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Fonda Lee’s Reading List

Sirens Guest of Honor Fonda Lee shares a list of written works that she’s enjoyed—and that all feature women wielding power. If you enjoy her work, we encourage you to check out these other reads, spanning a variety of subgenres and categories. Take it away, Fonda!

A list of books spanning different genres and categories that I’ve enjoyed and that all feature one thing in common: women wielding power. Sometimes that power is overt; sometimes it’s hidden. Some of these women shape nations and empires; others are simply trying to survive. Some are seen as heroes, others as villains, and some as both.

 

Empire of Sand

Fantasy
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro

Fantasy
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

The Power

Science Fiction
The Power by Naomi Alderman

A Memory Called Empire

Science Fiction
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

The Year of the Witching

Dark Fantasy (upcoming)
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Circe

Historical Fantasy
Circe by Madeline Miller

Monstress

Graphic Novel
Monstress by Marjorie Liu

The Lie Tree

Young Adult Fantasy
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

What I Saw and How I Lied

Young Adult Contemporary
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

The Memoirs of Cleopatra

Historical Fiction
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

The Good Mothers

Non-fiction Crime
The Good Mothers by Alex Perry


 

Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for adults and teens. She is the author of the Green Bone Saga, beginning with Jade City (Orbit), which won the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, was nominated for the Nebula Award and the Locus Award, and was named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, and others. The second book in the Green Bone Saga, Jade War, released in 2019 to multiple starred reviews. Fonda’s young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux), Exo, and Cross Fire (Scholastic), have garnered accolades including being named Junior Library Guild Selection, Andre Norton Award finalist, Oregon Book Award finalist, Oregon Spirit Book Award winner, and YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. In 2018, Fonda gained the distinction of winning the Aurora Award, Canada’s national science fiction and fantasy award, twice in the same year for Best Novel and Best Young Adult Novel. She co-writes the ongoing Sword Master & Shang-Chi comic book for Marvel. Fonda is a former corporate strategist who has worked for or advised a number of Fortune 500 companies. She holds black belts in karate and kung fu, loves action movies, and is an eggs Benedict enthusiast. Born and raised in Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

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

Jade City by Fonda Lee

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 Fonda’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Lily Weitzman on Jade City by Fonda Lee.


Jade City

Midway through Jade City, I realized that I felt complete trust in its author to a degree that I had never felt before. I trusted that Fonda Lee knew her world, from its geopolitics to its cuisine. I trusted that she knew her characters, how they would act and react, and where they would clash. I trusted that she knew her craft, that she knew how to spin character, setting, and conflict into the thread of the story. And that the story would be moving but never manipulating—that any triumph or heartbreak I felt for these characters would be thoroughly earned.

None of this trust was misplaced. Jade City, the first entry in the Green Bone Saga, is a masterclass in crafting an epic fantasy that resonates on personal and thematic levels.

On the island of Kekon, Green Bone warriors train in the use of jade. The island’s culture is entwined with this magical jade, which heightens strength and senses. Green Bone clans are integral parts of society, from their head families, to the Fists and Fingers who fight for them, to the lantern men whose businesses are pledged in their service.

In the No Peak Clan, leadership has recently passed to the patriarch’s grandson, the new Pillar Kaul Lan. Lan’s fiery brother, Hilo, is at his right hand; his sister Shae is just returning to Kekon after years abroad, determined to live her life outside the clan. But the Mountain Clan is moving to challenge No Peak, and a new drug is letting others use jade with no regard for Kekonese traditions and training. Now the Kaul siblings must figure out how to steer their clan forward in a changing world.

The magical jade itself is fodder for rich characterization and thrilling fight choreography as the Green Bones of No Peak use their training to fight for their clan. Adopted Kaul cousin Anden is finishing his own training to become a Green Bone. He and his classmates build jade tolerance and learn how to harness disciplines like Strength, Perception, and Lightness. Yet Anden worries about his high sensitivity to jade, which makes him powerful but potentially susceptible to overexposure.

In addition to its jade-enhanced martial arts, Jade City has all the elements I enjoy in gangster stories, from the strategizing to the family saga. Yet it is self-aware enough not to fall into the casual sexism and erasure of women that are so common in that genre. Kekon isn’t free from sexism, but Lee examines it and features women characters who claim their agency. It’s refreshing to read a gangster story that reframes the genre and addresses its problematic elements.

With pre-industrial Europe still a default epic fantasy setting, it is also refreshing to read a secondary-world fantasy that takes place in an Asian-inspired setting, and also in a relatively modern one. Characters in Jade City drive cars, they talk on the phone, they work in factories. The magic and the modernity exist side by side, and neither feels out of place. In fact, with the way jade and Green Bone clans structure society, they make sense together.

One reason Jade City works so well is that Lee knows her world on both large and small scales. So much of the tension at the core of gangster family sagas comes from the clash of the familial sphere with ruthless, violent business. These characters carry the baggage of lifelong sibling dynamics as they calculate their next move in clan business. They reckon with their relationships to Kekonese tradition even as times change and international politics loom ever larger over their small island.

The craft of Jade City is not limited to the more technical aspects of its prose and world-building. This book is emotionally resonant: I felt deeply for these characters, whether my heart was breaking for them or I was raging at them. For a slow reader like me, Jade City was a gradual immersion into Kekon’s culture and history. As more of the world and the characters were revealed, my investment in the story grew stronger. This is equally true of the sequel, Jade War, which expands the geographic and cultural scope of the storytelling. I look forward to how Lee concludes the series, and I trust that she will steer her world and her characters where they need to go.


Lily Weitzman

Lily Weitzman is a programming, outreach, and communications librarian at the Public Library of Brookline, Massachusetts. That means that on any given day, she might be found leading a poetry reading group, managing the science fiction and fantasy collections, teaching technology skills, or helping you find the title of that book you heard about on public radio. She has previously worked on a Yiddish oral history project and volunteered as an aquarium educator. Outside the library, Lily chairs the Yiddish Committee at Boston Workers Circle.

Further Reading: Fonda Lee

Have you already loved the work of Fonda Lee? Jade City and Jade War? Exo and Cross Fire? Zeroboxer? Are you looking for more? Let us help you! As part of Fonda’s Guest of Honor week, we’re pleased to compile some of her interviews and work from around the web.

Fonda’s Guest Posts:

Fonda’s Interviews:

  • Fonda Lee: When the Alien Invaders Win (2018): “My dad takes credit for introducing me to SF. He says when I was an infant he’d hold me on his lap in this battered yellow rocking chair, and bathe me in the glow of Star Trek original series reruns, so I must’ve been osmosing science fiction stories as a baby.”

  • Interview: Fonda Lee (2018): “I’m very interested in creating worlds that feel as though they’ve been around for a long time and are now on the cusp of another chapter in history.”

  • Portland author Fonda Lee builds worlds that give readers ‘things to think about’ (2018): “All alien stories are fundamentally human stories.”

  • Author Interview: Fonda Lee (2017): “To me, there are two equally wrong-headed extremes when it comes to portraying women in a testosterone-dominated culture, fictional or not. One is to ignore or marginalize them completely. The other is to pretend that there is no systemic prejudice and to make them every bit as prevalent and accepted as the men. Both are unrealistic.”

  • Michelle Rial and Fonda Lee: “I find it frustrating that people feel compelled to draw judgmental distinctions between “high art” and “commercial art.” Of course, there are differing objectives and audiences for different types of art, but I think that as creatives, we’re all just trying to express our own truth.”

Fonda’s Short Fiction:

  • “I (28M) created a deepfake girlfriend and now my parents think we’re getting married” (2019): “I filled out some information about myself, put in my preferences for gender and age, and in seconds I had an AI-generated virtual girlfriend named ‘Ivy.’ ”

  • “Welcome to the Legion of Six” (2019): “Call it idealism if you will, but when I joined the Legion of Six at the height of the Cold War, we really believed we had a calling. A solemn responsibility to use our powers to save the world from destruction. You know what? I think it’s just not the same for young superhumans these days.”

  • “Universal Print”: “Art Strung stared at the grounded vessel, then turned in a slow, disbelieving circle. The afternoon Thedesian sun beat down on the scrubby, arid landscape: dusty, rolling purple hills dotted with copses of bushy blackish-green trees, and in the distance, piled rock formations that made Art think of enormous heaps of animal dung. I’m screwed, Strung decided. I am so going to be fired.

  •  

Fonda Lee: Exclusive Sirens Interview

We’re pleased to bring you the second in our series of candid, in-depth interviews with this year’s Sirens Guests of Honor, covering everything from inspirations, influences, and research, to the role of women in fantasy literature, and discussing our 2020 theme of villains! We hope these conversations will be a prelude to the ones our attendees will be having in Denver this October. Today, Sirens co-chair Amy Tenbrink speaks with author Fonda Lee.

 

AMY TENBRINK: Let’s talk gender and villainy, especially in speculative fiction. What does it mean to you for a woman or nonbinary person to be a villain? What does it mean for you for Ayt Madashi, the Pillar of the Mountain in your Green Bone Saga, to be a villain? To you, her creator, what is her villainy? And was she always a woman—did gender come into play as you developed her character?

Fonda Lee

FONDA LEE: For me, the concept of the fictional villain is simply this: someone whose goals and actions are in direct opposition to those of the protagonist. Throughout history, it’s typically men who are held up as heroes, both in real life and in fiction, while women are presented in supporting roles or as villains. Yes, there are many notable female heroes, and far more now than there used to be, but I suspect that if you look across the history of literature and storytelling, they’re outnumbered by the famous villainesses who stand in the way of the man—just think of every wicked witch or seductress ever written. When there’s a woman or nonbinary person opposing a man, I’m frankly inclined to think they probably have their own very understandable reasons for their villainy.

Moral ambiguity is something that you’ll find in almost all of my work. I’ve often said that I don’t really write heroes and villains because I could just as easily and sympathetically have written the story from the perspective of the antagonist. Ayt Madashi is a good example of this. She’s a villain in the story because she’s such a strategic and tenacious rival to the protagonist Kaul family, but when you consider her rationale, it makes an awful lot of sense. I envisioned Ayt Mada as a woman right from the start. Her toughness, ruthlessness, and need to be publicly flawless are all a result of her climbing to power in a highly male-dominated culture. She murdered her way into power—but how many men have done the same? What choice did she have, when she was clearly the most capable and qualified leader, and was passed up because she was a woman? She has a plan that she truly believes is the best way forward for the country—one that involves her being the one in charge. Like many powerful authoritarian leaders, she can be a hero to some and a villain to others.

 

AMY: While we’re on the topic of your epic, dangerous Green Bone Saga, I’d love to know your view on the feminism of the world you’ve built. Your wuxia fantasy is full of hypermasculinity and violence, some of which is permitted women, but there’s an underlying thread that women must transgress to achieve Pillar-level leadership, which is perhaps why my heart skips every time Kaul Shae and Ayt Mada interact—and I gasped aloud at that moment in Jade War (you know which one, but no spoilers here). What do you hope your work says about feminism and the roles of women in society?

FONDA: My goal is to write speculative fiction with as much verisimilitude as possible. I’m not trying to shape the world to my liking or to something in particular, but to hold up a mirror to our own world. I want the places, the people, and the societies I write to feel entirely real to the reader, and that extends to the roles of women. To me, that means presenting a range of women and the roles they take on in a hypermasculine culture—everything from the willfully ignorant and passive mob wife (Shae’s mother, Kaul Wan Ria), to the supportive partner and soft power behind the throne (Wen), to the exceptional strongwoman who succeeds by outcompeting the men (Ayt Mada).

Verisimilitude to me also means not leaning into the hypersexualized fantasy stereotypes of female villains. There’s a scene in Jade City when Anden meets Ayt Mada for the first time and thinks to himself that she looks like an ordinary woman in comfortable pants reading reports in her office. (Because that’s exactly what a female CEO or stateswoman or Green Bone clan leader would do!)

Another thing that I wanted to do was write a fantasy story that was not static in terms of cultural development. The Green Bone Saga takes place in the modern era, and there are forces of globalization and modernization as well as technological and societal change at play. And those forces very much affect the clans, and the evolving role of women as it plays out over the trilogy.

 

AMY: In Jade City and Jade War, Kekon is incredibly violent and your fight scenes are spectacular—which isn’t surprising given your black belts in both karate and kung fu. Further, the fighting in your world is deliberately designed to be close, hand-to-hand rather than with guns, which are of limited use due to Green Bone magic. And this style of fighting is tangled up with the Green Bone honor code, which includes phrases like “I offer you a clean blade” to invoke a duel, and the idea that some deaths are clean and others are not—but also includes aisho, a prohibition on a Green Bone attacking someone who doesn’t wear magical jade. Talk to me about your view of violence and honor codes.

FONDA: I’m fascinated by honor cultures, and I researched everything from the samurai code of bushido to the history of the code duello commonly adhered to in Europe and the southern U.S. Then I set about creating a fictional honor culture with strictures specifically designed for my fantasy world with magic martial arts powers. I love to write stories with explosive, gripping scenes of action and violence—but I’m also a stickler for immersive and believable worldbuilding. No society can survive constant arbitrary violence and out-of-control vendettas—there have to be rules that clearly stipulate when and how grievances are settled by violence. The idea, for example, that soldiers would not target women and children has been commonplace for most of military history; magically enhanced super warriors would have a similar prohibition against targeting those without jade. Duels are meant to contain feuds and prevent them from spiraling into further violence—hence the idea of a “clean blade” that would prohibit retaliation. In short, I’m satisfying both my desire for sociologically sound worldbuilding and kickass fight scenes!

 

AMY: Duty is a recurring theme in your work. In fact, you spoke to Lightspeed Magazine about something similar in 2018, the idea that your characters believe they have a choice, but ultimately, they do not. Shae’s journey, in particular, highlights this theme for me: She removed her jade and went to Espenia, only to return home in a time of crisis, resume wearing her jade, and assume a top-tier leadership position in her clan. Why is the idea of duty—or perhaps family—so important to your work?

FONDA: Throughout the Green Bone Saga, family is both a source of great strength and great personal conflict. The main characters go through a lot—but they do it together. So many fantasy stories in Western canon are based on the “hero’s journey”—the singular hero gradually leaving behind all that is important to him in order to triumph alone. It’s a very individualist mentality. I’m inspired by both Western and Eastern storytelling traditions and very much wanted to write a different kind of epic fantasy. I believe that my sensibilities of what’s important to me to portray in fiction are influenced by the fact that I’m a second generation Asian American; my parents were immigrants who struggled in a new country in order to give their children a better future, and they stayed together for years longer than they should have out of a sense of family duty and sacrifice.

This experience is far from culturally exclusive; family and duty are so important and entwined in so many people’s lives, and that constant tension between love and frustration, personal desire and obligation to others, independence and belonging are themes that make for deeply compelling and relatable human drama in any story, even one about magical gangsters.

 

AMY: You’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a kid—but your first career was as a corporate strategist before you came back to writing. You’ve written young adult (Cross Fire, Zeroboxer) and adult (the Green Bone Saga) works, and now you’re moving into comics, of which you’ve said, “In short, comics is a far more rapid, free-flowing, collaborative creative environment. That presents challenges as well as fantastic opportunities. There’s a sense of “we’re all making this up together as we go along” energy that is both mildly terrifying as well as very energizing and freeing, and it’s a nice counterpoint to the way I work on novels.” How do you approach risk, as a former corporate strategist, as a writer, and as a person?

FONDA: I tend to be an all-or-nothing sort of personality. When I decided to make a career switch into writing, I went for it almost obsessively and never looked back. At the same time, I’m a very pragmatic person, and I’m always planning ahead, always mulling possibilities and contingency plans. So I would say that I’m definitely a risk taker, but the sort of risk taker armed with a spreadsheet! I’m easily bored and always want to push myself and take on new challenges, but every step has to make sense to me, I have to feel like I’ve done my research. Sometimes, things don’t work out, or they don’t happen the way I planned, but that’s life, and you move on. When it comes to writing, I take the long view. This career is a risk, every project is a risk, but at the end of it all, I want to have a large body of quality work that I’m proud to look at on my shelf.

 

AMY: 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?

FONDA: My high school English teacher, Ms. Carson, was one of the first real fans of my writing. She told me that I had a true gift for words, and she encouraged me to nurture my skills and to continue writing. And I sorely disappointed her! I’ll never forget the look on her face when she found out that I was going to study finance in college. “Finance?!” I could tell she believed that wasn’t my true calling, that I should follow my passion and talent. She was right, of course. I lost touch with Ms. Carson, but many years later, when I began writing seriously for publication, I would often think of her voice in my head and her supportive notes in the margins of my early work and take comfort knowing there was one person, at least, who’d believed I had what it took to be a writer.

 


Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for adults and teens. She is the author of the Green Bone Saga, beginning with Jade City (Orbit), which won the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, was nominated for the Nebula Award and the Locus Award, and was named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, and others. The second book in the Green Bone Saga, Jade War, released in 2019 to multiple starred reviews. Fonda’s young adult science fiction novels, Zeroboxer (Flux), Exo, and Cross Fire (Scholastic), have garnered accolades including being named Junior Library Guild Selection, Andre Norton Award finalist, Oregon Book Award finalist, Oregon Spirit Book Award winner, and YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. In 2018, Fonda gained the distinction of winning the Aurora Award, Canada’s national science fiction and fantasy award, twice in the same year for Best Novel and Best Young Adult Novel. She co-writes the ongoing Sword Master & Shang-Chi comic book for Marvel. Fonda is a former corporate strategist who has worked for or advised a number of Fortune 500 companies. She holds black belts in karate and kung fu, loves action movies, and is an eggs Benedict enthusiast. Born and raised in Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

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

New Fantasy Books: April 2020

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of April 2020 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!
 

Hopeful Books for Hard Times

So much of speculative literature is about impossibly difficult things: revolution, the zombie apocalypse, hot teenaged vampires, and yes, pandemics. But so much of speculative literature is also about hope—unshakeable, enduring hope—during those hard times. For those of you looking for a light in the darkness, a distraction from the world, or just a good read, we have 15 speculative works full of hope.

 

Upright Women Wanted
1. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Galley
In a near-future wild, wild West, Esther escapes her fascist, hanging-happy town by stowing away in a traveling Librarian book wagon. But she doesn’t (yet!) know that these Librarians are queer spies for the revolution. You’ll cheer Esther as she finds her place in this rough-and-tumble world of bandits, shootouts, revolution, kissing, and so much hope.
Hicotea
2. Hicotea by Lorena Alvarez
Alvarez draws from her Catholic school experiences in Bogotá, Colombia, to create utterly gorgeous, utterly wondrous graphic novels. In Hicotea, Sandy’s class goes on a field trip to the local wetlands, where Sandy meets a turtle, a frog, and other animals who teach her about protecting the environment. And Sandy discovers her own determination, power, and hope.
Bayou Magic
3. Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
It’s Maddy’s turn to spend the summer with her grandmother in the bayou—but that bayou holds more magic than Maddy could ever have dreamed. As Maddy discovers the miracles of magic and mermaids, and the dawning horror of an oil spill, you’ll discover hope in this story of conservation, Southern community, and a girl who will change the world.
All the Names They Used for God
4. All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
In her gorgeous short story collection, Sachdeva explores the liminal spaces where faith and fantasy meet, spaces full of wonder and hope. A man meets a mermaid, two girls practice something like witchcraft, a woman explores a subterranean cave, and more—but in each, you’ll find people awestruck by the ineffable.
The Lost Coast
5. The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta
In Capetta’s The Lost Coast, Danny arrives in Tempest, a tiny Northern California town among the towering redwoods—and almost immediately encounters the Grays: a group of queer witches. The Grays summoned Danny to help find their missing friend, whose body is still going about its daily routine, but without any spark of the girl itself. Amidst all of that, The Lost Coast is an achingly lovely story about finding your community, finding yourself, and finding your hope.
Empire of Sand
6. Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Empire of Sand, the first of Suri’s Books of Ambha series, turns on the enduring power of women. Mehr, the daughter of a nobleman and a line of magical women, draws the attention of the cruel Maha, who wishes to use her magic in an ancient ritual. Suri skillfully weaves resolute threads of hope and love in her epic tale of good-vs.-evil intrigue.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
7. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (illustrated by Katie Kath)
After her parents inherit Great-Uncle Jim’s farm, Sophie is stuck moving from Los Angeles—and her beloved abuela—to a confusing world of outdoor chores, distracted parents, and no friends. But then she discovers that Great-Uncle Jim had unusual chickens—and that unusual chickens are a great way to make new friends. Unusual Chickens is a story of hope in a new town, wrapped up in the hilarious escapades of magical fowl.
When the Moon Was Ours
8. When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
When the Moon Was Ours is a transcendent love story. Sam, a part-Pakistani, transgender boy, paints moons and hangs them around town; Miel, a queer, Latina girl born of a water tower, has roses growing from her wrists. Through them, and for them, McLemore has crafted a fairy tale full of beauty and magic and hope specifically for people who so often don’t get to see themselves with such wonder.
A Pale Light in the Black
9. A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers
Wagers dives headfirst into hopepunk in this rollicking, queer af tale of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard. As Inceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost is gearing up to avenge their loss in last year’s annual Boarding Games, they’re shaken by both a personnel change and a surprisingly dangerous mission. [Disclaimer: K.B. Wagers is a member of the Sirens staff.]
Heroine Complex
10. Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Evie Tanaka is the personal assistant of a superhero—who also happens to be her childhood best friend. And that’s not easy! But when Evie poses as her friend for a night, her world turns upside down: Her secret powers are revealed, there’s a hot boy, and Evie isn’t sure what she wants. And when her city is threatened and Evie must take charge, you’ll root for her—and her hope-and-karaoke-filled story—to the end.
The Beast Player
11. The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi (translated by Cathy Hirano)
In the wake of her mother’s execution for failing to save the kingdom’s ailing battle water serpents, Elin escapes—and soon discovers that she can communicate with the flying beasts that protect the queen. As Elin grows, the kingdom inches ever closer to war, and Elin must make hard decisions about the beastly tools of war that have become her friends. Through it all, The Beast Player clings steadfastly to kindness, morality, and hope.
Genuine Sweet
12. Genuine Sweet by Faith Harkey
Genuine Sweet, a poor girl in a poor town, discovers that she’s a wish fetcher—she can grant other people’s wishes. With nothing more than the few ingredients she has on hand, Genuine begins baking wish biscuits for the people of Sass, Georgia. Genuine Sweet is a starlit sort of book about how in providing a spark of hope for a community you so often provide a spark of hope for yourself.
Two Moons
13. Two Moons by Krystal A. Smith
Smith writes glorious stories of Black girl magic. A girl falls in love with the moon, a woman births a goddess and becomes a goddess herself, a woman and her heart want different things—Two Moons is a profound, thoughtful book full of fizzy happiness and hope.
Iron Cast
14. Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
A speakeasy-style novel, set in Boston 1919, where two inseparable friends can do magic—illegal magic. Soria goes all in on the bravery, humanity, and hope required to be someone society doesn’t privilege—and the determination necessary to change the world. Iron Cast is a beautiful story about friendship, love, and making the world a kinder place.
Green Witch
15. Green Witch by Alice Hoffman
The second in a series—but you can absolutely jump into Green Witch without reading the first—Hoffman’s slim work is about living in the aftermath of disaster. On the day of the bombing, Green lost her parents, her sister, and her love, and she’s been living with loss ever since. But change comes and Green must find a way to limn her new, ruined world with hope—with magical results.

 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 12, Issue 3 (March 2020)

This month:

We hope the end of March finds you and yours well, healthy, and safe! In these tumultuous times, know that we are thinking of our whole Sirens community and holding you in our hearts.

We also hope we can bring some reading content to lift your spirits! At a time when the whole world is finding solace in fictional worlds, we’re proud to contribute to ongoing conversations about those worlds and their creators.

Guest of Honor Week: Joamette Gil

Last week, we celebrated Guest of Honor Joamette Gil with a series of posts! Joamette is a cartoonist and the head of P&M Press, an independent comics micro-press specializing in speculative fiction by creators of color, LGBTQIA creators, and creators at the intersections. We’re delighted to be welcoming her as the Guest of Honor for the 2020 Sirens Studio.

Don’t miss her Sirens interview, recommended reading list, and the roundup of her appearances elsewhere on the internet. Get to know Joamette’s work as an editor with Andrea Horbinski’s review of Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, a collection of woodland-themed comics from non-binary creators.

Since Joamette is our Studio Guest of Honor, we also wanted to remind you that registration for Studio is still open! We’re more than half sold out, so if you want to guarantee your space, register now.

Look for more Guest of Honor weeks as the spring progresses!

 

Programming

Submissions are now open!

If your recent binge-reading, Zoom chats, and inner contemplations have you eager to share your thoughts, we encourage you to submit a programming proposal before the deadline of May 15. We’re looking for a wide variety of topics and perspectives exploring gender and fantasy literature—maybe even on this year’s theme of villains!

If you want to present but have questions, concerns, or hesitations, the Sirens team is here to help! For more information about the types of programming at Sirens, what our vetting board is looking for, and how to submit, see our annual programming series Check out the #SirensBrainstorm tag on Twitter to get those brain juices flowing, or join us for the next programming chat on Monday, May 4, 9–11 p.m. Eastern (6–8 p.m. Pacific).

 

Sirens Essays

Sirens Essay Series

Our essay series continued this month with contributions that examine issues of representation, power dynamics, and audience reception of narratives:

In A Wife Should Have No Secrets: Unthinking Privilege and Privacy in Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch”, Faye Bi explores the transformation of folklore into a nuanced narrative of “social horrors.”

Witch, Please: An Apologia for and Indictment of Mean-Girls Stories in Young Adult Fantasy Literature, by Amy Tenbrink, examines common tropes of female social dynamics and their relationship to heteropatriarchal power structures.

 

Books!

One thing bringing the whole world together right now, it seems, is the opportunity to make a real dent in our TBR piles—or to grow them ever larger as new books and graphic novels keep coming out! If you can’t decide what to read next or are looking for things to order from your local indie bookstore, the Sirens team has some ideas to help you choose:

Book Recommendations and Reviews:

We’re delighted to share a few staff picks from March’s new releases:

Breath of Gods

Erynn’s Pick: Breath of Gods, by Tina LeCount Myers

As it is the third volume, preceded by The Song of All and Dreams of the Dark Sky, my recommendation is the Legacy of the Heavens Series, which this book concludes. This slow-building epic fantasy, set in a premodern arctic world, is based on folktales from the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia and draws from the Sámi languages. The conflicts center around a few key characters on the edge of a world divided into the Olmmoš, or humans, and the fey-like Jápmemeahttun, immortals who possess a natural power to obscure themselves and experience gender in a unique way.

The prose is beautiful and clean with a steady, informative pace. There’s subtle magic, excellent world building, and stories of found family. But above all, I really wanted to find a book with the right blend of escape and inspiration to fit this somber month, and the subtext of consciousness and compassion in the face of crisis is what makes this series exactly that.

The City We Became

Faye’s Pick: The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin

As New York has become a new epicenter of COVID-19, it has made me realize just how amazing and devastating living here can be. These days, the high population density means that interaction with neighbors ranges from silent cohabitation to unspoken acts of kindness that can make the difference between life and death. Where small businesses and big dreams hang by a thread, just one rent check away from opportunity or ruin, and a place where daily acts of heroism meet anonymous beneficiaries.

A continuation of Jemisin’s award-winning short story, The City We Became is considered a love letter to New York City, where five souls—one from each borough—need to protect the city from an ancient evil. And it’s just what I need right now, an astute, even funny, reminder that my home holds a multitude of diversity, ambition, complexity, and poetry in this extraordinary time, plus a little side-eye “screw you” to H.P. Lovecraft.

A Pale Light in the Black

Cass’s Pick: A Pale Light in the Black, by K.B. Wagers
Disclaimer: K.B. Wagers is a member of the Sirens staff.

I recommended this book on Twitter as “absolutely both buck-wild and queer af,” and I stand by that description. A Pale Light in the Black follows a crew of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard, or the NeoG, who are basically space Coast Guard. They’re just doing their jobs and training for a sort of pan-armed-forces Olympics when a discovery on a derelict ship and the arrival of a new member of the team entangle them with a nefarious, deep-rooted scheme.

If you’ve read Wagers’s prior Indranan War and Farian War series, the NeoG is somewhat lighter fare. The overall tone made me think of a slightly rougher-around-the-edges Star Trek with some of the ethical concerns of Gattaca shading it. The adventure clips along at a good pace, and as always, Wagers shines in creating imperfect characters for a reader to cheer on and adore. The NeoG team is definitely one I look forward to spending more time within the future!

 


As a final note, if you need some real-time but socially-distanced interaction, join us April 1 at 8 p.m. on Twitter for #SirensChat. This month’s theme is something we all need right now: humor!

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

 

Joamette’s Recommended Readings

Sirens Studio Guest of Honor Joamette Gil shares a list of fantasy and other works that she loves. If you enjoy her work, we encourage you to check out these other reads, spanning graphic, short fiction, and novels. Take it away, Joamette!

 

Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
1. Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha
Knights-Errant
2. Knights-Errant by Jennifer Doyle
Spiritwalker Trilogy
3. Spiritwalker Triology (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel) by Kate Elliott
Mooncakes
4. Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Brown Girl in the Ring
5. Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
Through the Woods
6. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
The Haunting of Hill House
7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
On a Sunbeam
8. On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
So Pretty / So Very Rotten
9. So Pretty/Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture by Jane Mai and An Nguyen
The Temple of My Familiar
10. The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker
This One Summer
11. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Verse
12. Verse by Sam Beck

 

Joamette Gil is the head witch at P&M Press, an independent comics micro-press specializing in speculative fiction by creators of color, LGBTQIA creators, and creators at the intersections. Best known for her Prism Award-winning publication Power & Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology, she also made the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award’s 2018 Honor List and received nods from the Ignatz Awards and Lambda Literary Awards over the course of P&M Press’s three-year existence. Her newest titles are Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy and Power & Magic: Immortal Souls. Another new title, Mañana: Latinx Comics from the 25th Century, is forthcoming in 2020. Joamette’s own comics work has been featured by IDW, Margins Publishing, EverydayFeminism.com, TheNib.com, Oni Press, Lion Forge, and Abrams ComicArts. She also contributed to the Eisner Award-winning Puerto Rico Strong anthology benefitting hurricane disaster relief on the island. When she’s not inhaling graphic novels, she’s off plotting silly play-by-post scenarios or watching horror movies with her friends and familiars in Portland, Oregon.

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

 

Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy edited by Joamette Gil

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 Joamette’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Andrea Horbinski on Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, edited by Joamette Gil.


Heartwood: Non-Binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy

Into the woods
Without regret,
The choice is made,
The task is set.
Into the woods,
But not forget-
Ting why I’m on the journey.
Into the woods
to get my wish,
I don’t care how,
The time is now.

“Into the Woods,” lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Not being a noted fan of fairy tales, and not having participated in the Kickstarter for Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, edited by Joamette Gil, it took me a rather embarrassingly long time to work out why the comics in this anthology by non-binary creators all centered on the woods. The woods have been a space of transformation and potential in stories for centuries, as the Sondheim lyrics that I couldn’t stop thinking of while reading this book indicate. This collection, which is delightful overall, extends that potential to the creators it includes and to the characters in its stories, many of whom are non-binary themselves.

“Sylvan fantasy” is a broad category, and the stories in Heartwood vary from contemporary settings, like the opening “The Biggest Dog You’ve Ever Seen” by Z. Akhmetova, to fully secondary world settings, like “New Leaves” by Emily Madly and Maria Li. Most treat the idea of the forest as literal, but in at least one comic, Rhiannon Rasmussen and Chan Chau’s “Dive,” the forest is either metaphorical or a forest of seaweed. (Partly because it played with the concept, that one was one of my favorites.) “Finding Alex,” by editor Joamette Gil and Corey Ranson, takes the brief for the collection very literally indeed—and the story, in which the main character asserts their non-binary identity through a strange encounter in the woods, works beautifully.

One of the standout entries in the collection, “Shuvah (Return)” by Ezra Rose and Jey Barnes, gives that same plot a very specifically Jewish twist, as the protagonist returns to the woods to find the same forest beings with whom they celebrated Sukkot as a young Orthodox child, and celebrates Tu B’Shevat with them as a non-binary adult.

Indeed, one of the strengths of this collection is its showcasing non-binary protagonists in a variety of ways—whether in stories revolving around their being non-binary, or stories in which they have adventures like any other fantasy protagonist.

Having both together elevates Heartwood out of the potential danger zone of being a gimmick to being a fun, relevant comics anthology with a lot of heart.

Heartwood is a beautiful book, particularly its gilt-edge pages and foil lettering on its gorgeous cover, but the black and white printing unfortunately does render some of the comics hard to distinguish at times—I suspect some if not most of the submissions were originally full color. Those comics like “Dive” which were clearly conceptualized for monochrome printing stand out for their crisp lines and clearly differentiated tones. In terms of art style, most of the comics in the collection are on the more conventional end of the gamut of comics art; the more schematic, “Hyperbole and a Half”-esque art of Polly Guo’s “Paloma” is probably the most different from the rest. But even though the anthology includes twenty-two stories, none of them feel rushed, and none of them are obviously less technically accomplished than any of the others. These creators know their stuff, and it shows.

All in all, Heartwood is a strong entry from Power & Magic Press, living up to its stated mission of showcasing the talents of non-binary comics creators and the press’s mission of providing a home for thoughtful genre content by queer creators and creators of color. If you haven’t had much experience with the current flowering of indie comics, Heartwood is a great place to start. I’ll definitely be looking forward to future anthologies from Gil and P&M Press.


Dr. Andrea Horbinski holds a PhD in modern Japanese history with a designated emphasis in new media from the University of California, Berkeley. Her book manuscript, “Manga’s Global Century,” is a history of Japanese comics from 1905–1989. She has discussed anime, manga, fandom, and Japanese history at conventions and conferences on five continents, and her articles have appeared in Transformative Works and Cultures, Internet Histories, Convergence, and Mechademia.

Further Reading: Joamette Gil

Have you already loved publisher and comics-creator Joamette Gil’s work with Power & Magic Press? The 2017 Prism-award winning, Ignatz-nominated Queer Witches Comics Anthology? Heartwood: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy? Haven’t read those yet but interested in finding out more about Joamette and her work? As part of Joamette’s Guest of Honor week, we’re pleased to compile some of her interviews and comics from around the web.

Joamette’s interviews:

  • Vision 2020: Joamette Gil (2020): “As an introverted, low-income immigrant kid, escapism was my thing, and my favorite way to escape was watching Sailor Moon. The way she made me feel convinced me that, when I grew up, I wanted to make others feel the same way using characters of my own.”

  • Indie Comics Spotlight: Joamette Gil Channels Power & Magic in Her Comics (2019): “So often, a “witch” was any woman embracing her authentic self, rejecting social obligations. I relate to that as a queer woman of color who always had to hear that there was “something wrong” with me, for no other reason than that I didn’t fit a certain “womanly” ideal.”

  • This Joamette Gil Interview Has Nothing To Do With Comics (2019): Joamette shares her recipe for arroz con pollo and also that “my favorite witch in all fiction is Kiki from the Ghibli film Kiki’s Delivery Service. She’s not particularly powerful or impressive, but she is inherently special. Her magical powers stand in for concepts like independence, self-confidence, and purposefulness.”

  • Smash Pages Q&A: Joamette Gil on ‘Heartwood’ and More (2018): “In a lot of ways, Heartwood was also about pushing P&M Press’ boundaries: how many people can we hire, how much can we pay them, how many invites vs open submissions, how many people can I edit at a time, how well will this fund? The hypotheses across the board were ‘more, bigger,’ and I was mercifully right, hah. I eventually want to publish books by individual creators, so in addition to shining more light on less represented voices, every anthology is a chance to grow into a publisher that can do a solo creator justice.”

  • Joamette Gil Summons ‘Power & Magic’ for Queer Witches Everywhere (2016): “My ‘thing’ has always been telling stories that resonate with people from marginalized communities, especially queer people of color who grew up (or currently live) in poverty, which is my own experience. Power & Magic exists because I don’t just want to resonate; I want to be materially supportive to others like me.”

Joamette’s comics:

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