Hall, A.J.: Lust Over Pendle

[Split for import, originally part of the prior post; see that post for comments.]

I should mention that the Draco trilogy is not slash, though Harry/Draco seems to be popular. Actually, Draco seems to be popular; I suspect a lot of people feel that he ought to be more interesting than he is in the books so far. One work that also manages to make Draco interesting is A.J. Hall’s Lust Over Pendle, which was just completed and is, accordingly, the reason I’m writing this now.

Lust Over Pendle is slash, and Draco/Neville, of all things. I should say that I’m generally not inclined towards slash, for two reasons. First, I don’t comprehend the impulse. Why heterosexual female fans would want canonically heterosexual male characters falling into bed with each other—nope, sorry, don’t understand. Second, I just don’t find reading about sex between men very interesting. (I also don’t understand something else I’ve encountered poking around HP fandom, which is “ships,” or people rooting for a specific character pairing. As far as I’m concerned, there’s not enough in canon for me to have any opinion; they’re barely into puberty, after all. I’ll buy a relationship if Rowling or any other does a good job of it, and that’s all. [2])

Lust Over Pendle doesn’t push my dislike-of-slash buttons for a couple of reasons. It begins with the relationship already in existence, several years after Draco & Neville, we are told, came out (separately). It’s far less work for me to believe that the sexuality of minor characters, who we last saw at fourteen or so, might not be what it appeared then. (There’s an interesting discussion of the interaction between slash and homosexuality on Mahoney’s LiveJournal.) Also, as the author says in the rating, “non-explicit sexual situations occur, but I would hate to disappoint anyone who is misled by the title into expecting anything really racy on that front.” And beyond all that, it’s a lovely and believable relationship. We aren’t told that much about how they got to be the people they are today, but you can see the traces of their canon selves, and it works.

There are a number of notable things about this novel. For one, anyone who’s complained that sf needs more cranky old women really ought to check this out. The main thing, though, is the tone, which is impressive in a very baffling sort of way—because I have no idea how the author pulls it off. The summary of the initial chapters describes it as

A comedy of manners, in the Golden Age detective thriller genre, set in the year immediately after Voldemort’s fall. . . . [A] Daily Prophet paparazzo manages to take a sneak photograph on the beach at an exclusive Indian Ocean hideaway resort, and the families of both Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy find themselves Very Startled Indeed. . . .

It is indeed a comedy of manners, and a clever and light and funny one. At the same time, it convincingly portrays Voldemort’s defeat as a war, an actual modern war with allied commanders, sweaty moments on urgent missions, people being stuck doing necro-cryptography during the mopping up phase, and combat flashbacks—very different from the mythic one-on-one confrontation I imagine Rowling to be working up to. (There is a passing reference that suggests it did come down to Harry at the end, but the full backstory isn’t given; I’d love to read it if the author wanted to write it.) Quite nasty things happen during the story as well, and yet it manages to preserve the light tone while treating the nasty things seriously. I can’t really think of anything that pulls off quite the same effect; Barry Hughart, for slightly different values of light tone, but that’s all that comes to mind right now. It’s quite an accomplishment.

I could quote pages from this; I shall try to spare you. (I read this because of Morgan’s recommendation, which is worth reading and has some more quotes.) Here’s part of the section from the first chapter that convinced me to keep reading:

During what wizards and witches were now coming to refer to as Recent Events Voldemort had had a simple initiation test for those recruits who – depressingly – had flocked to join him after his initial successes. If they wished to become a Death Eater they must kill a victim selected for them at random, within twenty-four hours, without assistance. Furthermore, if Voldemort’s star should fall, it would be clear to the whole world that the individual’s decision to take the test had been one of pure free will: no hope this time of sheltering behind Imperius.

Dying in the attempt was a honourable end (and, of course, neatly weeded out those whose incompetence might embarrass the Dark Lord later). Failing to carry out the test and surviving was not an option. Refusing the test, warning the intended victim, and then walking back to Voldemort’s HQ to inform his second in command that one had done so was an act of such spectacularly suicidal stupidity that a depressed lemming would have earnestly counselled against it.

Even if the second in command concerned was the recruit’s own father. Especially if the second in command was the recruit’s own father.

Naturally, in the aftermath of Recent Events, when the wizard world had leisure to think once more, the question of Why? tended to arise. Various far-fetched theories were spun as to what exactly had happened the night Draco Malfoy went out to murder Hermione Granger, and returned some hours later, to tell his father that, actually, he thought becoming a Death Eater was a rotten idea, and he’d rather be excused.

Perhaps the best explanation was, after all, the simplest: Voldemort, whose grasp of his own psychology was, by that time, slipping considerably, had simply failed to appreciate that dislike, even intense dislike, is much further from hatred than it appears. Killing someone whom you have seen across the breakfast table for nearly half your life cannot be comfortably classified as mere garbage disposal, or the clinical negativing of a subject, however much you may have cringed inside at every bite of toast they ate for every breakfast of every week of that time.

Why, in any event, was not a question that occurred to Lucius Malfoy. His main objective was damage limitation. Thirty-odd years in the Dark Lord’s service had polished his ability to regard people as things to a high degree.

Twenty minutes later Draco was lying in a deserted quarry forty miles from Voldemort’s headquarters, already feeling the first effects of the Death in Life Potion his father had forced down his throat. . . .

Some time later that evening, it appears, Lucius Malfoy mentioned to his wife that he had dealt with a potential family embarrassment.

This was a tactical misjudgement possibly never equalled since that of the general whose last words had been

“Don’t worry, they can’t possibly hit an elephant at this dist-“

It has great characters and dialogue as well, of which one of my favorite bits is this exchange between Draco, Neville, and Melanie, a Muggle working near Malfoy Manor (who has, at this point, had rather a difficult night):

“You think you might be being stalked by a homophobic werewolf?”

Her voice went up into an uncontrollable shriek. Draco shrugged.

“Well, weirder things have happened.”

Her brain analysed this sentence for perhaps two seconds. She threw her head back with sheer disbelief.

“Weirder things have happened? In what universe are we talking about here?”

Neville and Draco exchanged glances.

“She’s right, you know. That one would be a bit weird, even for us.”

My only complaint about Lust Over Pendle is that it ends a touch abruptly, though the Epilogue addresses some of that. You know, one of the reasons I consider myself an optimist is that I assume the corollary to Sturgeon’s Law is, “10% of everything is pretty good.” That doesn’t necessarily follow; but whether it’s 10% or much less than that, some of everything is truly excellent. It’s nice to have my optimism rewarded with these fics. (My only general complaint is that I hate reading long things on the computer, and I wish for digital paper or personal print-on-demand or something like that, to save my poor eyes—being unable to justify printing out hundreds of pages on any printer I have access to.)

(I’ve been mostly reading things that I found recommended in people’s LiveJournals, which probably accounts for the prevalence of novel-length, Draco-featuring works. I did find a short story, “6 Ways of Unpinning a Butterfly,” by Serious Black, that’s worth a look: a very nice narrative voice from Cho’s point of view.)

[2] For example: also on Morgan’s recommendation, I took a look at Telanu’s work, which is Harry/Snape. Not something I would have looked at on my own, as it sounds deeply improbable, but it’s extremely well done. Most of it is not my kind of thing for reasons beyond the writer’s control—but I was very impressed by two pieces set after 70-odd years of marriage, “War Begets Quiet” and its prequel, “Noise” (as usual, I recommend reading in publication order). Okay, “Noise” made me bawl like an infant. Hey, us newlyweds are allowed to be soppy about things like that. Not cheery reading at all, but short, elegant, and powerful. [back]

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