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Sirens Review Squad: The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, in honor of Violet Kupersmith’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Alyssa Collins on Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel.

The Frangipani Hotel

In “Boat Story,” the first story of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel, a granddaughter asks her grandma for a story she can use to complete a school history project. Over an overripe papaya, grandmother and granddaughter have the following exchange:

“What kind of story did you want me to tell you, con?”

 

“I’m after the big one.”

 

“Oh dear.”

 

“Leaving Vietnam. The boat journey. That’s what I want to write about.”

For me, this exchange frames the entire collection. Eventually Grandma does tell a story, just not the right one. By the end of the telling (and I won’t spoil it for you) Grandma has introduced her first rule of Vietnam and consequently the first rule of The Frangipani Hotel: “it always gives you what you ask for, but never exactly what you want.” This slight of hand is the magic of the work. In nine vignettes, Kupersmith builds a world that expands outward from her mother’s homeland of Vietnam across the Pacific to the urban United States, and back again. Yet, just like Grandma, Kupersmith resists giving readers stories they expect. For the majority of US readers (of which I am a part), any working knowledge of Vietnam and Vietnamese culture is wrapped up in a history of colonialism and conflict. To tell that story, the story we ask for would be to limit a place and its people. Telling the expected story locks Vietnam into a historical moment and a geographic place, but for Kupersmith’s characters, Vietnam is always simultaneously central and peripheral, past and present, whole and fragmented, a place to escape from and to return to. It is always with you and impossible to know if one is truly free of it. And it’s within the movement between these binaries of place and time that ghosts, magic, and horror blossom.

I really loved this collection! The beauty of it is that the stories are literary popcorn. While reading, I wanted to dip in for just one more mouthwatering story. And there a moments that are literally mouthwatering. (Everyone eats in these stories, making it my kind of book!) Kupersmith uses dishes, like bánh mì, bún bò, and egg rolls, to anchor the unfolding of stories. Thus, the telling and consumption of stories (and by extension of history, culture, and ancestral knowledge) is inexplicably intertwined with the preparation and consumption of food. The moreish quality doesn’t end with the descriptions of delicious food and its consumption; it’s also built into the shape of the tales with stories building to or past climaxes in unexpected ways. Violence and monsters lurk in the wings of the stories just as often as they feature on the page. The storytellers in Kupersmith’s stories stop and start, or divert their stories in surprising directions, and often it’s the anticipation of action that fills out the dénouement. This structure drew me in over and over even as the stories themselves would end.

The particular wonder of this collection, for me, is that unlike a light and salty snack these stories are laden with questions about being, history, and pain. They grapple with what it means to carry intergenerational trauma, to deal with the remnants of foreign invasion and colonialism, to immigrate and assimilate. But the stories are never heavy; they move quickly, aching with equal bouts laughter and horror. We easily move from the urban hunting grounds of a parched river spirit with a hankering for white men (“Reception”), to the rural bamboo backyard of cursed twins (“The Red Veil”), to the clever nursing home machinations of a mother trying to convince her busy daughter to visit (“Descending Dragon”). And that’s to say nothing of the folkloric elements. The monsters in Kupersmith’s folktales are often just as bewildered, as unstuck in time and place, and as angry as their human counterparts. They are difficult to summarize, but leave quite an impression. The one image that has stayed with me is of a woman surrounded by black flies. She has white markings on her fingers and is carving bread for the perfect bánh mì. Covered in flies, she continues to cook, hanging between worlds, neither fully living nor fully dead.


Alyssa Collins is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department of the University of Virginia and a 2016-17 Praxis fellow in the digital humanities. Her work explores the intersections of race and technology as depicted in 20th century and contemporary African American literature, digital culture, and new media. When she’s not writing her dissertation she writes about race, superheroes, television, and embodiment around the internet.

 

Sirens Review Squad: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Casey Blair on Somaiya Daud’s Mirage.

Mirage

I love stories about bold girls who forge their own paths and throw off conventions. I love stories full of action, with space battles and magic duels and sword fights. I love stories about talented, skilled women, shining at what they do best.

Somaiya Daud’s debut novel Mirage isn’t one of them.

There is so much to love in Mirage. (The lone exception, ironically, being the romance, which for me was the least interesting part.) I love its rich setting, a fantasy Morocco-inspired culture in a world with intergalactic travel. I love how deeply that culture suffuses every part of the story: the prose woven through with poetry, the complicated female friendships and family relationships, the structural use of mimicry to examine appropriation, the allusions to female historical figures as symbols of inspiration—not just the warrior queen, but also the prophetess whose power endures in words—and the incisive critique of the long-reaching effects of colonialism across multiple axes.

But here’s what’s truly remarkable about what Daud has accomplished with Mirage and why I will be yelling at everyone (I do mean literally everyone) to read this book forever:

This is a story that poses the question, who are you when your oppressors can erase your face, your family, your history, your language, your culture? What can you do that matters?

And Mirage’s emphatic answer is that you do not have to be a uniquely talented bold girl who bucks tradition in order to deserve to be at the center of stories.

Early on, our protagonist Amani tells her captor that aside from speaking both the language of the oppressors and the language of the oppressed, she has no other skills. As far as her captors are concerned, this is absolutely true, though they don’t understand why that should give them pause. They don’t understand why they should fear a girl who can bridge understanding between people from different worlds. A girl who can make her culture and her people real and seen and valued to those who participate in its erasure, and who can understand her oppressors well enough to change their course. Her greatest asset is not her hidden knowledge of poetry, or the incredible attention to detail she’s forced to develop to imitate the princess, or the sharp-tongued court cleverness she learns to deploy on her own behalf.

It’s her capacity for empathy.

For Amani, finding joy in objectively terrible circumstances is worthwhile in its own right, not something to be ashamed of; happiness is rebellion, too. Although Daud is careful not to excuse those responsible for victimizing others, Amani doesn’t limit that desire for happiness to just herself or her people. And while she is a dreamer, she’s not exempt from the realities of living under conquest, which makes her bravery in trying to make her dreams reality all the more powerful.

Amani chooses to embrace tradition when the world shaped by her oppressors belittles her into discarding it. She clings fast to caring about other people rather than closing herself off. She doesn’t take the expected path, be it revolution or assimilation. She considers what she can, in fact, do, given her many but unique constraints, and she resolves to do what she can.

I will tell anyone and everyone to read Somaiya Daud’s quiet, powerful story for its beautifully wrought characters, its resonant worldbuilding and prose, its centering of the representation of women (including mothers and old women, be still my beating heart—they can exist in fantasy worlds and matter) and people of color, and its profound rendering of colonization and its complexities. Any of those would be enough to make Mirage one of the best books I’ve read.

But more than that, what makes Amani special is her compassion coupled with action. Mirage is a story in which that alone is not only special enough—it’s more important than anything.


Casey Blair is an indie bookseller who writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens, and her weekly serial fantasy novel Tea Princess Chronicles is available online for free. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through forests, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

Sirens Review Squad: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, in honor of Kameron Hurley’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Manda Lewis on Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion.

The Stars Are Legion

Pungent. Can a story be pungent? That is the word that keeps coming to mind as I try to describe this wonderfully brutal, disturbingly weird, and fantastically creative space opera set in an extremely oozy, sticky, slimy, living world-ship. I quite loved it.

In The Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley gives us an epic journey of a damaged heroine who is trying to uncover her past as well as achieve a goal she doesn’t remember setting out for. Zan wakes aboard the world-ship with no memory of who she is, how she came to be there, or whom she can trust. The world-ship belongs to the Katazyrna family, who claim Zan as one of their own—although she seems more like a prisoner. The ruling matriarch, Anat, is attempting to conquer another world-ship owned by the Mokshi family, and Zan has been the main force in trying to achieve this, over and over and over again. The Mokshi, it seems, have the ability to move among and away from the Legion of dying world-ships—an ability the other ruling families desperately wish to control. Zan’s faulty memory is blamed on these repeated attempts to capture the Mokshi, but we’re left feeling like there is a much larger mystery to solve as she interacts with her supposed sister, Jayd. While Jayd refuses to provide answers, the narrative hints at a deeper history and relationship, as well as a dangerous plan that Zan must follow without fully understanding it.

A botched alliance lands Zan, near death, at very center of the world, a biological waste processing hold complete with recycler monsters. Zan finds herself in the company of a lost and discarded woman from another world, and a smart and cheerful engineer from a level above. Together they begin a harrowing ascension to the surface where Zan will have to decide if she is to carry out the scheme devised by Jayd and her past self.

This is where I fall in love with the story. Hurley’s vivid worldbuilding unfolds as we journey with Zan though the many levels of the world-ship. It’s wildly imaginative and kept me curious for what could possibly be next. The world-ship itself is fascinating; I found myself trying to imagine how the mix of technology and biology evolved to the point of creating this life-sustaining environment. One of the details I particularly liked was that the all-female population aboard the ship gives birth to things the world needs to sustain itself—not just children, but biomechanical pieces and so forth. The themes of birth, rebirth and reuse come up throughout in many ways. I am in the early motherhood years of my life, so all of the emotions and physicality associated with birth are still at the forefront of my mind. Grossness and bodily fluids are a part of my everyday life, so much of this text felt viscerally real and completely natural. This is what you deal with when keeping something alive—a person or a world.

There are so many more things that make this book an amazing read. The characters are complex and interesting women—many are unlikable or even terrible. Both Zan and Jayd are unreliable narrators, which keeps you guessing, mistrusting how you feel about them and wondering whether you want them to succeed. The various levels of the ship present different cultures and societal norms, and different ways of interacting with the world. There is also a plethora of ideas around identity, agency, and body autonomy presented throughout that make for great discussion.

The Stars Are Legion is, for me, an excellent blend of dark fantasy and weird fiction in a unique sci-fi setting filled with a strong cast of characters who have complex and often disturbing relationships. I enjoyed the ride, but it is not for the squeamish.


Manda Lewis holds a BS degree in aerospace engineering and a Masters of Tourism Administration, and served in the Air Force for seven years. She currently works for a children’s museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosting after-hours special events. She is also the caretaker of two small humans who look like her and often have dragon tea parties. Manda has always made it a habit to draw, color, and doodle on just about everything within reach and loves themes far more than anyone really should. Manda has been a volunteer for Phoenix Rising, Terminus, and Sirens for the last ten years.

 

Sirens Review Squad: From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Manda Lewis on Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire.

From Unseen Fire

I’m not saying that while finishing Cass Morris’s From Unseen Fire that I donned a toga and took my meals lounging on a couch (chairs are so old-fashioned!), but I’m not saying that I didn’t either. I think those who know me know which is most likely.

At its heart, From Unseen Fire is a story about a woman discovering the depths of her own power, while overcoming abuse and repression to forge a new path instead filled with purpose and love. This is the story of Latona of the Vitelliae. Latona, a mage in the city of Aven who has spent years in the court of a vicious dictator, has traded her body for the protection of her family. When that dictator dies, she is free of his maltreatment and manipulation. Can she settle back into a loveless marriage of convenience and into the life of a noblewoman, supporting the political aspirations of her father, brother, and husband? It seems that the Goddesses who have blessed her with Spirit and Fire magic have other plans for her. Latona’s long repressed magic starts to manifest more powerfully, and with it, the drive to help her city and its citizens.

There were many things I enjoyed about Morris’s debut novel, which is part historical fiction and part fantastic re-imagining of a Romanesque republic. Aven is in a state of flux, as exiled leaders race back to the city in the wake of the dictator’s death. The Aventan society will have to weather rebellion, the threat of war, and political power struggles between several factions as it recovers from the terror under which it was living. I was easily pulled into the world with her rich descriptions of the city, its people, the architecture, the food, and even the fabric! Morris’s historical research shines through when showing us Latona’s day-to-day life, along with her family and several other power players in the republic.

Mostly, I was taken with the relationships between these players and how they affected the city. I enjoyed seeing Latona’s devotion to her two sisters and the interplay between them, as well as her new friendship with Sempronius Tarren, a recently returned senator who has his sights set on a praetorship and military power. In regards to Latona’s newfound power, Morris does a great job contrasting the support from Sempronius, her sisters, and the high priestess at the temple of Venus against the objections of her father, her husband, and the restraints of their society. I found myself asking: to whom will Latona acquiesce, and more importantly, will she follow her own heart?

I must admit, I did stumble a bit over the names of the many characters while reading, which sometimes meant I had to go backwards to remind myself who was whom. This made the early part of the book a little slow-going. Midway, I switched to the audiobook version, which helped me a lot with the pronunciations and keeping the characters straight. That said, their complexity lent to the historic authenticity and the Romanesque feel of the entire culture.

From Unseen Fire gives us an intriguing beginning to Aven Cycle, and Morris has much more to tell us in future novels. I look forward to seeing how Latona evolves and grows, both in her strength of magic and strength of character. I hope that we will see more of her working with the Aven people of different classes as she carves her place in the world; I also hope to see more of Sempronius, and how war and his growing relationship with Latona changes him. Then, the biggest question: will they do what they must to secure a prosperous future for Aven, or will it fall to ruin?


Manda Lewis holds a BS degree in aerospace engineering and a Masters of Tourism Administration, and served in the Air Force for seven years. She currently works for a children’s museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosting after-hours special events. She is also the caretaker of two small humans who look like her and often have dragon tea parties. Manda has always made it a habit to draw, color, and doodle on just about everything within reach and loves themes far more than anyone really should. Manda has been a volunteer for Phoenix Rising, Terminus, and Sirens for the last ten years.

 

Sirens Review Squad: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, in honor of Anna-Marie McLemore’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from B R Sanders on Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon was Ours.

When the Moon was Ours

When Miel was five, she poured out of the water of the town’s felled water tower. Sam was the first person to talk to her, and the two of them have been inseparable ever since. Miel, her hem perpetually damp with water from nowhere, grows inexplicable roses from her wrist and lives with Aracely, who cures the town’s citizens of lovesickness. Meanwhile, Sam works the Bonners’ pumpkin patch and wrestles with his gender day in and day out. When the Bonners’ pumpkins start turning into glass, and the Bonner sisters turn their sights on Miel’s roses, Miel and Sam are faced with hard choices and harder truths.

If the description above doesn’t get you interested in reading When the Moon was Ours, then maybe this will: I love this book, and I really think you should read it. It is exactly, precisely, the kind of book I wish I could hand to a younger version of myself. It has not one, but two of the most sensitive and nuanced portrayals of trans people that I’ve read in a long, long time. I took this book slow; I luxuriated in it like you do a hot bath. I didn’t want it to end. As an AFAB (assigned female at birth) non-binary person, the depiction of Sam, especially, read so true that sometimes it made me tender and raw.

At the heart of the book is a rich depiction of small-town America, but that small town is diverse. There are people of color in that small town. There are people with disabilities in that small town. There are queer people in that small town. And there are transgender people in that small town. Just like in the small town where I grew up, where, yes, people were queer even though it was in Texas. My town was a mix of brown and black and white and Asian. It was poor, and with that came a bevy of people living with disabilities. McLemore weaves a story about surviving and eventually thriving in a small town that felt real and true and authentic.

McLemore is a gifted writer. Virtually every character is full of life. The town itself is a character, something living and breathing, a place at once constraining and comforting. This is an essentially character-driven book: one thread of the story hinges on Miel’s need to uncover her past and how it informs her future. Another thread is the Sam’s acceptance of his own gender identity. McLemore writes both characters’ arcs beautifully.

All books have a weakness. When the Moon was Ours suffers from an overstuffed and meandering plot. At times, the plot feels absolutely crucial to Miel and Sam’s self-discoveries, but at other times, the plot feels divorced and separate from them. McLemore is bursting with ideas here, and the world she builds is alive with texture, but there is, perhaps, too much texture. It is entirely possible that she could have had one book of just Sam, Miel, and Aracely coming to grips with each other, and entirely separate (and incredibly creepy) book of the Bonner sisters and their weird coffin and glass pumpkins. There are so many good ideas and flourishes here that some get crowded out. Some are not given the space to breathe and develop. This is a book that either needed to be bigger and longer and even more intricate, or sharper and smaller and more precise. But When the Moon was Ours, as it exists, is still extraordinary and well worth a read.

If you’re in the mood for a rambling witchy story of two teenagers shambling towards themselves and love and happiness, you should definitely check out When the Moon was Ours! This is a sweet and tender book I read months ago, and still think about nearly every day since I finished it.


B R Sanders is an award-winning genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B writes fantasy novels about queer elves and short fiction about dancing planets. They have attended Sirens in 2015, 2016, and 2017 (and hope to attend again in 2019). They love drinking coffee and sleeping. B tweets @b_r_sanders.

 

Sirens Review Squad: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Amanda Hudson on Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.

Children of Blood and Bone

In her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi blends African heritage into a vivid new fantasy world called Orïsha, where a merciless king has driven away magic. By his decree, divîners—those capable of controlling Orïsha’s magic—are systematically killed, leaving their families discriminated against and forced into hiding. Adeyemi expertly weaves the themes of prejudice and oppression into Zelie, her brother Tzain, and the princess Amari’s quest to restore magic to the divîners before it is erased from the Orïsha for good.

Adeyemi tells the story of this journey with three point-of-view characters, and in doing so, creates a page-turner that is hard to put down when a chapter ends. I either wanted to know what happened next, or I wanted to get back to a particular character’s perspective. The book begins with Zélie, who was forced to watch the monarchy kill her divîner mother, yet still teams up with a fleeing princess who possesses an artifact required to restore magic to their lands. That princess, Amari, is determined to do what she believes is right, even if it goes against her father’s wishes. Inan, Amari’s brother and the prince, is desperate to show his father that he is capable and worthy of one day becoming king. Alternating between Zélie, Amari, and Inan’s perspectives reveals the complexity of the world Adeyemi has created, and delves deeper into the ethical and political issues of the king’s tyrannical regime.

Adeyemi creates a beautifully rich world, with deeply-drawn characters and social structures to match. There are gentle reminders every so often that this world is not my own, such as the animal Zélie and her family rides. This is what I look for in great fantasy—a place I can relate to, but also new and different in intriguing ways. Adeyemi’s Orïsha feels spellbinding and alive.

I cannot think of a book that does not contain at least one trope, but occasionally, the unexpected use of a popular trope completely removes me from the page. Children of Blood and Bone, for all its wondrous worldbuilding, contains a trope I’ve come to abhor in YA fantasy: children forced to fight other children in a tournament or arena setting until only one is left alive, explicitly for the entertainment of adults. Perhaps the inclusion of this trope would have been less irksome if it had not been entirely unnecessary to the plot.

It wasn’t surprising to me, given the overall predictable quest structure of Children of Blood and Bone, that Amari, Zélie and Tzain would find their way to a town of laborers living in miserable conditions, and that the laborers would be forced into stockades and treated like animals. From the setup, I knew that Zélie would likely learn that the princess (and maybe the prince) are not like their ruthless father. I also suspected that Amari would realize the extent of the king’s horrific regime. I was there, I was engrossed. But, at the mention of an arena, I disconnected from the story for several chapters. I wish I could have removed these chapters altogether; this one aspect jolted me out of a powerful, enticing world, and forced me into a generic, worn-out trope. Suddenly, I was comparing this book to the last one I’d read featuring the same trope.

The plot progresses fairly quickly from there, but then I was nervous about what other contrived trope would be thrown my way. By the end, my only other complaint was that I foolishly had not realized that Children of Blood and Bone is the first of a series. At 525 pages, I was so sure it would be a standalone. I wish it were! I picked it up when it was recently released, with the second book far off in the future. Now I’m completely invested in the world, the characters and Adeyemi’s language; and I crave closure. The wait for book two begins.


Amanda Hudson works full time as a game developer in Malmö, Sweden. She holds a JD from Baylor University and previously practiced law in Texas. When not reading or writing fantasy, Amanda enjoys eating delicious Scandinavian foods and playing video games and board games.

 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 10 (September 2017)

In this issue:

 

SIRENS 2017 RELOCATION

By now, many of you already know that because of the Hotel Talisa’s renovation delays, this year’s conference is moving to the nearby Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Dates for Sirens Studio (October 24–25) and the conference (October 26–29) will remain the same, as will the programming schedule. Due to credit card security protocols, all attendees must make a new hotel reservation. For full information including reservation instructions, please visit our relocation page.

Thank you all so much, in advance, for your patience and assistance as we tackle all the tasks necessary to move Sirens. Our staff is working hard to ensure that Sirens will be the same brilliant conference for the same brilliant community that it would have been if we’d planned to hold it in the Park Hyatt all along. Thank you, too, for your understanding and support!

 

UPCOMING INSTRUCTION EMAILS

In the weeks leading up to Sirens, we’ll be sending important instruction emails to this year’s registered attendees regarding updated menus, meeting the Sirens Shuttle, checking in for the Sirens Studio and Sirens, and finding the Sirens Supper. Presenters will also receive detailed instructions—so keep your eye on that inbox!

If you’re riding the Sirens Shuttle and you have not yet provided us with your flight information, please write to us at (help at sirensconference.org). We’ll track your progress toward Sirens and make sure that you haven’t run into any delays along the way.

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

In the final post in our 2017 inclusivity series, Justina Ireland explains the history behind the term “intersectionality” and what makes Sirens stand out from other conferences: “Attending Sirens is like having a good meal after years of living off of crumbs. Your identity will be respected and embraced, your opinion valued, and you will learn so much it will feel like a weekend of machine gun epiphanies, each one more amazing than the last.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

VOLUNTEERING

We always need great volunteers to help at Sirens! Volunteer shifts vary in length and responsibilities, but most volunteer shifts are during programming and allow you to attend presentations. If you’re planning to stick to a room for the whole morning or afternoon, and don’t mind flagging down help if any problems arise, we, our presenters, and our community thank you immensely.

For more details, please visit our volunteer page. If you’re a returning volunteer, you don’t need to fill out the form—just follow the directions in the email sent through the Google Group.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

When the Moon Was Ours

Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink debates whether books have to have plots in her review this month, of Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours, but found it “transcendent. McLemore took the best parts of fairy tales and the best of who we, as people, might be, and with her stunning craft, put it all on the page.” Full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1

Are you done, or almost done the 2017 Reading Challenge? Faye is… not as close as she would like. But she found Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’s Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1 “demanding and intellectually challenging… incredible, myth-making, myth-breaking stuff.” Read her full thoughts on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

Mermaid's Daughter

Friend of Sirens Jae Young Kim read Ann Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter, a modern-day retelling of The Little Mermaid set in at a musical conservatory, whose main character is an opera student. “Love and music are central to this retelling…it’s clever and fitting.” Read her full review here.

 

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).

 

Sirens Review Squad: The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Jae Young Kim on Ann Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter.

Ann Claycomb’s debut novel, The Mermaid’s Daughter, is a modern-day retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” mixed in with a healthy dose of opera and composition. Kathleen, an opera student at a conservatory, learns that the stabbing pain in her feet and the phantom sensation of her tongue being cut out are not signs of mental illness, but the consequences of a long and dark curse made generations ago. Kathleen is left with two choices—kill herself or kill her lover, Harry.

I love fairy tales. They’re old stories, some coming from oral traditions going as far back as a thousand years, changing over time with every retelling. Each omission, addition and embellishment reflects the teller’s perspective. So when we read a fairy tale retelling, we know, more or less, what the plot will be. It’s the little tweaks in the retelling that make the read worthwhile.

“The Little Mermaid” is one of my favorite fairy tales. Although I was a kid when the Disney animated version came out, I had read Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale before watching the movie, which could not be more different from each other. Disney’s version is a musical with cartoon animal sidekicks, an evil witch that turns into a giant monster, and a happy ending complete with a wedding between the mermaid and prince. Andersen’s tale is dark and bloody, with cut tongues and phantom knives stabbing the mermaid’s feet—and no happy ending. I love both of them, but I was disappointed with Disney’s: it felt too clean and safe, and was totally at odds with the Andersen’s original.

Claycomb does not go the cartoon route with The Mermaid’s Daughter. She does not shy away from the stabbing pains, the cutting of the tongue, and the gruesome trade made by the mermaid. Told in three acts through four viewpoints (Kathleen, Harry, Robin (Kathleen’s father), and the sea witches), the novel is bleak in tone and possibly even darker than Andersen’s fairy tale. Claycomb uses the first act to establish Kathleen’s life, beginning with Kathleen and Harry’s relationship, a great queer take on the usual heterosexual pairings in traditional fairy tales. She also focuses attention on the father-daughter relationship between Robin and Kathleen, and it’s clear that they love each other deeply. Since the novel has a modern-day setting, some time does have to be spent working through disbelief in magic and mermaids. I admit to being impatient that Kathleen didn’t realize the truth of her heritage earlier, but I did have the advantage of knowing she was a mermaid. The sea witches do provide a touch of fantasy as well as the stories of Kathleen’s ancestors, but it may feel dry for those wanting a book that jumps straight into the fantastical elements.

Kathleen also has the beautiful voice of Andersen’s mermaid, making music and opera an integral part of this mermaid’s story. I am a fan of opera and have sung in choirs all my life, so reading about the various singers and the roles and songs they perform was loads of fun. Robin is a famous composer and I loved reading about his composition process, even though I don’t know a thing about songwriting.

The build-up to the reveal of Kathleen’s mermaid secret is long but necessary. Love and music are central to this retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” Once Kathleen learns of her mermaid curse, third act flies by as Robin and Harry help Kathleen resolve it. I won’t spoil the ending but I think it’s clever and fitting for a fairy tale retelling. The book also includes a bonus short story connecting Hans Christian Andersen to Kathleen’s ancestor. It provides some context for final act and is a welcome addition.

I recommend Claycomb’s The Mermaid’s Daughter and look forward to reading her next book.

 


 
Jae Young Kim is a born-and-bred New Yorker and a lifelong fan of fairy tales, fantasy and science fiction. She is a non-profit attorney by day and writes when she can, not always by night. The only thing that keeps her up until dawn is a good book.

 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 9 (August 2017)

In this issue:

 

GUEST OF HONOR: VICTORIA SCHWAB

We’re interviewing each of our Sirens 2017 Guests of Honor about their inspirations, influences, and craft, as well as the role of women in fantasy literature, as befits this year’s theme of women who work magic.

Victoria Schwab

This month, we interviewed Victoria Schwab about writing to conquer fear, how much she owes to J. K. Rowling, all manners of monsters, ambitious characters, and being ambitious herself: “When I sit down to construct my characters, I first ask myself what they fear, what they want, and what they’re willing to do to get it. Thus, their ambition is one of the pillars of their design. And one of my own pillars, too.”

Our feature on Victoria also includes a review of A Darker Shade of Magic by B R Sanders, as well as a list of books recommended by Victoria herself centered on badass ladies and their power.

 

SCHEDULE & PROGRAMMING SUPPORT

The conference schedule for 2017 is up! Click here to see how many of your favorite things we scheduled across from your other favorite things!

There’s still time to sponsor our programming sessions; the cost is $35 per presentation. Thank you again for all your support!

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

In our latest community post, Kate Larking shares with us her experience at Sirens versus the other literary conferences she attends: “One thing that unites us at Sirens is that we love developed, complex voices in speculative fiction. We embrace worlds that are different from our own and seek out the experiences of those who live within them.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

MENUS

Registered attendees, please check your inboxes for the full menus for this year’s conference. (You can also view our menus on our Conference and Sirens Supper pages.) If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, please email us at (help at sirensconference.org) by September 8—after which, we’ll assume you can eat from our standard menus.

 

REGISTRATION TRANSFERS

Although Sirens is officially sold out for 2017, we have several attendees looking to sell their registrations (and sometimes other Sirens tickets as well). If you’re looking to sell yours and you’d like a signal boost, please tweet at us (@sirens_con) or feel free to post information on our Facebook. Please keep an eye on our Twitter for any announcements.

 

9 SIRENS SHUTTLE TICKETS REMAINING

Sirens offers a $95 round-trip shuttle from Denver International Airport to Vail, significantly cheaper than commercial shuttles which can cost upwards of $200. We encourage you to buy your shuttle ticket soon, even if you don’t have flights yet—there are only 9 spots left before our shuttle is sold out!

 

HOTEL RESERVATIONS

We are close to filling our block at the Hotel Talisa for the third and final time. If you have not yet made your hotel reservation, please do so as soon as possible. We have only four rooms left on the main nights of Sirens, and on September 22, the hotel will release all remaining rooms. Any reservations made after that date will not receive the Sirens discount. For more instructions on how to make your reservation, please visit our Hotel page.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Practical Magic

Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Alice Hoffman’s modern classic Practical Magic this month, which she admired for its focus on “a bunch of women…all doing the best they can. Sometimes solutions are magic, sometimes they’re determination, sometimes they’re taking your fears in hand and charging forward.” Full review on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

An Inheritance of Ashes

This August, Faye read Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes for her Reading Challenge pick! She found it “a quiet book…full of surprises, and not shiny at all, in the best way possible.” Find out what that means by checking out her review over on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

SIRENS REVIEW SQUAD

The Guns Above

Longtime Siren Casey Blair read Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above, which she loved for its complex world-building, amazing female characters, and masterful tone: “If you love wit and self-awareness in your fantasy to go with your airships, I highly recommend checking this one out.” Read her full review here.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links


Fabulous, Free Reads!

 


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

 

Sirens Review Squad: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

The Guns Above

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a review from Casey Blair on Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above.

The Guns Above, released just this spring, is the first in the Signal Airship series by Robyn Bennis. It’s a flintlock military fantasy following the adventures of a nation’s first female airship captain and all her associated challenges—including dealing with the dandy assigned to spy on her.

Captain Josette Dupre’s strength is sheer competence in her career as an airman, though she doesn’t relate to people well. The foppish Lord Bernat can read people exceedingly well, but otherwise does not understand the realities of the world at all. The contrast between their perceptions is fantastic.

Spoiler: the whole book is fantastic.

Actual spoiler: Although Josette and Bernie are both point-of-view characters, there is not a romance between them. Which I loved. I was initially worried the book would go down that path due to the chapters with alternating perspectives; what Bennis does instead is develop an unlikely friendship between the two of them—and it’s delightful. The characters are complicated, and so is how they relate to one another. Even if a romance develops later in the series, I’m glad Bennis didn’t tack that on, because the friendship strengthened the core of this book. And because of the two main characters’ respective strengths, when there is emotional labor to be done, it’s not assumed that the lead female character will do it. That’s something I really appreciated.

Bennis is also great at using point-of-view to highlight power imbalances and structural nonsense with humor that avoids punching down. The target of the joke is never the person being oppressed, unless the narrative is actively presenting that joke as A Problem rather than supporting it.

All that said, what drew me to The Guns Above in the first place was the promise of amazing women (yes, there’s more than one!) participating in explosive airship battles, which it absolutely delivers. The book also delves into strategy, on both small and large scales—in terms of the military battles as well as the political ones—and it’s clear Bennis knows what she’s talking about. While reading, I knew I was in good hands, able to relax and enjoy military airship shenanigans without nitpicking the world-building and questioning whether the physics held up. That’s a rare feeling for me, and that alone is enough to keep me seeking out Bennis’s next book.

But what makes The Guns Above truly special is the tone. Many books pay lip service to war being terrible, but either those effects never actually touch the characters or else the books wallow in their awfulness. Bennis strikes a balance in between: the awfulness is there. It’s present. It affects the characters. They acknowledge that, and still they keep moving. And there is still space for naps and meals, games and flirting and laughter, and worrying about money and family members while still getting the job done. This book struck me as one of the most fundamentally human approaches to war I’ve ever read.

I mentioned jokes earlier, but really, I was not at all expecting the high quantity of humor. It’s the constant thread that ties all the pieces together and makes everything work. Bennis is brilliant at shifting from wry humor to poignancy or absolutely scathing critique in the space of a line, and more often than not, she accomplishes all that simultaneously. Even when a situation is dire, and both the readers and characters recognize how dire, the book’s tone still trends towards fun rather than overwhelming.

I’m a sucker for daring women adventuring, but it’s really the heart of The Guns Above that pulled me in and has me eagerly anticipating the sequel, happily planned for publication next year. If you love wit and self-awareness in your fantasy to go with your airships, I highly recommend checking this one out.

 


 
Casey Blair writes speculative fiction novels for adults and teens, and her weekly serial fantasy novel Tea Princess Chronicles is available online for free. She is a graduate of Vassar College and of the Viable Paradise residential science fiction and fantasy writing workshop. After teaching English in rural Japan for two years, she relocated to the Seattle area. She is prone to spontaneous dancing, exploring ancient cities around the world, wandering and adventuring through mountains, spoiling cats terribly, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea late into the night.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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