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Archive for April 2020

Bring Me Your Monsters!

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women or nonbinary authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a book list or review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a book list by Sami Thomason

There’s nothing I love more than a ruthless heroine unleashing her power, be it through mental gymnastics like Jude in Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, or sheer force like Rielle and Eliana in Claire Legrand’s Empirium trilogy. Men may call them monsters, but these fiercely capable women show their teeth and claws without hesitating, and I love them for it.

 

The Bone Witch
1. The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Rin Chupeco, one of Sirens’s 2020 guests of honor, has a brilliant book about a girl who can raise the dead and those foolish enough to stand in her way. The storytelling in this book is fantastic, and as Tea’s journey begins, you can tell that she may become the villain of this story, but she’s such a compelling character that I was on her side anyway.

Wicked Saints
2. Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Duncan’s intricate world of saints, heretics, blood magic, and old gods leaps off the page and straight into your subconscious, haunting you long past the last earth-shattering chapter. Seen as a savior by some and a monster by others, gods-blessed cleric Nadya will do anything to save her country for a heretical invasion, including teaming up with a blood mage and the enemy prince. Reylo shippers, this one’s for you, with two powerful teens pulled together by both dark and light forces.

Sawkill Girls
3. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

When a ravenous entity preys on the teen girls of the island, Sawkill Rock raises three girls to fight it off: lonely Marion, fiery Zoey, and slippery Val. Uncovering occult secrets and craving intimacy, the Sawkill girls are drawn together despite their differences and past woes. Men and monsters may assume that girls inherently seek the destruction of each other, but Legrand’s horror manifesto claims otherwise, with powerful prose and beautifully wrought characters.

Stepsister
4. Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

A searing dismissal of the typical fairy tale, Stepsister smashes every glass slipper and turns the dust into something entirely new. When Isabelle’s lovely stepsister is crowned queen of France, the village turns against her family, sneering at the “ugly stepsisters,” who stood in Ella’s way by maiming their feet. While Fate and Chance battle over the fate of one bitterly disappointed girl, France is under vicious attack from an evil conqueror. When Isabelle is given the chance to change her fate by collecting the pieces of her broken heart, she becomes more than the envy she wears like a cloak. This book is so earth-shatteringly brilliant that I want every girl who’s ever felt less than herself to read it.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass and Girl, Serpent, Thorn
5. Girls Made of Snow and Glass and Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Told in alternating perspectives, Girls Made of Snow and Glass follows Mina, a woman with a glass heart, and her eventual stepdaughter, Lynet, a girl made of snow and blood. Desperate to feel love, Mina schemes her way to becoming queen of Whitespring, willing her heart of glass to open for the king and his young daughter, but finding it as cold as the Northern kingdom she now rules. Artificially-made Lynet longs to feel real and escape the shadow of her dead mother, whose image she was created in. When the king pits them against each other, Mina and Lynet will have to learn what love really is, or else destroy each other.

Bashardoust’s new book, Girl, Serpent, Thorn comes out this May and focuses on a princess cursed to be a monster. Not to be missed!

The Cold is in Her Bones
6. The Cold is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale

Living as a woman in a close-minded town can feel like a constant scream caught in your throat—a feeling Peternelle van Arsdale so beautifully articulates in The Cold is in Her Bones. Based in part off the myth of Medusa, our heroine Milla lives in a world in fear of demons, where she is always chided and constrained by her parents in order to “protect” her. But curses have a funny way of coming around, and when Milla’s only friend is afflicted, her parents’ worst dreams come true as Milla sets off to free her friend, uncovering dark family secrets and truths about the nature of demons and her own power.

Empress of All Seasons
7. Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

An astonishing competition set in the four seasons, a ruthless emperor, and a brilliant inventor prince, with one girl to undo them all. A yōkai girl discovers her destiny as she enters a competition to become the Empress of her divided nation in this silk-painted story of dreams and nightmares. Think Hunger Games meets mythology!

Not Even Bones
8. Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer

If you like your YA on the gruesome side, Not Even Bones is definitely up your alley. A bloody, macabre, and masterful take on the supernatural, this book follows Nita, a girl with supernatural abilities who dissects other supernaturals for the black market. When the tables turn and Nita becomes the hunted one, she learns that being monstrous is more than skin deep.

Wilder Girls
9. Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls may have been marketed as “feminist Lord of the Flies,” but I think “young adult Annihilation” would be a more apt tagline. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, Wilder Girls is a brutal exploration of how toxicity, real and metaphorical, infects an isolated girls’ boarding school. Power’s gorgeously


Sami ThomasonSami Thomason is the events and marketing coordinator at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. Before that, she got a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at Millsaps College and worked briefly at Walt Disney World (she’s seen some stuff). She runs two book clubs for kids and a book subscription box called Teen’s First. You can find her on Twitter at @SamiSaysRead and Instagram as @sami.says.read.

 

Claiming Fan Spaces: Eliza and Her Monsters, The Princess and the Fangirl, and Slay

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors. You can find all of her reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

In All Rise, CBS’s new courtroom drama, Simone Missick stars as Lola Carmichael, a former prosecutor who, as of the pilot, has just been appointed to the bench. Judge Carmichael is an inspirational role: a black woman searching insistently for justice from a position of power. And in the second episode of All Rise, another powerful black fictional character makes an appearance: One of Carmichael’s long-time friends gifts her with a picture of Carmichael’s hero, Commander Uhura, as played by Nichelle Nichols.

This is not a review of All Rise (well-intentioned, but middling). But that moment—when a primetime network show acknowledges the indelible influence of a powerful black female character from Star Trek on its own powerful black female character—encapsulates what so many have been saying for so long: representation matters. Representation matters in every aspect of our lives, from the boardroom to the newsroom, including, specifically, in the media we consume. Representation matters even—or perhaps especially—in speculative works.

But let’s take that one step further. Judge Carmichael has not, to my knowledge, cosplayed Commander Uhura. But lots of powerful black women have. And as we talk about representation in speculative works, we must—not should, but must—talk about representation in fan spaces.

Over a decade ago, I did my tour of duty in a fandom: as a lawyer, a convention planner, a worker bee and a leader. And I found fan spaces terribly but unsurprisingly reflective of all our other spaces: Even in fandoms populated primarily or even almost exclusively by marginalized folks, white cisgender men (and the white women who enable them) run the show. Celebrity fans—those made famous by, and whose livelihood depends on, fandom—are almost exclusively cisgender male, almost exclusively white, almost exclusively heterosexual, almost exclusively abled and neurotypical. As in so many of our spaces, marginalized folks do the lion’s share of the work, but are ultimately pushed to the side (or even out) in favor of familiar, destructive power structures.

Which is why the three young-adult books I’ve chosen to review this month are so important. Each is about fandom—for a comic, a video game, a movie—and each purposefully makes space for marginalized groups in constructing its fan spaces. You can’t even properly call these works a reclamation because there’s nothing to reclaim; fan spaces never welcomed these groups in the first place. But these works upend that exclusion in brave and thoughtful ways, ways that make readers braver and more thoughtful, too. Representation matters—and it matters in how we talk about and express our love for speculative works.

So let’s get to it.


The Princess and the FangirlAshley Poston’s The Princess and the Fangirl is a glorious, hilarious, romantic romp set at a sci-fi convention. It’s technically a sequel, but truthfully, I read Geekerella so long ago that I can’t remember anything about it other than that it, too, is a glorious, hilarious, romantic romp and…that it included a pumpkin-shaped food truck? At any rate, you don’t need to read one before the other—and unlike Geekerella, The Princess and the Fangirl centers a queer romance—so let’s jump right in.

The movie is Starfield. The con is ExcelsiCon. The character is Princess Amara, who seemingly died in a giant explosion at the end of the most recent movie. Imogen is a Starfield fangirl on a mission to keep Amara, her favorite character, from being deader than a doornail. Jess, who plays Amara and is trying to avoid both pigeonholing and toxic fandom, is hoping like hell that Amara is, in fact, deader than a doornail. In a plot worthy of a heist novel, Imogen and Jess look alike and when the script for the upcoming movie leaks, they have to switch places (I mean, of course they do) in order to find the culprit.

As you decide whether to pick up The Princess and the Fangirl you should know three things. First, it’s a meet-cute book for people that you will love to see meet-cute. Disguised as Imogen, Jess encounters Imogen’s online friend Harper, a smoking hot female fanartist who shows Jess the welcoming, creative community side of fandom. Meanwhile, Imogen-as-Jess spends time with Ethan, Jess’s hot bodyguard. The cast is diverse (Imogen and Jess are white, Harper is black, and Ethan is Japanese-American), the romances are adorable, and the whole thing is a rollicking good time. Second, Poston does a decent deconstruction of fandom. Wrapped up in this fizzy romance are incisive thoughts about fandom itself: who is invited, who is elevated, who is harassed, who is excluded, who must scratch and claw to find the smallest bit of space to celebrate the things they love. Finally, The Princess and the Fangirl is geektastic. The details are a dang delight.

Eliza and Her MonstersNext up is Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. Unlike The Princess and the Fangirl, which tends toward fun and frolic, Eliza and Her Monsters will break your heart and then patch it back up—and trust me, having read Eliza, you wouldn’t trade that for an unbroken heart. Eliza Mirk is living a double life: her real life, where she’s a shy, awkward girl who doesn’t really have any friends, but does have an awful lot of anxiety; and her online life, where she’s LadyConstellation, creator of Monstrous Sea, an absurdly popular webcomic. Then a dude named Wallace Warland (no kidding), Monstrous Sea’s most popular fanfiction writer, transfers to Eliza’s school. And he and Eliza strike up a tentative friendship, maybe more.

Only thing is, with only a few exceptions, LadyConstellation’s identity is secret. Until it isn’t. When her secret spills and all of Eliza’s carefully constructed boundaries disappear, she falls apart, her anxiety spiraling into panic attacks and suicide ideation.

Eliza and Her Monsters is a beautiful, heart-rending work, a love letter to creators and fans and online friends, a delicate exploration of what it means when the foundations of our worlds crumble—and it feels like the foundations of ourselves have crumbled. It’s about living in a place, perhaps an online place, that feels like your own. It’s about anxiety and selective mutism and feeling adrift. It’s about finding the space you need in order to create the forgiveness you deserve. It is, in a word, lovely.

SlayFinally, in Slay by Brittney Morris, Kiera Johnson is the creator of SLAY, a multiplayer online role-playing card game specifically for black people—half a million black people worldwide as the book opens. Kiera specially built the game with black experiences in mind—you’ll delight at the battle cards—and the game has such a massive-but-secret following that there are code words to say to someone if you want to know if they SLAY. But Kiera’s complication is, like Eliza, that she’s anonymous. Not even her sister knows that she’s the creator, moderator, and queen of SLAY.

Toward the beginning of Slay, a SLAY player kills another over something that happened in the game. Suddenly, Kiera’s baby is out in front of the world—in front of white people who call it racist, in front of black people who say it’s not model behavior—and even her sister and her boyfriend have unwelcome opinions. And then a new player enters the game, and a threatens both SLAY and Kiera—and SLAY itself is on the line.

In addition to Kiera’s escalating problems, Morris writes a host of characters that address contemporary racism: the white guy who asserts reverse racism, Kiera’s white friend who wants Kiera to approve her getting dreads, Kiera’s sister who wants Kiera to behave just a little bit less, and Kiera’s boyfriend who wants her to behave just a little bit more. Slay is a smart, timely deconstruction of what it means to be black, especially in America, premised on a piece of popular culture crafted by and for black people—and specifically questioning what it means for a marginalized group to inhabit an interactive, communal fan space.


By day, Amy Tenbrink dons her supergirl suit and practices transactional and intellectual property law as an executive vice president for a media company. By night, she dons her supergirl cape and plans literary conferences and reads over a hundred books a year. She likes nothing quite so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

A Life in Notable Books: Immersive Worlds with Charismatic, Relatable Characters

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women or nonbinary authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a book list or review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, we welcome a book list by Kate Larking

In my childhood, I was not much of a reader. It seems so sacrilegious to admit here, to the Sirens community I so love, that I would sit in my grade six classroom reading time and turn more than one page at a time, impatient to make progress like my classmates did through their books but wholly uninterested in the material at hand. A lot of books in the school library felt drab to me, and I would much rather find vivid and colorful illustrations and imagine my own narrative around them than read black ink on white pages.

But my journey into becoming a reader rooted itself in fantasy. When I found fantasy, I found power in words others had written.

Let me take you on a trip through my life with the following stories and how I came back to reading over and over again.

 

Magic Knight Rayearth
1. Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP (6 volumes)

I first fell in love with stories blended with illustration. I was an anime junkie recording every episode of Sailor Moon that aired onto blank VHS tapes, and one of the first manga series I fell in love with was Magic Knight Rayearth.

Three young women from three different schools on a class trip to Tokyo Tower are overcome by a bright light and transported to the magical world of Cephiro (or Cefiro, as early manga translations were notorious for inconsistent translations). They have been summoned to save the Pillar, Princess Emeraude, from her abductor, High Priest Zagato, before the world held together by the Pillar’s prayers falls apart. It was the original hopepunk manga full of magical girls, mecha (giant warrior machines), and awakenings for both the young women and the world they had been tasked to save.

And I loved how CLAMP was an all-women collective of creatives.

Dealing with Dragons
2. Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

I found Dealing with Dragons at the very end of the fiction section of my junior high library. The room had an odd configuration so it was on a side back wall, away from most of the other books. But when I saw Cimorene on the cover, staring up at a dragon, her body taut with attitude and vigor, I knew I wanted to read her story. My reading skills were awful, so I didn’t learn how to actually say Cimorene’s name for an embarrassing number of years (I hybridized her name with Cinnamon and Rini from the English translation of Sailor Moon when I read it in my head), but I soldiered on to find a comedic series about a fierce princess, a dragon with a hankering for cherries jubilee, and a subversion of a patriarchal structure for dragon royalty.

The Assassins of Tamurin
3. The Assassins of Tamurin by S. D. Tower

In two years, after a reporter found me through my Livejournal to interview me about this internet craze called Neopets (It’s nostalgia hour, ya’ll), I was asked to write young adult reviews for my local newspaper. I was terrified—after all, my city just hit over one million residents—but I said yes. Since no one was reviewing fantasy or science fiction, the book editor sent those my way as well. And the very first ARC I received was The Assassins of Tamurin (I still have this ARC).

A girl no one wanted or valued starts a quest to simply survive, and becomes embroiled in a complex political controversy so much bigger than she could imagine, set in an empire modeled on Imperial China. With a spy-assassin sisterhood, magical contracts, and hidden heirs, the book had everything a teen could want in a romantic action adventure, despite being marketed to adults. It was also the first book I’d ever read written by a married couple.

When Demons Walk
4. When Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs

After I started reviewing, I wanted to be around books even more, so I got a job at the local library as a page. And in the small (at that time) young adult section, I found this gem totally mislabeled as YA. I snuck it to the checkout desk, hiding the scantily clad protagonist on the cover from my coworkers. (*brrrrring brrrrring* Yes, hello? Teenage Kate? You’re gay.)

Sham is a sorceress and thief, hired to save the very people from whom she steals, from a threat much stronger than them all. The Reeve, Kerim, uses a wheelchair for much of the book, commanding respect from the nobles he governs through more than military prowess. This book hit all sorts of buttons for me, some problematic but nevertheless guilty pleasures, and helped me see a future for myself in writing and crafting stories.

A Fistful of Sky
5. A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

In my final days as a page, I found this book labelled as part of the sci-fi section at the library, and I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

The LaZelle family is a magical family, each member suffering a severe illness in their youth that either leaves them with magical powers or dead. All except Gypsum, a magicless character with a mundane life compared to her brothers and sisters. But it is within that mundanity that she emerged as one of the most relatable characters I have ever encountered in a book. Altria, a queer character, gives a manifestation to the slippery process of finding a love, queer or not, and peace that comes with that love, a theme not often found in literature.

Snow White with the Red Hair
6. Snow White with the Red Hair by Sorata Akiduki

Throughout my life, I continued to read manga and watch anime. And I always thought it didn’t count as real reading. As some readers have internalized resentment toward genre, I had managed to internalize a dismissal of manga and anime as a form of narrative one could appropriately indulge in as a writer. That is, until Year 9 at Sirens when I attended V. E. Schwab’s Sirens Studio workshop “Writer as Reader.” She made it very clear that she didn’t always look to books for relief from creative fatigue.

So when my favorite anime started to serialize English manga translations in 2019, I knew I had to have it. In the fairytale adjacent series, Shirayuki is an herbalist in Tanbarun who attracts the attention of the monarch because of her apple red hair. When he demands she become his concubine, Shirayuki nopes the hell out of there and flees to the neighboring kingdom of Clarines where she meets Zen, the second prince of Clarines. Over the course of the story, Shirayuki proves her resourcefulness and strength of character while Prince Zen grows into a true leader with integrity, driven by his heart. And there is love. And a lovable thief. And witty attendants. Because I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Shirayuki moves through life with ambition to become the best she can and faces compromises and conflicts with intelligence and grace. She’s someone who taught me that even when life gets rough, you can keep moving forward.


Kate LarkingDuring the day, Kate Larking works for an independent publisher. In her off hours, between binge-watching anime and leveling-up game characters, she writes speculative fiction for both YA and adult markets. Her queer space opera comic, Crash and Burn, was a multi-year finalist for the Aurora Awards for best English Graphic Novel. She resides in Calgary, AB, with her wife, daughter, and cats.

 

Fonda Lee’s Reading List

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

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

 

Empire of Sand

Fantasy
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro

Fantasy
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

The Power

Science Fiction
The Power by Naomi Alderman

A Memory Called Empire

Science Fiction
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

The Year of the Witching

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

Circe

Historical Fantasy
Circe by Madeline Miller

Monstress

Graphic Novel
Monstress by Marjorie Liu

The Lie Tree

Young Adult Fantasy
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

What I Saw and How I Lied

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

The Memoirs of Cleopatra

Historical Fiction
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

The Good Mothers

Non-fiction Crime
The Good Mothers by Alex Perry


 

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

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

Jade City by Fonda Lee

The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, in honor of Fonda’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from Lily Weitzman on Jade City by Fonda Lee.


Jade City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lily Weitzman

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

Further Reading: Fonda Lee

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

Fonda’s Guest Posts:

Fonda’s Interviews:

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

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

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

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

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

Fonda’s Short Fiction:

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

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

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

  •  

Fonda Lee: Exclusive Sirens Interview

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

 

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

Fonda Lee

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

AMY: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?

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

 


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

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

New Fantasy Books: April 2020

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of April 2020 fantasy book releases by and about women and nonbinary folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!
 

Hopeful Books for Hard Times

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

 

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

 

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