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Book Club: The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

The Forbidden Wish

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

Several months ago, I read three young adult books in a row. No, I’m not telling you what they were, but yes, I did actually read all of them cover to cover. Unhappily for me, all of those books bugged me in exactly the same way, despite being very different books. And thanks to that unfortunate luck of the draw, now I have a new pet peeve as a reader: books set in historic or quasi-historic time periods, where women are supposed to want to get married and settle down and have babies and be silentand the feminism in these books can be summed up, more or less, as “I want to wear pants!” Sometimes there’s also an element of “And marry whom I want!” or “And have a career!” or “And work magic!” But there is, assuredly, always a desire to wear pants.

I’m not knocking pants. (Though pants became decidedly less attractive when people started adding pockets and shorts to skirts.) But I am struggling with this especially YA brand of feminism that seems to crop up in novels set in past time periods (or their fantastic equivalents), where we seem to stop at wearing pants (and maybe not getting married or working a spell or two). If Margaret Atwood can create a world in which women, yes, want to wear pants and still add something new and exciting and profound to feminist discourse, OMG, so can you! (I say while acknowledging that, obviously, not everyone wants to do that. Authors, write the books you want!)

More recently, I read a book — or, well, I tried to read a book. I didn’t get very far, and certainly not far enough to discover if it was actually a re-telling of Aladdin. But in the first 50 pages, there were a lamp, a jinni, and the usual panoply of accompanying characters (terrible master, fiery ifrit, and so forth). And the jinni was a girl.

Unfortunately for, well, everyone, this book went directly where you might have, maybe thirty years ago, expected this book to go: a slave girl in Hollywood, forced to dress in revealing clothing, forced to succumb to her male master’s sexual advances. Which would all be fine, maybe, if the book had had some level of awareness of its own racism and misogyny and had, maybe, bothered to deconstruct them. But it didn’t. And that book is no longer in this house.

I tell you all of this not to slag off on books, but so you will understand my recently developed reluctance to read The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury. The Forbidden Wish is a re-telling of Aladdin. It has a female jinni. (She does wear pants sometimes.) She lives in a lamp. She falls in love with Aladdin. There is kissing and what, if not for the interruption, might have been intercourse.

Do you see the problem? As I opened this book, my feminism shrieked, “Why are you doing this to meeeeeeee?”

But I also tell you all of this as context. When authors put problematic tropes on the page, they have a choice: How deep do they want to go? In 2017, are you going to present a girl whose greatest wish is to don pants? Or a jiini who is a sex slave? Or are you going to present those tropes and then deconstruct their misogyny, their racism, their homophobia, their ableism?

The Forbidden Wish begins, more or less, with Aladdin discovering a jinni’s lamp. This is not your children’s Aladdin, though. When Aladdin rubs the lamp, a girl appears — and Aladdin uses his first wish to escape from the privileged son of the grand vizier who has followed him into the desert. Whatever. Aladdin’s a useful tool to get the jinni, Zahra, out of her cave, but he’s perhaps the least interesting part of this book.

Khoury is aces at a couple things. The Forbidden Wish is told from Zahra’s point of view — which is awesome, because we get to live in the head of this smart, assertive, earthshaking jinni for all 340 pages. (No sequels!) She’s out of her lamp for the first time in 500 years. She’s helping Aladdin achieve a position where he can exact revenge for the murder of his revolutionary parents. Oh, and she’s also made a deal with the King of the Jinn: If she can free his son from a lamp, she can have her freedom. And that deal may, or may not, be in conflict with Aladdin’s goals…

Khoury’s also a terrific world-builder. Parthenia, Aladdin’s city, seethes with violence and corruption, as the grand vizier cruelly puts down revolution in the name of the dottering king. The palace, by contrast, is lush, romantic, full of marvelous reader delights (the elephant!). This is where Caspida, the king’s daughter and sort-of betrothed to the grand vizier’s son, plots to help her people. Khoury is an evocative writer, and much like the work of Heidi Heilig, you’ll want to spend more time in her world. (No sequels!)

But here’s the problem: The Forbidden Wish is focused, almost of the exclusion of everything else, on Zahra’s budding romantic relationship with Aladdin. Which is troubling because their relationship is born of her slavery. Not only is Zahra bound when they meet (and, in fact, they meet only because Zahra is bound), but she remains bound as their relationship blooms. Zahra is compelled by the magical rules of the world to grant Aladdin three wishes, not to mention appear when commanded, go back to the lamp when commanded, and stay within 149 steps of the lamp. Despite all that, Khoury attempts to write their relationship as consensual — but never does she address, in any sort of meaningful way, the power disparity inherent in their relationship.

SPOILER: All that said, there is a piece of this book that’s terrific: Zahra’s relationship with the ruling family of Parthenia. 500 years before the story begins, she was great friends with the warrior-queen (and wow, that jeweled garden set piece). Without telling you what happened, since that is a huge part of the mystery of Zahra, that world — and Zahra’s relationship with the queen — was destroyed. Late in The Forbidden Wish, Caspida, that warrior-queen’s descendent in both blood and temperament, comes into possession of the lamp. I want that book. The book of two fierce, brilliant girls trying to figure out how to help people, that asks questions of power. But by the time Caspida gets the lamp, Zahra’s already in love with Aladdin, so we have to go save the boy.

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

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Book Club: Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Sister Mine

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

I like weird books.

A few of you know this first-hand, because every year I press weird books on you at Sirens with a rapturous, “You have to read this. It’s brilliant.” But for most of you, this might seem strange: The single fastest way to get me to pick up a book is to say, “I dunno. It’s weird?”

One of my happiest things as a reader is when a book surprises me. It doesn’t happen often. I read a lot of fantasy literature and, let’s just say that maybe it’s only when you’ve read huge swaths of the genre that you start to realize how derivative or unoriginal or predictable so many books are.

But weird books surprise me often. Perhaps it’s their casual-at-best attachment to traditional storytelling structure. Or their appreciation of metaphor, the absurd, that last bit left untold. Maybe a narrative voice that’s unreliable or unusually distinct. An awkwardness in a character or a setting ever-so-slightly askew. As a reader, I delight in being kept slightly off-balance.

I used to joke that there was no fantasy book too weird for me: I’ve delighted in a book comprised of vignettes based on women and monsters, in which a (friendly!) sasquatch penis featured prominently. I’ve exulted in a haunted house book, where the denouement is the house’s eating the protagonist. I’ve happily devoured a book that reads half like Machiavelli and half like a fairy tale, and that had no discernable ending. My favorite Angela Slatter story is about a world-class coffin-maker who poisons people, my favorite book so far this year about a cannibal chef to the gods.

I did discover, though, only last year, that I had to stop telling people that no book was too weird for me. I’d read a stack of short story collections, each stranger than the last, and wow, there are definitely books too weird even for me. (Please tell me which of you are my bookstore demographic seeking “books too weird even for Amy”!) At some point, I stumble from delight to confusion to discomfort to uncaring. It’s just that my delight goes a really, really long way.

Which is as good an introduction as any to Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson.

I’m going to tell you what Sister Mine is about and you’re going to think, “Hell, that’s not so weird. I once read a story where a girl got pregnant from a pot-bellied stove.” (That is, incidentally, an actual, quite fabulous story.) But I’m here to tell you that, while the premise here may seem commonplace enough, the execution of this book is weird.

Let’s get to it.

Makeda has had enough, thank you very much. Tired of being hen-pecked to death by her more talented twin, she stalks off to find an apartment of her own, abandoning both her family home and her fraught relationship with her twin.

That is, of course, the same plot as a thousand books: unhappy family member flounces off to make a life of their own. But, of course, not all families are magic.

Makeda and her twin, Abby, are born of a godly father and a human mother. Their father’s family, pissed at the fraternization with a mortal, enact severe punishments: their father becomes a mortal, their mother a sea monster in Lake Ontario. And by the way, Makeda and Abby were conjoined twins, separated shortly after birth, an operation in which Abby lost part of a leg, while Makeda lost her mojo (think of that as her magic, her connection with her father’s family’s spirit world).

With their mother in Lake Ontario and their father a fragile human, the girls are left with each other for comfort, for antagonizing, for troubleshooting. (That comfort, by the way, includes twinsex.) And as I mentioned, as the book opens, Makeda has left Abby, off to find a place of her own.

The plot spirals out from there, bogged down in a number of subplots that may or may not become important later on. (Pay particular attention to the haint stalking Makeda.) In fact, in many ways, the subplots distract from and even suffocate the plot itself, including a sharp turn into a surprise focus in the third act.

Perhaps the most notable piece of the book is Nalo’s setting: mostly black characters in an urban Toronto infused with Caribbean folklore. As always, her dialogue is exquisite: her vocabulary, her vernacular, her speech patterns all carefully considered, conveying thousands of layers more than the same dialogue in another author’s hands.

Will you like it? How weird do you like your books? Because this one – while perhaps not as inaccessible as other work by Nalo – is weird. Nalo pushes the boundaries of what we find normal or acceptable behavior by a woman, all while making Makeda entirely sympathetic. Who hasn’t had family squabbles? Who cares if this family is divine? Who hasn’t been chased by a haint? Or had a mother turned into a sea monster? You see where I’m going with this… Nalo takes the ordinary and, through use of language, absurdity, and fable, turns it into the extraordinary, and that extraordinary is very weird, indeed.

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 7 (June 2017)

In this issue:

 

2017 MILESTONES SO FAR

Last week, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink wrote about Sirens’s unprecedented growth, elaborated on this year’s conference theme of women who work magic, and waxed poetic on our nine-years-in-the-making community: “One that’s becoming increasingly brilliant, increasingly inclusive, increasingly confident, increasingly vocal. One that believes in itself and each of its parts. A once-a-year respite, where you can repair your armor, replenish your magic, and remember how truly remarkable the women of fantasy literature—from queens to readers—are.” Read the full post here.

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

This month, we also kicked off an important series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard. In our first post, Faye Bi shares her Sirens experience and offers some food for thought for new and returning attendees: “[Sirens] doesn’t feel like battle, when so much of my daily life does. That’s a feeling to ponder, but also one to protect.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

REGISTRATION UPDATE

At this point in time, Sirens is sold out for 2017.

To individuals who have submitted programming proposals, a reminder that you have until July 9, 2017, to register and be paid in full for this year’s conference, after which the registration that we are holding for you will be made available to the public.

We’ll continue to post updates on registration availability on this blog, on our Twitter, and on our Facebook page. If you are still seeking a registration, we recommend that you check back on July 10. Please also watch our Twitter for announcements of any individuals seeking to sell their registrations.

 

PROGRAMMING

After the presenter registration deadline of July 9, we’ll be revealing this year’s presentations in small batches on this blog and on the Accepted Programming page! If you proposed programming and missed the email with the result of your proposal, please email (programming at sirensconference.org) right away. Thank you again to everyone who proposed programming this year!

 

HOTEL

This year, we have already had to ask the Hotel Talisa to make additional rooms available at the discounted Sirens rate twice! We are pleased to report that, as of last Monday, there are again discounted rooms in our block—but we strongly recommend that you book yours as soon as possible. You can find reservations information here.

 

ATTENDING AUTHORS

If you are a published author attending Sirens this year, let us know! We’d like to make sure we have your books available in our bookstore—and if you’d like, a place for you in our author signings. Please email Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

BOOKSTORE DONATIONS

Speaking of our bookstore, a few years ago, we began operating our own bookstore as a fundraiser for Sirens. This gives us the opportunity, in many ways in defiance of the commercial market, to stock our bookstore exclusively with fantasy books written by, or featuring, amazing women.

In many ways, our bookstore operates like any other bookstore: we acquire new books for sale just like anyone else. But in two ways, our bookstore is different. First, the Sirens community frequently donates new books, just to make sure that the bookstore includes them in its inventory; sometimes these attendees work for publishers or are donating books that they’ve written, but often, these attendees simply want to help make our bookstore as amazing as possible. Second, we have a used section of our bookstore where we offer gently used fantasy books for $5 each. That section of our bookstore is stocked entirely through donations.

If you would like to donate books to our bookstore, please send your books to the following address, to arrive no later than August 1, 2017. (And remember, if you’re shipping only books, the USPS media mail option is terrifically cheap, but terrifically slow, so please leave time for your package to arrive.)

Sirens
c/o Narrate Conferences
P.O. Box 149
Sedalia, Colorado 80135

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST

Sirens veterans know that we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invite attendees to bring their breakfast on Friday and Saturday mornings of the conference to discuss. Here are this year’s selections:

Friday, October 27

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
This Strange Way of Dying by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Saturday, October 28

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

For 2017, we’re spotlighting three books per month, so you can plan your reading and join us! Check out our post on The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Slice of Cherry, and The Land of Love and Dreaming here.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Sister Mine

For June, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine. Read her review, coming out later this week, over on the blog and on Goodreads.

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

This month, Faye read Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic in pursuit of the 2017 Reading Challenge, which she recommends for readers who “like reluctant heroines…[and] can stomach unlikable protagonists.” Check out her review on the blog and on Goodreads.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 6 (May 2017)

In this issue:

 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR PROPOSALS

Thank you, everyone who submitted programming proposals! We had a record-breaking number of submissions this year, and the vetting board is hard at work reviewing this year’ programming. Decisions will be emailed to submitters by June 12, as will programming scholarship awards (Con or Bust and financial hardship scholarships have already been awarded). All presenters must be registered for Sirens and paid in full by July 9, the presenter registration deadline.

 

LIMITED REGISTRATIONS REMAINING

We’re thrilled—and somewhat shocked—by the unprecedented amount of growth in registrations for Sirens this year! We have carefully examined our available space in Vail, and we can accommodate only 190 total registrations this year. We are holding registrations for everyone who proposed programming this year, regardless of whether the vetting board accepts their proposals, until July 9, after which they will be released to the public. For the full announcement and ticket updates, please visit this link.

As of May 30, we have only 9 registrations remaining! We’ll continue to post updates on registration availability on this blog, on our Twitter and on our Facebook page. Please also watch our Twitter for announcements of any individuals seeking to sell their registrations.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

For May, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Kelly Barnhill’s award-winning The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which she found “breathtaking: both original and reclaimed, both philosophical and whimsical, always compulsively readable.” Read her review over on the blog and on Goodreads.
 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Bayou Magic

For the Reading Challenge this month, Faye read Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Bayou Magic, which she loved for being so full of goodness, atmosphere and “the grandmother-granddaughter relationship that Rhodes has become known for.” Check out her full review on the blog and on Goodreads.
 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Book Club: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

What do you think it is about fairy tales?

Are we taught to like them, do you think? Taught to think they’re important? Taught to think that, even with magical pumpkins and glass slippers, your window to snare your one true love is fleeting? That even if you give up your voice and spend your days walking on knives, a short-lived affair is reasonable recompense? That you might be curious, but if you’re too curious, death awaits. Fairy tales: where you really do start someone’s daughter, only to grow into someone’s wife and, if you’re lucky, someone’s mother. Except that you aren’t really lucky, are you? Because your husband will probably abandon your kids to a witch, who — in the grand tradition of powerful women everywhere — will obviously eat them.

As Sirens discussed at length in 2012, we — as women and non-binary people — spend a lot of time re-claiming our stories. Remembering that, in early versions, a gaggle of wise women saved Little Red from the wolf. Restructuring tales so that women’s power isn’t unusual or bad or based on chomping children. So that we have options other than being meekly grateful for our dowry as we’re married off to murderers. So that we have a role in life other than attempting to redeem our fathers’ failures.

Ugh. What do you think it is about fairy tales?

As I sit down to write this, I wonder: How many fairy tales do I really love? How many retellings? How many reclamations? Perhaps The Little Mermaid, in its Andersen form, where abandoning yourself for a dude you’ve only seen, only to wind up sea foam when he casts you aside for another, seems like maybe how things go. Maybe Dark Triumph, Robin LaFevers’ almost unrecognizable Beauty and the Beast, where Beauty is, by many measures, more terrifying than the beast. Definitely Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi, where a bro writer’s fed-up female muse makes him retell Bluebeard over and over and over again.

Which is, perhaps, the long way of saying that I’m a fairy-tale skeptic. To me, they feel like more of the patriarchy: something cautionary, punishing, limiting. Something that tells girls to be good, to be kind, to behave. That if you stay on the path, and out of the forbidden room, and you just give up your voice, you’ll get your familial reward.

And then, here we are: The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill’s both familiar and not-so-much fairy tale.

It must be hard to write original fairy tales, don’t you think? Something that feels both comfy and wondrous. Something that resounds with all the import that we’ve assigned to fairy tales over the years, with gravitas, with profundity. And yet something that delights. Something that takes something so very patriarchal and transforms it into something feminist, inclusive, empathetic. How Sisyphean.

And yet, Barnhill does it. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is breathtaking: both original and reclaimed, both philosophical and whimsical, always compulsively readable.

In The Girl Who Drank the Moon, the Protectorate is a Puritan-ish society. A group of men — not necessarily white, but neither clearly not-white — runs the show: they boss everyone around, skim money off the trading, and oh yes, once a year, sacrifice the youngest child in the village to a witch — a witch that the bloody jerks don’t think exists. They purportedly made her up to terrify the villagers, and they just sort of assume that a wild animal eats the baby every year.

But there is a witch. Her name is Xan, and she has no idea why these great idiots leave a baby in the woods every year, but every year, she collects the baby and delivers it to a family on the other side of the woods, feeding it starlight across the way. How lovely is that?

Until whoops, Xan accidentally feeds one baby moonlight instead of starlight, which enmagicks the baby. Xan keeps this baby, naming her Luna, and raises her as both granddaughter and nascent witch — or rather a village raises her: Xan, a friendly swamp monster, and a perfectly tiny dragon.

So much of this story is about growing up and growing older: how children see things differently, how the older generation steps aside (or doesn’t) for the younger, how much puberty sucks, how memory can trick you or fail, how time runs out. And, of course, this story is about concrete things, too: A volcano. Seven-league boots. A woman with a tiger’s heart. A boy who thinks sacrificing babies is horrible. A girl afraid of nothing. A story told all wrong.

The Girl Who Drinks the Moon is the sort of fairy tale I wish I’d had growing up: one where women are powerful and monsters are kind and growing up is hard and the right person saying the right thing at the right time can change the world.

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 5 (April 2017)

In this issue:

 

PROGRAMMING PROPOSALS DUE MAY 8

Only 12 days left to submit programming proposals for this year’s conference! As you all know by now, programming for Sirens is crafted, proposed, and if accepted by our independent vetting board, presented by attendees. We just finalized our vetting board for this year, and they’re eagerly anticipating your proposals!

Remember, we’re looking for papers/lectures, workshops, roundtables, panels, and even afternoon classes teaching common fantasy-literature skills like archery or knitting. Further, there’s no requirement to become a presenter: anyone and everyone is welcome to propose programming. Not sure where to start? Want to strengthen your abstract? Need advice? We invite you to look over our Annual Programming Series:

If you need inspiration, check out our #SirensBrainstorm hashtag on Twitter, with fresh ideas free for the taking! Everything else you need to know is on our Programming and Proposals pages on the Sirens website, but if you have questions, please contact our programming team at (programming at sirensconference.org). Again, the deadline for proposals is May 8, 2017.

 

SCHOLARSHIPS REMINDER

Thanks to the generosity of the Sirens community, we fully funded ALL NINE scholarships for 2017. Pat yourself on the back (or on your fairy wings)! If you’d like to attend the conference this year and need a scholarship, we highly encourage you to apply.

Con or Bust will award three Sirens scholarships to people of color in accordance with their policies.

Those who submit exemplary programming proposals can also apply for one of three scholarships as part of their proposal submission by May 8. These will be determined by our scholarship committee.

The final three scholarships are designated as financial hardships scholarships, open to anyone. A short application is required, and due by May 8. Recipients will be chosen randomly.

 

NEW YORK CITY MEET-UP THIS WEEKEND

If you’re in New York City area this Sunday, April 30, please join us for a casual Sirens meet-up! We’ll be at Radiance Tea House & Books from 2–4 p.m. Bring your friends, your book recommendations, and your questions! See here for more information.

 

DENVER MEET-UP MAY 25

If you’re planning to be in the Denver area on Thursday, May 25, hold that date! Sirens is planning a Denver meet-up for drinks and dinner that evening, with more details to come!

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Three Dark Crowns

For April, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read the Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns and really liked it, but “couldn’t find her way into this book.” Check out what she calls “the world’s most conflicted book review ever” over on the blog and on Goodreads.
 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Monstress Vol. 1

For the Reading Challenge this month, Faye read Marjorie Liu’s and Sana Takeda’s Monstress Vol. 1, which she’s excited to share ALL HER THOUGHTS in her review, coming later this week, on the blog and Goodreads.
 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Book Club: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark Crowns

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

It has taken me seven days to realize that the reason that I can’t find my way into this book review is because I couldn’t find my way into this book. Which is not to say that I didn’t like this book. Like, really like it. Because I did.

And thus began the world’s most conflicted book review ever.

I don’t, usually, love books unreservedly. I’m generally a quite critical reader, and I rarely find books where I don’t struggle with something: plot, world-building, characters, magical systems, pacing, logic, cliff-hangers, something.

But I do, quite commonly, love pieces of books: a character, a fictional political system, surprise plot twists, a beautifully crafted narrative voice. And I, also quite commonly, extrapolate love for the entire book from love for pieces of the book. Does that make any sense? I really love The House of Shattered Wings, despite that I loathe books about angels, because of how de Bodard handles colonialism in an alt-reality fantasy book. I love The Rabbit Back Literature Society, despite its so-very-vague ending, because of my great love of basically everything else in that book. I love Throne of Glass, despite its overwhelming YA sparkliness, because Assassin Barbie is all that. And I love Silver on the Road, despite its molasses pacing, because being the Devil’s Left Hand is that interesting to me.

Which is to say, through a rather circuitous route, that as long as I can find something about a book that I love – a way in, if you will – I often love the book itself.

But I don’t think that I’ve ever before loved a book when I didn’t love any of its pieces. Enter Three Dark Crowns.

Three Dark Crowns is the incomparable Kendare Blake’s first foray into high fantasy. Many of you will remember Kendare from Sirens in 2014, when she was a Guest of Honor and I made everyone read Anna Dressed in Blood because I heart it so.

Three Dark Crowns takes place on Fennbirn, an island protected from the mainland by mysterious mist, an island whose people have magic, an island that crowns magical queens once every sixteen years. But Fennbirn’s traditions are so much more than that: Every generation, the then-current queen bears triplets, all girls, all magical: one a poisoner, one a naturalist, one an elemental. Upon birth, the queen cedes her right to the island, and leaves, with her king-consort (never king, always king-consort), to live happily ever after (or whatever) on the mainland. Meanwhile, her daughters are raised separately, within the seats of their respective power on Fennbirn – and when they turn sixteen, will spend the year trying to kill each other to take the crown.

Yes, you read that right: sixteen-year-old sisters are raised to kill each other. No, Three Dark Crowns doesn’t really explain why that is the case.

We open, of course, on the sisters’ sixteenth birthday, four months before Beltane, when the killing can start. And you spend the first 180 pages on, basically, world-building and character development. You meet Katharine, a poisoner, whose gift is weak, but who is expected to take the crown for the poisoner line that has held it for a century. Her training, especially given her weakness, is thinly veiled abuse and readers might have a hard time with her chapters. Then you meet Arsinoe, a naturalist, whose animal familiar refuses to appear – but whose best friend (with her cougar familiar) is the most powerful naturalist in over half a century. Finally, you meet Mirabella, an astonishingly powerful elemental, who is controlled by the Temple, Fennbirn’s priestesses who want, in equal parts, to stop the poisoner control of the island and put in place a queen who will do their bidding. The presumption, as Three Dark Opens is that Mirabella will easily dispatch her sisters to claim the crown.

Beginning about page 180, though, the plot thickens. (Or starts. Whatever.) It’s not too much of a spoiler to tell you that a fleeing Mirabella saves Arsinoe’s friend’s boyfriend from drowning – and with that, the first unplanned contact between the players in this toxic game, things become a lot more interesting. Murder isn’t allowed yet, but positioning, gamesmanship, and misunderstood communications certainly are.

So here’s the thing about Three Dark Crowns: The world-building, magical systems, and politics were opaque, the characters were mostly boring and dithering, the pacing was ridiculously slow, the book has three main point-of-view characters so it took a long time to learn to care about any of them, the book probably needed a good edit for metaphors, and the bloody thing ends on a cliffhanger.

BUT. Somehow, improbably, I loved it anyway. I think because Kendare, in many ways more than a lot of authors that I read, takes risks that I respect. She built a world in which powerful women kill each other for a throne – regularly, as part of a tradition, a beloved tradition. She built women who are unlikeable, who make stupid decisions, who fail and pick themselves back up and try again. She made poison, of all things, a magical trait. She wrote a suffocating book that, simply because it’s about deadly women with ambition seeking power, has something remarkable to say.

And not to spoil things too much, but by the end of this book, when these women finally do find both their power and their resolve, Kendare hooked me for round two: One Dark Throne.

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 4 (March 2017)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS SCHOLARSHIPS

In only 16 days, our amazing, generous community fully funded nine scholarships for this year’s conference. Thank you for helping us add more voices to Sirens! Each scholarship includes a conference registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket, and we’ve allocated three for fans of color/non-white fans, three for those submitting exemplary programming proposals, and three for those with financial hardships. If you need assistance, we hope you’ll apply—find out more information on our Scholarships page.
 

PROGRAMMING BEGINS!

We want your programming proposals! April is just around the corner, which means we’re kicking off our Annual Programming series. All of Sirens’s programming—30+ hours of scholarly presentations, workshops and prepared discussion—is crafted, proposed, and presented by attendees for attendees.

Throughout the month, we’ll be giving the rundown on different programming types, tips, tricks and more information, starting with Eight Tips for Programming Proposals. The programming submission period is April 1-May 8, and we encourage you to check out the rest of the series here.

Have questions? Looking for a co-presenter? Need some inspiration? Check out the #SirensBrainstorm tag on Twitter; every Monday we tweet out fresh ideas free for the taking. In addition we’ll be hosting two programming chats at this link (which will be live at the scheduled times):

  • April 9 at 1–3 p.m. Eastern (10 a.m.–1 p.m. Pacific)
  • April 22 at 1–3 p.m. Eastern (10 a.m.–1 p.m. Pacific)

 

REGISTRATION PRICE JUMP AND TICKETS

On March 31, the cost of a Sirens registration will jump from $200 to $215. To register or add a ticket, please visit here.

Please note, the Sirens Supper is sold out, and Sirens Studio is almost at capacity!
 

NEW YORK CITY MEET-UP

For those in the New York City area, Sirens is hosting a casual meet-up on Sunday, April 30 from 2–4 p.m. at Radiance Tea House & Books. Bring your friends, your book recommendations, and your questions! See here for more details.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Witch's Daughter

For March, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read the Paula Brackston’s bestselling book, The Witch’s Daughter, which wasn’t her cup of tea. “I like my heroines to drive the action, not react to it…Elizabeth isn’t that woman. But there are many, many aspects of women who work magic, and she might be your woman.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

This month, Faye read E. K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, which she was predisposed to like: “It’s set in Canada, it has amazing worldbuilding, it’s got dragons, and it’s from the point of view of a teenage girl named Siobhan who, though she is called a bard, is essentially a glorified publicist.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Book Club: The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston

The Witch's Daughter

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

A decade ago, I read the entire Twilight series. The whole thing: the creepy sleep-watching, the blank chapters, the suicide attempts, the imprinting, the popsicle sex. Not because I loved it, because I didn’t. No, I read Twilight because they were zeitgeist books. Millions of women read those books. Millions of girls loved those books. Millions of men (and other women) judged them for it. There were Twi-hards and Twilight conventions and, unlike a lot of series, the entire Twilight series made it into theatrically released movies.

I didn’t really get it. And I don’t really get it now. And while I don’t care so much about not getting it – not everyone loves everything – I often want to understand why, if you will, the zeitgeist. So every year I pick up books that maybe I otherwise wouldn’t read simply because the general public – the not-necessarily-fantasy-loving general public – seems to like them a lot.

Which is why The Witch’s Daughter, by Paula Brackston, made the Sirens Book Club this year. You’ve all seen it. You probably recognize the cover. It’s a New York Times bestseller. It made the tables at the big bookstores. It’s the first in a series. This is one of those books – like Big Little Lies, maybe, or Gone Girl – that was the right book at the right time to capture a lot of readers’ attention. But why?

The Witch’s Daughter is one of those sweeping historical novels: We start in modern-day England, more or less, but then jump back to several periods in England’s history: the witch-burning period, Jack the Ripper, a world war. Those of you looking for historical accuracy, however, should look elsewhere. While Brackston makes some attempt at differences in dialogue in different periods, this isn’t going to make even an armchair historian happy.

The crux of The Witch’s Daughter isn’t history, however; it’s fantasy. We’re in a world where magic is something between a skill and a talent: it’s somewhat unclear, but it seems that a powerful witch can turn anyone with the slightest propensity into a witch, though perhaps not an especially powerful witch, and then if that witch practices, they become more powerful. One of my greatest frustrations with this book is actually that lack of clarity. I couldn’t tell what the criteria are for becoming a witch, why some witches are more powerful than others, or how much more powerful you could become with practice. Which is to say that I spent a lot of this book thinking, “Why don’t you just…?” And, “But what about…?”

Our protagonist, Elizabeth, is both the titular witch’s daughter and a witch herself. She wasn’t born a witch, but we learn relatively early on in the book how she became a witch. SPOILER Back in witch-burning England, the plague came. After losing two children and her husband, Elizabeth’s mother traded God-knows-what to Gideon, an arrogant, power-mad male witch (trigger warning: rape), in exchange for the power to heal Elizabeth. Facing execution for witchcraft and knowing that the hysteria will call for her daughter’s death next, her mother tells Elizabeth to seek out Gideon for protection. Following her mother’s death, Elizabeth does. Gideon teaches Elizabeth magic and, thinking she’ll be his immortal soulmate, makes a deal with the devil to grant Elizabeth great power. (Only in a certain type of book does procuring great magic for your soulmate involve having a threesome with two other women.) Elizabeth witnesses the ritual and, terrified, horrified, she flees.

And spends the next few centuries continuing to flee. The Witch’s Daughter jumps back and forth between modern-day, as Elizabeth meets and then trains local-girl Tegan in witchcraft (or Wiccan; the book doesn’t seem to differentiate between fantastic witchcraft and real-world Wicca, which is obnoxious), and history, as she changes her name and occasionally encounters Gideon (who is, of course, Jack the Ripper). BIGGER SPOILER Eventually, you learn than Tegan’s older boyfriend is also Gideon and that we’re going to have a showdown. A showdown that, ultimately, I found unsatisfying.

Should you read it? I think that ultimately comes down to a couple questions: Do you like reluctant, even passive heroines? Do you love the witch oeuvre so much that you’ll happily read even flawed books? Is it going to drive you insane when Elizabeth doesn’t seem to try very hard to evade or defeat Gideon? Are you going to be mad when Elizabeth reconciles herself to being less powerful than Gideon, even though she’s made very little effort to develop her skill?

I wouldn’t recommend this book to myself. I like my heroines to drive the action, not react to it, and what interests me most about women who work magic is their embrace of power, their ambition, and their willingness to put in the work to augment that power in service of that ambition. Elizabeth isn’t that woman. But there are many, many aspects of women who work magic, and she might be your woman.

Amy
 


 
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and seven years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 3 (February 2017)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS STUDIO FACULTY ANNOUNCED

We have been thrilled this month to announce the faculty and the topics for the Sirens Studio! Each faculty member will teach a two-hour intensive on reading, writing, or career development. The Sirens Studio will take place on October 24–25, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Sirens begins, and will require an additional ticket. For full descriptions of the intensives and short bios of the faculty, please visit our Studio page.

  • Reading
    • Kate Elliott, Rewriting Rogue One: Narratives That Explore Complex Relationships Between Women
    • Suzanne Rogers Gruber, Everything and the Kitchen Sink: Tracing Lineages of Fantasy Literature
    • Justina Ireland, Reading Past the White Veil: Identifying Issues of Race in Fantasy and Science Fiction
    • Victoria Schwab, Writer as Reader
       
  • Writing
    • Kiini Ibura Salaam, Writing What Scares You
    • B R Sanders, Making Magic
       
  • Career Development
    • Mette Ivie Harrison, Taking Time and Finding Purpose in Your Busy Life—What’s Holding You Back?
    • Joy Kim, Know Your Next Step: Navigating Career Pathways and the Leadership Pipeline

 

SIRENS PROGRAMMING

And speaking of programming, you probably already know that it’s time to start thinking about conference programming proposals. Programming at Sirens is crafted, proposed, and presented by attendees, and we hope you’ll lend your knowledge and perspective. Also, all voices are welcome to propose programming: you needn’t be a published author or an accomplished academic; all attendees—readers, scholars, writers, illustrators, publishing professionals, educators, librarians, farriers, knitters, secret-keepers, and heroines—have something valuable to say.

It isn’t too early to start planning a proposal—proposals are due May 8, 2017. Even if you’ve presented before, we encourage you to explore the programming pages on the Sirens site so you’ll be familiar with what we ask you to present to the vetting board.

 

NARRATE CONFERENCES BOOT CAMP

Way back in January 2006—both a lifetime ago and somehow only the blink of an eye—many of the people that you know from Sirens founded Narrate Conferences. As some of you already know, Narrate, the presenting entity behind Sirens, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to creating interdisciplinary educational events that bring together people with many different perspectives to discuss and debate a given topic. Beginning in 2009, the event has been Sirens and the topic has been the remarkable women of fantasy literature. But before that, Narrate spent several years presenting giant Harry Potter conferences, complete with Quidditch tournaments, midnight movies, and 150 hours of academic programming.

Over the years, we’ve gone from very ad hoc methods of developing new team members—all hands on deck for Quidditch tournaments!—to something more considered, if you will: boot camp. Which we’re betting sounds amazing and…just a bit intimidating.

A few years ago, Narrate created boot camp, a combination online conference-planning course and development opportunity for people who were interested in spending more time volunteering for our events. Our goal is to give participants the foundational information you need to jump into a more active role with our team—and to help you decide what kind of role you think that might be. As you might expect, some people have used boot camp to learn that conference planning isn’t really their thing—while others fell in love, joined our team, and have been making Sirens awesome ever since. For more information, please check out the post here.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Graces

This month, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Laure Eve’s The Graces for her book club: a “deliberately slippery” book with an unreliable narrator, shifting truth, and a girl chasing her own power. Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen

Sometimes, Faye has found, a Reading Challenge totally surprises you. She found Marilyn Chin’s The Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen “inspired by Buddhist and Taoist texts and Chinese ghost stories and folklore, mixed with a dollop of hilarious satire…a brilliant and irreverent musing on the Chinese first-generation immigrant experience.” Check out her review on the blog and Goodreads.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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