The Publishing World: Grad School and Internships

For the blog post this week, I’m switching things up a little! Last week, I officially finished up my first year of grad school at George Washington University (and because of my finals/workload I may or may not have skipped out on reading the book I was supposed to read for a review lol). So instead of a book review, I’m going to write about the program I’m in and the internships I’ve been a part of throughout the years that have contributed to my love of writing and literature!!!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a part of the publishing world, and it wasn’t until college – where I found myself editing friends’s papers regularly and taking my first creative writing workshops – that I realized just how much I loved the editing process. Reading other people’s stories, getting to dive into someone else’s mind, and experiencing the worlds and characters they create is something that anyone who reads understands the brilliant feeling of, but getting to discuss it with the person who wrote it and bounce more ideas back and forth with them was something that I wasn’t prepared to love so much. Getting to experience that in my writing workshops had such a huge impact on me that I ended up dropping my history minor just so I could fit another creative writing class into my schedule for my last semester. That’s when I knew that getting into to editing was the path I wanted to take.

I had my first editorial internship the summer before going into my junior year of undergrad, with a publishing company called Blueberry Lane Books. My main job throughout the duration was reading the slush piles – the manuscripts under consideration – that were submitted, and basically getting to decide whether the stories got to move on to the next stage of editing and ultimately get published. What sticks out the most in my memory of this internship was just how much detail needed to go into a story – I think there were like 17 categories that I needed to rate each story on – and how hard it was to get my thoughts and opinions on each story into a cohesive review to pass onto my supervisor (and just how many stories about alien sex I had to read – it was apparently a big genre at the time). But the process of editing, of learning how to give feedback and suggestions, sparked something in me that hasn’t disappeared since.

My second internship was with Ohio Magazine, a part of Great Lakes Publishing. This was more on the journalistic side of publishing (which I very quickly realized I didn’t want to do lol), but there were parts of the experience that I’m still so thankful for. My favorite story I got to be a part of was interviewing Mark Edelman about Theater League (the not-for-profit, performing arts organization he founded in 1976), because theater and broadway is something that I’m passionate about and excited about (and this was one of the first big stories I was assigned, allowing me to move away from less thrilling topics, like the different corn festivals going on that year). Getting to talk to Mark about theater and what it means to him, and what he hopes Theater League can mean for other people, as well as what musical theater has meant to me, turned into an almost hour long phone conversation. Once again, I was learning how much I loved talking to people about their projects and sharing thoughts and ideas with them until they unfold into a narrative.

Currently, I am interning with Oghma Creative Media as an editorial assistant, and I have been loving every moment of it. I’ve actually had the opportunity to communicate with authors, and do developmental edits for plot and character development on their stories as well as the final round of edits. I’ve been with them since January, and have worked on four books since then, and it is so exciting and humbling to know that there is still so much for me to learn about the editorial process, and the publishing business as a whole!!! I can’t wait to see what the rest of this internship has in store for me, and whatever comes next!

As I said, I just finished my first year of grad school at GWU. I’m in their College of Professional Studies, and working towards getting my MA in Publishing with the intent of going into their editorial track. For the first year, everyone in my cohort had to take the same assigned classes, which ranged from Book and Journal Publishing, Copyright Law, Marketing Strategies, and Production Management. I’ve learned how to make a author contract, how to do a direct mail campaign, what the stages of a book’s life cycle are, and have even been tasked with creating an entirely hypothetical publishing company, along with the products it would sell. It’s been challenging and frustrating but I have learned so so much, and being a part of this program has only solidified my determination to get even deeper into the publishing world.

While I’m relieved to be on a short break between semesters, I am beyond excited for my second year, because my second year marks the year where I can start to choose the classes I want to take (shout out to the Editorial Content, Rights, and Permissions class I’m taking next semester, and the Managing an Editorial Staff class I’ve got my eye on for the future!!!).

If you guys have questions about editorial internships or an MA program in publishing, comment below! Or if you have experiences/memories to share about the publishing world, I’d love to hear! 🙂

-Sara

Review | Jumping Monkey Hill by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre : Short Story
Published : October 2, 2006 / June 1, 2010
Publisher : Granta / Anchor

When Emory and I came up with the idea to recommend a short story to each other for this week’s post, I was at a loss for a while. It was like every short story I had ever read and loved flew out of my mind. Then I started thinking back to the Advanced Fiction class I took during my final year of undergrad, and Jumping Monkey Hill stuck out in my memory. There’s so much to dissect in the story – colonialism, racism, sexism, family dynamics, and lastly, it’s a short story about writing short stories, and about how some people will try to dictate what a good, believable story is while diminishing other kinds of stories and experiences and deeming them unrealistic.

While I absolutely loved my fiction class and the writing workshops we had, this was a topic that always seemed to pop up, whether it was someone commenting on my story or someone else’s. “That just doesn’t seem believable” or “Oh no, that wouldn’t happen. This is what you should write instead”. And sure, the suggestions were part of the editing process, sometimes they were even good, but sometimes you were also left with the feeling of everyone just not understanding what your story was conveying, or feeling hurt that your peers deemed something that may have happened to you as “unrealistic.” Jumping Monkey Hill weaves this critique into the protagonist’s life, connecting it to themes of identity and creating a story that contains so much power. I can’t wait to read about what Emory thought of it!

-Sara

I’m so glad Sara recommended I check out Jumping Monkey Hill by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie! It’s been awhile since I’ve read a really impactful piece of realistic short fiction, and I’m so grateful I had the pleasure of reading this story for this week’s blog post.

Jumping Monkey Hill is about a young woman named Ujunwa who is invited to participate in the African Writers’ Workshop – a weeklong writing workshop founded and facilitated by Edward Campbell, an old white man from England. The workshop starts off harmless enough – though Ujunwa finds it odd that the workshop is taking place at a fancy, mostly white seaside resort in South Africa, she still begins to form small bonds with the other workshop members. But tensions soon rise as it becomes apparent that Edward does not have any of the workshop participants’ best interests at heart. Instead, he seeks to mold them into his colonialist vision of what an “African writer” is supposed to be.

The uneven power dynamic between Edward and the writers is established the moment Edward does the workshop introductions – he introduces each writer by the country they’re from, reducing them to mere representatives of “Africa.” We soon come to find, of course, that Edward’s understanding of “Africa” is racist, sexist, and homophobic, and that he expects the stories the participants submit to fit into his colonial view of Africa. While some workshop participants write off his behavior as “harmless” because he is an old man, it soon becomes evident that Edward’s behavior is an extension of a violent and insidious racist colonial history.

In addition to reducing workshop participants to their race, Edward also begins to hypersexualize the women of the group. This, unfortunately, is nothing new for Ujunwa. For her workshop story, she writes about her experiences with sexual harassment while searching for a job. These moments in Ujunwa’s short story mirror the sexual harassment she experiences at the hands of Edward throughout the workshop. For me, one of the most heartbreaking moments in this story is when Ujunwa realizes that all of the other participants had noticed the ways in which Edward sexualized her, but none of them had done anything to stop him.

She should not have laughed when Edward said, ‘I’d rather like you to lie down for me.’ It had not been funny. It had not been funny at all. She had hated it, hated the grin on his face and the glimpse of greenish teeth and the way he always looked at her chest rather than at her face and yet she had made herself laugh like a deranged hyena.

The workshop participants silently accept Edward’s increasingly vile microaggressions because they are afraid that speaking up will lose them money or future opportunities as writers. Ujunwa herself takes Edward’s words and actions with a silent resentment until the very end of the story, when Ujunwa finally refuses to take anymore of his bullshit. (This moment made me want to cheer and scream and lift Ujunwa up on my shoulders).

One of my major takeaways from Jumping Monkey Hill was the mental toll writing workshops take on marginalized voices when white, cis, heterosexual male experiences are centralized. When Edward doesn’t like a story (because it didn’t fit into the neat, colonial box of what he understood “Africa” to be) he says the dreaded workshop phrase: “The story itself begged the question ‘So what?'” Jumping Monkey Hill almost seems to be a direct response to this question. The answer? Because marginalized voices demand to be heard and listened to. Just because a white man or a white woman doesn’t understand a story doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold value – rather, it means white writers must work even harder to de-center whiteness as the “default” and continue to listen to and uplift marginalized voices without expecting a cookie in return.

I loved this story SO much and I can’t wait to buy Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story collection! Read Jumping Monkey Hill online here !

My Rating:

10 Excruciating Writing Workshops out of 10

-Emory

May Bookshelf

It’s MAAAAAAY! Here are all the amazing and delicious books we are reading this month.

Sara:

  1. Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell – Out on May 14th, Karen Russell’s new book of short stories looks like it will be just as brilliant as her other works! Seriously, if you’ve never read anything by Karen Russell, you need to change that asap. Her prose is vivid, funny, and never what you expect. I’ve loved everything she’s written so far, and I am beyond excited to read her new short stories!
  2. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal – The first installment of Faizal’s Sands of Arawiya also debuts on May 14th, following the stories of two characters, Zafira and Nasir, who are both legends throughout the kingdom, though neither of them wants to be. Things promise to get complicated when Zafira and Nasir are sent on the same quest to retrieve and special artifact – with Nasir instructed to kill Zafira.
  3. Captain America, Vol. 1: Winter in America by Ta-Nehisi Coates and illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu – In celebration of Avengers: Endgame releasing a little over a week ago (don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything), I thought adding a comic to my bookshelf for this month would be fitting. Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of works like The Beautiful Struggle, Between the World and Me, and a series of Black Panther comics, takes Steve Rogers and places him in the aftermath of Hydra’s takeover of the nation. The government doesn’t seem to trust Cap anymore, and the feeling appears to be mutual. I can’t wait to start reading this new installment in Cap’s story!
  4. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – With the new TV series airing at the end of this month, I figured I should re-read the amazing book it is based off of. Basically, an angel and a demon work together to stop the anti-christ from starting the apocalypse. If you haven’t read Good Omens already, get your hands on a copy immediately!!! It is a wild ride from start to finish, and I promise you will love every second of it.
  5. Mythic Journeys: Retold Myths and Legends edited by Paula Guran – Once again out on May 14th (I’m going to buy SO MANY books that day), this anthology collects stories from authors like Ken Liu, Neil Gaiman, and Ann Lecki that reinvent classic myths and legends and place them in a modern setting! That idea in itself is more than enough to get me interested!

Emory:

  1. The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera – I get easily overwhelmed by epic fantasies, but this one is high on my list!! Queer protagonists, warrior ladies, divine empresses, and of course, the tagline: Even gods can be slain…
  2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – This book has been popping up all over my timeline lately! A very large book that I probably won’t get to until the summer, but it’s on my buying list now! Another great queer read ~ one of my friends called it a feminist takeover of the epic fantasy genre (looking at you, GoT).
  3. Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan – Already a New York Times Bestseller – and written by an OHIOAN!!!! A bloody fairytale-inspired read. Can’t wait to get my hands on this gorgeous book!
  4. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal – This book was a birthday present from Sara (THANK YOU!). After reading Sorcerer to the Crown and The True Queen in the span of a week, I needed more Regency fantasy!
  5. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang – My very first read for Netgalley! I’m taking The Poppy War with me this week (I’m halfway through it right now and it’s so goddamn funny and bloody and adorable and messed up and I can’t wait for the sequel!).

Writing Community: Sirens Conference

For my blog post this week, I’m switching things up a bit! Throughout the year, I’d like to write about finding and building community as a writer – whether that be online or in person, local or abroad. Whatever form your writing community takes, what’s important is that you create a support system that best suits you and your needs as a writer! Since I began actively seeking out fellow writers, readers, and book lovers with similar passions and writing ambitions, my life and writing have infinitely changed for the better. I can’t wait to share some of these thoughts and insights with you!

This month, I’ve got conferences on the brain! This time last year, I was beginning my first foray into conference research. I’d made the decision to refocus my time and energy on what I was most passionate about – writing. But here’s the thing – I was scared! I had low confidence in my work, was daunted by the idea of completing a novel, and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who populate the publishing world. I felt like a conference would help me to begin to better understand how the larger writing community works and allow me to meet fellow writers with shared interests.

With this in mind, I began researching North American writing conferences. I knew that I wanted a smaller conference (AWP and Writer’s Digest just seemed so BIG and overwhelming for a first conference) where I would feel safe as a queer woman and be encouraged to talk about speculative fiction. Luckily for me, this is a pretty specific conference checklist, and after a few Google searches and Twitter chats I stumbled upon the Sirens website.

Sirens is an annual Colorado conference geared toward writers, readers, librarians, and educators of sci-fi/fantasy literature, specifically those who feel the effects of the patriarchy (nonbinary folks, tran folks, women, or wherever you land on the gender spectrum!). Founded in 2009 (10 years ago!!), Sirens sought to create a conference space where all were welcomed and encouraged to celebrate and see themselves in speculative fiction. Their commitment to doing better and being more inclusive each year is evident and refreshing, and is what drew to me them in the first place.


Like the women of fantasy literature, we dream big and bold and bright.

Sirens 2019

After months of planning, budgeting, and applying for grants, I attended my very first Sirens conference in October 2018! I decided to attend both the pre-conference Sirens Studio (Tuesday-Wednesday) and the full Sirens conference (Thursday-Sunday) to give myself a fully immersive experience. Sirens Studio was an amazing experience – two days of small-group workshops taught by stellar faculty interspersed with time to read, write, and relax (yes, there were bonfire pits and outdoor hot tubs!).

The full conference began Thursday evening with a welcome reception and the very first keynote speaker. Friday was chock full of workshops, lecture, and panels, and ended with a fabulous evening of Bedtime Stories, during which all visiting guests of honor read from their new/upcoming work (while we, of course, sipped on hot chocolate and ate gourmet s’mores!). Saturday featured similar conference scheduling, two more amazing keynote speakers, and an unforgettable masquerade ball!

My first Sirens conference was truly life changing. I’m a bit shy and reserved before I get to know people, so I was glad that I decided to start with the smaller Sirens Studio. The few extra days gave me a bit more time to ease into the conference and to meet a few people before the (delightful) chaos began on Friday. A lot of people already knew each other (some people have been attending Sirens every year since 2009, which is AMAZING!) and I was a little bit intimidated at first! However, Sirens does a wonderful job at planning group outings for lunch and dinner, and I quickly learned that connecting with people over food is SO my thing!

One of my biggest struggles as a writer (besides, ya know, writing) is being confident enough to discuss my work and ideas with friends and strangers, and Sirens really forced me out of my comfort zone in this regard, which I am so thankful for. Seeing how passionate everyone was about their own work and other’s really pushed me to reevaluate the fears/anxieties I have about sharing my own writing. This was my biggest take away from the conference – a new confidence in myself and my work. I’m so grateful for all of the amazing people I met last year at Sirens!

I could sing praises about Sirens forever (I can’t wait to go back this year!!) but before I finish this post I just want to touch base on the most daunting thing about conferences: $$$$. I don’t know about you, but as a person with two part-time jobs who makes less than $20,000 a year, the thought of dropping $1500 on conference fees, plane tickets, and housing was horrifying! Financially, conferences are not always accessible. I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from my local arts counsel that funded my entire trip, but it’s not always that easy!

If your city or state doesn’t offer grants for artists, there are also scholarship options through Sirens (some of which are still open!). Sirens is currently accepting program proposals through May 15 – three exemplary programming proposals will be awarded free registration and shuttle tickets! Additionally, Con or Bust is a fabulous financial resource for people of color seeking to attend SFF conventions.

What are you experiences with writing conferences (the good, the bad, the ugly?!). Let me know in the comments!

-Emory

April Bookshelf

WOW! We survived the treacherous Ides of March and are one month closer to sweet, sweet summertime. Welcome to the glorious month of April – here are the books we can’t stop thinking about!

Emory:

  1. Once & Future by Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta – This book has been popping up all over my feed this past month. A galactic fantasy retelling of the Arthurian legends chock-full of LGBTQ+ characters ~ literally all I need right now!
  2. Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse – The second installment in Roanhorse’s acclaimed Sixth World series – a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy that explores themes of climate change and environmental collapse through the lens of Navajo history and religion. Roanhorse will be a keynote speaker at Sirens this year, and I can’t wait to get my hands on her next book!
  3. Jade City by Fonda Lee – In a writing workshop at Sirens, we did some close-reading of a fight scene from Fonda Lee’s kick-ass novel ~ I’ve never read anything so visceral and masterfully written! In this fantasy, warriors utilize jade to heighten and focus their magic, giving them a fighting edge against their rivals. Reading this now so I can get ready for the second book in the series, Jade War, coming out this summer!
  4. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – The first installment in the Brooklyn Bruja series! I first learned about Cordova’s amazing work while at Sirens (do you see a theme here??). A bisexual bruja from Brooklyn accidentally banishes her family to another realm ~ can’t wait to devour this book and it’s sequel – Bruja Born – which came out this past summer!
  5. How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemison – I’ve been wanting to delve into NK Jemison’s work for quite some time now, but haven’t yet found the time for all 468 pages of The Fifth Season (which I hear from so many people is SO GOOD!!!). So excited to start with this amazing collection of spec fic short stories!

Sara:

  1. Descendant of the Crane by Joan He – The Young Adult debut novel for Joan He, Descendant of the Crane details the life of Princess Hesina of Yen, who, more than anything, just wants a normal life. This becomes impossible for her to attain once her father is found dead and Hesina must take on the role of Queen. Comes out April 9th, and I can’t wait!
  2. The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – Author of Alif the Unseen and a writer for the Ms. Marvel comics, G. Willow Wilson presents a new novel chock-full of interesting characters, including one who can create maps of places he’s never been before, and who can even bend the shape of reality (and he’s not even the main character!). I already went out and bought a copy because the description just sounded so cool!
  3. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark – Taking place in an alternate version of Cairo, this book follows Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr and his new partner, Agent Onsi, as they are called on to inspect a dangerous, possessed tram car. That’s right – a possessed tram car. And apparently the demon possessing it has an interesting origin story.
  4. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen – I heard about this book during one of my classes for grad school, and I knew immediately it was a book I had to read. Set in the 1990s, Kin Stewart appears to be your standard suburban dad, but that appearance quickly falls away when readers learn he’s really a time traveling secret agent from the year 2142 that got stranded. Too bad his rescue team shows up eighteen years late. Time travel + secret agents = a must read.
  5. Broken Stars translated by Ken Liu – This is a collection of translated contemporary Chinese Science Fiction, with stories that range from your classic science fiction, science fantasy, cyberpunk, and space operas, while also including stories with ties to Chinese culture, like alternate Chinese history and chuanyue time travel. I’m excited to break into a new genre of sci fi with this collection!

Book Review | Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Genre : Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Date Published : March 5, 2019
Publisher : Riverhead Books

I was first introduced to Helen Oyeyemi during my junior year of undergrad in a course titled “The Novel and its Secrets.” We read a short story from her collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, and I knew after that singular story that this was an author I needed more of. So I bought her entire collection of short stories, along with two of her novels, White is For Witching and Boy, Snow, Bird and devoured them all within a couple of months. If someone were to ask what I look for in a story, I would shove all of Oyeyemi’s books into their hands.

If you talk to me long enough about books or publishing in general, I will eventually get to the topic I tackled in my thesis – that the Horror/Gothic genre has the capacity to do more than simply scare you; it can also heal you. (Not that it always needs to do that – sometimes it’s good to have an old fashioned scare every now and then). This is something that Oyeyemi not only exemplifies in her work, but something that she excels at. In White is for Witching, Oyeyemi starts off with the classic haunted house set-up, but then gives the house its own narrative chapters which helps to tie its appetite to entrap its occupants to one of the characters, Miranda, who has an eating disorder called pica. In Boy, Snow, Bird, she takes the fairy tale of Snow White and adapts it into a story about the lasting effects of parental abuse. Oyeyemi has a strong grasp on the what the Gothic has the potential to do, and she manages to pour something new into the genre with each book she writes.

Keeping with Oyeyemi’s trademark, Gingerbread takes a recognizable element of a fairy tale and twists it into something even more unsettling, while breathing new life into it at the same time. In the original Hansel and Gretel tale, the parents leave their two children out in the woods because they don’t have the resources to feed them. In Oyeyemi’s take on the tale, she writes a story that, beneath the various descriptions and manifestations of gingerbread (which are more than unnerving at times), looks at how a family could be put into that kind of situation in the first place.

The book details the lives of three generations of women – Margot, Harriet, and Perdita Lee, a family whose gingerbread recipe is passed down between them, although it quickly becomes clear that it is not a simple recipe. At times it seems more like a curse, especially when, early on in the book, Perdita re-creates the recipe with a mysterious ingredient that sends her into a coma. And this is where the book morphs into something readers won’t see coming, especially if they’ve never read Oyeyemi’s work before.

Upon waking, Perdita swears to her mother that what occurred was not a suicide attempt, but rather an attempt to reach Druhástrana – Harriet’s home country, which, you know, may or may not exist. Begged by her daughter and the dolls at her bedside (oh yeah, the dolls talk, ’cause why not?) Harriet launches into a story she has never told Perdita – how she escaped Druhástrana and made it to England. It is a story made up of a mysterious girl in a well, changelings, gingerbread shivs, and a corrupt gingerbread factory owner that pay workers with fake money.

“Harriet ate a piece of gingerbread and tingled all over. It was a square meal and a good night’s sleep and a long, blood-spattered howl at the moon rolled into one.”

– Chapter 6, page 73

Actually trying to detail Oyeyemi’s plot feels like an impossible task. She has a talent with her storytelling and her prose that not only gets you to suspend your disbelief, but manages to get you to disregard it completely and allow Oyeyemi to lead you down the rabbit hole of a strange and bewildering adventure that, when you really think about it, doesn’t always make sense. But that’s what is so extraordinary and breathtaking about this book – the fact that it reads almost like a fever dream at times, and yet you find yourself nodding along and flipping to the next page with your breath held in suspense anyway.

It can be easy to fall into the cliches of Gothic Fantasy (although, give me a classic haunted house story and I am always 100% on board), but Oyeyemi manages to avoid this by twisting the typical themes and tropes into another shape, and by adding an element to her story that a lot of people don’t normally associate with the Gothic – light-heartedness. While the book is strange and dark at times, it’s impossible to not have affection for the characters. Readers learn that Harriet has adopted a habit of leaving five star reviews on books she hasn’t read simply because she likes the author photo, and she started doing this after learning her students do the same thing, but with one-star reviews instead. “Opposing random negativity with random positivity,” is how Harriet classifies the act in her mind. And then there’s one of the underlying messages of the story – that a person holds the power to create their own family. “Not some sham family, politely avoiding having to care about one another,” Oyeyemi writes, “but people who would share a surname and the task of weaving a collective meaning into that name. People would support and protect and staunchly cherish one another.”

This book proves that Oyeyemi is an author we can continue to expect greatness from. She’s creating a recipe of her own when it comes the Fantasy genre – and I for one will be along for the ride, purchasing whatever book Oyeyemi writes next. While Gingerbread might not be the best starting point for new readers (I would recommend starting with her short stories to get a feel for her storytelling that’s a little easier to navigate), it is more than worth any resulting confusion from all of the delicious reality bending.

My rating:

9 Gingerbread Recipes out of 10

-Sara

Book Review | King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Genre : Fantasy, Young Adult
Date Published : January 29, 2019
Publisher : Macmillan

I first heard of Leigh Bardugo when I attended the amazing Sirens conference in October 2018. Bardugo was one of four amazing keynote speakers at the conference, and I immediately fell for this extremely witty, badass, and inspiring writer. She talked about Mediocre White Men, the extra work that women have to put into the world in order to be seen and heard, and how it’s never too late to chase your dreams of being a writer. I was (and continue to be) blown away by her honesty and openness about the writing and publishing world ~ and if you don’t follow her already on Twitter, you absolutely should.

During Bedtime Stories on the first night of Sirens, Bardugo read an excerpt from her (then) forthcoming book, King of Scars, the first installment in the Nikolai Duology. It was HILARIOUS and cheeky and I was just so taken with her that I vowed to read everything Bardugo had ever written. In the talkback after her keynote, someone in the audience asked what order they should reader her books in if they were new to the Grishaverse. Bardugo responded: Start with Six of Crows, then Crooked Kingdom, then King of Scars – and if you’re still in love after reading those books, go back and read the Shadow & Bone Trilogy. Following her suggestion, I devoured Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in just a few weeks (they were SO GOOD!!), then waited (im)patiently for King of Scars to release in January.

Like the Six of Crows duology, King of Scars is written in shifting POVs, this time following the stories of Nikolai Lantsov (King of Ravka/monster boy), Zoya Nazyalensky (Grisha general/general badass), Nina Zenik (Waffle-lover/Death witch/My One True Love), and Isaak (Ravkan soldier/total sweetie pie). Nikolai and Zoya’s storylines flow together, following them as they work to maintain peace, stability, and power in Ravka – all while searching for a cure to the curse that turns Nikolai into a bloodthirsty monster when he falls asleep at night. Nina’s storyline is a bit disconnected (physically and thematically) from the others, following her on her mission as an undercover agent in Fjerda, where she is helping Grisha refugees flee to Ravka.

“The monster is me and I am the monster.”

Chapter 30, page 446

King of Scars is a hefty book – at just over 500 pages, it was the longest book I’d read in awhile, and it took me about two weeks to get through. I was a bit intimidated by the length at first, but Bardugo paces the novel so expertly that it never felt like it was dragging (if anything, by the time I was finished I was wishing there were even more chapters to read!). There were a few moments while reading where I wondered if it would have been better to start with Shadow & Bone trilogy first, making the moments dealing with Ravkan history and the Darkling a bit more more digestible. Luckily, Bardugo does such an excellent job at positioning us in the story that I never felt truly overwhelmed by the worldbuilding (looking at you, Lord of the Rings).

The one issue I had with King of Scars was the sometimes overwhelmingly large cast of characters (I still can’t keep the twins Tolya and Tamar straight) but each character is so lovingly constructed that, in the end, I was OK with it. Bardugo makes everything so goddamn enjoyable to read that any issues I had quickly faded into the background as I read on to find out what happened next.

We briefly met Nikolai and Zoya in Crooked Kingdom, and I loved learning more about these characters up close. Zoya is so fierce and amazing and I loved watching her come into her power and learn more about her backstory. Nikolai is such an absolute doll, and all of his interactions with Zoya were a delight to read. Even though Nina’s chapters sometimes felt separate from the story as a whole, they were probably my favorite chapters to read – they made me so nostalgic for Six of Crows! I loved watching Nina learn more about her new Grisha powers – and I am so very excited about her blossoming crush and friendship with Hanna.

The tension in Nina’s storyline was heightened by the reintroduction of Jarl Brum – the baddie from Six of Crows, and one of the most terrifying villains I’ve read in awhile (even moreso than the Darkling). I’m eager to see how Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina’s storylines converge in the next installment in the series – I can already tell it’s going to be amazing. While I wait for the second book, I definitely plan on catching up on the Shadow & Bone trilogy and then snatching up Bardugo’s new thriller Ninth House when it comes out this October!

If you’re already in love with the Grishaverse, King of Scars definitely does not disappoint. If you’re looking for a new series to read, I highly recommend starting first with Six of Crows and then working your way to King of Scars. Trust me – it is so very worth it.

My rating:

9 Ketterdam waffles out of 10

-Emory

Two Sisters. Infinite Books.

I’m Emory – I currently live in Columbus, Ohio, where I put my Shakespeare Studies MA to good use as an ice cream scooper/jewelry maker and Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer. When I’m not working, I volunteer at visiting author events, attend monthly Feminist Sci-Fi Bookclub meetings, and co-run a local writing group. My ideal book contains robots, magic, and a whole lotta bisexuals!

I reached out to my sister Sara about starting a book blog because, I’ll be honest, my master’s degree drained all the joy of reading right out of me. After graduating in 2016, I floated aimlessly from job to job until one day I realized what was missing from my life – my love of writing and reading. This past spring, I was lucky enough to get a grant from my city’s arts council to attend Sirens, an AMAZING conference dedicated to women/nonbinary folks who read and write SFF. This conference reignited my passion for reading and inspired me to get more involved in the writing/publishing/book-blogging community.

As a writer and reader, I am on a never-ending journey to diversify what I create and consume. My book choices for this blog will feature Sci-Fi/Fantasy books written by women, writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers, writers with disabilities, and all of the varying intersections of these identities. I’m so excited to broaden the scope of my reading and challenge myself with new perspectives and ideas.

Aside from reviewing books, I’m also interested in writing about building community as a reader and writer (online or in person). I recently co-founded a local writer’s group and began regularly attending a monthly book club – these two additions to my life have changed so much about how I approach writing and reading. I’m excited to talk more about the idea of creating ‘literary communities’ and how they can change and evolve over time!

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I’m Sara, currently living in the DMV area where I am working towards my MA in Publishing at George Washington University. Why publishing, you ask? Well, as I told my professor when he asked me the same question – I love books, I love talking about books, and I have pretty good taste in books, so the publishing industry seemed like the natural route to take. On top of school, I’m also interning at Oghma Creative Media as an editorial intern, where I do everything from working with authors on plot and character development in the early stages of their manuscript, to the final galley edits of a novel where I see if there’s any missing commas. To fill the rest of my free time, I also work in retail!

When Emory reached out to me asking if I wanted to do a book blog, my immediate reactions were excitement and a weird sense of relief, because I knew this was an opportunity that would get me back into the habit of reading. After completing my BA in English last summer, I felt unmotivated when it came to reading and writing. And now that I’m doing my MA in Publishing, when I find myself with free time I’m usually playing video games or binging a new Netflix show. I work best on a schedule, so a book blog seemed like the perfect way to get back into my love of reading and writing.

One of the other reasons I’m excited to begin this book-blogging journey is to further expand on the types of books I read. I’ve always been into YA Fantasy and Gothic fiction, but have only dipped my toes into the Sci-Fi genre. When it comes to Fantasy, nothing hooks me faster than a group of unlikely heroes with magical abilities roaming their world on a destiny-filled quest. As for Sci-Fi – I’m not sure what I like, but if there’s space and robots (think Pacific Rim), then I’m all in.

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There’s so many glorious books out there to be read – and we can’t wait to start this blogging adventure with you!