Archive for May 2019

All the 2019 #SirensBrainstorm topics in one place for your proposal consideration

Sirens programming is the dozens of hours of papers, lectures, panels, roundtable discussions, workshops, and afternoon classes that make up the heart of Sirens. And as you know, programming is presented by and for attendees—attendees just like you! Whatever your vocation, perspective, or background, we value your voice, and invite you to submit a programming proposal. Time is running out! All proposals for our 2019 conference are due May 15.

Our Twitter followers may know that we’ve been tweeting out potential topic ideas at the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm on Mondays the last few months. Feel free to take these ideas, bend them, break them, or use them to inspire something else. Remember, these are not real programming sessions—until someone proposes it!

Want the full rundown? Read how Sirens programming works and our tips, tricks, and frequently asked questions. We also go over each presentation format in detail: papers/lectures, panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops and afternoon classes.

And remember, there’s one more programming chat next week, to find collaborators and get one-on-one advice from our programming staff:

  • Monday, May 13, 9–11 p.m. Eastern (6–8 p.m. Pacific)


Here are all your #SirensBrainstorm topics in one place!

  • Harry, Percy and Aru: The Feminist Evolution of Heroes in Middle-Grade Fantasy

  • Fantasy and Slavery Narratives: The Forbidden Wish to Mirage, Beloved to The Fifth Season

  • Dystopian Feminism: Alderman’s The Power as Heir to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

  • The Merry Spinster: Gender, Non-conformance, and Fantasy Literature Reincarnations

  • Wild, Wild West: Desolation and Loneliness as Fantasy Constructs

  • Feminist Revenge Fantasies: Slice of Cherry, Spell on Wheels, and the Stories of Angela Slatter

  • It’s Coming from Inside the House: Haunted Houses as Jealous Lovers

  • To Succeed or Not to Succeed: Reimagining Shakespeare for Feminist Fantasy Readers

  • Catholic Themes in A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

  • How Many Entrails Is Too Many Entrails? The Glorious Gore of Cassandra Khaw

  • Pretty Princess Picture Books: Ten Years of Evolution

  • I Want to Wear Pants! The Barely-There Feminism of Historical Young-Adult Fantasy Literature

  • Higher, Further, Faster, More: The Revolution of Female and Nonbinary Comic Book Heroes

  • Decolonizing Paris: A Close Reading of the Work of Roshani Chokshi and Aliette de Bodard

  • The Magic of Illustration in Fantasy Works

  • Deconstructing the Hypermasculinity of Fonda Lee’s Jade War

  • Boundaries as Gender Construct: The Short Stories of Daisy Johnson and Carmen Maria Machado

  • Reimagining Myth: Familiar Tropes vs. Feminist Evolution

  • The Feminist Symbols of The Stars Are Legion

  • Fantasy Poetry as Self-Reclamation: The Work of Nikita Gill and Amanda Lovelace

  • Alice and Dorothy: Feminist Evaluations of Childhood Works

  • White Women’s Feminism and Practical Magic

  • Yes, Your Majesty: Including Women of Color in Traditional Princess Fantasy Tropes

  • From Wonder Woman: Warbringer to Leia, Princess of Alderaan: The Evolution of the Tie-in Novel

  • Cosplay as Reclamation and Revolution

  • The Magic of Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant

  • Sentient Settings: Examining Location Selection in Real-World Fantasy Works

  • How to Train a Dragon

  • Obsessive Love in Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere

  • Female Friendship as Romantic Subversion in Fantasy Young-Adult Novels

  • Show Me the Money: Elements of Successful Fantasy Revolutions

  • Revolutionary Love in Fantasy Literature

  • I Wish! The Role of Fairy Godmothers

  • The Bachelor, Middle Earth Season: Toxic Masculinity in Fantasy Romance

  • Guerilla Tactics for Underdog Fantasy Revolutions

  • American Gods: Seanan McGuire’s Reconstruction of the Phantom Hitchhiker in Sparrow Hill Road

  • Claiming Your Power: Contrasting The Bone Witch, Three Dark Crowns, and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

  • Deconstructing the Monstrousness of Sana Takeda’s Monstress Art

  • Someday My Prince Will Come: The Feminist Horror of Sarah Pinborough’s Fairy Tale Retellings

  • Valiant: Examining Fearless Authorial Choices in Feminist Fantasy Literature

  • Women and War: How Fantasy Literature Challenges (or Doesn’t) Gender Expectations on the Battlefield

  • Witchcraft: A Reader’s Examination of Exceptional Writing in Fantasy Literature

  • Great Villainess Narratives: Why We Love a Bad Girl

  • Beyond Upstairs/Downstairs: Class Depictions and Deconstructions in Fantasy Literature

  • Happy Endings: What Does Happily Ever After Mean Now?

  • Alice of Wonderland, Meet Alice of Furthermore: The Enduring Popularity of Serial Adventure Fantasy

  • My Boyfriend Is a Vampire/Werewolf/Faery/Zombie: A Self-Help Session

  • She’s a Witch: SFF Language Used to Constrain and Disenfranchise Women

  • Beloved; Kindred; Sing, Unburied, Sing; and An Unkindness of Ghosts: American Slave Narratives in Speculative Fiction

  • You Can’t Keep a Good Girl Down: The Rise of the Superheroine

  • All the Single Ladies: A Survey of Accomplished, Happily Single Women in Fantasy Literature

  • Pushing the Boundaries of “Fantasy” Literature with Space Opera, Romance, Mysteries and More

  • Indiana, Meet Owl: A (Necessary) Update to the (Problematic) Adventuring Archeologist Trope

  • Feminist Reincarnations of Goethe in Fantasy Literature

  • Legal Magic: Reviewing a Standard Publishing Agreement

  • Strong Girls: White Women’s Heroism in Fantasy Literature

  • A Swoon-worthy Survey of the Yummiest, Most Romantic, Sexiest Queer Love Stories in Fantasy Literature

  • What Satire Brings to the Fantasy Literature Conversation

  • Exploring the Magic of the Tween Years with Actual Magic: A Parent’s Deconstruction of Popular Middle Grade Fantasy Literature

  • Empathy Starts Early: Childhood Fantasy Narratives Modeling Heroism

  • How to Start Your Own Sirens Book Club

  • Modern YA Romance: Attraction and Consent in Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely

  • History and Perspective: One Woman’s Superhero Is Another Woman’s Supervillain

  • A Case Study in Villainy: Rin in R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War

  • Ayt Madashi, Hailimi Bristol, and Shuos Jedao: Speculative Fiction’s Master Negotiators

  • The Intersection of Race and Class in Anna-Marie McLemore’s Wild Beauty

  • And Then? What Happens after Your Successful Fantasy Revolution?

  • Master Class: Deconstructing Loss and Grief in Work by Ireland’s Female Fantasy Writers

  • In the Absence of Inspiration or Motivation, Discipline: How to Finish Writing That Fantasy Book

  • Fantastic! American Monsters in Speculative Fiction

  • What Body Horror Has to Say about Reproductive Justice

  • Exploring the Growth of Female Friendship in the Teenage Years through Aru Shah and Children of Blood and Bone

  • Sidekick: A Problematic History

  • Fantasy Worldbuilding as Activism: Imagining Worlds that Right the Wrongs of Oppression

  • Fuck, Marry, Kill: An Interactive Roundtable Discussion about What We Want from Our Fantasy Literature Lovers

  • Where Faith Meets Fantasy: Deconstructing the Liminal Spaces in Freshwater and All the Names They Used for God

  • Analyzing Fantasy Works for Language that Others Marginalized Identities

  • Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Wreck-It Ralph’s Vanellope, Shank, Reimagined Princesses, and What It Means for a Girl to Dream

  • Crafting Dialogue: A Workshop for Fantasy Authors

  • Horror, Monsters, and Gender

  • What Women Want, What They Really, Really Want: Female Quests in Fantasy Literature

  • Clothes Make the Hero: What Superhero Costuming Choices Say about Gender

  • Food, Caretaking, and Magic: Kitchen Witchery

  • Ahoy! Lady Pirates of History and Their Feminist Reincarnation in Fantasy Literature

  • Gender Stereotypes in Authoring Speculative Fiction

  • Contemporary Literary Witches: Addressing a Thousand Years of Persecution

  • Princes as Heirs, Princesses as Chattel: Pervasive, Problematic Gender Tropes in Quasi-European YA Fantasy

  • Reclaiming Our Mothers: Living, Responsible Mothers in YA Fantasy Literature

  • Dystopia vs. Utopia: A Case for Reading Each in Trying Times

  • Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare’s Fantasy in Fantasy Literature

  • Deconstructing Strength: A Roundtable on Strong Female Protagonists

  • One Last Time: The Women of HBO’s Game of Thrones

  • Magical Circuses as Lures in Fantasy Literature

  • From Lois Lane to The Shining Girls: Intrepid Journalism

  • Lady Thor, She-Hulk, and Kate Bishop: When Comics Finally Pass the Torch

  • Reissued! A Discussion of Republishing Decades-out-of-Print Fantasy Books

  • Fantasy Literature as Classroom Teaching Tool

  • Examining the Fantastic, Feminist Art of Isabel Greenberg

  • A Reader’s Perspective: Effective Writing of Liminal Spaces

  • Deconstructing Societal Baggage about Identity via the Dialogue of First-Contact Novels

  • Feminist Retellings of the Mahabharata

  • That’s Really…Weird: What Our Strangest Fantasy Fiction Says about Us

  • Presenting Masculinity: Use of the Penis (or the Absence Thereof) on HBO’s Game of Thrones

  • The Fairy-Tale Crumbs in Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread

  • The Commercialization of Childbirth and Motherhood in Dystopian Fiction

  • Suburban Monstrousness: Headley’s The Mere Wife and Link’s Pretty Monsters

  • How to Create a Heroine: A Workshop for Artists

  • Civil Engineering: Magical Transportation Systems

  • Furious! Fantasy Heroines Whose Rage Propels Their Stories

  • Fantastic Parenting: Brainstorming How to Take Your Kid on a Quest to Save the World

  • Examining Freedom and Duty through G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King

  • Building Fantasy Worlds by Crafting Justice Systems

  • Deconstructing the Male Gaze through Written Descriptions of Heroines

  • Dreaming Epiphanies in Fantasy Literature

  • Near-Future: The Intersection of Magic and Tech

  • An Argument for Space Opera as Fantasy Literature

  • Where Wonder Meets Fear: Middle-Grade Portal Fantasy as Self-Discovery


Contributed by our community:

  • Performative Tools to Bring Your Fantasy Novel to Life

  • Why We Write About War

  • Jewish Women and Jewish Life in SFF


All set? Submit your proposal here.

More questions? You can contact our programming team at (programming at


Kiersten White’s Elizabeth Frankenstein breaks the shackles that bind her to her abuser

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, we welcome a review from Jo O’Brien on Kiersten White’s The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was a stone-cold badass.

Her intellect and imagination were monumental. She invented a whole genre of literature when she was a teenager by writing a story that, two hundred years later, is still a cultural touchstone. And that’s to say nothing of the adventurous life she led—she climbed glaciers, sailed Lake Geneva, and traversed Europe, partially on foot when she didn’t like her chauffeurs. She survived the grief when death claimed her parents, two of her children, her half-sister, and then her husband. She kept Percy Shelley’s calcified heart wrapped in his poetry after he died.

But yet, Percy continues to be credited for her accomplishments. His “corrections” in the margins of a found draft of Frankenstein still have some people convinced that he must have at least been a co-author (never mind that his part seems to just graze the level of line edits). Some would even go as far as to say that genesis of the book, or even the very idea, belong to him. Even now, Mary Shelley isn’t given the respect she deserves for her work.

So it feels like it’s about time for The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. Author Kiersten White calls it a retelling, but I found myself thinking of it as a companion to the original Frankenstein: a different perspective, dissecting the events and uncovering truths that Victor Frankenstein couldn’t—or wouldn’t—divulge. The Dark Descent is narrated by Elizabeth Lavenza, the child purchased by Victor’s parents to temper his strange, violent behavior.

At the opening of the book, Victor, attending university, has fallen out of contact with his family. Elizabeth—having grown up alongside Victor as his primary caretaker and companion—follows him across Europe, determined to marry him and secure her position. She finds him indisposed in a rented warehouse, where he’s done the terrible, impossible thing that was the subject of Shelley’s original book. After seeing that he’s taken care of medically, she goes through his notes. She discovers what he’s done, and she foresees the reaction if his work is discovered. So she burns the evidence. She manipulates witnesses. She makes sure that Victor can return home without facing any consequences for his actions, just as she’s always done.

All this paints a bleak picture of a girl straining to make her way in a world where she can’t stand on her own, and The Dark Descent is, in some ways, a bleak book. Elizabeth is slow to realize her mistakes, because her conviction that she has to protect Victor is so well-trained. It feels familiar to how we are all trained to shelter those in power from the consequences of their toxic behavior. But there are moments that glimmer through, and they accumulate and accelerate. Elizabeth does learn. This is a book about a girl breaking the shackles that bind her to an abuser.

It is slow, painful work. Elizabeth doesn’t know that it needs to be done. She doesn’t know that she can unlearn her resentment of other women as rivals, or her too-quick instinct to cover Victor’s tracks. Things get worse before they get better. But Elizabeth is not the soft girl that Victor and his family believe she is. She is fierce and defiant and capable of her own terrible and impossible things. As her limits are stretched, she stretches to fill the gaps.

Just like Mary Shelley had to.

The Dark Descent is not just a companion to Frankenstein, it is an homage to Shelley herself. It’s about a girl whose tremendous abilities are credited to the men in her life. But it’s also about how, leveraging her own incredible power, she breaks free of them.

I won’t spoil the ending of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, but I will say that, in order over the last several pages, I felt heartbreakingly satisfied, and then I gasped, and then I sobbed. (I’ll also say that it’s been a long time since I read any book that used the graphic formatting of a single page to such spectacular effect.) The novel is moody, atmospheric, and often difficult, but I felt it in my bones.

Victor Frankenstein, in his arrogance, told us one story. Elizabeth now claims her voice to tell another. And what she’s telling us is that there is no one more powerful than a girl who will fight to have something that’s hers.

Jo O’Brien is a writer, artist, cosplayer, mythical creature, and Viking who lives in northern Colorado, wrangling a host of familiar spirits. She writes about ambitious, unrepentant, sometimes vicious women in novels and for live steel horse theater. She has been a member of the Sirens community since 2011.


Sirens Meet-Ups: Seattle, Boston, and D.C.!

While our Denver and New York City meet-ups are around the corner, we’re thrilled to bring you the details of three new Sirens gatherings, hosted by Sirens staff or ambassadors. If you live near these cities or happen to be in town, we hope we’ll see you.

These Sirens meet-ups are open to everyone, whether you’re a longtime Sirens attendee or are new and curious. Bring your questions, your friends, and your book recommendations!


SEATTLE: Garden Exploration
Date: Saturday, May 25, 2019
Time: 1:00–3:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Location: Bellevue Botanical Garden*
Presented by: Casey Blair
Admission to the gardens is free! We’ll meet at the Copper Kettle Coffee Bar inside the gardens. Weather permitting, we’ll either explore the gardens or stay in the coffee shop.

RSVP via email or on Facebook

*There are many nooks and places with benches where we can camp out among the gardens. Feel free to pack snacks to share or blankets to sit on, but all you need to bring is yourself. Food is also available for purchase inside the coffee shop. Casey will have a picnic basket with treats (and probably tea) for the group, so please communicate any dietary restrictions when you RSVP!


BOSTON: Pastries and a Park
Date: Thursday, June 6, 2019
Time: 6:30–8:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Location: Tatte Bakery in Harvard Square*
Presented by: Nivair Gabriel and Lily Weitzman
If the weather is nice, we’ll walk to Harvard Yard or Joan Lorentz Park! If not, we’ll go inside Tatte and get pastries.

RSVP via email or on Facebook

*Please note that participants are responsible for their own food and beverages.


D.C.: Tea During ALA
Date: Saturday, June 22, 2019
Time: 5:30–7:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Location: Teaism Penn Quarter*
Presented by: Jennifer Shimada and Lily Weitzman
Do you live in D.C. or will you be going to ALA Annual? Come join us at Teaism! Grab your tea/food at the counter and then sit and chat with us!

RSVP via email or on Facebook

*Please note that participants are responsible for their own food and beverages. If you have trouble with stairs, please let Jennifer know, and we’ll prioritize finding seating upstairs.


Hope to see you soon!


New Fantasy Books: May 2019

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of May 2019 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!

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.


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