Review of Bookburners: “O’er the Deep Blue Sea” by Margaret Dunlap

40182522Bookburners: “O’er the Deep Blue Sea” by Margaret Dunlap. Season Four: Episode 6.

I’ve realized that I haven’t spent a whole lot of time talking about Grace/Sal and queer representation in Bookburners. Today’s episode has a lot of Grace and Sal’s relationship, and I have thoughts to share! But before I get into it, here’s the usual spoiler warning and link to past Bookburners reviews.

The Team’s gotten a heads up that those nefarious Swedes are after some sort of magical artifact in the Himalayas, either Tibet or Bhutan. Obviously, Team Three’s going to beat them to it. Or try, anyway. But where do they start? It’s a vast area to cover, spanning two countries. To gain ground, they split the team: Grace and Sal head to Tibet and Liam and Menchú head to Bhutan.

Liam’s his usual self here, AKA he lives big crises of philosophy to other people. Mainly Menchú, who’s got plenty of crises to go around. Actually, the man’s more or less been in a state of permanent crises since the end of last season. Poor Menchú. His quandary this time is whether or not the Vatican (and by extension himself and Team Three) were doing the right thing in fighting magic. Should they have been trying to peacefully coexist with it instead? It’s an interesting question, but as Liam points out, all in the past. No use worrying about it — they need to get ready to face the end of the world.

Onward to Sal and Grace! It’s kind of surprising that I haven’t spent much time talking about their relationship; you know me, I’m always here for queer SFF. Looking back through my earlier reviews, I was mostly happy that they were both confirmed queer in the canon (I’d been wondering if Sal was bi) and said that I didn’t ship them yet but thought I could. Well, I’ve really come around to valuing their relationship. They’re great together. And I love how Grace is using her time the way she wants to, although I really really hope they find a way to fix her impending doom for so many reasons. Mostly because I really love Grace but also because the paranoid part of my mind is whispering, “Now that she’s with Sal, she’s going to die… because that’s what always happens to the queer characters.” I trust Bookburners not to do this, and hopefully, my trust won’t be betrayed.

I’ve also liked that there haven’t been problems with the rest of the team. Liam might have been awkward at first, but I figured that was because Sal was his ex. Menchú directly said that he’s glad Grace is happy. And really, homophobia hasn’t even been considered as a potential obstacle. Which made it a bit strange that Sal was suddenly wondering about it here.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they encountered anything, it was just Sal feeling a pressure to keep her relationship with Grace on the down low in Tibet because of potential homophobia from those around them. But… why is this only coming up now? The two of them worked for the Vatican. Honestly, I would have been more concerned about it there than in Tibet, since it’s where you’ve got contacts and lives and everything and aren’t just travelers. So it feels pretty strange that this only comes up when Sal and Grace go to Tibet. Then again, it may be a byproduct of the serial format, with different authors choosing to focus on different topics.

Then there’s this one other thing, which may be sort of nitpicky: “Even if Sal’s pansexual orgy days had not been firmly behind her, she got the feeling that Grace wouldn’t want to share.”

This line really jumped out at me for a few reasons that I want to unpack. First of all, I feel like it’s playing into the stereotype that pansexual people are hyper-sexual and always interested in sex/group sex. It’s a stereotype that applies to bi people too and is why so many of my bi and pan friends have stories about creepy people asking them for threesomes.

Then there’s this: Sal identifies as bi and there’s no evidence beyond this line that she also identifies as pan. And I don’t think this line is saying she is pan; it seems like a throw-away kind of comment. Also, lot’s of people assume bi and pan are the same things (or don’t even know what pan means), and this seems to be going along with that too.

I don’t know, I’m probably being too obsessive. But even stories that are generally good with L, G, and B (and sometimes trans men and trans women) can be iffy when it comes to letters in the extended acronym. For example, Brooklyn-99 has some throwaway jokes about asexual people that make me cringe. So that’s probably why I’m sensitive to this.

And it’s not that I think this is a big thing, I just wanted to analyze why that line leaped out and made me cringe. I’d be happy to see what other queer Bookburners readers think about this episode.

I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.


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