Murmuration

Murmuration
TJ Klune
Difficulty: Easy
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Blurb from the Amazon page:

“In the small mountain town of Amorea, it’s stretching toward autumn of 1954. The memories of a world at war are fading in the face of a prosperous future. Doors are left unlocked at night, and neighbors are always there to give each other a helping hand. The people here know certain things as fact: Amorea is the best little town there is. The only good Commie is a dead Commie. The Women’s Club of Amorea runs the town with an immaculately gloved fist. And bookstore owner Mike Frazier loves that boy down at the diner, Sean Mellgard. Why they haven’t gotten their acts together is anybody’s guess. It may be the world’s longest courtship, but no one can deny the way they look at each other. Slow and steady wins the race, or so they say. But something’s wrong with Mike. He hears voices in his house late at night. There are shadows crawling along the walls and great clouds of birds overhead that only he can see. Something’s happening in Amorea. And Mike will do whatever he can to keep the man he loves.”

Of the many many (many) books TJ Klune has written (that I’ve read), I think Murmuration might be his strongest. Oftentimes in his work the conventions of the romance genre impose themselves in unfortunate, highly visible ways onto his narrative. An otherwise original idea or plot suddenly veers back into frustratingly familiar territory in the form of a random relationship crisis or an obligatory ending sex scene. But in Murmuration, Klune successfully avoids these pitfalls, or rather, he finds a way to turn them to his advantage, allowing his characters and dialogue to thrive uninhibited. But the success of the plot hinges on a central mystery, so unfortunately I can’t say much more than I already have without potential spoilers.

So here are some things I can talk about. Murmuration isn’t one of Klune’s humorous books, but it’s not too grim either (in my opinion) and it doesn’t have the suffocating angst of Into This River I Drown. It just takes its subject matter very seriously, and the reason for this becomes very clear when reading. While he previously dabbled in post-apocalyptic fiction in Withered + Sere, Murmuration is Klune’s first foray into the harder side of science fiction. Traditionally, hard sci-fi deals mostly with technologies and societies, but rarely with individuals, and I used to steer away from it for that reason (though I read it plenty now). So it’s refreshing to see a take on it that foregrounds real people with real lives and real relationships. I’m deleting every sentence after I write it because I’m unsure what’s safe to talk about without giving anything away, so I’m just going to cut this entry short. I recommend giving Murmuration a shot and going in blind, or as blind as you can after having read this.

The Lightning-Struck Heart

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The Lightning-Struck Heart
by TJ Klune
Difficulty: Easy
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

TJ Klune is an absolute machine, somehow churning out at least four reasonably well-developed romances every year. While they are always romances, Klune tries to write in as many genres and with as many types of characters as he can. The Lightning-Struck Heart was Klune’s first stab at high-fantasy and comes off fairly well partly due to his decision to take a comedic approach to the genre.

Sam of the Wilds is an incorrigible apprentice wizard in the kingdom of Verania, and he’s been mooning after the dreamy knight-commander Ryan Foxheart for years. But of course Ryan ends up getting engaged to the ill-tempered Prince Justin instead, crushing Sam’s long-cherished dreams. But when Justin is kidnapped by an apparently very horny dragon, Ryan, Sam, and his friends Gary the hornless gay unicorn and Tiggy the half-giant, set out to rescue him, all while Sam tries to ignore the growing closeness between himself and Ryan.

It’s cute and funny, and absolutely relentless with the punchlines. There’s pretty much no downtime between the jokes, which to some might be a little exhausting, but it’s largely in keeping with the characters. Much of the book’s humor is on the outrageous and over-the-top side, but there’s also a steady stream of banter mixed in with the more pronounced jokes. I still find Klune’s habit of continually retelling certain moments from the story to be tiresome, but it’s easily solved by skipping ahead to the next scene. The Lightning-Struck Heart is a welcome reminder that it’s important to laugh and have fun, especially when gay literature is so often depressing and tragic.