Thank you to Tordotcom for sending me an advance copy of Siren Queen for review!
Luli Wei knows how cutthroat Hollywood can be, especially for people who look like her. While she’s desperate to become a star, she won’t take on stereotypical roles. “No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers” becomes her mantra. Instead of the roles producers try to give her, she makes a name for herself playing monsters. But her characters aren’t the only monsters. Hollywood runs on a system of blood bargains and ancient magic and studios own everything from your name to your entire life. Luli must determine whether fame is worth becoming a true monster herself.
Siren Queen reimagines the golden age of Hollywood as one full of dark and dangerous magic. The studio heads and other men in positions of power are literal monsters, exploiting the dreams of the desperate. They trade in literal souls, having already sacrificed their own for more and more power.
Nghi Vo introduces this magic system early on; however, like in her previous work, The Chosen and the Beautiful, she doesn’t fully explain everything. In fact, both books may take place in the same world, with similar small details shining through. Vo’s signature worldbuilding style combines a familiar setting with cruel, dark magic, giving every event and interaction a mesmerizing but disconcerting haze.
As for Luli herself, she’s a tough, cold-hearted heroine; she’s resourceful, smart and more than a little ruthless. Vo tells her story with Luli looking back on her life and career, narrating from the future. She’s jaded by the trials of being a queer, Chinese-American woman. Many of her choices for fame are shocking, but Luli recounts them with a fascinating level of detachment. Luli is one of those characters readers want to root for despite the fact that she’s not necessarily a good person.
Before she reinvents herself, Luli is the child of immigrants, helping at their laundry and sneaking away to the cinema. Without money for tickets, admission costs her an inch of hair for each film she sees. When she signs with a studio, the executives own her and control everything from her name to her face to her love life. Luli meets a former actress languishing in a nursing home, her feet the price for her fame. One of the girls she lives with at the studio was even stolen from her home due to her strange, wild beauty. The #MeToo metaphors and nods to our present are unsubtle but still compelling, and it’s satisfying to see Luli go head to head with the powerful men around her.
Once again, Vo creates an entire world full of incredible and unique characters in such a small number of pages. If you enjoy stories of dark bargains and ruthless heroines, Siren Queen is perfect for you.
Siren Queen comes out on May 10 and is available for preorder now from your local independent bookstore or Bookshop.org.
TW: abuse, death, fire, homophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, xenophobia
Originally published 4/7/2022
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