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Book Club: Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Sister Mine

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!

I like weird books.

A few of you know this first-hand, because every year I press weird books on you at Sirens with a rapturous, “You have to read this. It’s brilliant.” But for most of you, this might seem strange: The single fastest way to get me to pick up a book is to say, “I dunno. It’s weird?”

One of my happiest things as a reader is when a book surprises me. It doesn’t happen often. I read a lot of fantasy literature and, let’s just say that maybe it’s only when you’ve read huge swaths of the genre that you start to realize how derivative or unoriginal or predictable so many books are.

But weird books surprise me often. Perhaps it’s their casual-at-best attachment to traditional storytelling structure. Or their appreciation of metaphor, the absurd, that last bit left untold. Maybe a narrative voice that’s unreliable or unusually distinct. An awkwardness in a character or a setting ever-so-slightly askew. As a reader, I delight in being kept slightly off-balance.

I used to joke that there was no fantasy book too weird for me: I’ve delighted in a book comprised of vignettes based on women and monsters, in which a (friendly!) sasquatch penis featured prominently. I’ve exulted in a haunted house book, where the denouement is the house’s eating the protagonist. I’ve happily devoured a book that reads half like Machiavelli and half like a fairy tale, and that had no discernable ending. My favorite Angela Slatter story is about a world-class coffin-maker who poisons people, my favorite book so far this year about a cannibal chef to the gods.

I did discover, though, only last year, that I had to stop telling people that no book was too weird for me. I’d read a stack of short story collections, each stranger than the last, and wow, there are definitely books too weird even for me. (Please tell me which of you are my bookstore demographic seeking “books too weird even for Amy”!) At some point, I stumble from delight to confusion to discomfort to uncaring. It’s just that my delight goes a really, really long way.

Which is as good an introduction as any to Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson.

I’m going to tell you what Sister Mine is about and you’re going to think, “Hell, that’s not so weird. I once read a story where a girl got pregnant from a pot-bellied stove.” (That is, incidentally, an actual, quite fabulous story.) But I’m here to tell you that, while the premise here may seem commonplace enough, the execution of this book is weird.

Let’s get to it.

Makeda has had enough, thank you very much. Tired of being hen-pecked to death by her more talented twin, she stalks off to find an apartment of her own, abandoning both her family home and her fraught relationship with her twin.

That is, of course, the same plot as a thousand books: unhappy family member flounces off to make a life of their own. But, of course, not all families are magic.

Makeda and her twin, Abby, are born of a godly father and a human mother. Their father’s family, pissed at the fraternization with a mortal, enact severe punishments: their father becomes a mortal, their mother a sea monster in Lake Ontario. And by the way, Makeda and Abby were conjoined twins, separated shortly after birth, an operation in which Abby lost part of a leg, while Makeda lost her mojo (think of that as her magic, her connection with her father’s family’s spirit world).

With their mother in Lake Ontario and their father a fragile human, the girls are left with each other for comfort, for antagonizing, for troubleshooting. (That comfort, by the way, includes twinsex.) And as I mentioned, as the book opens, Makeda has left Abby, off to find a place of her own.

The plot spirals out from there, bogged down in a number of subplots that may or may not become important later on. (Pay particular attention to the haint stalking Makeda.) In fact, in many ways, the subplots distract from and even suffocate the plot itself, including a sharp turn into a surprise focus in the third act.

Perhaps the most notable piece of the book is Nalo’s setting: mostly black characters in an urban Toronto infused with Caribbean folklore. As always, her dialogue is exquisite: her vocabulary, her vernacular, her speech patterns all carefully considered, conveying thousands of layers more than the same dialogue in another author’s hands.

Will you like it? How weird do you like your books? Because this one – while perhaps not as inaccessible as other work by Nalo – is weird. Nalo pushes the boundaries of what we find normal or acceptable behavior by a woman, all while making Makeda entirely sympathetic. Who hasn’t had family squabbles? Who cares if this family is divine? Who hasn’t been chased by a haint? Or had a mother turned into a sea monster? You see where I’m going with this… Nalo takes the ordinary and, through use of language, absurdity, and fable, turns it into the extraordinary, and that extraordinary is very weird, indeed.

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.

 

Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 7 (June 2017)

In this issue:

 

2017 MILESTONES SO FAR

Last week, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink wrote about Sirens’s unprecedented growth, elaborated on this year’s conference theme of women who work magic, and waxed poetic on our nine-years-in-the-making community: “One that’s becoming increasingly brilliant, increasingly inclusive, increasingly confident, increasingly vocal. One that believes in itself and each of its parts. A once-a-year respite, where you can repair your armor, replenish your magic, and remember how truly remarkable the women of fantasy literature—from queens to readers—are.” Read the full post here.

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

This month, we also kicked off an important series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard. In our first post, Faye Bi shares her Sirens experience and offers some food for thought for new and returning attendees: “[Sirens] doesn’t feel like battle, when so much of my daily life does. That’s a feeling to ponder, but also one to protect.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

REGISTRATION UPDATE

At this point in time, Sirens is sold out for 2017.

To individuals who have submitted programming proposals, a reminder that you have until July 9, 2017, to register and be paid in full for this year’s conference, after which the registration that we are holding for you will be made available to the public.

We’ll continue to post updates on registration availability on this blog, on our Twitter, and on our Facebook page. If you are still seeking a registration, we recommend that you check back on July 10. Please also watch our Twitter for announcements of any individuals seeking to sell their registrations.

 

PROGRAMMING

After the presenter registration deadline of July 9, we’ll be revealing this year’s presentations in small batches on this blog and on the Accepted Programming page! If you proposed programming and missed the email with the result of your proposal, please email (programming at sirensconference.org) right away. Thank you again to everyone who proposed programming this year!

 

HOTEL

This year, we have already had to ask the Hotel Talisa to make additional rooms available at the discounted Sirens rate twice! We are pleased to report that, as of last Monday, there are again discounted rooms in our block—but we strongly recommend that you book yours as soon as possible. You can find reservations information here.

 

ATTENDING AUTHORS

If you are a published author attending Sirens this year, let us know! We’d like to make sure we have your books available in our bookstore—and if you’d like, a place for you in our author signings. Please email Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

BOOKSTORE DONATIONS

Speaking of our bookstore, a few years ago, we began operating our own bookstore as a fundraiser for Sirens. This gives us the opportunity, in many ways in defiance of the commercial market, to stock our bookstore exclusively with fantasy books written by, or featuring, amazing women.

In many ways, our bookstore operates like any other bookstore: we acquire new books for sale just like anyone else. But in two ways, our bookstore is different. First, the Sirens community frequently donates new books, just to make sure that the bookstore includes them in its inventory; sometimes these attendees work for publishers or are donating books that they’ve written, but often, these attendees simply want to help make our bookstore as amazing as possible. Second, we have a used section of our bookstore where we offer gently used fantasy books for $5 each. That section of our bookstore is stocked entirely through donations.

If you would like to donate books to our bookstore, please send your books to the following address, to arrive no later than August 1, 2017. (And remember, if you’re shipping only books, the USPS media mail option is terrifically cheap, but terrifically slow, so please leave time for your package to arrive.)

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

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST

Sirens veterans know that we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invite attendees to bring their breakfast on Friday and Saturday mornings of the conference to discuss. Here are this year’s selections:

Friday, October 27

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
This Strange Way of Dying by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Saturday, October 28

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

For 2017, we’re spotlighting three books per month, so you can plan your reading and join us! Check out our post on The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Slice of Cherry, and The Land of Love and Dreaming here.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Sister Mine

For June, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine. Read her review, coming out later this week, over on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

This month, Faye read Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic in pursuit of the 2017 Reading Challenge, which she recommends for readers who “like reluctant heroines…[and] can stomach unlikable protagonists.” Check out her review on the blog and on 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).

 

Books and Breakfast: June Spotlight

Each year, we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our annual theme—and we invite attendees to bring their breakfast on Friday and Saturday mornings during Sirens to discuss them. Over the years, this program has highlighted the depth and breadth of each year’s theme and given early risers both company and book talk.

The Sirens theme for 2017 is women who work magic. We’re delighted to announce our book selections early so that participants interested in Books and Breakfast can read them in time for this year’s conference. We’ll also be featuring three Books and Breakfast titles per month to get these books on your radar!

 
2017 BOOKS AND BREAKFAST SELECTIONS

Friday, October 27

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
This Strange Way of Dying by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Saturday, October 28

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

 
JUNE SPOTLIGHT

This month we’re spotlighting Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Dia Reeves’s Slice of Cherry, and Tiphanie Yanique’s The Land of Love and Drowning. Do you plan on picking these up soon? Definitely let us know by tweeting at @sirens_con and/or using the hashtag #Sirens17!

 
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

GirlWhodranktheMoon

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest, hoping this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch, Xan, is kind, rescuing the abandoned children and delivering them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

But when Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic, she decides to raise her as her own. Xan keeps the child—whom she calls Luna—safe by locking her magic deep inside her until her thirteenth birthday. But when a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing Xan just as Luna starts coming into her powers, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is compulsively readable: it both hearkens back to well-known fairy tales and presents something new, feminist, and inclusive. It’s a story about growing up and growing older and making hard choices and choosing whom to become. And besides Xan and Luna, the book features a friendly swamp monster, a very tiny dragon, a fearless girl, a boy with a conscience, a woman with a tiger’s heart, and a story told all wrong.

 
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

SliceofCherry

Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that’s just the way they like it. But in Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.

It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire—the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren’t killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father, and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities.

If you’ve ever read Bleeding Violet, you know about Portero; if you haven’t, well, it’s more of less Buffy’s Hellmouth times a hundred. The people of Portero are tough to figure out—and surprisingly, Kit and Fancy are just as tough to crack as Bleeding Violet’s unreliable narrator, Hanna. While Hanna’s story was so much about her and her personal relationships, Slice of Cherry asks larger questions about power, vigilante justice, and how to figure out when you’ve gone too far.

 
The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

LandofLoveandDrowning

In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.

Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut.

Land of Love and Drowning is one of those books in which you can lose yourself on a quiet afternoon. It’s complicated and complex, with magic that turns up in the strangest of places. It’s reminiscent of both Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban and Daína Chaviano’s The Island of Eternal Love, not only for its multi-generational timeline and quiet magic often worked by women, but for its close look at the culture, traditions, and legends of an island in the Caribbean.

 

Inclusivity at Sirens: Faye Bi

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs

 


 

Back in 2009, I followed a link from Sherwood Smith’s LiveJournal post to learn about this conference featuring women in fantasy literature. It was called Sirens, she’d announced, and she was a guest of honor, along with Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. Sherwood alone would have convinced my broke little college-student heart to book my flights, but Tamora Pierce as well, the creator of my childhood idol Keladry of Mindelan of the Protector of the Small books? Did it matter that I’d never attended a convention or conference before? Or that I knew nobody at all except Sherwood?

It’s been nine years since I first attended Sirens. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about myself—as a reader, a woman, and an immigrant of Chinese heritage who grew up in eastern Canada and now lives in New York City. Back then, I was fresh out of my teen years and switching college majors from engineering to anthropology, and I certainly hadn’t read a book for fun since high school. (Thanks, Sirens peeps, for introducing me to the works of Suzanne Collins and Gail Carriger that year!) Nowadays, I’m a book publishing professional with almost seven years of publicity and marketing experience. I have my habits, preferences, and biases. I am introverted, discerning when it comes to my reading material, unafraid of sharing my opinions, and comfortable in my own skin.

Over the last nine years, I’ve also learned lot about the world. I’m shaken up by rage-inducing injustices happening around me every day, but I still must find the strength to leave my house, go to work, and generally be out in public. I’ve perfected my resting bitch face (sharp mouth, distant gaze), my purposeful walk (no stopping, look up directions ahead of time), and my snappy comebacks (only used in a safe environment with other people around, natch). Though I am confident in my identity, it is oftentimes hard to be in this body: this petite, Chinese immigrant female body on which people often project their expectations and stereotypes. I’m no stranger to being overlooked or underestimated. I can no longer keep count the number of microaggressions and instances of flat-out bigotry I’ve experienced by strangers, colleagues, or even “friends.” If you asked me if a good chunk of my personality is a reaction to this, I would say yes, it’s my armor.

In 2009, discussions of diversity, representation, and inclusiveness in the book community were still rumblings—present for a long time, but under the radar. Now, they’ve rightfully become headlining topics in pop culture and entertainment as a whole. Sirens, too, has clearly evolved to become more intersectional in its focus. I delight in discovering new fantasy writers of diverse backgrounds who are invited as guests of honor, and whose books appear on our on reading lists and featured in programming sessions. (No one back in 2011 can forget Nnedi Okorafor’s monstrously amazing keynote, either!) But it’s the community, made up of all stripes of people who love reading and discussing women in fantasy literature, that makes Sirens so incredibly special. I’ve made lifelong friends and comrades-in-arms, especially when it comes to the rage-inducing bullshit we face on a daily basis. It’s a treat to reunite with old friends every year, but it is equally as exciting meeting new attendees. It can be daunting, but let this introvert who remembers her first year very well tell you:

The year when the Sirens theme was Rebels and Revolutionaries, a Sirens Studio faculty member shared that “Sirens is the one weekend each year that doesn’t feel like battle.” I choked up upon hearing this utter truth about the community I’m so proud to be part of, and the comfort I feel interacting with its members. Because it doesn’t feel like battle, when so much of my daily life does. That’s a feeling to ponder, but also one to protect. Sirens works very hard to maintain that atmosphere of conducive conversation, healthy debate, and learning. Each October, and throughout the year as a staff member, I interact with many members of our community, some of whom are very different than me. I always keep in mind a few things: Not everyone has my thoughts. Not everyone has my body. Not everyone has my experiences. Not everyone likes the same books. (Though sometimes we all love the same book and that’s awesome!) Most people have heard of intersectionality and have varying levels of awareness. If you haven’t, I advise you to do some research—I promise it’s worth it.

There are, and will be, times of disagreement and possibly discomfort—when someone makes an ignorant comment at a roundtable or a moderator doesn’t call out a panelist’s microaggression. When you’re just lounging in the lobby talking about the latest bestseller or between breaks at Bedtime Stories, you might overhear someone say, “Well you’re Asian, what did you think about the book?” or “I don’t understand asexuality. Can you explain it to me?” As open and aware as we’ve become, we’re not perfect. I know most Sirens attendees don’t look like me. But I also know, as a cisgendered mostly heterosexual woman, that I have much to learn from others as well. Most progress happens in that hazy space of uncomfortable conversations and being challenged. I remember one Sirens attendee passionately critiquing a short story by an author I really loved, saying that the author, no matter how unintentionally, appropriated her culture’s religion and myth for a “fantasy” setting and flavor. Or how another attendee wasn’t comfortable with a book’s inconsistent use of pronouns for a trans character, something I hadn’t thought of until it was pointed out to me.

The conversations at Sirens are spirited and lively, as they often are when a group of whip-smart, opinionated, voracious readers come together. I try to enter every interaction with good intentions, a pursuit of understanding, and respect. Sometimes I also need to do the emotional work of engaging with others different than me, especially if they are from a marginalized group (person of color, varying ability, genderqueer, neuro-atypical, and so on). I encourage every Sirens attendee, new and returning, to do that as well. Sometimes I make mistakes; when someone disagrees with me, I hope they feel comfortable telling me so, hopefully acknowledging that I did so out of ignorance and not malice. I know how much work it can be to explain my existence to other people. The difference at Sirens is that I’m encouraged to share my perspective—if I want to.

This kind of community requires active participation of its members to be great, so Sirens needs all of you. This is a hard line to walk. I did, and still do, a lot of listening. And for those of you peeling off your armor, even for a weekend, I hope it’s as much of a relief for you as it is for me.

 


 
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and leads 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.
 

Read Along with Faye: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

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!

What I love about the Reading Challenge is that it forces me to read outside my preferences, and I’m pushed to discover works by authors I’ve never read before. Most of the time I’m delighted. But occasionally in the case of Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, I encounter a book that simply doesn’t suit me.

When I read critically, there are parts of my brain I can’t shut off. Like, the “I love and have read a lot of fantasy” part. Or the “I’m a huge nerd and proud of it” part. Or the particularly large “I read everything through an intersectional feminist lens” part. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic made all these parts of my brain flash warning signs, coupled with the fact that it was a long, 600-page tome that’s also a (surprise!) first of a series.

The novel starts off with our twenty-something protagonist, Nora Fischer, an English graduate student whose life is falling apart. Her thesis advisor tells her that she’s under performing and about to be put on academic probation, and her recent ex-boyfriend of several years has just invited her to his destination wedding to another gal. Because of um, masochism, Nora chooses to attend, but wanders off to an isolated part of the mountains and meets Ilissa, a glamourous faerie queen (she’s not called that, but that’s basically what she is. Surprise! Faeries!). Ilissa takes Nora on Henry Higgins-style and introduces her to a dazzling new world of beautiful people and parties, including her gorgeous faerie prince son Raclin.

Of course, because faeries are selfish monsters and treat humans as their playthings, everything turns to shit pretty quickly and Nora finds herself stuck in an alternate world where (surprise!) magic exists. The novel moves from a portal fantasy to attempt to be a pseudo-Western Europe medieval fantasy saga with politics and intrigue. With the help of the magician Arundiel, a Mr. Darcy-like character with a brooding past, Nora escapes the clutches of Ilissa and Raclin and tries to learn magic to get back to her real world.

I read somewhere that this is Emily Croy Barker’s debut novel. It borrows heavily from The Chronicles of Narnia, Pride & Prejudice, and despite Nora’s near-constant disparagement of nerd culture, Harry Potter. I found it oddly structured, with very little character growth and it dabbled in a lot of fantasy tropes without understanding or respect to their origins. Was there a reason Croy Barker’s magical world had to be built on Western Europe? It should be no surprise that patriarchy exists in the fantasy realm, but it felt like it these limitations were created just so Nora could rail against them in a burst of feminist credibility (ignoring that her burgeoning crush on Arundiel overshadows the fact that he killed his former wife).

But moreover, I found Nora to be incredibly unlikable, in a way that I’m not sure the author intended. I found her feminism problematic (the casual way she dismisses her accomplished thesis advisor: “Last fall, in a single semester, she had produced both [a] baby and a book on sexual ambiguity in Dickens”). She comes from a privileged upbringing if academic probation and her ex-boyfriend marrying another drives her to frolic among the faeries. And despite the title calling Nora a “thinking woman,” she hardly analyzes anything critically, instead remaining passive for the bulk of the story.

But your mileage may vary! If you like reluctant heroines, this book might be for you. Readers new to fantasy might not mind the varying structure and treatment of tropes. If you can stomach unlikable protagonists like Quentin from The Magicians, you may have the patience to put up with Nora. And it can be occasionally funny. The one laugh-out-loud scene from the book was when Arundiel helps Nora deliver a message to her younger sister from fantasy world to the real world, and Nora’s sister looks at him and cries, “…Snape?” Yeah, it’s that kind of book. Now onto the next!

 


 
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and leads 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.
 

Milestones

I always thought I’d write this post only if Sirens reached its tenth year.

Ten years feels like a milestone. Like some sort of incontrovertible measure of success. Like maybe, despite the Sisyphean efforts of creating an annual conference, you’d have obviously reached the top of the mountain, gazed in wonder upon all that you’d built, and maybe decided to find some laurels. You know, for resting upon.

But here we are, in our ninth year—and while I find that Sirens has, indeed, reached an incontrovertible measure of success, I also find that we’ve been at the top of the mountain all along.

Many of you know that, in our first eight years of Sirens, we never had more than 106 attendees. While Sirens was always intended to be small, it wasn’t meant to be quite that small. Yet, despite having hundreds of smart, passionate, dedicated attendees over the years, we just could not produce any sort of growth, at least not in attendee numbers.

Until now. In 2017, as I write this, we have 171 registrations. We’ve had to impose a registration cap. The Sirens Studio and the Sirens Supper are sold out. We received a record-setting number of programming proposals. We’ve already had to ask the Hotel Talisa—twice—for more guest rooms. We’re looking for space for next year that can hold more people.

If you’re counting, we’ve reached an incontrovertible measure of success.

But success at Sirens has never been determined by growth. Instead, I find that our growth is reflective of the success we’ve already had, and indeed, success that—as we gaze down from that mountaintop—we’ve had since we first set foot in Vail in 2009. Our growth is, instead, born of something far more important, far more profound: community.

Sirens has always been about voice. From the day we first dreamed of Sirens, our team has believed, deeply, in creating a space for passionate voices to discuss, analyze, and celebrate women in fantasy literature. What we didn’t know was whether anyone would use that space—or whether those voices would coalesce into a community of people who believe, just as deeply, that the remarkable women of fantasy literature are worthy of frank discussion, exacting analysis, and joyful celebration.

And yet, for eight years, since the night we presented the first Sirens Supper and the California contingent danced in the snow, we have been a community. A community that has evolved considerably and continues to do so. One that’s becoming increasingly brilliant, increasingly inclusive, increasingly confident, increasingly vocal. One that believes in itself and each of its parts. A once-a-year respite, where you can repair your armor, replenish your magic, and remember how truly remarkable the women of fantasy literature—from queens to readers—are. That community, and that success, have been there all along.

So, in our ninth year—as so many of you prepare to attend Sirens for the first time—I want to reflect, just a bit, on what Sirens is and what it, at its best, can be.

Each year, as you know, Sirens is dedicated to the diverse, remarkable women of fantasy literature.

Each year, we gather: To bring our individual perspectives, experiences, and identities to conversations about books, about stories, about authors, about publishing, yes, but also about love, wisdom, power, and revolution. To applaud books we love and debate books we didn’t love quite so much. To compare ourselves—and our identities, our families, our challenges, our ambitions—to those of the fantastic female characters who remind us of what we can be.

To speak. To listen. To change our minds. To grow. To wonder aloud and vent our frustrations and declare our hopes. Fundamentally, to create a smart, welcoming, inspiring community from a thousand conversations.

Each year, the spark for many of those conversations, the foundation of our discussion and debate of the diverse, remarkable women of fantasy literature, is our programming. Those dozens of hours of brilliant, thoughtful, earth-shaking analysis presented by scholars, educators, librarians, publishers, and authors, certainly—but also, just as valuably, by readers, students, doctors, lawyers, farriers, mothers, grandmothers, knitters, fighters, and everyday heroines.

But each year, many of those conversations will happen outside our programming. Over tea or a drink. In a hot tub or at the spa. At the bookstore. Those surprise conversations that dare us to be more ambitious, more assertive, more empathetic. Those conversations are Sirens, too.

And each year, many of those conversations will tackle our annual theme. One year, warriors; another, faeries. Then monsters, or revolutionaries. These themes help spark our collective imagination, for everything from presentations to bookstore inventory, informal programs to artwork. They help us discover the breadth of women’s representations in fantasy literature, and the tremendous panoply of real-world women we know. They enrich our conversations, and deepen our connections to fantasy literature, each other, and ourselves.

In 2017, the Sirens theme is women who work magic: witches, sorceresses, spellcasters, mages, illusionists, and more. Think about that for a second: Not only women who have magic, but women who work magic. They might work it quietly or shyly or slyly. They might work it with great purpose or great skill or great pride. But these women have power and they use it.

This theme might speak to you in a number of ways. To me, it’s a ready analogue for power in the real world: something that many women don’t have; something that women are punished for wielding; something that “nice girls” would never use. But to you, the theme might be about talent or training or skill. It might be about creation or innovation. It might be about goals and aspirations and drive. It might be about dreams or quests or bargains. It might be about oppression or revolution or revenge. After all, even in fantasy literature, the word “witch” is so often a slur….

As we approach Sirens, we invite you to give all of this some thought. Some of you are more outgoing, or more self-assured, than others, but we hope that all of you will find a way to add your voice to Sirens. Similarly, we hope that all of you will find a way to listen while others add their voices to Sirens. Our conversations are built on the diverse perspectives, experiences, and identities of our community, and as much as we come to speak our minds and our hearts, we also come to learn as others speak theirs.

Over the next few months, as we prepare for Sirens, we’re going to share all sorts of things: information to help you plan for Sirens, inclusivity posts crafted by members of our community, interviews with our guests of honor, and more. We hope to see you around our online community (Twitter; Facebook; Goodreads), even before we arrive in Vail. And we’re so excited to see you this fall.

Undeniably yours,
Amy
Sirens co-founder and co-chair

June Fantasy New Releases

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of June 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 and leave a comment below.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

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