Sirens Newsletter – Volume 7, Issue 8 (June 2015)

In this issue:


This year, because of the generosity of the Sirens community, we are pleased to offer scholarships in three categories: via Con or Bust, for programming proposal merit, and for people with financial hardships. Each scholarship includes both a Sirens registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket. Con or Bust is coordinating the first set of scholarships (and two were claimed at the time of this writing), and to be eligible for a programming merit scholarships, presenters opted in during the submissions process. Sirens is taking financial hardships scholarships applications until June 15, 2015. If you need assistance, we hope you’ll consider applying for a scholarship.


Notices regarding programming proposals will be sent no later than June 8, 2015 (and you should expect them close to or on that date, rather than sooner). Please note, however, that if we’re still tracking down your co-presenters, a decision may be delayed. Thank you in advance for making sure that all proposal collaborators have checked in! We’ll be sending programming scholarships decisions with the decisions on proposals. The vetting board and the scholarships committee both thank you for your participation, and are giving thoughtful consideration to your proposals.


The last day to register for Sirens for $195 is July 7; the price increases to $205 on July 8. July 7 is also the deadline to register for presenters; if you’re a presenter and need an extra day or two to register and pay, be sure to coordinate with (programming at so that your accepted presentation is not dropped from the schedule.


For the first time, Sirens is delighted to offer a pre-conference option for readers, writers, scholars, and professionals! The Sirens Studio will start Tuesday morning and feature two days of workshop intensives, discussion, networking opportunities, and flexible time for you to use however you wish. Check out the schedule, workshops, and faculty here.


If you’ll be in Denver on the evening of October 7, 2015, perhaps you’d like to join us for the Sirens Supper. Each year, our conference staff hosts a dinner for a limited number of attendees and friends, where we get to know each other before Sirens starts, and you’re welcome to come. The menu: petite greens with jicama, orange segments, cilantro-lime dressing and cornbread croutons; local corn and roasted poblano chili chowder; a medley of fresh, seasonal vegetables; black bean rice pilaf; fresh baked rolls and butter; baked salmon with Yucatan spices and coconut; cane sugar-rubbed roasted pork loin with Creole mustard sauce; quinoa-stuffed eggplant with roasted pepper marinara; margarita cheesecake; fruit empanadas; and coffee and hot tea. Tickets are $60, and those who also register for the Sirens Studio get $10 off the dinner price.


Ground transportation in Denver is expensive, and Denver’s public transportation isn’t what it could be. In addition, the Inverness Hotel, the location for Sirens, is out of the way. Sirens offers discounted group transportation so that you can ride to and from Denver International Airport. We’ll pick you up and return you to the airport for $60, less than other vendors want for a one-way trip. You can add tickets for yourself or friends on a new registration or to an existing registration. Get more information and the Sirens Shuttle schedule here.


Each year, Sirens covers thousands of dollars in operating expenses with the proceeds from our conference auction and bookstore. While the bookstore does purchase its new inventory, Sirens attendees and supporters always generously donate both auction items and used fantasy books in order to help us raise these necessary funds. Auction items can—and have been—everything from custom artwork to professional services, advanced reader copies of fantasy books to t-shirts, pillows, and journals. Anything that might interest fantasy readers, writers, or professionals is welcome. Similarly, we accept gently used fantasy books by female authors or featuring complex female protagonists for the used section of the bookstore. If you are interested in donating an auction item, please email Amy Tenbrink at (donate at to let her know that you’ll be supporting our auction; if you are donating used books, please send them so they reach us at the following address no later than September 19, 2015 (and you can use media mail!):

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

Thank you for your support!




Come read with us! Sirens co-founder Amy leads the Sirens Book Club each month. June’s book is The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley. Join the discussion here on Goodreads, starting on Saturday, June 6.



Interesting Links:

We are saddened to hear of the passing of Tanith Lee (1945–2015)

Fairy tales, fantasy and dangerous female desire: Celebrating Angela Carter, the literary link between Bros. Grimm and ‘50 Shades’”

Subversive Pleasure”: On Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

5 Black Women Authors Everyone Should Be Reading”

Dear Marvel and Sony: We Love Movies for Their Kick-Ass Female Heroes, Too, You Jerks”

Feminist Thor Selling Way More Comic Books Than Dude Thor”

2015 Locus Awards Finalists

2014 Shirley Jackson Awards Nominees

The 2015 Norton Award jury has convened and seeks entries; young adult and middle grade books with speculative content published in 2015 are eligible

Lumberjanes optioned for a live action movie


Recent Releases:
This month, we’re changing how we tell you about recent releases. In July’s newsletter, we’ll give you the June roundup. We love to hear about new books, whether yours or those you’re anticipating; please send the details to (help at


We’d love a few more volunteers to supply us with short reviews of works they have read and loved. If you think you could contribute a book review of at least 250 words sometime during the next year, we would be pleased to have your recommendation for the Sirens newsletter.

Review squad volunteering is flexible; we simply ask that you share information about books you’ve enjoyed. (We are, of course, especially interested in fantasy books by and about women, and we hope you’ll consider interesting, diverse selections.) You can contribute once or on an ongoing basis, and on a schedule that works for you. Please visit the volunteer system and, when we ask you what position you’re interested in, type in “Book Reviewer.”


This month, 2009 Sirens Guest of Honor Sherwood Smith offers us a look at two recent releases.

Crimson Bound, Rosamund Hodge
Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Some twenty, twenty-five years ago, I recollect a lot of scorn poured on the pastoral fantasy. Which is fine—no every subgenre pleases every reader, blah blah—but (as people will) the pastoral novel was derided as being not only twee but backward-looking, especially compared to the Cool New Cyberpunk, which was all about the edge of the future.

Of course there were readers who cheerfully admitted to liking both. I remember rolling my eyes and bailing discussions as soon as they devolved into if-this-is-good-that-has-to-be-bad. Especially when “pastoral” was narrowly defined as twee stories about sweetly eccentric English hedge witches and revampings of Beatrix Potter. (To which I once responded, have you actually reread Beatrix Potter recently? Or the poetry of William Blake?)

Anyway, for whatever reasons, pastoral fantasies largely went out of fashion, at least I hadn’t seen any until this month when two came out within days of each other. They contained a lot of similar elements, they were not set in an idyllic England, and they are very, very not twee.

These are Crimson Bound, by Rosamund Hodge, and Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Before I talk about them, I want to address what I think pastoral fantasy is. This is an old form that resurfaces every few generations, in art, poetry, and fairy tales. It’s not always twee or cute, though there is an emphasis on natural beauties. But pastoral fantasy can explore beauty that is dangerous, inspiring but unsettling, powerful and even subversive because it has not been neatly clipped into box hedges, cemented over, and civilized into an urban pretense of order.

CrimsonBoundPastoral fantasy is not grimdark, which emphasizes the ugly and grinds down the dispossessed; it permits the tangle of the forest to get its roots and leaves into the urban walls and streets. Pastoral fantasy can be dark and dangerous but also full of beauty, hope, and tenderness: you can die in the same wilderness you go to experience peace, beauty, and calm. Alone in nature, you become aware that you are not the most powerful force there.

I think that that is the most important distinction of pastoral fantasy: that humans are not the most powerful force.

Neither of these two new novels takes place in fantasy England: Uprooted is set in a semblance of eastern Europe, and Crimson Bound in a fairy tale France circa the seventeenth century—which was a time of dynamic change.

In both, the woods play a fundamental role—a threatening, dangerous, horrific role. Some of the most evocative writing in both books is about the forest and its dangerous nature.

From Crimson Bound:

Erec led them through the Chateau, and it was almost the forest. Bleeding through the marble hallways, Rachelle saw labyrinthine paths between trees whose branches wove together overhead until they seemed like a single plant.

Birds called with warbling, half-human voices. The wind dug its fingers into her hair, burned at her eyes.

From Uprooted:

There was a falling tree stretching across the space, a giant, its trunk taller across than I was. Its fall had opened up this clearing, and in the middle of it, a new tree had sprung up to take its place.

But not the same kind of tree. All the other trees I’d seen in the Wood had been familiar kinds, despite their stained bark and the twisted unnatural angles of their branches: oaks and black birch, and tall pines. But this was no kind of tree I had ever seen.

It was already larger around than the circle my arms could make, even though the giant tree couldn’t have fallen very long ago. It had smooth gray bark over a strangely knotted trunk, with long branches in even circles around it, starting high up the trunk like a larch. its branches weren’t bare with winter, but carried a host of dried-up silvery leaves that rustled in the wind, a noise that seem to come from somewhere else, as though there were people just out of sight speak softly together.

I’d say both books are New Adult or above; both are centered around seventeen-year-old girls who gain terrific powers, tackle adult relationships, and fight their way against terrible odds. Uprooted is pastoral fantasy but also horror, and Crimson Bound, while not horror, is more of a dark fantasy; while it doesn’t have the Die Hard body count of Uprooted, it is no slouch in dealing with duels and death.

UprootedAnd in both the woods are compellingly dangerous.

In spite of these similar elements, they are very different books. To read one is not at all to have read the other. I talk about them more specifically on Goodreads here and here; though they head in different directions (and I’m not getting more specific lest I tread into spoiler territory), there is one important element they share: their exploration of female emotional growth, and agency.

These heroines are not looking backward, nor are the thematic elements of their stories. They are playing out, in entertaining format, what life will be like for young women moving into positions of authority. That includes the cost of moral and ethical choices, and the inexorable ramifications of decisions made when you have the power to effect others’ lives.

Both are immersive, compelling reads, and in spite of the retro-fantasy setting, have a great deal to say about issues right now. –Sherwood Smith

Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at and questions about programming to (programming at


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