Just Another Day

As those of you who are on social media will have noticed, yesterday was my birthday. It always weirds me out the way such things work these days. Facebook, in particular, sends me a couple of hundred birthday wishes, many of them from people I don’t know and have probably never even met. I was intending to go through them all today, but I’ve discovered that FB only lets you see the few dozen most recent posts. All very strange. Thanks very much, everyone, and my apologies for not responding personally.

Other than that, it was just another day. I had a meeting in Bristol that I had to go to. A coordination group for local trans communities and service providers. However, I did manage to call into the fine fellows at Independent Spirit and pick up a little something. It was rather nice, though I could probably have done with someone to share it with.

Meanwhile, back to work.

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My Golden Angel

Golden Angel

The latest cosplay-themed contest in Covet Fashion to come back from judging is Golden Angel. While I was putting the outfit together I realized that the model I had in mind to wear it was Laverne Cox. Here she is, doing me proud.

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Reclaiming Words at Bath Uni

Last night I was an invited panelist at a meeting of the Bath University LGBT+ Group. It was an intersectional event, and the panel includes representatives from the university’s race and gender equality groups (though not a disability activist, which was a shame). The panel was part of a campaign the LGBT+ group is running called “That’s So Straight”, which aims to raise awareness of the use of “gay” to mean “bad”.

The theme of the panel was reclaiming words. Should we, the panelists were asked, use words such as C*nt, N*gger, F*ggot, Tr*nny and so on when they are still viewed as offensive by many members of our respective communities? It was a wide-ranging and interesting discussion, and we ended up mostly agreeing that reclaiming words was a good thing, but with significant reservations.

Chloe for the gender equality group made the good point that the offensiveness of words is very much dependent on power structures. Calling a man a pussy is offensive in a way that calling a woman a dick will never be.

Miada for the race equality group noted that word reclamation is generally led by young people, and the elders may not always be happy about what they are doing. I noted that a lot of older LGBT folk, especially gay men, are very upset about the reclamation of queer.

For my own part I described how tr*nny is generally viewed as offensive by much of the trans community, but is a beloved nickname for many cross-dressers.

I also opined that, due to the games played on social media, the whole idea of offensive words has pretty much jumped the shark. When you have a group who refuse to accept any term for people who are not trans other than “normal people”, and reject anything else as a slur, it becomes very difficult to talk about trans issues. Also I see quite a lot of people on Twitter who proudly have SJW as part of their handles, while another sizeable group is running around wailing, “SJW is a slur, how dare you call me that!”.

It is a difficult issue. On the one hand I profoundly distrust the policing of language. On the other hand, hate speech exists, and so does carelessness. I noted, that the list of words people had suggested to use to mean “bad” instead of “gay” included “lame”. Some of the gay guys actually defended that, which is why I wish there had been a disability activist there.

At the end of the panel we talked about words we would like to reclaim. My own suggestion was “Radical Feminist”, which I would like to mean something other than an angry bigot who spends all her time policing other women’s behavior, allies with the likes of GamerGate, and thinks that the need for the extermination of trans women is the most important issue facing feminists today. My thanks to people on Twitter who sent in their suggestions. Special thanks to Lee Wind who suggested reclaiming the term “family values”, and to Gili Bar-Hillel who wants to reclaim the word “puppy”.

My thanks to Ellen Edenbrow for inviting me and chairing the panel so well, and to all of my fellow panelists.

Posted in Feminism | 2 Comments

Juliet Interviewed

A little bit of Wizard’s Tower news. The fabulous Juliet E. McKenna has been interviewed by The Skiffy and Fanty Show. According to the blurb she talks about, “her work, politics and their influence, her experience with historical research, and feminism”. I’m looking forward to listening to it.

Posted in Podcasts, Wizard's Tower | 2 Comments

Reviewers Wanted

I’ve had two requests today from people who are looking for book reviewers, so I am passing them on.

First up is a new venture called Shoreline of Infinity. It is a new magazine based in Scotland. They plan to publish fiction as well, and of course they are looking for art. They appear to be paying minimal rates for fiction and art, and nothing for reviews. The magazine will be published in ebook formats, and in print, and you can pre-order issue #1 for £2.50, or the first five issues for £10.

Also I have email from SF2 Concatenation which is a very long-established webzine. They are looking to expand their list of reviewers. They do ask that you live in the UK, presumably because they need to post you books. Again there is no pay.

Neither of these publications is on the list of venues surveyed by the Strange Horizons Count, but they might be in future years. In any case, the more reviews that are written by people who are not straight cis white men the better. If you fancy trying your hand at reviewing, why not give one of these venues a try.

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Cersi is a Winner


Every so often Covet Fashion has what are essentially cosplay competitions, in that you have to style a look from fiction. This week, to coincide with the start of the new series of Game of Thrones, they asked us to design an outfit for a ruthless queen of a fantasy kingdom. They weren’t allowed to use the name, of course, but from the background image it was pretty clear which fantasy kingdom they had in mind.

Naturally I had to do Cersi. The dress isn’t really very queenly, but as I’m new to the game I haven’t accumulated many ballgowns and can’t really afford to buy one. However, I had won a green one in a previous contest so I went with it. I’m really pleased with the choice of makeup. I think it makes our girl look suitably villainous yet still very pretty. And she got more than 4 stars, which means she won a prize for me.

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Blade Runner – Flash Fiction

In the future, in a world not unlike The Culture, gender transitions are absolute. Biological science has advanced to the point at which they can re-program your entire body, even editing your chromosomes. Of course you do still want to be the same person, so the brain structure is not changed. Only the cell internals are edited, not the connections. Your skills and memories will still be intact.

On a planet called Greer they have invented a psychometric test designed to detect memories of having lived in a gender other than that which your body currently manifests. It is the only known way of telling if someone is trans or not. It is known as the Raymond-Bindel test. The people of Greer employ an elite cadre of assassins whose job it is to use this test to hunt down trans people and kill them.

They do not call this execution.

They call it, “a cure”.

Posted in Fiction, Gender, Movies | 1 Comment

The Monet Dress

Monet dress

Years ago, when I had money (because I was still trying to pretend to be a man), I used to buy magazines like Cosmo and Marie Claire and study the fashion pages. I even, for a while, wrote a fashion column for the Beaumont Society magazine. It was probably quite bad. Post transition, I found that I was much better at writing about books than about clothes, and in any case fashion is a young woman’s game. However, playing Covet Fashion has re-kindled my interest. It turns out that while you can take the fashionista out of the journalist for a while, you can’t take the journalist out of the fashionista. Hence this article.

Two of the best scores I have had in the game thus far have involved the same dress. You can see the outfits above. The one on the left is for a tea party, and the one on the right for going shopping in Barcelona. They are very similar, but also have some important differences.

The hair difference is an artifact of the game. When I did the tea party outfit I had only just started playing. Since then I have leveled up and now have access to a wider range of hairstyles. The one on the right, while not exactly like my own hair, is pretty much what I’m aiming for, and can more or less achieve if I devote enough time and styling product to it.

The other differences are deliberate. The pink shoes in the tea party outfit keep it feeling light and summery. In the shopping outfit the black shoes and the belt add a sharper edge for impressing the staff in designer clothes shops. And there’s the big tote bag to carry all of my purchases.

The dress in question is this one by Kaii. At $130 it is fairly reasonable for designer wear. IMHO it looks much better on my dark-haired model than on the blonde on the Kaii website. But what if I wanted this look for myself? Well my hair isn’t that dark either. More importantly I’d have to lose about 5 inches off my waist to fit into the largest size that Kaii has available. I could probably do with losing most of that, but that’s a separate story.

On the other hand, that style of dress is very much in this spring. For example, there’s this one from Next. It has roughly the same silhouette (sleeves obviously excepted), and the same impressionist aesthetic. It is also only £25, and is available in sizes well beyond what I need.

So yeah, that’s how I’m amusing myself these days. I can assure you, it is much more fun than getting into online fights, which is what lots of other people I know seem to be doing.

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Exploring Gender Fluidity through Science Fiction and Fantasy

This talk is full of spoilers for the various books that are discussed.

The audio track is a bit quiet, but I’m playing it through speakers and it is clear enough.

My thanks again to the University of Liverpool, Professor Beer, the Flagship Group, the Liverpool University Library, and the SF Foundation for making this talk possible. The official page for the talk on the University website is here, and they may prefer you to leave any comments there.

Posted in Gender, Science Fiction | 4 Comments

Cats 1 – 0 Sharks

Bobcat catches shark

That is one badass bobcat.

Full story at National Geographic.

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A Report On My Trans History Talk

Many thanks to Katie Herring for this lovely write-up of my “Potted History of Gender Variance” talk. It is always heartwarming when people enjoy something you have done.

Chupchikoni the trans-male penguin is probably my favorite character from the talk as well. However, I have a soft spot for the Quariwarmi, who were trans Inca priests, and I really want to know more about their trans god, Chuqui Chinchay, who was apparently known as The Rainbow Jaguar. I also want to know a lot more about Tuwais, the non-binary singer who founded Early Arabic Classical music.

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And Now Radio 4 Does Trans Kids

Yesterday afternoon BBC Radio 4’s PM program ran a short segment on trans kids. It is available on iPlayer, and the trans coverage is about 22 minutes in.

Once again the program seems fairly positive on the surface, but is let down by careless (or possibly deliberate) framing. Helen Belcher’s son is utterly charming in his brief interview on life as the child of a trans parent, and the head teacher of the school interviewed is clearly trying hard to do the right thing. The young trans girl they are talking about appears to have had a positive experience of transitioning at school (at least thus far).

But look at this tweet from the journalist who did the interview.

The key phrase there is “boy who wants to be a girl”. As with Victoria Derbyshire’s show, this is framing the narrative as someone who is “really” a boy and who is making some sort of lifestyle choice to live a fantasy.

Things go pear-shaped at the end of the segment as well when Helena Lee talks about government guidance. I guess she’s probably just quoting the Department of Education, but if you use the term “sexuality” in the context of trans kids you are either pushing the idea that being trans is somehow a sexual preference (and therefore not an appropriate matter for pre-pubescent children to learn about), or you are saying that your LGBT policy is in fact an LGB policy and nothing will actually be done for trans people. In the case of the Department of Education it probably means both.

I know I’m harping on a lot about this, but it is really important. It is great that trans folk and their allies are getting to speak for themselves rather the being judged by experts, but if the presenters of this programs insist on always putting forward an anti-trans line, either for “balance” or “controversy” then most cis listeners will still come away thinking that the anti-trans line is correct.

And that whole thing about trans people being “really” their assigned-at-birth gender, and therefore people who are living a lie; we know what that leads to, don’t we. It leads to murder.

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Come Back, Brontosaurus, All Is Forgiven

Five-year-old me is so very happy.

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How Not To Do Trans Kids on TV

This morning BBC2’s brand new daytime magazine show, hosted by Victoria Derbyshire, led off with a feature on trans kids. There were some very good things about it, but also some really bad stuff. I’m not entirely sure who to blame for this. In the article that she did for the BBC website Derbyshire is much more sympathetic towards trans kids than she was in the show. Also Lewis Hancox, who was on the show, commented afterwards that she’d been very nice. I suspect editorial interference. Here’s what happened.

The segment got off to a really bad start with Derbyshire stating that the two kids she would be interviewing were “boys who were living as girls”. She didn’t actually say that they were “really boys, and pretending to be girls”, but the implication was there. What’s more she repeated this phrase at least twice during the show, to make sure that the message got through. There would be no acceptance of the kids as girls.

Then we got to the interviews, which were pretty relentless. Almost every question that Derbyshire asked the two girls was designed to get them to say that they were just going through a phase and would change their minds later. The interviews with the parents focused on the idea that they were harming their kids by allowing them to transition, and that the kids’ gender-variant behavior was somehow the parents’ fault. Normally I’d be pleased to see a lesbian couple on TV, but it was pretty clear from the questioning that little Jesscia’s parents were only on the show to allow Derbyshire to insinuate that their lesbianness had somehow caused Jessica’s transness, and by extension that lesbians were unfit to bring up children.

Later in the show there was a panel discussion involving Lewis Hancox; Loretta, one of the vloggers from My Genderation; Jackson, a young trans man; and Susie, the current Chair of Mermaids. This was much better in that we had a bunch of adult trans people able to assert that transition had benefited them. Even so, Derbyshire’s questions were again largely antagonistic in content if not in tone. And there was the inevitable question about what each person had between their legs. I rather wish someone had asked the same question of Derbyshire.

To give you a better idea of how this all came over to me I’m going to pick up an example that Christine Burns used on Twitter. Suppose the show was about left-handed kids. Would you expect all of the questions to them be about whether they would grow out of it and learn to write properly? Would you expect the questions to the parents to be whether they were ruining their kids lives by allowing them to choose to be left-handed instead of insisting that they behave properly? Well of course not. And yet it wasn’t that long ago that such questions would have been asked. When I was at school there were still teachers who would punish pupils for writing left-handed.

That’s basically where we are with trans kids today. Most of society thinks that they are somehow unnatural, and that the right thing to do is bully them until they conform. It wasn’t until we got to the panel that Susie was able to raise the question of how harmful that might be. (Paris Lees makes the same point very well in this article about the Louis Theroux show.)

One thing that both Theroux and Derbyshire harped on about endlessly is the idea that kids might change their minds about gender transition when they got older, and that as a result they were making a dreadful mistake by transitioning young. During the panel discussion Derbyshire brought in a specialist from New York, Dr. Aron Janssen who is (amongst an impressive list of titles) Clinical Director of the Gender and Sexuality Service at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. He was asked how likely it was that kids would change their minds, and his response was that current research suggests that around 75% of them would.

As you can imagine, my ears pricked up at that. After the show, Susie linked to him on Twitter so I was able to introduce myself and ask for more information. (I do have a very good excuse: I’m helping write some trans awareness training for Bristol University Medical School.) Dr. Janssen kindly replied, attaching a couple of papers by a Dutch team that has been working with trans kids for many years. Having looked through the papers, what I’m seeing is as follows.

Yes, a substantial majority of kids who are treated for gender variant behavior will eventually grow out of it.

However, a significant minority (around 25% according to Dr. Janssen) do not, and those kids are highly likely to benefit from medical transition.

The growing out of it generally occurs in an age range of 10 to 13 as puberty starts to kick in. This is also the point when puberty blockers would begin to be prescribed. Prior to that there is no medical intervention, so the kids who do stop their gender variant behavior will probably not have had any medication.

The data is for all kids who present for treatment due to having gender variant behavior. By no means all of them wish to transition socially. However, a desire to transition socially is a strong indicator that the gender variant behavior will persist through puberty.

What we are seeing here, then, is doctors learning how to distinguish between, on the one hand, those kids whose behavior isn’t stereotypical for their birth gender, and on the other those who really need full gender transition. As it turns out, the kids themselves generally understand their feelings pretty well, and those who need to transition will opt to do so socially before there is any need to do so medically.

Of course there is a lot more detail than I’ve presented here. The Dutch doctors looked at many different factors including the language the kids use when self-identifying, and their observed behavior. Interestingly they found parental reports of behavior of girls to be less reliable as an indicator than was the case with boys, suggesting that parental expectations of gender performance are more rigid for girls than for boys. Nevertheless, the point remains that the “making a mistake” issue can and should be challenged with evidence rather than being left hanging there as bait for haters.

It is still good that trans people are being allowed to speak for themselves, but on the basis of this show the media still has a very long way to go before it will treat us with respect, rather than as an excuse for artificial controversy and a target for their own prejudices.

Update: edited as per Jackson’s comment below. Profuse apologies for the error.

Posted in Gender, TV | 4 Comments

Last Day for GlitterShip Kickstarter

We are fast approaching the final day for Keffy Kehrli’s Kickstarter campaign for GlitterShip, the LGBT SF&F fiction podcast. Keffy has easily smashed his initial funding targets, and as a consequence episodes will be 4 per month rather than 2 per month. There was a stretch goal to allow for 2 episodes a month of original fiction rather than reprints, but as that looked quite far off Keffy has added an easier goal for just one episode of original fiction per month. That looks achievable. Go pledge now!

Posted in Feminism, Podcasts, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Hello, Spacegirl

SpacegirlSo, I have worked out how to export images from Covert Fashion. (It wasn’t hard, there’s a Share function which includes options like PDF and DropBox). This is one I’m rather fond of.

One of the nice things about the game is that many of the contests have fun themes. Sure you might be asked for an outfit for a garden party, or a dinner for two at a 5-star restaurant, but you might also be asked to come up with an outfit that would not look out of place in a cosplay contest.

This one was actually a design for a “Space Oracle”, whatever that means, and it doesn’t score that well because it wasn’t mystical enough. However, having seen that top I knew I had to use it. I bet that girl’s ship could out-run the Millennium Falcon any day.

Posted in Clothes, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

BBC2 Does Trans Kids

Last night BBC2 aired a program called Transgender Kids, fronted by Louis Theroux. It is available on iPlayer, for those of you who can get such things. It is set in the San Francisco Bay Area and focuses on a number of young patients of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at UCSF Hospital.

I should start by saying that it is one of the best documentaries about trans people I have seen. In particular the kids were given plenty of air time to speak for themselves, the parents interviewed were mostly very supportive, and the program appeared to be trying to say the right things, though because it wasn’t very explicit it is certainly open to alternative interpretations.

Having said that, there were still some fairly serious problems, starting with the use of Theroux as the presenter. He appeared to be trying to be sympathetic, but his usual screen character is that of a detached, somewhat skeptical guide to the weird and bizarre corners of humanity. Consequently he tended to present his interviewees as lab specimens rather than patients.

This wasn’t helped by the program’s obvious need to ask the questions it felt the viewers would want asked. And because this is the cis gaze we are talking about here those questions tended to be intrusive and prurient. Sadly that sort of thing is pretty much inevitable in any program made by cis people about trans people, which is why projects like Fox & Lewis’ My Genderation, made by trans people for trans people, are so valuable.

The medical staff at the hospital appeared to be very supportive, and their boss came out with a couple of very interesting comments. Firstly she claimed to have seen kids expressing clear trans gender preference as young as two years old. I can’t remember anything about being two, and have only been confident about dating my own feelings back to around five years old. It’s highly significant to have evidence of trans identity long before then.

The boss doctor also did a great job of taking down Theroux when he came out with the standard fear-mongering complaint that allowing kids to swap gender so young in life is a huge risk. “What if it turns out to be a mistake”, he asked. The doctor responded that you also have to consider the risk of not providing treatment. Given the suicide rates of trans kids, not helping them is quite likely to result in serious injury or death.

What the program didn’t get right was do a proper job of stressing the difference between puberty blockers and cross-gender hormone therapy. The purpose of puberty blockers is to give the patient the opportunity to delay the unwanted physical effects of puberty while they try out their new identity. If they are withdrawn, puberty proceeds as normal. Cross-gender hormone therapy indices puberty in the preferred gender, and therefore has permanent effects. It sounds like hormones are made available at a somewhat younger age in California than they are here, but even so the program should have made it much more clear that the younger patients were not being given irreversible treatments.

It also got back on the fear-mongering track with one of the older trans kids. The girl and her parents were understandably worried about what the future might hold. At 14 you are thinking about boyfriends, and possibly about marriage and children. Young trans people clearly don’t have the same prospects as cis kids of the same age. At this point there was no friendly doctor to step in and ask, “ah, but what sort of life will they have if they don’t transition?” The assumption is that you’ll have a terrible life as a trans person, and a better future if you live the rest of your life as a lie, knowing that you had a chance of authenticity and turned your back on it, and worrying that all of your friends would abandon you if they knew the truth. Of course when I was a kid the argument was generally, “you’d be better off dead than transitioning”, so I guess we’ve made progress.

What could have been the best part of the program was the variety of different attitudes that kids had. There was little Camile who at 5 was absolutely adamant that she was a girl, but in contrast there was Cole/Crystal who was very happy being a girl at home, but equally figured they’d probably grow up to be an effeminate man. There was a young trans boy who had just had top surgery but didn’t see the need for anything else. And even Camile’s parents, faced with the question as to what they’d say if their daughter changed her mind later in life, simply said they’d accept it and support her decision.

All of this should have resulted in an emphasis on the variety of trans experience, and on the need for each patient to find the solution that fits them best. However, because this was never explicitly stated, and because Theroux came over as unable to get his head around all of this, the program could easily be seen as setting one type of trans experience against another, and perhaps holding Cole/Crystal up as as the sane version.

Thankfully, because the kids and their parents were so great, I think the program was still very positive overall. As someone (I think Helen Belcher) said on Twitter, one thing it did do very effectively was give the lie to the idea that being trans was an adult phenomenon, probably something to do with a perverted sex drive.

The final positive thing that came out of it was that everyone I knew on Twitter started banging on about the need to support the UK’s only charity for families with trans children, Mermaids. Hopefully they will have got some money out of it. I note with some concern that they were left off the BBC’s own list of sources of support, and I don’t believe that can have been an accident.

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A New Time Sink – Playing Dress-Up

If I have no time to do anything for anyone from now on, you can totally blame Rachel Swirsky for introducing me to Covet Fashion. It is an online game, and basically the idea is that you get to spend game money on virtual designer clothes that you could never afford in real life, and put together fabulous outfits.

Well it is a bit more complicated than that, obviously. There are contests that you can enter to win more game money and status by designing outfits for specific events. You can also get game money by swapping it for real money at a non-ruinous exchange rate. And you can hook the thing up to Facebook and play with your friends.

There are caveats, obviously. It doesn’t appear to be ruinously expensive, but it is ferociously addictive if, like me, you love fashion. The virtual self that you get to dress up will look nothing like you unless you happen to be supermodel material (though she’s a damn sight more curvy than Barbie). And you will never be able to afford the very real designer clothes that you buy virtual versions of, although the game will occasionally try to persuade you to do so. Of course if you are good at this fashion lark you’ll know that the thing to do is get a sense of what the designers are offering this season and then find a cheap knock-off of the look in chain stores.

It occurs to me that if you are new to femininity (and I’m assuming a few of you are) then a game like this can be a really good way of learning about fashion. As I said earlier, the model in the game won’t look like you, so you can’t necessarily use it to decide what to wear yourself, but you will learn a lot about putting a look together, and about how to assemble a utilitarian wardrobe.

Now I need to work out how I can save pictures of the outfits I have designed so that I can share them here.

Oh, and if anyone wants to start playing, let me know. You can earn game money for introducing friends.

Posted in Clothes, Gaming | 2 Comments

Brief Movie Review – Interstellar

As there was nothing much of interest happening last night, and I was pretty much done on the training material I had to write, I decided to settle in with a nice meal and a movie. Interstellar had just come out on Blu Ray, and I had some steak and a bottle of Aussie Shiraz for the holiday.

I’m glad I had some really good wine. I hadn’t quite understood the people who had said they had walked out after about half an hour when they saw the film in the cinema. Now I do.

Remember that bit at the end of Contact where it goes all woo-woo and mystical. Interstellar is like that. For. Three. Fucking. Hours.

Look, if I want a totally daft movie then at least give me one that is beautiful to look at, doesn’t try to pretend it makes sense, and has space vampire and jet boots. OK?

Of course there’s still three hours of extras to watch yet. It may be that Interstellar, like the Hobbitses, is far more interesting in the making than in the viewing. Then again, some of the extra promise to explain the “science” behind the film…

Posted in Movies | 3 Comments

Book Review – Glorious Angels

I have been looking forward to the new Justina Robson novel for some time, and picked up a copy as soon as I could find one. It did not disappoint. In fact I really wish that I had the time to read it again, but I have this huge To Be Read pile that needs working on. Like any book, it won’t appeal to everyone, and a novel set in a world in which women are acknowledged to be the superior gender won’t go down well in certain parts of fandom (“Oh noes! Science fiction destroyed again!!!”), but hopefully Glorious Angels will sell in sufficient quantities to encourage Gollancz to buy more books from Justina. I know I want to read them. You can read my (very slightly spoilerly) review here.

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