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S. L. Huang’s Burning Roses will change how you see the world and your place in it

Read With Amy

What if?, S. L. Huang seems to ask in her latest work. What if the stories were wrong? What if once upon a time were wrong? What if it were really twice upon a time? Or thrice upon a time?

Or as many fucking times upon a time as you need to get it right?

We talk a lot about heroes. In our books, on the speculative shelves, we know those heroes as illustrious warriors: hypermasculine, cisgender men saving the countryside from marauding monsters through practiced, performative violence, discarding slain tyrants and murdered dragons in their wake. We know, now, that others can be heroes, too—though even here, we generally reserve the word “hero” for only those white, cisgender women who also slay tyrants and murder dragons.

We talk a lot, too, about monstrousness. Not so much about monstrousness of cisgender men, but the perceived and impossibly expansive monstrousness of those of marginalized genders: sirens and furies, yōkai and harionago, la llorona and banshees. About monstrousness as the living embodiment of transgression, a deliberate re-casting of our rage and grief and power and pleasure as monstrous.

And of course we talk a lot about redemption. Not for heroes, who need no redemption from the violence that society demands they perform. But redemption for cisgender male villains, whom we all know need just one more chance—always just one more chance—to find the right path. Sometimes, we even talk about redemption for those of marginalized genders, from our presumed monstrousness, where redemption is less about choice and more about subjugation: through renunciation of power, through marriage, through death.

But what we don’t talk about a lot is forgiveness. Or the notion that, as much as we may want the forgiveness of others, sometimes what we need is to forgive ourselves. To salve the damage and the pain and the trauma that we have wrought, and to recognize that for all the damage we have done to others, we have inflicted even more upon ourselves.

In Burning Roses, S. L. Huang wants to talk about heroism and monstrousness and redemption. But she also wants, very much, to talk about mistakes and pain and, yes, the seemingly impossible task of forgiving yourself.

In this fairytale remix, Huang gifts readers with two middle-aged lesbian heroes, living together somewhat grumpily, levering their creaky bones off the porch to go fight monsters, pining for their respective lost wives, drowning in the pain and trauma of their respective mistakes. Rosa, a relative stranger in this land, is a Latina Red Riding Hood, raised in an abusive household, a crack shot with a rifle, but who, in seeking vigilante justice, was so oblivious to the injustice of her actions—finally fleeing both consequences and her wife and daughter.

Hou Yi the Archer, reimagined as a Chinese trans woman, was a legit hero in her prime, adored by the people, fêted by the gods. She loved her wife, and took a child as her own son, but her choices cost her both, and now, even well past her prime, she continues to readily, perhaps eagerly, throw herself in the path of monsters. She found Rosa by the side of the road some time ago, brought her home with her, and now both seek literal monsters to battle, knowing any one could be their last, in order to better ignore their respective figurative monsters.

As Burning Roses opens, sunbirds—fire-breathers—are ravaging the countryside and Hou Yi and Rosa gather themselves for battle once more. But these sunbirds are controlled by a man from Hou Yi’s past, and Hou Yi and, despite both their protests, Rosa, set off across the countryside after him. As they travel, we learn their respective mistakes, their pain, their trauma, and their hopelessness—why each continues to throw herself in front of monsters, desperation disguised as heroism. And why heroics, in the end, are the path to neither redemption nor happiness.

Huang’s fierce, blazing deconstruction of the respective pain of Hou Yi and Rosa—and how that pain distorted their memories and perceptions, and how those distortions frustrated any attempt that either might make to forgive herself for her mistakes—also functions as a similar deconstruction for all of us. Pain is sometimes an easy distraction, all too familiar, a deserved punishment that diverts us from the real work of perceiving things as they were or are, and finding a way to forgive ourselves our mistakes. And Huang’s deconstruction does, for all that, come with happy endings for both Hou Yi and Rosa—and maybe for us, too.

Burning Roses is a novella, a mere 153 pages. You can read it in an hour—but it will sit with you for days because Huang has a lot to say about heroics and monstrousness and redemption, about pain and mistakes and forgiveness. She’ll offer you a chance at something kinder, gentler, more thoughtful. She’ll change how you see the world and your place in it.

Before each conference, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her fantasy and other interesting books by women, nonbinary, and trans authors. You can find all of her reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!


By day, Amy Tenbrink dons her supergirl suit and handles strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president of a major media company. By night, she dons her supergirl cape, plans literary conferences, bakes increasingly complicated pastries, and reads 150 books a year. She is a co-founder and current co-chair of Sirens, an annual conference dedicated to examining gender and fantasy literature. She likes nothing quite so much as monster girls, flagrant ambition, and a well-planned revolution.

Meet your Sirens Studio faculty: An interview with Jae Young Kim

As we look forward to welcoming—and welcoming back—attendees at Sirens this fall, we’re pleased to rerun last year’s interviews with our brilliant Sirens Studio faculty by members of our conference staff. These conversations are a prelude to the workshops that these faculty will teach as part of Sirens Studio, a two-day, pre-conference event that requires a separate ticket. . You can learn more about the Sirens Studio, with full course descriptions and faculty biographies, on our page here.

 

CANDICE LINDSTROM: You’ve spent your career as a non-profit attorney providing free services to survivors of domestic violence and immigrants looking to start a new life in the United States. Did you always know you wanted to work as an advocate for those who can’t defend themselves, or did something draw you to this specific area of the legal profession?

Jae Young Kim

JAE YOUNG KIM: I went to law school in part to appease my parents, because they believed, as Korean immigrants, that the way to succeed would be getting a professional degree. In some ways, I was a disappointment because I did not go to medical school, as that was the pinnacle of achievement in their minds! I always received pressure to take the socially acceptable path and strive for mainstream acceptance. But once I was in law school, I knew I wanted to work for the public interest at a non-profit. I had always had a strong moral sense of justice. I had understood racism and sexism permeated the United States, but I had not ever really thought about using my degree and my work to fight those structural oppressions. In law school, I was fortunate enough to become friends with organizers and folks committed to fighting for social justice and realized that this was an option. In my third year of law school, I was in a year-long clinic defending immigrants in the legal system. I felt like this was a perfect fit for my passion for justice and my critical thinking and advocacy skills. Also, when I was in law school, the world of immigrant legal advocacy was much smaller and I knew there was a need for smart, competent immigration attorneys. Immigration legal work was not being funded; it took me a while to find a job where I could provide immigration legal services, so I started my legal career representing survivors of domestic violence on family law matters.

 

CANDICE: What do you love about your work, and what is challenging about your work that might surprise those of us outside it?

JAE YOUNG: I love that my work immediately and materially improves the lives of my clients, as orders of protection (restraining orders in New York), custody orders, and immigration status can dramatically change their lives. One of the challenges I face in my work is balancing the tension between knowing what may be “best” from a legal perspective while acknowledging that clients are human and ultimately, they must make the decision about their lives that extend beyond a case. Making informed choices in the legal system is not easy and, at the end of the day, I have to take comfort that I have done everything I can for a client, but they must make the decision they can live with. Law is still a service industry, which lawyers forget a lot.

 

CANDICE: What keeps you strong and hopeful in the face of the adversity that your clients face?

JAE YOUNG: Knowing that lawyers are not the way we will achieve justice. I am answering these questions while the protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless Black people take place.

 

CANDICE: Did you have any assumptions about or expectations of your clients that changed after you had been in this field for some time? Do you tend to see a lot of similarities or overlap in the legal problems faced by the different groups you serve, or is every case dramatically different?

JAE YOUNG: I mentioned this in my earlier answer, but I learned very quickly that clients make the decisions that are best for themselves and that is not always the decision you counsel them to make.

I would say that racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heteropatriarchy and other points of oppression can really inform the legal issues my clients face. I have worked with people across race, gender, class, disability and sexuality, and those with privilege engage in legal systems usually more easily than those without.

 

CANDICE: Does a successful career in non-profit work take a different set of skills or values than regular for-profit office work? Is burnout more of an issue here than with traditional for-profit legal work, and how does one work around or overcome that?

JAE YOUNG: I don’t think there is that much of a difference between the skill set for non-profit services work and regular for-profit services work. Law is a field whose guiding principle is zealous advocacy and that is true whether you work at a corporate firm or a non-profit. Strong written and oral communication skills, relationship building, critical thinking skills, creativity, thinking on your feet, crisis management—these skills are essential across the board. The values may be different in that a for-profit legal office has to focus on making money, but I think the same is true of non-profit organizations. We are funded by local, state and federal government and foundations and have to provide deliverables and outcomes to justify our funding. The metrics are different, but no organization can function without money within capitalism.

Burnout is common in both non-profits and for-profits because zealous advocacy is the polar opposite of healthy boundaries and self-care. With non-profits, we have the added burden of vicarious trauma as most of our clients are marginalized people who have suffered often many forms of trauma throughout their lives. I always remind people to take care of themselves and be a bit selfish. If you quit, they will always find someone else to replace you. You have to sustain yourself and take care of yourself, no one else will. I learned this lesson after being very hard on myself in my twenties. Drinking water, eating regularly, taking breaks, moving more, vacations are all important to survive in this field!

 

CANDICE: What one thing would make the biggest difference in your work? Changes in governmental/law-enforcement policy? More donations? More lawyers choosing to advocate for the marginalized members of society? Something completely different?

JAE YOUNG: I do think social change has to happen outside of the courtroom. I think non-profit lawyers do important harm-reduction work, but the legal systems are created by those with power and protect those in power. Marginalized people having competent lawyers reduces the harm the systems cause but that doesn’t change the laws that work to maintain the same power structures. So I guess I am saying change the government!

 

CANDICE: Do you find that your work influences the stories you’re drawn to in fantasy? Do you need an escape, or stories where justice is served? If the latter, are there any books where you feel justice (through the courts or otherwise) was served in a satisfying way?

JAE YOUNG: I definitely use fantasy as an escape in that I don’t necessarily want to read stories about law or deep political intrigue. I also really love stories that focus on relationships between characters: friendship, romance, family, all of it. Sometimes I wonder if there could be books that really critique the legal systems and the injustices in fantasy versus a legal thriller.

 

CANDICE: This fall, you’re presenting a career development workshop intensive titled “Working for Change: Can We Wear Capes in Real Life?” as part of the Sirens Studio. Would you please give us a preview of what Studio attendees can expect to discuss and learn?

JAE YOUNG: I hope to share my real-life experience as a non-profit attorney and provide insights into legal systems. I can share what it’s like working for social change as part of your job and the good and the challenging parts of my work. Also, as someone who has also worked as manager for several years, I can talk about my transition to becoming a manager and share my experiences working with interns and staff with different strengths and weaknesses.

 

CANDICE: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

JAE YOUNG: I would say Darshan, one of my best friends from law school, a South Asian queer woman. She has really been a mentor and the big sister I never had in many ways, sharing ways of navigating being a daughter of Asian immigrants and a woman of color in the non-profit world. She has also taught me so much about centering myself and my self-care and doing what is right for me.

 


Jae Young Kim has worked as a nonprofit attorney advocating for immigrants, people of color, survivors of domestic violence, and low-income people for fifteen years in New York City. Currently, she is Director of the Family and Immigration Unit at Bronx Legal Services. The Family and Immigration Unit (FIU) is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys, paralegals, and social workers that provides holistic services to meet the family law and immigration law needs of low-income residents in the Bronx. She received a JD from New York University School of Law and a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Law from Binghamton University. Jae Young is also a lifelong fan of fairy tales and speculative fiction. In her free time, she tries reading for the book clubs she cannot stop joining, looking for the next meal, and watching too much reality TV.

For more information about Jae Young, please visit her Twitter.

Candice Lindstrom is an assistant editor for a business magazine publisher covering women, LGBT, minority, and disabled-veteran enterprises. In a past life she edited young adult and adult fiction for a paranormal publisher. When not reading for work, she’s reading for pleasure in almost any genre, but speculative fiction is her first love.

Books and Breakfast: Monstress: Awakening and Nimona

As we look to welcome new and returning attendees to our postponed conference this October, we’d like to reintroduce our Books and Breakfast selections, now revived for 2021! Sirens showcases the breadth and complexity of our annual theme through Books and Breakfast, where we select a number of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books that address aspects of our theme. On the Friday and Saturday mornings of Sirens, attendees bring their breakfasts and join a table to discuss one of those books—another chance to deconstruct, interrogate, and celebrate the work that women and nonbinary are doing in fantasy literature!

For this year’s conference, we’ll still be examining gender and villainy, and relatedly, redemption—fraught topics full of artificial constraints and defied stereotypes. We’ve chosen eight works that broaden that examination, full of questions, but few answers; dastardly villainy, and occasional redemption; and a number of female and nonbinary villains who may, despite or because of their villainy, be someone worth celebrating.

 
2021 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

We’ll be highlighting all eight of these titles, which we hope will allow you to make your choice and tackle your reading before Sirens (in case you didn’t get to it last year!). Here are our list of selections and reviews of our two graphic novel selections:

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Monstress: Awakening by Marjorie Liu, illus. by Sana Takeda

Monstress: Awakening

Do you like pretty things and want to cry? If you read fantasy for worldbuilding, there is so much to admire in Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress, a lush, fantasy comics series currently on its 30th issue. The first volume of Monstress: Awakening collects the first six issues, and the world is an incredible combination of Art Deco architecture, steampunky science, magic inspired by Middle Eastern myths, and a matriarchal society—all set in an alternate-world Asia.

With its own creation myth, religion, and history, Monstress centers around the conflict between Arcanics—a mixed race resulting from humans and the immortal, animal-shaped Ancients—and the Cumaea, a “scientific” order of witches (humans) who consume and experiment on them to fuel their magic. The wars have been gruesome and violent, with their legacy carrying trauma and deep emotional scars in our protagonist, half-Arcanic and former child slave Maika Halfwolf. Maika, who can pass for human, has very big fish to fry—hell-bent on avenging her dead mother, she is the occasional host of a terrifying and supremely powerful monster, who emerges from the stump of her severed arm.

It’s hard to put into words just how breathtakingly epic Monstress is, how dark, and how beautiful. Though interspersed with moments of levity and wisdom from adorable cats, and rife with whimsical details (unicorn horses!), the themes here are heady: Liu drew on her Chinese grandparents’ experiences during World War II to show just how broken life is for the Arcanics. Like with Maika, sometimes the monster inside all of us just wants to burn it all down—and that destructive power is readily available to her. Takeda’s artwork deserves all the superlatives and can’t be understated, with fine detailed architecture and manga-style characters. Comes with major content warnings.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona

For tonally lighter fare, Noelle Stevenson’s web comic-turned-graphic novel Nimona will bring about giggles and snickers, as a teenage girl strongarms her way into being the sidekick to the “villainous” Lord Ballister Blackheart. Here be dragons! Knights who communicate via videocall! The properties of magic getting debated by goggle-wearing scientists! Ballister fits reluctantly into the role of villain ever since his arm got blown off by his archnemesis, the lushly locked Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. Who better to give him a push than orphaned, impulsive, sarcastic Nimona, a shapeshifter who can take the form of any living being of any size or strength?

Though the novel starts with quippy dialogue and witty punchlines as Ballister and Nimona form a rapport, there is a darker, more serious undertone amongst all the charm: Nimona is, well, an extremely efficient killer. Since Ballister is truly a cinnamon roll who eventually just wants to be loved, he’s at odds with himself when he realizes Nimona’s full and true power—and the chaos she brings. And since this fun blur between science and magic of a world doesn’t exclude patriarchy, teenaged girls must be controlled, right? They’re dangerous when they’re unpredictable.

Still, feel assured under Stevenson’s confident pen. Her artwork drives the heartfelt character design, and the amazing expressions on their faces are a joy—especially the eyebrows! And overall, Nimona is a tender, funny exploration of what makes a hero a hero and a villain a villain, with a sweet romance, enough silliness to give you a bellyache, and a moody girl to root for, even on her bad days. Because who doesn’t have those days?

New Fantasy Books: June 2021

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of June 2021 fantasy book releases by and about women and nonbinary folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!
 

2021 Book Club: Our June pick is The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls

Seven Necessary Sins Women Girls Mona Eltahawy

The Sirens Book Club meets monthly to discuss a book from our 2021 Reading Challenge, which includes 50 works by women, trans, and nonbinary authors that imagine a more inclusive, more empathetic, more just world.

In June, we’re reading Mona Eltahawy’s unrelentingly furious, deliberately profane The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls. Eltahawy presents her version of the seven sins: those seven things that women and girls need to, as she exhorts, “fuck the patriarchy.” Through a combination of searing academic work and lived experience as an activist around the world, Eltahawy argues for a singularly blazing approach to feminist thought, one that demands that the patriarchy fear the power of transgressive feminists to defy, disrupt, and destroy it. This brilliant, uncompromising work will teach readers how to be exactly those feminists.

This month’s book club will be on Sunday, June 27 at 12:00 p.m. Mountain time (2:00 p.m. Eastern) over Zoom. If you’d like to join us, please email us at (help AT sirensconference.org) to be added to our list; for safety and security reasons, we’ll be emailing the link out to interested folks closer to the discussion date.

We hope to see you there!

It’s on My List: Books Isabel Keeps Meaning to Get to!

We all have a To-Be-Read list. A list that gets longer and longer as new recommendations get added. Those new recommendations tend to rise to the top of the list and push older ones to the bottom. The works here have probably all been on your TBR list at some time, and you may even have read some of them. For those ones you haven’t yet read, here is your chance to go back and explore the stories and ideas that form the foundation of some of the newest things on your TBR list.

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This novel challenges your assumptions about gender and physical bodies as necessary to identity. As you get to know the characters, you will be surprised at the misconceptions and biases you hold that affect how you see the characters and their world.

Dawn

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler

This book asks what is essential to be considered fully human after an alien race seeks to restore the planet and rebuild the human race by interbreeding with them after the last war brings an apocalypse. At what point do you go from accepting help to make reasonable adaptations to survive, and when do those adaptations make you complicit in your own destruction?

Elysium

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

An intriguing and mesmerizing series of vignettes about two people whose gender and relationship changes and gets more complex as you learn who they are. You may want to re-read it immediately upon finishing it to experience it more deeply.

Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

The stories in this collection show the complexity of women’s relationships to their bodies and how those bodies are treated by others. From the ordinary to not so ordinary, the loving to abusive, light to dark, these stories speak to the mundane and the horrific. I recommend you read only one in a sitting to allow the full impact of each to sink in.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin’s first novel about an unwanted barbarian relation who gets caught in a twisted power struggle with powerful cousins who seek to control the gods questions the boundaries between mortals and gods and redefines the fantasy genre.

Lady Astronaut of Mars

Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

You’ve probably heard about the Lady Astronaut series of books, now read an early novelette about an older lady astronaut that has to choose between staying on Earth with her dying husband or take what could be her last chance to go back into space. For anyone who has ever had to make a choice between a loved one or a career, between caring for someone else or for yourself, this story will break you.

The Sparrow

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Like all well-intentioned missions, this team of scientists and Jesuit priests destroy that which they sought to save. Each of the characters in this narrative has a fully developed story, but it is the struggle with faith of the priest at the center of the story that will have even the most religious reader question just how much can we be expected to suffer and still survive. If I were exiled to a desert island and could only take three books with me, this would be one of them. This is the most painful book I’ve ever read. I recommend it to everyone.


 
Isabel Schechter

Isabel Schechter has attended and run fannish conventions for more than 20 years and is a frequent panelist at conventions. Isabel’s essays on race and representation in SF/F have been published in Invisible 2: Essays on Race and Representation in SF/F, Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and several volumes of the WisCon Chronicles; and she is coeditor of The WisCon Chronicles Volume 12: Boundaries and Bridges. She is Puerto-Rican, feminist, child-free, Jewish, vegetarian, and a Midwesterner living in Southern California, and embraces the opportunity to represent the fact that no one of those identities excludes any of the others.

Sirens Newsletter—Volume 13, Issue 3: May 2021

This month:

Spring feels especially wonderful this year, doesn’t it, as the weather warms, the flowers bloom, and vaccine numbers are looking up? While we’re still finding the world challenging in far too many ways, we’re also finding that, in a number of little joys and delights, we’re suddenly optimistic. So with that optimism, let us help you find the stories that will make sense of the mayhem or transport you out of it.

Conference Registrations

If you’re looking forward to joining us in October, now is a great time to confirm your plans! The current registration rate is $275, and includes all of our programming and keynote addresses, four meals and receptions, and a conference bag and t-shirts. Sirens Studio tickets are still available as well, if you’d like to join us a couple days early for our smaller sessions with exemplary faculty. Register now to lock in your attendance.

Guest of Honor Weeks

In May, we featured two more of 2021’s Guests of Honor! These brilliant minds have done incredible work in the field of speculative fiction, and we are so excited to welcome them to Sirens in October.

Dr. Kinitra Brooks Author Searching for Sycorax Dr. Kintra Brooks Sycorax's Daughters Dr. Kinitra Brooks

Dr. Kinitra Brooksis a lauded scholar of popular culture, specializing in Black feminist theory and genre fiction. In her Sirens Interview, Kinitra discusses her work, with a particular eye to the erasure of genre boundaries and the fluidity of expression in Black women’s writing. Her Further Reading features media analysis on works like Lovecraft Country and Black is King, interviews about topics including folklore and syncretic practices, and much more! The Sirens Review squad celebrates Searching for Sycorax, Kinitra’s literary monograph presenting black women characters as both stereotypical fodder and literary backbone of the horror genre, and Sycorax’s Daughters: A Revolution in Horror, a collection of poems and stories which Kinitra edited, showcasing the extraordinary variety of the horror genre as written by Black women. Kinitra also supplied us with a recommended reading list of novels, short fiction, and nonfiction, and we have a list of Book Friends to complement her work.

Joamette Author Heartwood Joamette Author Power & Magic Joamette Author Power & Magic Immortal Souls Joamette Author

Joamette Gil is our Studio Guest of Honor. As the head witch at P&M Press, an independent comics micro-press specializing in speculative fiction by creators of color and LGBTQIA creators, Joamette has a wonderful perspective on both the creative and business aspects of speculative comics to offer our Studio attendees. You can read about her love for comics and her experiences Kickstarting collections in her Sirens Interview. The Sirens Review squad takes you inside Power & Magic and Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, both of which Joamette edited. Joamette also offered us some recommended reads, including graphic novels, short stories, and novels, and we’ve put together a collection of what we think are great read-alikes for the comics she’s edited. You can also see some of Joamette’s own comics, along with other interviews, in her Further Reading.

Books

Do you switch out your winter to-read list for a summer to-read list at the same time you change out your wardrobe? However you arrange your shelves, nightstand stacks, or ebook files, here are some suggestions for starting the summer right with fabulous works of speculative fiction from marginalized authors:

Book Recommendations and Reviews:

  • The second installment of this year’s Reading Challenge feature series centers on the theme of Transgression: “In the speculative space that is Sirens, our second mission statement is transgression: to find and share those stories, our stories, that transgress boundaries, expectations, and limitations for all people of marginalized genders.” Visit the post for a look inside the works from this year’s Reading Challenge that most thoroughly explore rule-breakers, barrier-busters, and paradigm-shifters.
  • In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’ve compiled a list of fifty great speculative works by female, trans, and nonbinary AAPI authors. These books range from graphic novels to YA to adult, from hilarious romps to sweeping epics to lush romance.
  • Sirens Chair Amy Tenbrink spends her days reading, reading, and reading some more, and this month she tried to review a book, and ending up down a rabbit hole. In “On Politeness and Monstrousness,” Amy tells us why she eagerly gobbles up books about teenage monster-hunters and is invariably disappointed by them. “No demographic needs to claim their monstrousness more than teenaged girls.”
  • As the school year wraps up and we look forward to summer reading, writer and high school teacher Katie Passerotti offers up a list of highly teachable fantasy books. “If we expect students to become lifelong readers, it’s vital they be given choice and be provided with opportunities to read broadly and outside of the very cis, very white, very male literary canon.”
  • Wonderful new fantasy books by women and non-binary authors joined the world in May! Be sure to peruse our Round-Up to find your next great read.
  • Our June Book Club selection is The Seven Necessary Sins for Women & Girls by Mona Eltahawy. If you’d like to join the Zoom conversation on June 27th, please email us (help at sirensconference.org) to be added to our list!

Happy reading!

This newsletter is brought to you by:

 


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

 

50 Shining, Speculative Works by AAPI Authors

In May, the United States celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month—though at Sirens, we know that one month is not enough to ponder the people, histories, and cultures of such a vast region. To identify as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) is to choose solidarity. How else can one compress hundreds of ethnic groups, languages, immigrant generations, income disparities, and consequences of American imperialism into one acronym?

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith. We fully commit to uplifting Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, South Asian, and Southeast Asian voices—aware that “Asian” is not synonymous with East Asian—as well as transracial adoptees, Black Asians, and multiracial Asians. And these past few months, from attacks on Asian elders to the horrific shootings in Atlanta, the devastation of COVID-19 in India to the violent apartheid in Palestine, the Asian community has been in pain. We must Stop AAPI Hate. But we must also cling to our joy—and to each other.

If you’ve already read your Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, your Yōko Ogawa, and your Eugie Foster—and we hope you have!—allow us to suggest 50 shining works of speculative fiction by AAPI women, nonbinary, and trans authors. Tales that feature majestic tigers, mischievous tricksters, or vengeful ghosts—as well as overbearing aunties, brilliant generals, and fierce matriarchs. Stories that interrogate and smash stereotypes, or incorporate mythology and folklore from the author’s origin or acquired cultures. 50 incredible novels, short stories, and poetry collections that span epic fantasy, fairytale retellings, fabulist memoir, portal adventure, sci-fi thrillers, and contemporary with a magical twist. Most of these works feature characters living in the diaspora, some are translated into English—and believe us when we say this list is far from comprehensive; in compiling, we realized we could have included 50 more.

If you’d like to buy these books (and we hope you do!), you can find a list of Asian- and Pacific Islander-owned bookstores, courtesy of We Need Diverse Books. You can also support AAPI voices at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the Asian Author Alliance.

In solidarity and rest,

Faye Bi
Communications Director

1. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith Violet Kupersmith
Ghost stories, yes, but also retold Vietnamese folktales, an indictment of the Vietnam War, an exquisite exploration of loss. Kupersmith’s settings are palpable, her characters human, her work unforgettable.

2. Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco Rin Chupeco
Many clever fairytale retellings wrapped up into one all-too-real contemporary tale of magic, adventure, a lost kingdom, a dick firebird, ICE agents with magic, and a group of warrior-teens you will love every bit as much as Bardugo’s Dregs.

3. We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry Quan Barry
In 1989 Massachusetts, a truly terrible girls’ field hockey team makes a deal with the devil—and starts winning. Barry’s clever, hilarious romp tackles necessary themes of transgression, stereotypes, power, and claiming yourself.

4.The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan
An epic tome of adventure and revolution. More importantly, a timely and carefully crafted depiction of the unrelenting importance of knowledge and justice in a world of lost legends and increasingly authoritarian rule.

5.A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat Christina Soontornvat
This luminous retelling of Les Misérables for young readers makes tangible the light and the dark, and highlights the themes of morality, oppression, and justice—all in a Thai-inspired fantasy world with a Light Market to dazzle all the senses.

6.Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill
Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill Nikita Gill
Want some gorgeous words to spear your soul? This prose-and-poetry collection meditates on sexuality, relationships, flexible conceptions of womanhood, creation, destruction, self-mythologizing, and the power of writing our own stories.

7.Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee Yoon Ha Lee
Lee’s Hexarchate galaxy of calendrical warfare is the backdrop for his virtuoso story of crashhawk Kel Cheris, not great at following directions, and her brain’s occupation by long-dead Shuos Jedao, exceptionally brilliant and utterly homicidal.

8.Monstress by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Monstress Marjorie Liu Sana Takeda
A feast for the eyes, this fantasy comic set in fantasy Asia has six volumes, epic worldbuilding, and Middle Eastern myths—and did we mention the huge, supremely powerful monster growing out of the stump of our heroine’s arm?

9.The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig Heidi Heilig
Nix’s dad can navigate to any map, any time, anywhere—and he wants to change history. Obsessive love, a small heist, a motley crew, time-travel paradoxes—and Heilig’s marvelous prose is so transportive that it’s like you’re RIGHT THERE.

10.The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang
The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang Neon Yang
In an Asian-inspired society where the default gender is nonbinary—children choose a gender when ready—the bond of twin children of a ruthless dictator is put to the test against an inventive backdrop of magic, religion, and politics.

11.Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee
Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee C. B. Lee
Jess, daughter of heroes, has no superpowers of her own and just wants an internship. And she finds one—working for a supervillain. Lee expertly crafts an uproarious story that nonetheless has something important to say about growing up.

12The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard Aliette de Bodard
In the aftermath of a Great War fought by fallen angels, Paris is a chessboard for Great Houses deploying resources in a game of power. Come for the history; stay for the incisive criticism of colonialism.

13.Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo Nghi Vo
This lovingly crafted tale is a delight that ends all too soon (but don’t worry, the sequel is already out). It centers female and queer voices as it explores the nature and consequences of power in a fantasy empire.

14.Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi Roshani Chokshi
Books about female friendship are too few and oh-so-far between, but Chokshi’s magnificent middle-grade adventure, featuring lonely Aru and anxious Mini as reincarnated Pandava brothers, will make your heart sing.

15.Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh Vandana Singh
Singh, a theoretical particle physicist, crafts stories full of wonder and very human wondering: Is time truly linear? Can you make a case for an Anti-Occam’s Razor Theory? Can one person change the course of the universe?

16.Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho Zen Cho
You know Cho for her portrayals of vengeful ghosts, mysterious gods, and meddlesome family members—in her latest, Jess’s Ah Ma is all three, and Black Water Sister all about the ties that bind: to family, duty, and destiny.

17.We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal Hafsah Faizal
Both Zafira and Nasir seek a magical object capable of great magic—but Nasir seeks to kill Zafira as well. Except, you know, there’s more kissing than killing, more adventure than anything, and a cliffhanger ending, so you’ll need the next one.

18.Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw
Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw Cassandra Khaw
Rupert Wong has been very bad indeed, and now must serve as a cannibal chef. But that’s only the beginning: brazen impertinence, absurdist bureaucracy, seemingly endless blood. You’ve never read anything like this!

19.Displacement by Kiku Hughes
Displacement by Kiku Hughes Kiku Hughes
Hughes’s autobiographical timeslip graphic novel beautifully threads the needle between the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and today’s social justice movements—and calls us to open the books of our own family histories.

20.Jade City by Fonda Lee
Jade City by Fonda Lee Fonda Lee
In a fantasy Asia, where magic is channeled through jade and the future is uncertain, three siblings fight to keep their clan’s power. If you miss powerful women in the first half, just wait for the meeting between Shae and Mada in the second.

21.The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso K.S. Villoso
If you love heroines who don’t give a crap if they’re likeable, you’ll like Queen Talyien. This fresh new adventure reads like classic epic fantasy, with a shrewd narrator who’s as funny as she is ferocious.

22.Machinehood by S.B. Divya
Machinehood by S.B. Divya S.B. Divya
In this thinky sci-fi thriller set in 2095, humanity is dependent on pills to keep them competitive with a gig economy dominated by AIs. Cut your teeth on sentience, labor rights, and what late-late capitalism could do to society.

23.When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller Tae Keller
Lily and her mom and sister move in with her sick grandmother, when a tiger appears—just like the ones in halmoni’s stories—to strike a bargain. An intergenerational tale about grief, family, and growing up, as well as the stories we tell ourselves.

24.Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake Kendare Blake
Triplet girls—one a poisoner, one a naturalist, one an elementalist—are destined to fight to the death in their sixteenth year. Winner takes the crown. Wait for it, because those girls are going to find their ambition.

25.The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
War orphan Rin has shamanic powers that may help her save her people, but the god who favors her may demand her humanity in recompense. Enthralling and brutal, this epic spares the reader nothing.

26.The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi Karuna Riazi
A mysterious board game sucks Farah and her friends into a strange world—where they must solve puzzles, conquer challenges, and rescue Farah’s brother. For adventurous readers—or anyone disappointed that their board games aren’t quite so mysterious.

27.Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin
Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin Marilyn Chin
Very short stories about Moonie and Mei Ling, Chinese-American girls who deliver Americanized Chinese food, but want to grow up to be something more. Equally hilarious and profound, with a cleaver-wielding terror of a grandmother.

28.All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva Anjali Sachdeva
Where faith and fantasy overlap is often wonder: people awestruck by the ineffable. Here, a man meets a mermaid, two girls practice something like witchcraft, a woman explores a subterranean cave, and more.

29.Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki Jillian Tamaki
This juxtaposition of everyday teen issues with a high school for mutants and witches is chock-full of sly humor, surprising twists, and unexpected delights—not to mention inimitable illustrations and visual style.

30.Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar Shveta Thakrar
Sheetal misses her mom, a star who returned to the heavens years ago. But as Sheetal’s birthday approaches, she finds herself in those same heavens, navigating the sparkling, glass-edged world of Thakrar’s glorious imagination.

31.Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
Lalani and the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly Erin Entrada Kelly
A brave girl from an island village surrounded by dangerous waters must venture out and save her world. Kelly sensitively handles themes like bullying and belonging, wrapped gorgeously in this ode to Filipino myths and legends.

32.The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad Nafiza Azad
A sumptuously wrought story of humanity and empathy, feminism and romance, defiance and courage. You’ll love the Silk Road setting, the complicated growth of the female characters, and the kissing.

33.Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed Premee Mohamed
Nick’s best friend Johnny is a genius—but when she invents a clean reactor, she awakens primal Ancient Ones set to destroy humanity. As Nick and Johnny try to save the world, Beneath the Rising reaches for the stars and asks really big questions.

34.This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone Amal El-Mohtar Max Gladstone
Spy versus spy, enemies to lovers, and nature vs. technology…and how they come together in a story about forging a connection beyond the boundaries of time. Wordplay fans, this one’s for you!

35.When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai Larissa Lai
Lai weaves three voices in her reconstruction of the myth of the Fox: the thousand-year-old fox itself, Taoist poet Yu Hsuan-Chi, and modern-day Artemis. This is a fairytale, a legend, and a parable, all entwined with Lai’s lyricism.

36.Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng Jeannette Ng
In Ng’s filigreed Gothic novel, Victorian missionaries travel to the mysterious heart of Arcadia, testing their faith as they seek to bring Christianity to a foreign people. But things in Arcadia are not always as they seem…

37.Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn Sarah Kuhn
Superheroines in San Francisco! The Devil Wears Prada meets the X-Men as Evie Tanaka balances working for her famous friend, raising her sister, a budding romance, a demonic invasion, and her own superpowers.

38.Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin Grace Lin
Minli, seeking to change her family’s fortune, goes on an extraordinary journey through the legends of Chinese folklore—and befriends a dragon. Buy the hardcover version for the magnificent illustrations!

39.Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang K-Ming Chang
Chang’s wildly inventive, fabulist debut opens with a girl who grows a tiger tail and proceeds to gorgeously decant a multi-generational story about immigration and belonging, roots and hauntings, queer stories, and all sorts of transformations.

40.The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh Renée Ahdieh
Shahrzad comes to the king so that she can kill him in revenge for her best friend’s murder, but she finds a bigger conspiracy to unravel. Pretty prose and satisfying fight scenes mark this One Thousand and One Nights retelling.

41.Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells
Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells Rebecca Kim Wells
When a corrupt emperor’s agents kidnap Maren’s girlfriend, the obvious response is to steal a dragon, right? Dragon lovers, this one’s for you! And read on for a lost prince, a strange underground beast, and a prophecy that could upend an empire.

42.Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani https://www.sirensconference.org/news/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Chanani.jpg
A gorgeous graphic novel about Priyanka’s desire to know more about India and her family there—and her mother’s refusal to tell her. But then Pri finds a magic pashmina that seemingly transports her to India. Or does it?

43.The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi
The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi Nahoko Uehashi
A young, unassuming girl trains to be a doctor to fearsome beasts in a world where mastery of said beasts is levered for political advantage. Epic worldbuilding rife with complex questions of morality, ritual, and resistance.

44.Ash by Malinda Lo
Ash by Malinda Lo Malinda Lo
A groundbreaking retelling of Cinderella. In the wake of her father’s death, drowning in grief, Ash dreams of fairies—and then meets one who can give her everything she wants. But then she also meets the King’s huntress and love blooms—and Ash must choose.

45.Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra
Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra Rati Mehrotra
Need we say more than “female assassins with magical knives”? Perhaps not, but as Mehrotra’s work opens, the order is rent by death and politics, and Kyra goes on the run—to find not only succor, but a chance to seek justice—or vengeance.

46.Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu Suzanne Walker Wendy Xu
Queer, adorable, and magical are words to describe this graphic novel featuring a hard-of-hearing witch and a nonbinary werewolf. Read to enjoy unconventional families, bookshops, cute towns, and banter to rival the Gilmore Girls!

47.The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo Yangsze Choo
In this historical fantasy set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, an apprentice dressmaker moonlighting as a dancehall girl crosses paths with a houseboy on a mission. How could we not love a juxtaposition of creepy severed fingers against a lush, dreamy atmosphere.

48.Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri Tasha Suri
In this Mughal India-inspired fantasy, Mehr’s status as the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an oppressed race of magicians draws all the wrong attention–and she’ll need all her cleverness and resilience to save her world.

49.The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart Andrea Stewart
Transgression and revolution are the heart of Stewart’s epic fantasy, as Lin, daughter of a failing emperor, must fight to reclaim her magic and her throne. Intricate, eerie, and propulsive, you won’t be able to put this down.

50.Burning Roses by S.L. Huang
Burning Roses by S.L. Huang S.L. Huang
In this fairytale remix, Huang gifts readers with two middle-aged lesbian heroes, called to service once more, but reckoning with their own monstrousness and the opportunity for forgiveness. A blazing, fierce, thought-provoking deconstruction.

Book Friends: Kinitra Brooks

As part of our 2021 Guest of Honor weeks, the Sirens team recommends books that would be friends with a guest of honor's books. Below is a curated list of titles that we feel complement the works of Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks, scholar and editor of works such as Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror, Sycorax’s Daughters, and The Lemonade Reader. If you enjoyed her work, we hope you check out these works that contemplate the quotidian horrors of Black and brown women; intersections of oppression; zombies, haints, and things that go bump in the night; women’s fabulist powers; deconstructing power narratives; witchery; and more creatures to feed your nightmares.


Kinitra Brooks’ Recommended Reading

Sirens Guest of Honor Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks shares a recommended reading list of novels, short fiction, and nonfiction. If you enjoy her work, or you want to learn more about what writers, especially black women writers, are doing in the speculative space, this list is a spectacular place to start. Take it away, Kintra!

 

Conjure Women: A Novel Afia Atakora

Conjure Women: A Novel by Afia Atakora

This book is next on my “To Be Read” list. I’m so excited because it focuses on everything my current research project is centered on: Black Southern women and the spiritual/medicinal practices highlighted in the practice of conjure. I can’t wait!

Boondock Kollage: Stories from the Hip Hop South Regina N. Bradley

Boondock Kollage: Stories from the Hip Hop South by Regina N. Bradley

Bradley clearly talks to the ancestors. It is evident in her ability to raise the dead and conjure the spirits of the Black South in her short story collection.

Speculative Sankofarration: Haunting Black Women in Contemporary Horror Fiction Kinitra Brooks, Stephanie Schoellman & Alexis McGee

“Speculative Sankofarration: Haunting Black Women in Contemporary Horror Fiction” by Kinitra Brooks, Stephanie Schoellman & Alexis McGee

I know it can be a bit gauche to recommend your own work, but this is a short scholarly article I wrote with my graduate students that further teases out my approaches to black women’s horror writing since the publication of Searching for Sycorax. It’s heavy on the theory and disciplinary language, but I did want to offer it as an option for readers.

Let's Play White Chesya Burke

Let’s Play White by Chesya Burke

A great collection of short horror stories. Burke takes an interesting turn on the classic zombie story in “CUE: Change” making it hella black in its examination of what constitutes humanity. Burke also revises the evil child trope with the character Shiv in “I Make People Do Bad Things,” which takes place in 1920s Harlem.

LaShaun Rousselle Mystery Series Lynn Emery

LaShaun Rousselle Mystery Series by Lynn Emery

A quirky little series about a small-town outcast that returns to rural Louisiana to continue the conjure tradition of her ancestors while solving paranormal mysteries and battling the monsters that cause them. A great representation of contemporary Southern rural life and black women’s long history in these places.

The Crown of Shards Series Jennifer Estep

The Crown of Shards Series by Jennifer Estep

I just discovered this series as I am an avid fan of Estep’s Elemental Assassins series. But Crown of Shards is just different enough as it is placed in an alternate medieval monarchical society. If the magical assassins and gladiator fighting doesn’t manage to kill Evie Blair—palace politics just might do the job

Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos

Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santería to Obeah and Espiritismo by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Margarite Fernandez Olmos

So many times I discuss the influence of traditional African religious practices in horror. This book begins to clear up a lot of the misinformation that continues to exist about these practices, some which are actual religions while others are often supplemental practices to black folks’ Christianity. Each chapter focuses on a different religious practice and the knowledge begins to take away the fear of these Africanized practices that is historically steeped anti-black ignorance.

Mojo Workin: The Old African American Hoodoo System Katrina Hazzard-Donald

Mojo Workin: The Old African American Hoodoo System by Katrina Hazzard-Donald

A nonfiction book that begins to discuss the concept of conjure/hoodoo and the West and Central African practices that influenced them.

Skin Folk Nalo Hopkinson

Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson

A great short story collection that examines the magical and the peculiar that populates Caribbean folklore. My personal favorites are “Ganger (Ball Lightning)” in which a couple strengthens their relationship when they must battle their animated sex suit and “Greedy Choke Puppy” in which a young graduate student discovers the magical history of the women in her family.

Tell My Horse Zora Neale Hurston

Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston

A collection of Southern oral culture gathered and transcribed by Hurston as an ethnographer in the first third of the 20th century. These stories show that black folks have long enjoyed horror stories and the characters that define them.

Dread Nation Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Black girl protagonist in a zombie uprising initiated by The Civil War? Yes, please. I’m currently reading the sequel, Deathless Divide.

How Long ‘til Black Future Month? N.K. Jemisin

How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

The short story “Red Dirt Witch” is worth the purchase of this entire collection. I enjoy others, such as “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters” and “The City Born Great” but “Red Dirt Witch” is as close to perfect as one can get in a short story. This is Jemisin firing on all cylinders while also giving us a preview into the importance of black mother/daughter relationships she explores so thoroughly in The Broken Earth series.

Jade City Fonda Lee

Jade City by Fonda Lee

I’ve almost finished this book on Audible. It’s a gangster family drama set in an alternate history steeped in multiple Asian traditions. There is a unique complexity as her world-building is organic while her fight scenes are described like you are right there in the mix—you can smell the blood and feel the jade.

Talking to the Dead LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant

Talking to the Dead by LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant

This nonfiction ethnographic project interviews multiple women of the Gullah community and examines the traditions that define them. Manigault-Bryant examines the phenomenon I discussed in my interview, the concept of “tending to the dead,” that shows our folkloric practice of how the living dead manifest in black life.

A Blade So Black L.L. McKinney

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

A fun retelling of Alice in Wonderland with great world-building and a complex protagonist who has to save the world and remember to take the beef out of the freezer for dinner.

Mama Day Gloria Naylor

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

The first of the two novels I consider the perfect example of black women’s horror writing tradition. Mama Day is a conjure woman who is at least 80 years old and rules the island of Willow Springs with her medicinal knowledge, ancestral ties, and her knack for baking perfect coconut cakes. Just don’t piss her off….

Stigmata Phyllis Alesia Perry

Stigmata by Phyllis Alesia Perry

This novel is the second of the two books I consider black woman horror writing perfection. It has everything, possession, ancestral traditions, black mother/daughter bonds, time travel…I discover new things every time I read it. Simply amazing.

White Trash Zombie Series Diana Rowland

White Trash Zombie Series by Diana Rowland

These books are simply fun. A great little romp inside of an interesting mythology. Protagonist Angel Crawford is a delight who knows who she is and works the hell out of her lane.

The Santeria Habitat Series Kenya Wright

The Santeria Habitat Series by Kenya Wright

A fun series that has were-leopards, fairies, demons…and a Prime—a sexy fantastical creature based in an alternate history Miami. Miami is now a caged city divided into different regions named after major orisha. The protagonist is a half demon solving paranormal mysteries and choosing between two sexy shifter men. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment that will feature were-dragons.

Honorable Mentions:

The Black God's Drums P. Djèlí Clark

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

The Ballad of Black Tom Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Salsa Nocturna: A Bone Street Rumba Collection Daniel José Older

Salsa Nocturna: A Bone Street Rumba Collection by Daniel José Older


 

Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks

Kinitra D. Brooks is the Audrey and John Leslie Endowed Chair in Literary Studies in the Department of English at Michigan State University. She specializes in the study of black women, genre fiction, and popular culture. Her current research focuses on portrayals of the Conjure Woman in popular culture. Dr. Brooks has three books in print: Searching for Sycorax: Black Women’s Hauntings of Contemporary Horror, a critical treatment of black women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror; Sycorax’s Daughters, an edited volume of short horror fiction written by black women; and The Lemonade Reader, a collection of essays on Beyoncé’s 2016 audiovisual project, Lemonade. She is also the co-editor of the New Suns book series at Ohio State University Press. Dr. Brooks spent the 2018–2019 academic year as the Advancing Equity Through Research Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

For more information about Kinitra, please visit her website or her Twitter.

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