highlands away, my john

I have no idea if this perception in any way reflects popularity in China or other global fandom spaces, but in today's English-language fandom, the “Big Three” danmei writers are Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, priest, and Meatbun Doesn't Eat Meat. This doesn't mean other authors aren't read or known of, but these are the authors with multiple officially licensed titles out via Seven Seas and, in my experience, most English readers coming to danmei since ~2019 will have had the entry point of one of these works.

Remnants of Filth is a novel by the venerable Meatbun. Until last week, she was the only one of the “Big Three” I'd yet to spend any time with. Meatbun's Erha is highly popular but I've held off on actually reading it because there's a lot of noncon and it will either work for me or really, really not. However, I've been in the mood to read pulpy trash, and when I read that Remnants of Filth is a lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers military story, I figured I might as well start there. (Anyone who knew me in my Golden Kamuy days knows what's up.)

Going in, I knew nothing about RoF that wasn't in the one-paragraph book blurb. Let me attempt to summarize volume 1.

Also, huge CW for discussions of slavery, rape, torture, et cetera.


Em X. Liu's If Found, Return To Hell is a novella I found perfectly pleasant to read despite feeling frustrated and/or dissatisfied with most of its choices.

Our hero, Journeyman Wen, is a disaffected intern at a wizarding support hotline in a world that, despite having magic, is much like our own in its reliance on the thankless toil of wage labour. Their discontent leads to an off-the-books handling of the strange case of a college kid's possession by none other than a prince of hell on the lam. This is a charming premise!

I suspect I would have enjoyed this book more if it were either a short story or a novel; the former might have been tighter and more potent in its focus and the latter would have the leg room necessary for richer depth of its characters and relationships. Most of the characters felt thin, with the exception of the protagonist's colleague Nathaniel, who is the kind of cool girl coworker milking a crap job for what she can that I've known and admired many a time. Characters who met within the scope of the novella speedran interpersonal intimacy to land in a found family place that felt largely unearned.

The pacing in the back half felt rushed and everything wrapped up too neatly for my taste, despite liking the general idea of the way the climactic confrontation gets resolved. Both the pacing and plot issues speak to insufficient sense of conflict and stakes.

I was also unconvinced by the choice to use second person POV rather than first, which would similarly accomodate the nonbinary protagonist reveal (a choice about which I have mixed feelings to start with /grumpynonbinaryperson.) Despite being a second person POV apologist, the affective alienation of second person didn't land for me here. I would rather have had a stronger and more distinctive voice which could have accomplished some of that estrangement through qualities of its narration rather than the second person POV brand of detachment.

Even so, it's a quick read and memorable entry in the field of urban fantasy/magic bureaucracy fiction, a mode in which it's at its best. The depiction of miserable corporate drudgery was horrid in a good way. Also, the pleasure of encountering an unexpectedly nonbinary protagonist has not lost its lustre, even if I had quibbles with the delivery.

#reviews #emxliu

I didn't read Enough To Make You Blush: Exploring Erotic Humiliation for work, but it was brought to my awareness during a work meeting, because my life is like that.


This past fall, I decided to get more structured and disciplined with my tarot practice, which has been haphazard and vibes-based for about a decade now. I read (or at least skimmed) a ton of tarot books, many of which are bad, and some of which are good. I'd like to practice writing reviews, so here are writeups for the four I’ve spent the most time with.


This review is long overdue; Maggie Siebert's Bonding was not only my favourite book release of 2022, but my favourite read of 2022 period. Its staying power has been proven in the frequency with which I think back to its most nightmarish images.

Good horror fiction tends to produce one of two responses in me: either I want to roll around in everything it does by attempting to emulate it in some way with my own writing, or I go, “Great, that was fun, I am never going to read this again.” I spent my time reading Bonding flipping between one and the other.

Debut short story collections are often lacklustre, but the pieces that make up Bonding display a remarkable variety in tone, style, and format while retaining a coherent and distinctive authorial sensibility. Siebert goes for the gross-out with gusto and to great effect. Despite unflinching fascination with bodily abjection and excess, my favourite stories, “Witches” and “Ammon,” were creepy as hell courtesy of a strong command of creeping dread.

There's empathy and sensitivity amidst the bleakness—the stories I found the most disturbing were also the saddest, like “Best Friend” and “Every Day For the Rest Of Your Life.” The works are also quite funny, with several, such as “The Alumni Association,” “The Prime Minister,” and “Smells” leaning into surreal humour.

If you like short-form horror, especially of the queer variety, which is unafraid to go to bleak and visceral places, I can't recommend Bonding enough.

#reviews #maggiesiebert #horror

I’m quite sick, and I spent my Sunday morning cleaning out my 100+ mobile browser tabs. The below pieces are ones I’d kept open for weeks to months after reading them, with the intention of responding to them more fully. A few of them I may return to, others I am simply sharing out of interest.


This essay first appeared in yaoi zine 2: the anal/ysis issue.

One could say that I came into maturity during the golden age of yaoi. SasuNaru AMVs were a genre unto themselves on early YouTube. Lawlight icons were inescapable in LiveJournal comment sections. As a middle schooler who liked manga and spent most of my time online, yaoi was a spectre looming over my consciousness that proved impossible to exorcise.


Enter your email to subscribe to updates.