Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
“No maids,” I said, thrusting my chin up. “No funning talking, no fainting flowers.”
In this Hollywood, the monsters on screen aren’t half as bad the monsters behind the scenes, controlling everything, from their stars’ names to the people they love. Luli Wei would do anything to be a star—anything but play to the racist stereotypes Hollywood wants. She’s going to be famous, even if she has to turn into a monster to do it.
I liked being cold as the Atlantic, somehow monstrous and untouchable.
My thoughts are truly torn on this one.
On the one hand, I loved the world, as dark and horrible as it was. Imagine my delight when there was a little bitty sentence connecting this book to The Chosen and the Beautiful, but with the magic ramped up to 11 and the setting shifted to the silver screen, where stars literally become stars if they burn bright enough and the cameras actually want to devour you (they’ve kinda gotten that figured out now).
The worldbuilding was definitely the star of the show, with complex and unknowable magic possessed by the powerful, leaving everyone else struggling to navigate the waters to succeed. There are wild hunts and awful bargains and powerful men holding the souls and livelihoods of everyone they deem lesser (which is everyone).
Instinctively I understood that there was always something more to lose.
I think that the part that had me disconnecting a bit was the way it was told. Luli holds the reader at a distance—she is telling the story from some point in the future, but there’s something about her narration that kept me at an arm’s length away.
That’s not to say that it was a bad thing. I loved her as a character, all of her harsh angles and sharp self. She was a woman who honed herself into a weapon in order to be taken seriously—or, if not taken seriously, then to do anything she could to get where she wanted, no matter the damage to herself. As a queer Chinese-American woman from a working class family, she faced horrible racism, sexism and homophobia from both her peers (male and female) and the people working above her. And in spite of everything, she clawed her way to some spate of happiness and fame—while learning just how much there was to lose.
I don’t know where I’m going with this review.
This book is the ultimate outsider comes in and demands fame while sacrificing so, so much (and also dealing with shit from the other people of color who came before her and ask her if she thinks she’s better than them for not doing the roles they did that paved the way for her).
It’s an insightful look at Old Hollywood and America, and the inherent racism, sexism and homophobia baked into the core of society—baked even further to show how carefully crafted the narratives were to keep the “status quo” pristine and the power structure intact—but with magic to heighten the comparison.
On the other hand, despite all of this and the often really beautiful prose, I felt that the writing was denser and more complicated than it needed to be? I dunno. My brain was demanding fluff and only fluff when I read this, which made it harder to get through (I still enjoyed it, but it took longer than if I was ready sink my teeth into meaty prose).
Anywho, there’s a lot of pain in this book, but also moments of queer joy, and this is why Nghi Vo has become one of my authors to watch. The way she examines the world is fascinating and I love it.
And of course, there is the delight of watching someone become a monster when they have no other choices—because if you can’t be famous, be infamous.
I received this ARC for an honest review
Siren Queen releases May 10, 2022, from Tordotcom, which is just further proof that Tor is actively trolling us because they clearly use dark magic to get the best books and authors