Blasian Thread #9.5

In this thread, I will be spotlighting two books that are...different. These are books that I would not have considered putting up here until I finished reading them. I find both books excellent, even though they are not similar, and I would recommend them anywhere however, I am choosing to put them up here because people interested in Blasian fiction may appreciate them too.

Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar!!
CAN'T FIND A RATIONAL EXPLANATION TO A MYSTERY? CALL IN THE QUIET COUNCIL. The mysterious and glamorous Lady De Winter is one of their most valuable agents. A despicable murder inside a locked and bolted room on the Rue Morgue in Paris is just the start. This whirlwind adventure will take Milady to the highest and lowest parts of that great city - and cause her to question the very nature of reality itself
Camera Obscura is steampunk fiction. That may be enough to throw some people off. I hold some interest in the steampunk genre so reading this book was not a problem for me.  

Before reading the book, I was worried that Milady de Winter would turn out to be a stereotypical unattractive Black woman due to the way she was described physically, she is very tall and wields a gun. I am happy to say that Milady was not a stereotype, at least not to me, she was complex and I could identify with her character, even though I've read reviews that describe 'difficulties' getting into the characters.

Let's see, Milady is from Dahomey, other characters that are not evil and that she interacts with are East Asian. Any time I attempt to come up with a white European character that did not turn out to be either completely evil or have ulterior motives that involved harming Milady, I come up empty. So reading those comments that described difficulties liking or connecting with characters, I figured that they were not left by POCs.

In spite of Milady's domineering physical description,  it was pretty clear that she was supposed to be attractive judging from the reactions of certain male characters towards here, including a bartender from the Moulin Rouge and a highly ranked official in a Chinese secret society.

Camera Obscura is a gritty mystery with some noir elements. I don't want to give away too much but the villain is a sadistic serial killer and Milady goes through his hands, an experience which you can guess changes her forever in a big way. The book also has some mentions of wuxia, I can't comment much on how Camera Obscura handling of wuxia as though I enjoy wuxia, I don't come from the culture that produces it.

There is no romance in Camera Obscura, it is basically a steampunk mystery. Our heroine, Milady de Winters, is an African woman from Dahomey, and due to the mystery she is currently solving most of the other characters, not all, are Asian. I don't want to give too much away but the other main character, excluding the sadistic serial killing villain, is Kai. The story actually starts with Kai, he is also of Chinese descent, and his adventures in a part of East Asia that remained unnamed for a long time because the this is a mystery, remember. As the action picks up and the setting moves from Paris to Vespuccia (North America), Milady, Kai, and the villain are connected. I'll keep on being vague and say that there is some sort of connection between Milady and Kai.

Purchase from: Amazon USA, Book Depository

Unburnable by Marie-Elena John 
In this riveting narrative of family, betrayal, vengeance, and murder, Lillian Baptiste is willed back to her island home of Dominica to finally settle her past. Haunted by scandal and secrets, Lillian left Dominica when she was fourteen after discovering she was the daughter of Iris, the half-crazy woman whose life was told of in chanté mas songs sung during Carnival: "Matilda Swinging" and "Bottle of Coke"; songs about the village on a mountaintop and bones and bodies: songs about flying masquerades and a man who dropped dead. Lillian knew the songs well. And now she knows these songs---and thus the history---belong to her. After twenty years away, Lillian returns to face the demons of her past, and with the help of Teddy, the man she refused to love, she will find a way to heal.

Set partly in contemporary Washington, D.C., and partly in post-World War II Dominica, Unburnable weaves together West Indian history, African culture, and American sensibilities. Richly textured and lushly rendered, Unburnable showcases a welcome and assured new voice.
I think this book should be on every Black woman's reading list. The book gives an insight into Caribbean culture and history, especially as related to Dominica. I'm putting it up here because it also mentions/highlights indigenous issues. Readers here may find the inclusion of Simon the Carib interesting.

Purchase from: Amazon USA, Book Depository

Both Camera Obscura and Unburnable contain some pretty violent and graphic scenes. IMHO, the violence does not detract from the plot. Be warned.


  1. Now these sound interesting. I'm interested in steampunk, but have never read any nor researched it. The concept just sounds fascinating. And I love graphic anything, so perchance these may make it to the waiting list.

    Good work.

  2. I've tried to look up a lot about steampunk just because it sounds so interesting, so the first book would be right up my alley in terms of nerdness. There are actually conventions that cater to this concept, here is two links to give you an idea of what it's about. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk and http://www.steampunklab.com/forum/thread-5.html And for the second book, this one sounds very interesting as well, I've also been curious about the different islands histories, they are both on my list of books to read.

  3. I do like steampunk so I will check out the first one

  4. I will have to put these on my list. The second one in particular seems relevant to my interests, since I am from the Caribbean.

    For those who like steampunk, I sometimes read Beyond Victoriana http://beyondvictoriana.com/, a steampunk blog that is not Eurocentric.

  5. Okay, following the thread to http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/ganvie-the-%e2%80%9cvenice-of-africa%e2%80%9d/ I guess most of you knew about that website. lol

  6. For those interested in steampunk, it is currently Steampunk week at Tor.com! You might want to head over there to learn more about steampunk.

    It is good to see that Beyond Victoriana has been linked to already, I think any person of colour interested in steampunk should regularly visit Beyond Victoriana.


    I do write and have some essays crossposted on BV :)

  7. At some point, I will definitely buy all the books you've recommended! Thank you for bringing these stories to our attention.

  8. I've looked at the gorgeous cover of Camera Obscura so much that I went and added it to my Amazon Kindle cart, as well as the first book in the series, The Bookman. Don't know when I'll read them, but this parlays into our discussion of craptastic book covers turning off would-be readers. Just the opposite happened here. The book has a solid 3-star rating on Goodreads, and the consensus is the same: if you like nice, neat, straightforward plots and HPE endings, then Camera Obscura isn't for you.


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