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Archive for March 2017

Programming Perspectives: Presentation Styles

Are you ready for our annual programming posts series? We’ve just kicked it off! Before we go on, though, we thought you might want to explore some perspectives on presenting different types of programming. These perspectives were first published several years ago, but we think they’re still very relevant.

Presenting a Paper by Hallie Tibbetts, one of Sirens’s past programming coordinators

Presenting a Panel by Amy Tenbrink, one of this year’s conference chairs (but one note: the process for proposing panels will be changing this year—more information coming soon!)

Presenting a Roundtable Discussion by Sarah Benoot, a longtime staff member

Presenting a Workshop or Afternoon Class by Manda Lewis, a longtime staff member

We’ll be offering other perspectives in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we hope you’ll put together a programming proposal.
 
All proposals are due by May 8, 2017.
 
Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).
 

Quick links:
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information/Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at sirensconference.org)

 
If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not post on Facebook, leave a comment here, or tag us on Twitter so we can retweet?
 

Join Us for a Chat!
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Sunday, April 9, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern or Saturday, April 22, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.
 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas.
 

Our Annual Programming Series, Part One

It’s time for our annual programming series of posts! For the next several weeks, we’ll be providing all sorts of information about programming for Sirens and how to propose it. (Yes, we said propose it. Sirens programming is crafted, proposed, and presented by our attendees.) So here we go.
 
You can see all of our 2017 programming posts here including perspectives from past presenters, information on submitting proposals, and more. We want to give you inspiration, information, and things to think about. And for the veterans, while most details don’t change from year to year, it’s always good to refresh your memory.
 
The deadline for proposals is May 8, 2017.
 
To help you prepare, we’ll explain our programming selection process (including any updates), discuss different types of programming commonly seen at Sirens, and show you how to put together a strong programming proposal. Here’s the first thing you should know:
 
Everyone who is eligible to attend Sirens is eligible to present at Sirens.
 
You have something to share.
 
Your voice is important.
 
Presenting is not an activity just for published authors, or professors, or professionals. The programming for Sirens is presented by attendees because the perspectives and inquiries of attendees are important. Readers, authors, moms, publishers, cousins, scientists, psychologists, friends, mathematicians, librarians, historians, heroines—and any other sort of attendee you might be able to think of—all have interesting perspectives to share.
 
This year’s theme is women who work magic, and we hope you’ll consider how that’s reflected in fantasy literature. We’ll also be happy to receive programming proposals more generally applicable to women and gender in fantasy literature, and presentations might focus on particular authors, stories, or themes, related topics in gender studies and community, the business and enjoyment of books, and so on. For inspiration, take a look at what attendees have presented over the last eight years.
 
 
Here are some quick facts and answers to frequently asked questions about programming for Sirens:

  • Proposals are submitted via our online system only. For consideration, we must have your completed proposal, including all applicable co-presenter information, no later than May 8, 2017. Please note that we’re making updates to our online proposal system, and that it might still be closed when you read this post! Thank you for your patience.
     
  • We have some programming guidelines and considerations for you to review.
     
  • Collaboration is encouraged! Except for roundtable discussions, where the participants need to have a single moderator, you’re welcome to make your presentation with another person or with several other people. When selecting collaborators, we encourage you to include people with a variety of different perspectives, experiences, and identities.
     
  • One or two presentations is usually a good maximum number of presentations for any one person. Likewise, one or two proposals is a good maximum number of proposals to submit.
     
  • Proposals are kept confidential by the vetting board.
     
  • Decisions will be made by June 12, 2017, so that you have the time you need to prepare your presentation at Sirens.
     
  • You may submit a proposal even if you are not registered yet, but you must be registered and paid by July 9, 2017, to confirm your participation if your proposal is chosen for Sirens. Collaborators on your presentation, if any, will also need to be registered and paid at that time.

 

You’ll Want to Know

The Call for Proposals
A call for proposals (or papers) formally sets out a conference’s theme, desired presentations, and presentation requirements. It also gives a brief overview of the process by which proposals will be selected.
 
You can propose programming on the programming proposals section of the website beginning April 1.
 

Vetting Board
An independent vetting board will read all of the proposals and decide which proposals to accept for Sirens in 2017. We enlist a rotating board to make sure that proposals are evaluated by people who have a strong collective knowledge of current trends, scholarship, events, and so on; we feel it is most fair to have proposals evaluated by a group of people who know and appreciate what you want to talk about.
 

Tips and Tricks for Your Proposal

  1. Make sure you include all requested information when you make your proposal. (More on what to include is coming up in the next posts in the series.)
     
  2. If you’re working with collaborators—perhaps co-writing a paper, grouping together for a panel, or team-teaching a workshop—be sure to verify that your collaborators want to be part of the presentation before you submit it! Let them know that they’ll receive an email asking them to confirm their participation and to input their contact information and a short biography. Co-presenters on a set of pre-empaneled papers will also need to provide a the abstract for their paper, and panelists will need to provide a supplemental abstract or other analytic response to the panel abstract.
     
  3. You’ll receive all proposal and presentation communications via email. Please use one that you’ll have access to for all of 2017 and that you check regularly. Please also note that, if you’re working with collaborators, the presenter submitting the initial proposal will be deemed both the moderator and the contact person for that proposal.

 

Join Us for a Chat!
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Sunday, April 9, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern or on Saturday, April 22, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.
 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas. All those ideas on #SirensBrainstorm are free for you to use!
 


Our next posts will describe different types of proposals; what to put in a biography, summary, and abstract; and posts simply for exchanging ideas and finding collaborators. If you have questions, we’re happy to receive them, here or via email at (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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

In this issue:

 

SIRENS SCHOLARSHIPS

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

PROGRAMMING BEGINS!

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

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

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

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

 

REGISTRATION PRICE JUMP AND TICKETS

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

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

NEW YORK CITY MEET-UP

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

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

The Witch's Daughter

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

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

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

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


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

 

Eight Tips for Programming Proposals

Are you coming to Sirens? Terrific! At Sirens, programming is crafted, proposed, and presented by attendees—and we hope that all our attendees will consider proposing a topic or two. To help you on your way, here are our top eight tips for getting ready, based on some common issues that we’ve noticed in proposals.

  1. You should take a few minutes to look through the programming section of the Sirens website. If you’ve attended or presented before, this will refresh your memory and give you the chance to see if something you need to know has changed. If you’re new, welcome, and we hope this provides you with plenty of preparation information.
     
  2. Use women, fantasy, and literature as your frame. This is vital. No matter what topic you’d like to present on, you’ll have to make explicitly clear in your proposal how that topic relates to our overarching focus on women in fantasy literature. “Explicitly” might mean, as an example, mentioning a fantasy book—or film! Or story!—in your summary (which will be posted on the website and published in the program book) and including fantasy-specific information and examples in your abstract. Find out why here.
     
  3. Carefully consider how many proposals you’d like to propose. Most potential presenters will propose only one or two, to ensure that they have the time to craft them thoughtfully. Please don’t propose a mountain of topics in the hope that more proposals means a greater chance of being accepted!
     
  4. Push beyond “101” on topics. As a general rule, Sirens attendees are brilliant and have spent some time in critical conversations, sometimes at Sirens and sometimes elsewhere, regarding women in fantasy literature. As a general rule, we’re looking for smart, savvy, thoughtful, challenging presentations, roughly at upper college level or graduate level. Also, you’ll want to avoid repeating what has been presented before, unless it hasn’t been addressed in a long time, or unless you can update and extend the conversation. [You can review past programming here.]
     
  5. Carefully consider how your topic matches your chosen presentation style. For example, if you want to communicate a lot of information that your audience won’t necessarily have, you’ll probably want a paper/lecture/talk or a workshop—rather than, say, a roundtable, where you’re posing questions for the audience to answer, or a panel, where you’re often talking about experiences. You can find more information on presentation styles in our presentation guidelines, and if we can be helpful, we’re happy to consult before you turn in your proposal.
     
  6. Write a strong summary and a thoughtful abstract. They are not the same thing! You can see examples of summaries in the conference archives, and an abstract will be a paragraph or three about your analysis, or a proposed lesson plan, or sample questions for a panel or roundtable. Also, spellcheck is your friend! We’ll be posting more help on abstracts in the coming weeks.
     
  7. If your presentation will involve other presenters (whether as panelists, co-presenters, or authors of other papers that you want to pre-empanel with your own), coordinate with them to ensure that you are all on the same page with regards to your presentation. Your collaborators will need to confirm that they will be presenting with you before the presentation deadline, and in the case of pre-empaneled papers and panels, will need to provide supplemental abstracts or other analytical responses to the panel abstract.
     
  8. This year’s theme is women who work magic, and you may want to engage with that theme in proposals, though it’s not required. You might explore different cultural depictions of magical women, delving deeply into an examination of particular magic-working female characters, or discussing different perspectives and opinions—negative or positive—of women’s magic.

You can propose programming on the programming proposals section of the website beginning April 1.

If you have any questions about programming, we’re happy to help answer them. Write to us at (programming at sirensconference.org).

Cora Anderson
Programming Coordinator
 

Sirens Meet-Up: New York City!

We had so much fun at our Sirens meet-up last May, we’ve decided to go for another round! While these meet-ups aren’t quite the same as the official conference in October, we’ve found that casual get-togethers in the middle of the year are a great way connect members of the Sirens community in the meantime. If you live in the New York City area, would you join us for a pot of tea and some snacks?

All are welcome whether or not you’ve attended a conference before: bring your friends, your book recommendations, and any questions you may have. We’re excited to meet you!

New York City
Date: Sunday, April 30, 2017
Time: 2:00–4:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Location: Radiance Tea House and Books at 158 West 55th St, NY between 6th & 7th Avenue

Notes: Participants must pay for their own tea and snacks.

If you think you might join us, please RSVP to @sirens_con on Twitter, here on Facebook, or to Faye at (faye.bi at sirensconference.org).

Hope to see you soon!
 

Read Along with Faye: The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston

The Story Of Owen

Read Along with Faye is back for the 2017 Sirens Reading Challenge! Each month, Sirens communications staff member Faye Bi will review and discuss a book on her journey to read the requisite 25 books to complete the challenge. Titles will consist of this year’s Sirens theme of women who work magic. Light spoilers ahead. We invite you to join us and read along!

E. K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim came highly recommended to me by several people whose reading tastes I trust. In fact, few books come to me so fully primed and ready for the Faye stamp of approval as much as this one: it’s set in Canada, it has amazing worldbuilding, it’s got dragons, and it’s from the point of view of a teenage girl named Siobhan who, though she is called a bard, is essentially a glorified publicist.

Johnston has created a masterful alternate present world where industrialization and carbon emissions have tangible consequences: dragons. Dragons of various varieties terrorize local human populations—property damage, maiming and even death are commonplace, perhaps even expected. The most important buildings are fireproofed (“the hospital, the schools and the hockey arena,” natch, as this is Canada); lighting a fire outside is akin to leaving food out for a bear; hybrid cars are prized as the most safe; and most importantly, dragon slaying is corporatized to defend large cities. The Story of Owen starts with Lottie Thorskard, THE pre-eminent dragon slayer, relocating from the city of Hamilton to rural Trondheim after a major injury. With her is her wife, Hannah, badass swordmaker, her brother Aodhan who had to take up the primary dragon slaying mantle, and her weedy teenage nephew Owen, slayer-in-training.

Siobhan and Owen meet one fateful day at the high school, and Siobhan is introduced to the Thorskard clan as a talented musician, tactician and student of history. Lottie asks Siobhan to be Owen’s bard, a role that combines storytelling with PR, to interesting results. Siobhan takes her role seriously, and she reminds me of other storytellers-as-narrators (Emras in Sherwood Smith’s Banner of the Damned comes to mind). She intersperses the present-day narrative with bardic retellings of important events in history, highlighting Johnston’s cleverness as it now includes dragons (!) such as the start of the (Lester B.) Pearson Oil Watch, Ford’s ambitious auto industry plan that devastated Michigan, and the origin of the Detroit Red Wings’ logo (ha ha).

While the smart and witty worldbuilding details are the best part of the book, the pacing was uneven and exposition-heavy. I felt like I was kept at an arm’s length from the characters. Owen and Siobhan’s platonic friendship is refreshing, but Sadie, a classmate who harbours her own dreams of being a dragon slayer, was regretfully underused. I loved hearing about Hannah and Lottie’s relationship from how they met, what they’ve each sacrificed and how they run their household, but I remain bemused by Aodhan and Owen’s long lost mother. I’m reminded time and time again, and remain absolutely fascinated by people’s individual reading experiences. Maybe if I knew that this was a) Johnston’s debut novel, b) the first of a duology (! very important detail!) and c) not really The Story of Owen despite the title and I find Owen kind of boring to boot, I would have been more forgiving of the exposition. I honestly wonder if The Story of Owen and its sequel, Prairie Fire, were written as one book, which were then spliced up into two 350-page YA novel chunks. As it stands, the emotional payoff at the end of the the first book doesn’t feel like it warrants the front-heavy exposition, and there’s a lot of action in the last 50 pages.

With that said The Story of Owen is wonderfully Canadian that it kind of makes up for everything. If you aren’t Canadian or not well versed in Canadian history or politics, you’d probably still enjoy it, but perhaps would find it less funny. Or maybe you wouldn’t? Only one way to find out.
 


 
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and is a member of the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.

 

Nine Sirens Scholarships Funded for 2017

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable women of fantasy literature. As part of that mission, we specifically craft Sirens to include and amplify all of the brilliant voices creating those discussions. Our greatest hope is that those voices will represent both a wide array of perspectives and experiences—reader, scholar, educator, librarian, author—and individuals of different genders, sexualities, races, religions, and abilities. As we approach our ninth year of Sirens, we find that topics related to women in fantasy literature are as limitless as ever, and that our opportunity to learn from our community’s discussion, analysis, and debate of those topics is equally limitless.

This year, because of the generosity of the Sirens community, we raised the funds necessary to provide nine scholarships in only 16 days! To everyone who donated, thank you. Thank you for your financial commitment to our community and for helping make Sirens possible for certain individuals who are both critical to our conversations and who sometimes find it difficult to attend without additional support.

Each scholarship includes both a Sirens registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket. The nine scholarships will be allocated as follows: three to fans of color/non-white fans, three to those submitting exemplary programming proposals, and three to those with financial hardships.

If you need assistance, we hope you’ll consider applying for a scholarship. We designed this program specifically to help additional voices join our conference and our community—and your voice counts. Please visit our Scholarships page for more information on how to apply.

 

Seven Feminist Fantasy Buddy Novels

By Catherine Lundoff (@clundoff)

The earliest female buddy stories in fantasy were often, but not always, portrayed the pairing of a warrior and a sorceress. This pairing was fairly common in 1980s fantasy novels well before Xena first aired in 1995 with its own spin on the trope. These novels, the Sword and Sorceress anthologies and related works, broke some new story telling ground by portraying female protagonists as colleagues, comrades in arms, BFFS and sometimes, as lovers. Some of them were very definitely products of their time (biological essentialism tends to turn up a lot, for one thing, as do rape and revenge plots), but here’s a few that I remember fondly and occasionally reread.

 

 FrostflowerAndThorn
1. Frostflower and Thorn by Phyllis Ann Karr (originally published in 1980), begins with the titular characters making a bargain wherein the celibate sorceress Frostflower magically accelerates warrior Thorn’s unwanted pregnancy so that she can have the child. Wacky hijinks ensue and they go on the run from evil priests and sundry villains out to thwart their efforts to build their alternative not-quite family. The two are never a couple in the romantic sense but they do go on to have several more books worth of adventures.
TheOathbound
2. Vows and Honor series by Mercedes Lackey. (Published between 1988-1989. The series that launched a thousand ships. Kethry the sorceress has a sword that compels her to come to the aid of women in need. It drives her to find and help the warrior Tarma and they become allies. And together, they fight crime! Or more specifically, crimes against women! They become platonic soulmates (remember that it was late 1980s) as well as comrades in arms and adventure. This was the most popular female buddy series of its time and a lot of later stories were modeled on it. If you read and liked Lackey’s other Valdemar books, you’ll probably like these too. If you haven’t read the others, you might give these a try as a starting point and see if they speak to you.
 Silverglass
3. The Silverglass novels by J.F. Rivkin were a four volume series (remember that books were shorter in those days so we’re not talking doorstops here), published between 1986 and 1991. Rivkin was a pseudonym for several authors writing together and separately – their identity has never been revealed. The books themselves are lively sword and sorcery tales featuring the mighty warrior Corson brenn Torisk and her employer, the sorceress Lady Nyctasia. They engage in a fast-paced series of adventures in which they are comrades, occasionally lovers and occasionally foes. I remember loving them when I originally ran across them because they were the first fantasies that I had encountered with bisexual women protagonists and they’re a fast and jolly read, by and large, though they bog down a bit on plot coherence in the later books.
 TheCage
4. The Cage by S.M. Stirling and Shirley Meier (1991) is one of the Fifth Millenium series by the same authors and others. I know I read the others, but this was the one that I reread and recommended to others. Megan and Shkai’ra are comrades and lovers caught up in a complex plot to extract revenge on Megan’s erstwhile subordinate and rapist, Habiku, who has also stolen her trading empire. This book originally stood out for me because both women are bi and they create a polyamorous family as the series moves along. But it was also memorable because the story is an interesting and relatively sympathetic take on one character’s (understandable) obsession with vengeance following extreme trauma and the effect it has on her and her loved ones. Bit of a tip of the hat to Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
 TheSteerswoman
5. The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. 1989-present (new book coming soonish). Maps, cartography, walking (so much walking!), friendship and the fantasy equivalent of cultural ethnography! Also, fighting evil magicians while doing all the other stuff! Rowan the cartographer and Bel, the warrior from the Outskirts, travel their fantasy land making maps, finding new groups of people to talk to and discovering what may or may not be magical or alien artifacts. If you need to shut this world off for a while and get lost in a different one, I heartily recommend this series. I heartily recommend it anyway because it’s pretty good and it’s kind of unique in the genre.
 GossamerAxe
6. Gossamer Axe by Gail Baudino (1990). Because sometimes the only possible answer is to form a magical heavy metal band with your gal pals to break your girlfriend and One True Love out of Faery. This is definitely a music-lover’s book and it has some lovely scenes in it. It can also be quite…preachy and has some issues. But I really enjoyed it the first few times I read it, and you might too. Plus, it’s kind of a classic of queer fantasy and will give you stuff to talk about at potlucks, once those make a comeback.
 DancingJack
7. Dancing Jack by Laurie Marks. I pretty much just love this novel and therefore everyone should read it. Ash is a magic user and recovering revolutionary who joins forces with a female riverboat captain on a quest to stop a civil war. They become friends and partners, then lovers, and the writing is up to Mark’s usual standard. Damned good fantasy that should be better known.

Catherine Lundoff is a Minneapolis-based award-winning writer and editor. Her stories and articles have appeared in such venues as Respectable Horror, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology, Callisto: A Queer Fiction Journal, Tales of the Unanticipated, Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror and SF Signal. Her books include Silver Moon, A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories, and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. Website: www.catherinelundoff.com
 

Book Club: The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston

The Witch's Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy
 


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

 

March New Fantasy Releases

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of March book releases of fantasy by and about women. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve sold a fantasy work, read a great recently-released story, discovered a fantastic link that we missed, or if you’ve got a book or story review to share, please get in touch. Send news to (social at sirensconference.org).

 

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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