the Darkling don’t start out hating each other either, not exactly, but their relationship certainly devolves into a complex interplay of hatred and attraction.  Initially believing that The Darkling is a force for good, Alina allows herself to be swept up into his seduction of her.  He beguiles her with his declarations of their similarities, their burgeoning powers, and how they are going to change the world together. Alina is drawn to his power and his stature, the fact that they are indeed two of a kind, but she quickly realizes The Darkling is bound to be her enemy. Despite this, I don’t think she ever forgets the hold he had on her.

22077289Jannik & Felicita (House of Sand and Secrets): These two are interesting because they didn’t start out hating each other at all.  In the first book, they’re friends well on their way to becoming more, but tragedy tears them apart. In the second book, they are in a marriage of convenience.  Even at this point, neither of them hates the other, but their relationship is fraught with their tenuous social status and Jannik’s precarious position as a hated minority.  Misunderstandings blossom like thorny flowers between the pair, leading each to believe that they are hated by the other, when in fact they are so in love with each other they can barely see straight.

11774295Hanani & Wanahomen (The Shadowed Sun): I always thought I hated romance until I read N.K. Jemisin’s Shadowed Sun.  In this book, she crafts a love story that I didn’t even realize was a love story until nearly the very end.  It starts with Hanani and Wanahomen on opposite sides of the spectrum in status and personality – Hanani is the only female Sharer-Apprentice from Hetawa, and Wanahomen is a prince-in-exile fighting to take back his kingdom.  Hanani is calm, level-headed, compassionate, while Wanahomen is rash, hot-tempered, and ruthless.  Their relationships starts out quite tense, as opposite personalities clash, but as they live together among the Banbarra tribe, both as outsiders, their feelings for one another intensify from intense dislike to intense love.  Jemisin’s talent shines through here; this is such an incredibly subtle and well-crafted romance.

tumblr_opnz18MwPY1toedf8o1_r1_1280Alabaster & Syenite (The Broken Earth Trilogy): Yes, another N.K. Jemisin example.  I swear, this lady is brilliant at everything she does, and if one day she decided to forego fantasy and just write straight-up romance, I would totally be there for it.  Initially, Alabaser and Syenite don’t like one another at all.  They have two competing worldviews, though Syenite’s is born more out of naivete and lack of experience than anything else (Alabaster is significantly older than her). The two are sent on a dual mission, to answer the call of a city that fears a geologic anomaly, and along the way, to get pregnant.  What begins as a fraught relationship burdened by mechanical sex blossoms into a we-only-trust-each-other type of thing.  As Alabaster and Syenite embark on a relationship with another man (yes, all at once) and have a child together, their bond strengthens and deepens.

Honorable Mention: Hades & Persephone

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Shout-out to the original hate-to-love pairing, am I right? Though there are many interpretations of the myth, the one I hold near and dear is that Persephone went to Hades of her own free will in order to acquire power, something she never had with her mother.  Though initially she and Hades were not so fond of each other, their feelings deepened into mutual love and respect, with Hades falling head over heels first.

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The Blogger Aesthetic Award

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I was tagged by my friend Rachel at pace, amore, libre for the Blogger Aesthetic Award!  Tag created by Liam at Hey Ashers!.

The Rules:

  • Collect any number of images that you feel represent you as a person—your personality, aspirations, favorite things, anything at all that makes you you.
  • Put your chosen images together into a collage of whatever size and shape you find pleasing.
  • Share your masterpiece with everyone, in all the places.
  • Maybe nominate other bloggers as a way to tell them, “Hey, you, I think you’re awesome, and we should celebrate that awesomeness.”
  • Share these rules (and maybe the below tips, if you’re feeling helpful).
  • Tips:

 

Okay.  Before you scroll down further there is something you should know about me: I am very much all about about The Aesthetic™.  I am dedicated and obsessive when it comes to The Aesthetic™.  I have spent a very long time cultivating My Aesthetic™.

You may now proceed to the gigantic 24-image graphic below.

So, because I clearly have nothing better to do, allow me to explain the various aspects of My Aesthetic™:

First up, cats and books! Then we’ve got houses with bright open spaces and lovely views, giving off kind of a suburban feel.  Then Hamilton, which I have yet to see on Broadway but which has become one of my most beloved interests nonetheless.

Then autumn.  Autumn is the season of my heart, my soul.  I love everything about autumn; the wardrobe of coats, woolly socks, oversized sweaters, and boots, cinnamon-spiced everything, dreary skies, apple pies, curling up with hot chocolate, Halloween, falling leaves, pumpkins, candles, apple cider, apple orchards, pine cones…I’ll stop, but I think you get the point.  Autumn.  I love it.

Moving on to travel, which encompasses many things all at once.  Trains, which I am obsessed with.  It was always my dream to take a trip on the Orient Express, and I legit mourned when they discontinued it.  One of these days, though, I’m going to travel in a fancy train just like the one in that picture, and my view will be spectacular.

Then there’s my Americana Travel Aesthetic, consisting of wide-open roads, empty grocery stores at night, bright neon lights on semi-abandoned buildings, shitty motels, random highway diners, and other various trappings of weird American history and folklore.

From there you’ve got the ocean, cities on the ocean, homes on the ocean, walking along the ocean, road trips to the ocean.  Anything to do with the ocean, really.

And last but not least: my vaguely Arab/North African aesthetic, conveyed, of course, using a desert, a lady leading a camel, traditional North African courtyards, and figs (the fruit of my childhood when I couldn’t find mangoes).

This took me an obscenely long time, which does not surprise me at all.

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Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Unlikable Protagonist

I haven’t done Top 5 Wednesday in a while, but this prompt pulled me in.  I love unlikable protagonists (I’m writing one right now)! There’s something so intriguing and compelling about a character who is fundamentally unlikable.  Despite that, I found this list quite difficult to amass! I guess either I’m just not aware of which protagonists people find unlikable or I just don’t notice unlikable protagonists.

Anyway, here we go:

136251Severus Snape (Harry Potter): I had to start out with the apex of unlikable characters, didn’t I? Snape is a horrible person.  Abusive, borderline racist, selfish, bitter, just an all-around terrible person.  I wouldn’t even want to be in the same room with him, let alone be his friend.  And yet Snape is undeniably fascinating: he has spent nearly all of his life regretting and attempting to atone for getting the love of his life killed.  None of his intentions were honorable – he thought he was getting another family killed, and even when he realized it was Lily he didn’t give a damn about her husband and infant son dying.  He just wanted to save her, and whether his feelings for Lily were love or obsession is, I think, irrelevant.  Lily died anyway, and Snape switched sides to atone.  He also – and this is just my personal headcanon here – isolated himself and did everything he could to make other people hate him, because he believed he deserved it.  He kept fighting not necessarily because he believed in the cause, but because he felt he owed it to Lily.  Like I said, fundamentally not a good person, and that’s not even getting into how horrible of a teacher he was (he was Neville’s worst fear for God’s sake!).  But so, so multi-layered, complex, and fascinating.

20821111Adelina Amouteru (The Young Elites): Adelina grew up with her sister and abusive stepfather.  With a parent like that, it is no surprise that Adelina is reserved, wary, and bitter.  However, as her powers begin to manifest and the friends she thought she had abandoned her, Adelina swerves sharply into villain territory.  She sets out to get revenge, abandoning any and all morality in the process.  She wants revenge and she wants power, and she will do anything she can to get it, even as she struggles not to lose her mind.  Being in Adelina’s head is one hell of a  trip; the girl is half insane at this point.  She’s such a compelling, dynamic character.  I’m excited to read the final book in this series!

6296885Isyllt Iskaldur (The Necromancer Chronicles): I don’t know if Isyllt would be considered widely unlikable by everyone, but I find her an unusual female character. She reminds me a bit of a noir detective.  She’s taciturn, pragmatic, and no-nonsense.  After spending her teens in the streets, Isyllt was taken in by the King (sort of) and turned into a kind of spy/necromancer/magician (in other words, she’s super cool).  She’s kind of closed off in a way that female characters usually aren’t, which makes her super intriguing.

 

26228034Nassun (The Obelisk Gate): Essun’s daughter Nassun is not necessarily unlikable, but pitiable.  After experiencing the unimaginable trauma of witnessing her father murder her brother, and then being kidnapped by him as he struggles not to kill her for simply being who she is, Nassun transforms from an ordinary young girl to an unbelievably cold, cynical young woman.  By the end of the book she has veered into such strange, nihilistic territory that being in her head becomes pretty uncomfortable.

 

7762777Petyr Baelish (A Song of Ice and Fire): This is kind of cheating, since I don’t know that I would call Petyr a protagonist, necessarily, but whether we like it or not he is essentially the lynch pin of the entire series.  He set most of the events in the series in motion.  Some thing he did just to create chaos, to see what would happen, in true chaotic neutral form.  Petyr is sneaky and subtle and brilliant (forget TV show Petyr, I’m talking about book Petyr, who is a fundamentally different person).  He’s one hell of a strategist and he’s incredibly ambitious, but like Snape, he is also caught up in a past romance which pushes him from “ambiguously motivated” to “supremely creepy” territory. Despite that, the dynamic Petyr has with Sansa Stark, his lost love’s daughter, is the most fascinating in the entire series.  The pair of a somewhat disturbing dynamic, but I love it all the same, just as I am fascinated with Petyr Baelish.

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Stage Corner: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

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From the moment I walked into the Imperial I knew this would be an unusual experience. The entire theater is subsumed entirely into the show; audience members sit on the stage, lanterns light up the aisles, walls are draped in red velvet, performers dance behind the seats, and twinkling starburst chandeliers dangle from the ceiling.  The intimate staging portends the immersive experience that is The Great Comet of 1812.  Pierogis are tossed at the audience (I caught one, delicious!), as are musical shakers the audience is encouraged to use often.

All I knew going in was that the musical is based on a segment of Tolstoy’s War & Peace, chronicling Natasha Rostova’s affair with Anatole Kuragin.  Natasha’s fiance Andrey is off at war, and in his absence Natasha falls prey to Moscow’s charms and delights.  One of these charms is Anatole, who enlists his sister Helene’s help to seduce Natasha.  Helene is married to the titular Pierre, who is good friends with Andrey and Natasha’s family.  Put like that, it all seems somewhat banal, but these events are taken and transformed into something much grander.

The performance is absolutely wild.  Imagine a cross between a 1930s German cabaret performance and a late 90s underground rave.  The costumes reflect this eclectic fusion of styles and time periods; the dancers simultaneously resembled go-go dancers and characters in a Russian-inspired steampunk novel.  This vaguely phantasmagorical aesthetic is most embodied in the ensemble performances, which are bursting with boundless energy on the part of the performers.  There is so much movement in The Great Comet; it’s all so fun and exciting it makes you want to jump up and join in!

The music is gorgeous, a dizzying blend of traditional Slavic folk music, operatic pop, baroque pop, and electronic.  They come together to produce a performance that is dynamic and exuberant.  The standout performances for me were Lucas Steele’s Anatole and Amber Gray’s Helene.  I’ve only seen Amber Gray perform once before, but her style seems to always include powerful vocals and very intense acting that shocks you with its authenticity.  Steele, with his platinum blonde faux-hawk, delightfully preening demeanor, and croaking tenor stole every scene he was in.

Denee Benton is wonderful in her debut on Broadway, her belting soprano belying her tiny figure and her innocent grins bestowing her with ingenue wholesomeness.  Of course, Josh Groban’s Pierre is as incredible as expected.  He brings to the table not only his much-praised vocal prowess, but a performance that is laced with sorrow and self-loathing.  The role was clearly written for someone with his vocal abilities in mind, and so I look forward to seeing the show a second time with Hamilton’s Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan as Pierre.  Oak, who originated the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, has an incredibly powerful, booming, and versatile voice that is absolutely perfect for the role of Pierre.

Overall I was reminded strongly of the other Rachel Chavkin work I’ve seen: Hadestown.  The similarities are glaring.  Both works are lively and dynamic, both feature a mixture of traditional solos and overwhelmingly ebullient ensemble pieces, both are a blend of styles and time periods, and both have unique staging.  And, not for nothing, but both works also have black woman originating lead roles.  I have no idea if Chavkin has any hand in casting, but that her works seem to have this emphasis on diversity in common certainly bodes well for her future projects.  I’m definitely going to be following Chavkin’s career closely from now on.

It’s difficult to sum up The Great Comet in any meaningful way, and perhaps that’s a good thing.  The show’s strength is in its eclectic style and its wildly enthusiastic and somewhat bizarre ensemble performances.  The atmospheric staging contributes to the intimacy of this immersive theater experience, transporting you from an old New York City theater to nineteenth-century Russia with a steampunk flair.  It’s fun and funny and self-aware and outlandish and exciting, like being invited to an elite private party where everyone is a little bit high on drugs.  It’s one hell of a memorable show, and I can’t wait to experience it again.

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Short Story Friday

In my attempt to become a writer, I’ve taken to writing short stories.  One of them was published this month.  In an effort to improve my craft, I try to read as many short stories as I can.  I’m…rather picky when it comes to short stories, much pickier than when it comes to novels (which is rather contrary, but what can I say), so it’s not often that I find a short story that truly speaks to me.  I’ve realized that I would like to keep track of those stories that touch me or teach me something, and so that birthed a new idea: Short Story Friday.

On certain Fridays, I will share with you three short stories I have read that engaged me in some way.  This will also be a great way for me to encourage myself to read more short stories! I definitely don’t read enough.  And so, without further ado, I present my choices for this Friday:

51Gw-H6abtLSuddenwall by Sara Saab (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 2017): Suddenwall is exactly the high fantasy I like to read.  It chronicles a long war and examines the effects of genocide on the victims and perpetrators, many of whom now live in the sentient city of Vannat.  Somehow, Vannat knows when you’ve done wrong, and when it does, it entraps you within a concrete wall until you leave.  In this short story, Saab introduces a colorful, rich world with intriguing power structures.


Shimmer-21-CoverAnna Saves Them All by Seth Dickinson (Shimmer, September 2014): Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with Dickinson’s debut novel, The Traitor Baru Cormorant.  In this short story, Dickinson demonstrates that he is all about the Sophie’s Choice.  A survivor of violence in Kurdistan, the protagonist Anna tries to negotiate with the strange alien aboard her ship.  Nobody on the crew but Anna can stand to talk to it.  The tension builds rapidly in this story, culminating in Anna making a horrific final decision.

 


TheDarkIssue18-220x340And In Our Daughters, We Find a Voice by Cassandra Khaw (The Dark, November 2016): Khaw’s story is a dark, bloody retelling of The Little Mermaid.  It begins with the Prince cooking and devouring the mermaid’s little sisters, babies who had been too young to resemble humans, unlike her.  The Prince “saved” our protagonist, took her into his home, and seeks to have children with her.  This story echoes with the sinister throughout, a deliciously chilling read that culminates in a bloody twist.