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Gossamer Axe Mass Market Paperback – August 7, 1990
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The main character is an ancient Celtic harpist living in modern times determined to one day free her girlfriend from the Sidh. Ancient Celtic harping, heavy metal, magic, and more.
It is currently out of print and not available as an ebook. I will wish and hope that both of these facts change. The publisher should re-issue the book--it would find ready new readers in its covers.
Christa is herself flawed in many ways. Her main predicament, losing her lover to the Sidh, was the result of adolescent arrogance and pride. But worse, from the observer's point of view, is that as a young harpist, she was chasing her own dreams with a mono-focus, not really registering that her lover Judith is primarily a singer and has followed her to harp school only so as to remain united with her lover. One of the key changes in the book is how Christa learns to look away from her own needs and see those of others, not just her lover, but also the needs of her bandmates.
And the band "Gossamer Axe" has some troubled musicians. One is a survivor of domestic abuse, whose rotten, alcoholic, violent ex is actively stalking her: Christa literally goes to battle for her at times. Another is a survivor of child molestation by her father, and once seeing and recognizing the demon-haunting memories, Christa helps her to know within herself that what happened is not her fault, that she can stand as a proud adult woman on her own terms. Another bandmate slips into an old pattern of drug addiction and sexual abuse, and eventually the whole band works together to use musical magic to free her from the addictions. The problems besetting these women are not examples of misogyny: they're very real problems faced daily, even now, over 20 years later, by way too many women, aggravated by the socialization we experience that removes agency by teaching us that we should always be positive, we're not really allowed to say no, we're expected to be objects for the male gaze, and that bad things that happen to us are always our fault for being too slutty, dressing the wrong way, daring to challenge traditionally male spaces. Christa herself comes from a culture in which women are portrayed as not having this compliant socialization instilled in them. It is an actual leap for her to really understand that her friends' problems are real difficulties.
Where I find fault with this slice of social commentary is that every one of these problems basically has a magical fix applied in the course of the story. Many people don't understand how or why a battered woman stays in an abusive relationship and why she doesn't just GTFO: the answers lie in the fact that the woman herself has to find the will and the self-belief to tear herself away from the idea that she can't live without the abuser. More people today understand that addictions aren't just a failure of will, but have very real psychiatric underpinnings: you can force an addict to sober up, but you can't stop them from picking up the bottle or the hypodermic again, the addict has to summon up the will and desire to change those things. Survivors of childhood sexual assault very often have severe PTSD, which can't be solved by popping a Prozac. So, in a sense, the quick magical fixes that Christa manages for her friends takes away from the real heroism and the tremendous amount of will and guts that it can take to overcome these kinds of problems. It's a wish-fulfillment for the survivors that they can be magically healed.
Gossamer Axe IS "the journey of the hero", but instead of facing the Mines of Moria, dragons, trolls, and orcs, all the women are battling far more personal demons. The book has been described as "an ode to the power of music and the human spirit alike, charged with rapier-sharp social commentary", and it is that. Remembering that this really is a story of facing and overcoming "monsters" is key to truly understanding the novel.
Gossamer Axe won the 1990 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Science Fiction & Fantasy. It was also chosen as one of the "top 5 gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender genre works of all time" by panelists and audience members at Gaylaxicon 2000's "The List" panel.
And .... after reading it in the summer of 1992, required reading for the small band my boyfriend was in, I began thinking about getting a harp myself ... that winter, I asked a local harp builder if he had any I could try, & he kindly borrowed one for the weekend, when he & his wife came to play for the NY Eve dance at the Retreat centre where I was working.
He brought the harp, I played, by the fireplace ... several fellow staff members came up and asked how long I'd been playing, & I'd glance at the clock - 'this lifetime? about 20 minutes ...' it was so natural, where the piano just never had been ... so I ordered one, then needed to wait 3 months for the construction & finishing ...
So I read, and reread Gossamer Axe - probably 3 times over those three months!! My harp, Tuilleadh (Gaelic: to give generously) arrived March 16, 1993. I followed the old way of learning, playing for hours in the dark in my small (9 x 19' ) cabin, playing with moonlight streaming through the window, learning how the strings sat by feel ...
I also subscribed to the 'Folk Harp Journal,' where Gael Baudino wrote articles on harp history under Gael Katherines, & later ordered a tape she'd done for a friend dying of Cancer, & wrote a note of appreciation for this beautiful book.
I also enjoy her Strands of Starlight series, & have found inspiration in those books as well. There are parts in both books that touch deep sorrow, & inspire healing, if the reader chooses that path.
Blessings from Ladyharp!