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5 Queer YA Fantasy Novels I Couldn’t Put Down

5 Queer YA Fantasy Novels I Couldn’t Put Down

As a reader surviving the pandemic, I have devoured escapist reads. For me, that has always entailed diving into fantasy novels, being transported to new worlds, and finding space to breathe, imagine and dream. Here are five queer young adult fantasies that helped me escape this past year, and I hope that other Sirens will enjoy them as much as I did!

Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald
1. Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald

Emanuela is in the midst of many plans when the omen summoning her to death in the city’s water tower appears on her skin—like marrying her childhood best friend so that both of them can live their best gay lives outside of their society’s scrutiny. But when the watercrea, the priestess in charge of creating water from blood, captures Emanuela at her wedding, she has to fight back, mostly for herself, but if she ends up saving the other residents of her city, Emanuela considers that a bonus.

Beyond the Ruby Veil was an utter delight from cover to cover. The premise of a fantasy world where water could only be made from blood intrigued me. It’s a fast-paced, short read, and it was refreshing to read a protagonist so singularly focused on her own desires. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel in 2022!

A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha
2. A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

Princess Yzabel is cursed. With one touch, anything she tries to eat turns to roses. She’s slowly starving, a constant reminder of the pain her people face. She longs to reverse her curse and turn flowers into food. And when she meets a beautiful enchantress, it seems like she may have found the answer to her prayers and the secret dreams of her heart.

A Curse of Roses is a unique historical fantasy novel based on Portuguese hagiography, on a legend that has historic roots in the author’s hometown. I was fascinated by the blend of thirteenth-century Catholicism and magic, intricately researched history, and new possibilities as Yzabel struggles to come to terms with her sexuality.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
3. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Hidden from the world and confined due to her poisonous touch, Princess Soraya is desperate for freedom and to be seen as anything other than a monster. So much so that she is willing to free a demon to attain it. But her decisions lead to terrible outcomes, and Soraya starts to question if she was previously monstrous, or if her choices made her who she is.

Melissa Bashardoust has been one of my authors to watch since I read Girls Made of Snow and Glass a few years ago. Her prose is stunning, word-perfect and vivid, and there were twists in this novel I never saw coming. It was honestly everything I wanted in a queer monster fairy tale.

From Darkness by Kate Hazel Hall
4. From Darkness by Kate Hazel Hall

When Ari was a child, her best friend drowned in front of her. Years later, Ari still blames herself for being unable to save Alex. When Ari is bitten by a venomous snake, the shade who comes to escort her to the underworld is none other than her deceased friend. Will the girls be able to navigate the afterlife to save each other and return to the living?

This book is such a sweet sapphic portal fantasy! It’s set in two worlds: a rural town on the Australian coast, and an afterlife inspired by the Greek underworld. The meeting of the two worlds was so fascinating, and I adored both of the generous, witty, and self-sacrificing main characters. From Darkness is a fabulous debut novel that deserves more attention.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
5. The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

A historical fantasy retelling of the legend of Dracula, told from the perspective of two of his brides-to-be. Seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured by a sadistic boyar and stolen away from their home to serve in his castle. While working in the castle kitchens, Lil meets Mira, an ethereal girl she feels immediately drawn to. But when her sister catches the eye of the notorious Dragon prince, Lil will do whatever she must to save what remains of her family.

The best word I can think of to describe this book is ‘haunting!’ I went into it not knowing it was a Dracula retelling, or a prequel to the Bram Stoker novel. This is not a happy tale, but the writing is beautiful and compelling. It also features a strong sister bond and twisted ending that will leave you reeling!


Julia EmberJulia Ember is the author of The Seafarer duology and Ruinsong. Julia has a lifelong appreciation for history and classic literature, and holds an MLit in medieval literature from the University of St. Andrews. She currently lives in Seattle with her wife, two cats and a very fluffy pony. When she isn’t working on her prose fiction, Julia writes for video and app games.

A Siren’s Voyage, Part 4: Feeling Safer

A Siren's Voyage

After a very unusual year, in which we transformed Sirens into an online gathering, we are again planning for an in-person event this fall. We are readying the programming schedule, collecting newly released books, searching for amazing auction items, and discussing how we can make Sirens—after a year away—feel as warm and welcoming as ever. We confess: This all feels a bit strange.

And we suspect that coming—or coming back—to Sirens might feel a bit strange to you, too. So we thought we’d offer a series of posts about what Sirens is (or isn’t), some travel tips and tricks, and how you might choose to engage with the conference and community. If you’re considering attending, we very much hope you do. And if you’re returning, we can’t wait to see you again.

You can read the first three posts in our Siren’s Voyage series, about whether Sirens might be the right conference for you, making travel arrangements, and what to pack, here, here, and here. This week, let’s talk feeling safer at Sirens during a global pandemic.

Sirens: Conference Changes

Last month, after much consideration of the current landscape and how to best protect the health of the Sirens community—and by extension, friends, family, hotel staff, and others—we announced that Sirens would take place in person in 2021. We have implemented safety requirements and procedures, and are considering additional measures, but we know that, as the Delta variant continues to spread in a number of areas, no additional safety protocols would be sufficient to permit everyone to feel safe attending an in-person event. Nonetheless, we plan to offer Sirens in person, for the first time since 2019, for whose who are able to attend—and interested in doing so.

Sirens will look different, though, as we work through how best to keep everyone as safe as possible. Most notably, we have canceled this year’s Sirens Studio in order to reduce everyone’s time traveling and everyone’s time around each other. Studio faculty who wish to attend the conference will present as part of the conference schedule, at no additional cost to attendees. We are refunding Studio ticket payments.

The Sirens schedule itself will look somewhat different as well. We are still working through changes as we confirm programming with presenters and incorporate the applicable Studio presentations, but we will separate the keynote meals from the presentations, to keep our Guests of Honor safer, and similarly, breakfast will take place before the auction. We thank you in advance for your patience, as it’s taking us some time to work through these changes.

Sirens: Vaccine and Negative COVID-19 Test Requirements

In order to attend Sirens this year, you must prioritize keeping the Sirens community safe.

You must be fully vaccinated prior to attending Sirens. This means that you must have received your second or single-dose shot by October 7, 2021.

  • We will require that you provide proof of vaccination when you check in for the conference. Please do not send us photos of your vaccination card, as we do not want to have copies of your personal medical data. A photo, paper copy, or app-based verification will also be accepted at check-in.
  • All human vaccines for COVID-19 that are fully approved or approved for emergency use by authorities in your country will be accepted.
  • We are not requiring a vaccination booster shot, as they are not yet widely available. Please follow the advice of your physician and other health officials regarding any boosters.

You must also show a negative viral test for COVID-19, with the test taken after 3:00 p.m. Mountain Time on Monday, October 18 (72 hours prior to the start of Sirens).

  • We will have rapid antigen tests available for free for all attendees to take prior to entry into Sirens.
  • If the rapid test is positive or inconclusive, you will not be able to attend Sirens until you have received a negative viral test, which is available locally at a number of testing sites.
  • You may wish to take a test prior to beginning your travel to Sirens. In the event that you are positive, that means that you may rest and recover in the comfort of your own home rather than at the Hilton Inverness.
  • The testing kit that we will provide all attendees contains a second rapid antigen test, which can be used 36 hours after the first.

You will be required to wear a mask over your nose and mouth in all conference spaces, except when eating, drinking, or making brief adjustments (such as fixing the fit or blowing your nose).

  • We strongly recommend KN95 or similar masks (like KF94 or N95) or two layers of medical masks. You are welcome to layer these options with cloth masks.
  • Single-layer gaiters, bandannas, face shields, and masks with exhalation valves or vents are not acceptable.
  • We’ll provide all attendees with a KN95 mask, as well as one medical mask with a clear panel for optional use such as while presenting.

Sirens: Other Safety Measures

We continue to work through additional safety measures, including actions that attendees can take to make Sirens safer for everyone. We are revising our room layouts to encourage social distancing and presenter safety, to reduce repetitive-touch areas, and to encourage everyone to keep their hands sanitized and their masks on. We will have additional rules regarding eating and drinking in the conference space and we will all wash our hands frequently.

If you are attending Sirens, we hope that you’ll work through additional safety measures as well. If you are using public transportation or flying, we strongly encourage you to put on a KN95 or similar mask before you encounter other travelers and to remove that mask as little as possible while in transit. If you wish to eat, we encourage you to do so away from others, rather than on a crowded airplane, train, or bus. If you wish to drink, we encourage you to consider a straw, which you can use without removing your mask. Practice social distancing and leave extra space between you and people who are not masked or who are wearing their masks incorrectly. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently—and use those wipes that airlines give you to wipe down the surfaces around your seat (including those overhead buttons for the light and the fan). Keeping yourself safe on the way to Sirens is the first step to keeping everyone safe while at Sirens!


We hope that you understand the hard choices the Sirens team had to make in deciding to present this year’s conference—and the compromises that we will all have to make to keep the Sirens community safe. Again, we appreciate your patience and your understanding.

Leave the Lights On: 6 Tales of Speculative Horror

speculative horror recommendations

My greatest literary loves touch on the darkest elements of the human experience, where we confront our own mortality and the existential dread of an unforgiving cosmos. I’m delighted to share a small selection of some of the dark, twisted, or otherwise unsettling novels I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of years.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
1. The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Beautifully-paced and dreadful in the most satisfying of ways, with an emotional punch and depth that elevates the story well beyond mere suspense. Everything about this book is claustrophobic, from the setting and theme to the limited cast of only two characters.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
2. The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Inspired by the classic cosmic horror tale, “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood. Set within the quirky walls of a museum of oddities, this book balances its unforgiving horrors against a thoroughly likable cast and a story full of heart and humor.

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
3. The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Swedish author Camilla Sten brings us an atmospheric journey with a documentary film crew, an abandoned village, and a vanished cult. Sinister dealings from the past trickle down through the generations, propelling the protagonist toward her family’s long-kept secrets.

Revenge by Yōko Ogawa
4. Revenge by Yōko Ogawa

A collection of interconnected macabre stories that evoke a sense of alienation and displaced desperation, with exceptional attention to atmospheric detail. Revenge drips with high strangeness and quiet suffering, artfully conveyed through Ogawa’s subtle voice.

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet
5. A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

A group of precocious teens and children confront the apocalyptic consequences of climate change and late capitalism while their parents drift on a cloud of inebriation and denial. Astute, clever, and surprisingly beautiful amidst its (very human) horrors.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu
6. The Hunger by Alma Katsu

If you’ve ever thought, “I need a supernatural Donner Party novel,” then The Hunger is for you. Katsu depicts this agonizing journey through a restrained and brutal drip-feed of uncanny threats, breathing fresh dread into an already horrifying historical event.


J KoyanagiJ Koyanagi writes horror and science fiction with an eye toward exploring consciousness, mortality, and embodiment. Her novel Ascension landed on the James Tiptree Jr. Honor List, her short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, and she is a staff writer on the series Ninth Step Murders and Ctrl-Alt-Destroy through Realm. In her free time, she plays D&D and thinks about how good dogs are.

Sirens Mission: Finding Home

Sirens conference speculative fiction book recommendations

Not being able to gather in person with the Sirens community in 2020 was heart-rending. But it also gave us the gift of time: a chance, after more than a decade of work, to take a breath and consider what Sirens is today—and what we want it to be tomorrow.

Sirens is a conference that actively seeks to amplify voices that are pushing boundaries in speculative spaces—and specifically, are pushing those boundaries in the direction of a more inclusive, more empathetic, more just world. Since we featured works on this year’s villainous theme last year, this year’s Sirens Reading Challenge instead showcases 50 works by female, nonbinary, and trans authors that envision that better world—and we’re exploring what that means to us in a series of six posts, using those works as reference points.

Our first five posts discussed finding and sharing those speculative and nonfiction works that, respectively, reclaim what it means for us to be from somewhere, to transgress boundaries, expectations, and limitations for all people of marginalized genders, to revolutionize our world through collective action, to resolutely, radically hope, and to save yourself from a world’s worth of others’ expectations . Today, in the last of our series, we discuss how crucial, how necessary to find our own unique embodiment of home.

Finding Home

Sometimes we all need to come home.

Every day, we venture forth. We reclaim and we transgress, we battle and we hope, and we save ourselves. We go adventuring, on grand quests and smaller travels. We seek new experiences and expand our horizons. We go and go and go, so often at others’ behest but occasionally for our own growth and happiness.

But we all, sometimes, need to come home.

We’re taught that home has a very specific meaning: your house, your place of residence, on which you pay your utilities, a place to keep your belongings. Our societal interpretation of home is terribly impersonal, almost technical, a legal domicile, an investment. Despite that this is, one supposes, where you spend most of your time, where your family or friends reside, where you keep you most treasured possessions.

We don’t need a house; we need a home. We need somewhere where we feel warm and cozy and safe. Where we are most ourselves. Where there’s no need to reclaim, no need to transgress, no battles to be fought. A place of hope and a place of safety.

Yes, sometimes that is a place. Sometimes that is even a house or an apartment, yours or someone else’s, a family member’s or a friend’s. Sometimes that is another physical location: a desert or a lake, a library or a bookstore, a favorite chair or a porch swing. Anywhere that keeps you warm, keeps you safe, makes you whole.

Other times, that’s a person: in the arms of your lover, by the side of your best friend, at the feet of your forebears. Just as much as locations, with all their memories and attachments, people can conjure home for us just as indelibly. People can keep us warm, keep us safe, make us whole.

But whether your home is a location, a pet, a person, it’s vital that you have something, somewhere, someone that means home to you. Somewhere or someone that reminds you who you are, what’s important to you, what you’ve lost in the daily bustle of living your life. Somewhere or someone that can help you re-focus, re-group, re-imagine where you want to go next, the next time you feel ready to leave the warm and comfort and safety of home.

And so, in the speculative space that is Sirens, our sixth mission statement is finding home: to create a place or discover a person who makes you feel especially warm and safe.

Whether we battle of our own accord or war comes to us, whether we adventure readily or reluctantly, whether we reclaim or transgress or simply get through the day, our lives are not so different from our stories. Stories of revolution and quests, combat and peace, all present some notion of home. Stories assure us that it’s okay to need that place, that person, to fill our hearts, guide us back to our north star, remind us that we can—and will—do whatever it is we set out to do.

Whatever home means, now or ten years from now, we must, each of us, find ours.

Finding Home Works

In Maybe a Fox, Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee’s ugly-cry middle-grade novel, Jules and Sylvie are sisters and, even better, best friends. But when their mother passes away, each of the sisters grieves differently: Jules hunkering down, Sylvie running away. When Sylvie disappears, Jules is lost, bereft, inconsolable, as Sylvie was even more essential to Jules’s idea of home thane even their mom was. But at the same time as Sylvie disappears, a new fox is born, one that seems destined to protect Jules as she searches with an ever-thinning thread of hope for her missing sister. Maybe a Fox is a delicate reflection of what it means to grieve, what it means to hope, and what it means to reconstruct your home after a catastrophic loss.

Lumberjanes, the Noelle Stevenson-created comic that has featured dozens of creators over its 21-and-counting volume history (with offshoots for graphic and non-graphic novels), explores what it means to find home by finding your people. Five best friends are determined to have the best time at summer scout camp—and they’re not about to let any three-eyed wolves get in their way. Lumberjanes is a little bit punk rock, a little bit girl detective, and a whole lot of joyous queer space all rolled up into a series of fantastical adventures. But where the series really excels is beautifully crafting its main characters and their relationships—which grow and change as they themselves grow and change. Friendship to the max!

Speaking of friendship, Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, challenges the notion that our friendships should not—could not—be as important that our romantic relationships. By putting their own friendship on display, with all its twists and turns, ups and downs, Sow and Friedman construct a new way of viewing our friendships: as fulfilling, as comforting, as challenging, as complicated and complex and ultimately crucial to our wellbeing. But they also note that those sorts of friendships are not easily won, and require foundational commitment and daily care. As we examine what it means to find home, and how that is so often found through the people in our lives, Sow and Friedman offer a validating, reassuring, earth-shaking option: our friendships.

So much of what we read is challenging, traumatic, dystopian—and rightly so, as we examine our own challenging traumatic, dystopian world and our place in it—but in Two Moons, Krystal A. Smith does something radical: She chooses joy. Two Moons, her collection of thoroughly delightful short stories, is full of Black mysticism, queerness, and happy endings. In the opening, utterly gorgeous work, a woman falls in love with the moon. Later, a woman births a goddess—and receives a surprising reward. In a surprise turn, a woman has a heart-to-heart…with her heart. Each work is a further pleasure, a further enchantment, a further chance to find a little bit of bliss—and a map to a new incarnation of home.

Monstress, the exquisitely crafted comic by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, is now in its sixth volume—and for good reason. In an alternate-world Asia, full of Art Deco architecture, steampunky science, magic inspired by Middle Eastern myth, and a matriarchal society, Monstress offers a beautiful canvass for its creators to explore what it means when your homeland is broken—and the lengths a people will go to reclaim it. As the reader traverses this world, following former child slave Maika Halfwolf, who is hell-bent on avenging her dead mother but who is also the occasional host of a terrifyingly powerful monster, Liu and Takeda travel inexorably down the rabbit hole, asking over and over again: When do you fight for your homeland and when do you burn it all down?

In Charlie Jane Anders’s The City in the Middle of the Night, we are on January, a colonized planet frozen in space, where one side lives in perpetual, blazing sun and the other in perpetual, suffocating darkness. In this hellscape, Sophie lives in one of the border cities, moderately more temperate, but after contributing to a failed revolution, she is exiled to the dark. And Sophie navigates her new world, Anders adeptly navigates her themes, including what it means to build a home in a society that is relentlessly corrupt, uncaring, violent, and brutal. We all need home, even when that seems impossible.

The Four Profound Weaves, R.B. Lemberg’s debut set in their Birdverse universe, is a bravura exploration of healing, faith, family, and friendship, full of layered and intricate world-building, meticulously crafted language, and complex characters. Uiziya has spent much of her life waiting for her aunt to return and teach her the last secrets of her craft; a nameless man searches for belonging and purpose, unsure he will be welcome if he returns home. Together, they set off in search of Uiziya’s missing aunt, fully aware that the answers to their questions might have an enormous cost, and that they will each need to confront the pain of their pasts to find a new path forward. As Lemberg reconciles questing and returning home, your heart will sing.

Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction by Dr. Sami Schalk is revelatory. She begins with the notion of the bodymind, or the intertwinement of the mental and physical, the true home of your own physical/mental space. Then, using that as a foundation, she extrapolates the true political and social power of speculative spaces: creation of bodyminds that transcend reality’s limitations. Schalk examines works of Black speculative writers as she examines the intersections of marginalizations and creates a new framework for disability studies, Black studies, and gender studies. If the universe truly bends toward justice, it’s work like Schalk’s that makes that so.

Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks is also about finding home within yourself. In 1989, in Danvers, Massachusetts—formerly Salem Village—a truly terrible girls’ field hockey team makes a deal with the devil in the form of a notebook with Emilio Estevez on the cover. If they want to win, they must commit acts worthy of the devil’s patronage. The girls start small—a lie here, a prank there—but as the season progresses, their matches become closer, and the girls commit more serious sins. But are these acts devilish—or are they transgressive? Barry’s clever, hilarious romp explores the dichotomy between objective bad acts and subjectively bad acts, the diminishing force of unrelenting stereotypes, and using a deal with the devil to find yourself and claim your power.


This post is the last of a six-part series on Sirens’s mission. You can find the first five posts here: reclamation, transgression, revolution, hope, and saving yourself.

10 new speculative books from Latinx authors

speculative fiction Latinx recommendation

Tomorrow marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) in the United States, and we’re delighted to bring you 10 new books by Latinx authors released in the last year or so, to update our 2020 list of Fifty Latinx Authors and Books and grow your TBR list even further! Some are names longtime Sirens will recognize, others we hope will become new favorites—and it goes without saying that this list is far from comprehensive.

(Note: We know the identifier “Latinx” continues to be contentious in many circles; as a conference on gender in speculative literature, Sirens uses the term to signal inclusivity to genderqueer, nonbinary, and nonconforming individuals that share markers of language, geography, and race—and will follow the lead of Latin American queer scholars. There are a number of articles addressing the history and usage of the term such as in Mother Jones, NPR, and Pew Research.)

Happy reading!

Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro
1. Queen of the Cicadas by V. Castro

Told in dual timelines, this mythic novel features Belinda in modern-day Texas at her friend’s wedding, at the same site where farmworker Milagros was brutally murdered in the 1950s. Milagros’s death ignored by everyone in the town except by the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacíhuatl. Belinda realizes that the urban legend La Reina de Las Chicharras (The Queen of the Cicadas), meant to scare children, is actually real… and her fate is irrevocably tied to the events of 70 years ago.

Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo
2. Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo

Interweaving horror and fairytale, police procedural and thriller, Pelayo features Chicago’s Humboldt Park communities in this modern-day retelling of the Pied Piper. Detective Lauren Medina is determined to get to the bottom of what’s happening to the city’s young victims, even if it means unearthing her own painful family secrets.

Mañana: Latinx Comics From the 25th Century edited by Joamette GilMañana: Latinx Comics From the 25th Century edited by Joamette Gil
3. Mañana: Latinx Comics From the 25th Century edited by Joamette Gil

From 2021 guest of honor Joamette Gil, this crowd-backed speculative comics anthology is in its final stage of fulfillment with physical copies imminent. 27 young adult stories set in 2490s Latin America span 300+ pages, envisioning radical futures from Latinx creators throughout the diaspora, including post-apocalypse, liberationist utopia, and slice-of-life magical realism. Released simultaneously in both English and Spanish.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore
4. The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

Sirens attendees from 2018 might recall guest of honor Anna-Marie McLemore’s seminal keynote. The Mirror Season centers on Graciela who develops a tentative friendship with a boy she barely knows, after discovering they were sexually assaulted at the same party. With a magical bakery, an otherworldly secret forest, and mirrored glass with complex magic, McLemore pens a testament to survival and a love letter to their queer Latinx communities.

Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti, illus. by Dana Sanmar
5. Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti, illus. by Dana Sanmar

With chapters structured through the ancient game between best friends Life and Death, a girl’s fate hangs in the balance. A middle grade magical realist adventure that interweaves themes free will, choice, and destiny, Clara embarks on a portal fantasy to find her missing cousin. Rich with symbolism and imagery in the cards dealt, this book asks readers of all ages all the big, philosophical questions.

Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher
6. Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher

A YA envisioning of a horrific future United States where a wall has been built between US and Mexico. It’s 2032, and everyone is chipped and tracked—but Vali is undocumented, and when her mother’s chip malfunctions, their family’s carefully set life in Vermont is uprooted. Vali and her younger brother must make their way to California, a sanctuary state, on foot, in a journey that’s visceral, heartbreaking, and all-too-possible.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
7. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

2017 Guest of Honor Zoraida Córdova makes her adult debut with this sweeping, multi-perspective family story. The Montoyas know not to question inexplicable things, but when they flock to their ancestral home to attend the funeral of their matriarch, Orquídea Divina, they’re left with more questions along with their inheritance gifts. Seven years later, four descendants travel back to Ecuador to uncover Orquídea’s buried secrets before a hidden figure destroys their family tree.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
8. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

From the acclaimed author of the Sirens-favorite short fiction collection Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado uses literary tropes and genres (such as the haunted house, the romance novel, and choose your own adventure) in her stunning, inventive memoir. In it, she tackles difficult personal subject matter—her experience in an abusive queer relationship— with wit and incisive commentary.

We Light Up the Sky by Lilliam Rivera
9. We Light Up the Sky by Lilliam Rivera

Rivera reclaims the first-contact, alien invasion story for her communities by featuring three Latinx teens in near-future Los Angeles. In this new YA, Pedro, Luna, and Rafa are peripherals at the same high school when The Visitor lands—a Visitor that looks suspiciously like Luna’s cousin Tasha, who died two years ago from COVID-19. The three teens must work together to save the city, and themselves, when they’re not sure who the true enemy is: the Visitor, or their fellow humans?

Fire with Fire by Destiny Soria
10. Fire with Fire by Destiny Soria

This YA urban fantasy romp features dragon-slayer siblings in contemporary rural Tennessee—what’s not to love? Dani and Eden are a pair of Mexican American sisters, both trying to find their way in the world. When Dani bonds with a rare dragon, the sisters find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict and playing with magic more dangerous than they know. To what lengths will they go to save each other?

Peaces is a thoughtful, hilarious adventure of a novel, but in the end, without quite all its pieces

Read with Amy

A number of years ago, I read a book called The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen (translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers). It was a wild ride of a book, full of twists and turns, questions and often fruitless interrogations, more game with the reader than traditional reading experience. I finished this book and the friend who was with me at the time asked how it was. I said, with great puzzlement, that I didn’t know what happened in the end. My friend assumed I didn’t like it. I said I didn’t know that either. Three days later, I decided it was genius.

Reading Peaces, Helen Oyeyemi’s newest novel, reminds me of reading The Rabbit Back Literature Society. An omnipresent but missing character, a series of questions answered by nothing more than more questions, a slow but not complete coalescing of patterns. But it’s been more than three days since I finished Peaces, and despite my expansive love for Oyeyemi’s work, I don’t think this one is quite genius.

Let’s begin.

Peaces Helen Oyoyemi

Otto and Xavier Shin, utterly charming thirtysomethings, have recently decided to consummate their love, not with sex (that’s been going on for some time now) or marriage (who needs that?), but with Otto taking Xavier’s last name. In celebration, Xavier’s eccentric aunt gifts them with a “non-honeymoon honeymoon,” a trip on The Lucky Day, a former tea smuggling train. The train is a curiosity, full of strange cars (a mail car, a sauna car) still in use, even though only five people and two mongooses appear to be on board. In the jumble of exploring the train and glimpsing a woman who is either saying hello or asking for help, Otto, Xavier, and pet mongoose Árpád find their cabin, but leave Otto’s suitcase behind on the station platform. The trip isn’t long enough for this to really matter, and Xavier’s seemingly close enough in size—though much is made of Otto’s days of the week boxers.

Oyeyemi’s prose is pure Oyeyemi: peerless in its craft, its trademark insight on brilliant display, with the addition of a heretofore unknown wit.

As Otto and Xavier’s trip begins—and as our trip as readers begins—things are delightful. Otto and Xavier are both singularly likeable: kind, self-aware, somewhat unreliable, hilarious. Oyeyemi’s prose is pure Oyeyemi: peerless in its craft, its trademark insight on brilliant display, with the addition of a heretofore unknown wit. When you have no idea what’s going on in this book—and that will happen several times over—Oyeyemi’s gorgeous, unexpected turn of phrase has more than enough magnetic pull to keep you on track.

As we spend more time on the train, though, things get weird. Your brain is going to want to turn this into an Agatha Christie-esque mystery, and while Oyeyemi presents a mystery, it’s neither the one you think it is, nor is there a dead body. Let’s recalibrate your brain. Oyeyemi is far too much her own force to pay such direct homage to Christie.

As Peaces rolls on, Oyeyemi reveals that the five people on the train—Otto, Xavier, Ava Kapoor (owner of the train and Xavier’s aunt’s friend), Allegra Yu (Ava’s lover), and Laura De Souza (a mysterious agent on behalf of someone with a financial interest in Ava)—all intersect, with ties both expected and inexorable. And through stories and epistles, snippets of information and paintings that reveal themselves differently to each viewer, Oyeyemi also reveals that all five people on the train know—or mysteriously, know of—a sixth character, Premysl Stojaspal, even if they don’t know Prem by name.

While Oyeyemi’s brilliant fabulism pervades Peaces, perhaps even more than it did What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours or Gingerbread, Prem is where that fabulism really comes into play, with shifting identities, cryptic encounters, a burning building, a theremin, a second mongoose, and oh, the fact that Ava Kapoor cannot seem to see Prem, even though everyone else can. This befuddles everyone else, and infuriates Prem, though Ava, without questioning the presence or realness of Prem, seems to take this largely in stride.

What does it mean when the person you most want to perceive you…simply doesn’t?

And in all the muddle of Peaces—Otto and Xavier’s seemingly shared former lover, the man who jumped from the moving train or perhaps never existed at all, the destruction of the dining car with French toast, and more—the crux of Oyeyemi’s work might be this: What does it mean when the person you most want to perceive you…simply doesn’t? When you want so badly to be seen, but you aren’t, at least not by the person who most matters? What does that failure do to your existence?

In the end, I found Oyeyemi’s central theme fascinating, her approach equally so. But while I think she ties her pieces together in the end—why these five people are on this train at this time—through her enigmatic sixth character, I didn’t find that she quite had enough pieces. Part of a jigsaw puzzle, but not the whole. With Oyeyemi, though, maybe that doesn’t matter as much. Her work is always somewhere on the continuum of thought experiment and adventure, and her prose always ushers you through, unwavering in its blazing magnificence, a gorgeous train barreling its way to a point unknown.

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


Amy TenbrinkAmy Tenbrink spends her days handling strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president for a major media company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty-five 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 ten 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.

We Asked Sirens

Sirens, at its very heart, is about community. As we gear up for our in-person conference this October after two years physically apart, we thought we’d ask our community a series of questions about their impressions, memories, and favorite conference programs. In this case, we thought we’d turn your responses into a paper doll set. Please feel free to print, cut it out, and share on social media!

Our attendees are comprised of incredible readers, scholars, librarians, educators, publishing professionals, authors, and fans—but they also identify as veterans, graphic designers, lawyers, immigrants, cat-lovers, superheroines, and even the occasional Aquarius. We hope to count you among us!

Sirens conference paper doll

New Fantasy Books: September 2021

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of September 2021 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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