Book Review | The True Queen by Zen Cho

Genre : Historical Fantasy
Date Published : March 12, 2019
Publisher : Ace Books

I picked up Zen Cho’s first novel The Sorcerer to the Crown waaaaay back in 2016. I was living in London, finishing up my dissertation, and in desperate need of a light-hearted book to get me through the week. A Waterstones employee handed me a copy, describing it as “Harry Potter plus Jane Austen…but better….” and so of course I had to buy it! I fell completely in love with Zen Cho’s beautiful prose and exceptional world-building, and I was so excited to hear that its companion novel The True Queen was coming out this year!

The True Queen is technically a stand-alone novel with only a few spoilers for Sorcerer to the Crown (I didn’t know this going into it, so I frantically reread Sorcerer the week before The True Queen came out – but literally no regrets!). It follows sisters Muna and Sakti, who survive a terrible storm off the coast of Janda Baik and wake on the beach to find that they have no memories. All they know is that Sakti has magic and Muna has absolutely none at all. They’re taken in by the witch Mak Gengang (ARGUABLY THE BEST CHARACTER OF ALL TIME) who tries to restore their memories to no avail. After discovering that Sakti is under a dangerous curse, Muna and Sakti are sent to England for safe-keeping. On their journey, Sakti mysteriously disappears into the world of the Unseen (aka Fairy) leaving Muna on her own in England to discover a way to save her sister. Regency hijinks ensue. (Said hijinks includes two – yes TWO – glamorous balls this time around, so put on your dancing shoes, y’all).

Much like Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen deftly deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and imperialism. In order to find and save her sister Sakti, Muna is forced to navigate an inherently racist and sexist “high society” on her own – all while keeping up the illusion that she has magical powers. The magic in this novel is also particularly thrilling – I loved seeing Cho expand on the mythos of Janda Baik, and the different ways in which characters from different parts of the world viewed the same thing (the Unseen VS Fairy // Malaysian approaches to magic VS English approaches to magic) and how these worlds intertwine.

“I don’t dislike cabbage,” Muna found herself saying, “but I should not consider marrying it. Not disliking seems a poor foundation for future happiness.” 

I went into The True Queen expecting it to start where Sorcerer left off. I was a teeny tiny bit disappointed that we didn’t see more of Prunella and Zacharias, BUT once I was a few chapters in, I really became immersed in the story. I loved how democratic Cho was with her POV choices – the majority of the story takes place from Muna’s POV, but we also get to see into the minds of Prunella, Rollo, Henrietta, Clarissa, Georgiana Without Ruth, and even Henrietta’s father (which is probably the most hilarious scene in the entire novel). Seeing all of these brilliant side characters more fully fleshed out was such a pleasure, and makes me very excited for the as of yet untitled third book in the series!!

Also, SPOILERS, but my favorite part of The True Queen is the love story we get at the end between Muna and Henrietta! I wish it had been incorporated a bit sooner and that we’d gotten to see more of Muna’s affections for Henny, but I was SOOOO stoked that we got a F/F relationship in this book!!!!! Queer Regency Fantasy is truly the only thing I want in my life right now, and I was so delighted by this literal gift from Zen Cho! The last few pages made my heart sing, and I am going to be recommending this book for the rest of my life.

My rating:

8.5 Queer Dragon Sisters out of 10

-Emory

Book Review | Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Genre : Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy Fiction
Date Published : September 29, 2015
Publisher : Henry Holt and Company

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows (the first in a duology) was lended to me by Emory when she came down to visit in February, because, as she put it many times, “You’re going to love it!” (And spoiler alert, I 100% did). Reading Six of Crows made me so grateful that Emory and I started this blog, because I honestly don’t know when I would I have read the book if we didn’t. When she initially lent it to me, I was still in my spring semester of classes, then after that I started a new job and internship, and I think if I didn’t have a deadline to stick to, I wouldn’t have been motivated to pick up a book and read it. But once I picked up Six of Crows, I didn’t want to put it down, and I sped through it in a span of four days and already want to read it again!

When I first started the book and found out that it was told through a total of six different viewpoints (with the opening and closing chapters being told through the POV of two minor characters) I did have an “oh no” moment, because getting into the minds of even more than two characters can sometimes be difficult. But Bardugo more than pulls it off, and utilizes the shifting POV to show that characters are not only keeping secrets from each other, but from the reader as well. And what is even more impressive is that I found myself equally invested in everyone’s chapters, never wanting to speed through one character’s chapter to skip to the next one (which I often find myself doing in multiple POV books).

The six main characters are made of up Kaz, an infamous thief known as Dirtyhands, Inej, a spy who is known as “The Wraith” because of her incredible stealth, Wylan, the rich kid of the group who also has impressive engineering skills, Jesper, a sharpshooter who spends a lot of time gambling or flirting with Wylan, Nina, a Heartrender in the Grisha army, and Matthias, a Grisha hunter (who, you know, of course has a crush on Nina). It’s an eclectic and diverse group, and Bardugo not only includes LGBTQ+ characters and characters with disabilities within it, but showcases them (which is something that is severely underused in the fantasy genre). I was worried going into the book that there were going to be too many characters to juggle, but Bardugo’s knowledge and love of her characters is clear throughout the entire novel, making it easy for a reader to care about the characters just as much.

This group of six criminals are pulled into a plot that sets up a classic heist story that I am 100% on board for. There a secrets and betrayals and plot twists, but also banter and romance and action, and none of it ever felt overwhelming or unnecessary, because Bardugo goes to great lengths to give each character depth and a backstory that explains their actions. What’s even more impressive is how amoral all of the characters are, and yet, you still care about them! And the prose is just as good as the plot – Bardugo is a master storyteller, and I was honestly blown away by this book in almost every aspect.

“Nina made herself face them. She had her reasons, but did they matter? And who were they to judge her? She straightened her spine, lifted her chin. She was a member of the Dregs, an employee of the White Rose, and occasionally a foolish girl, but before anything else she was a Grisha and a soldier.”

Chapter 30, page 244

It’s almost hard for me to pick a favorite character, but I have to say that Nina was the standout for me (with Kaz and Inej close behind). While her storyline did revolve around romance a little too much for my taste at times, Nina is still the character I wanted to follow into another adventure after finishing the book. She’s complex and she’s tough and, as the above quote shows, she can also be “a foolish girl” sometimes. She’s also one of the funnier characters in the book, with lines that had me laughing out loud. Her love of food (especially waffles!) and her terrible singing voice were additional traits that made her super relatable to me. It was so refreshing to meet a character that is made up of all of these things, because it made her feel incredibly real. I definitely wouldn’t complain if Bardugo were to do a spin-off with Nina as the main character!

Six of Crows technically takes place in the same world as Bardugo’s Grishaverse books, but in a different time frame and location, so it can be read as a standalone. There were a few worldbuilding details and language/vocabulary that I was confused by, but overall you don’t need to be familiar with Bardugo’s other works to love this one. And I did love it! When a book has a big, dysfunctional group of amazing characters going on one big adventure together – there’s nothing that hooks me faster! I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, Crooked Kingdom (Hey, Emory, mail it to me!!! Lol).

My rating:

9 crows out of 10

-Sara

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

Book Review | The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

Genre : High Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Date Published : January 22, 2019
Publisher : Harper Voyager

For my first ever book review, I chose S.A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper. It is the second book in her Daevabad Trilogy, an epic fantasy series set in an alternate eighteenth century Egypt. I read the first book, The City of Brass, after my sister Mary loaned it to me, and I fell in love with it immediately. After finishing, I loaned it to my mom, and as soon as she was done, I took it back and loaned it to Emory. And then, to complete the circle, Emory gave it back to Mary this past Christmas in preparation for The Kingdom of Copper being released. So it was that kind of book – the kind of book that you pass around, shoving it into someone else’s hands while saying, “You have to read this!” And The Kingdom of Copper did not fail to make me feel the same way. I reached out to all the people I knew had read the first book and asked for their thoughts – I needed to talk someone about this amazing series that reminded me of all the reasons I love fantasy so much.

The book begins right where the story left off, using the same alternating POV form that the first book introduced. If, like me, you haven’t read The City of Brass since it initially came out, you may find yourself a tad confused/unable to remember some key world-building details. Luckily, Chakraborty includes a glossary of people and terms in the front and back of the book, which I highly recommend for refreshing your memory. It brings you up to speed on the history of the six tribes of the djinn, as well as the reigns of different rulers in Daevabad – ranging from the human prophet Suleiman (who used a magic seal to subdue and control the djinn) to the current ruler, King Ghassan, who, well, is not a nice guy, to put it frankly. Now, onto the book! (Warning for slight spoilers for The City of Brass).

Chakraborty immediately catches you up with our three main characters, Nahri, Ali, and (kind of a spoiler alert, but also not, since it was heavily hinted that he’d be back) Dara. But as soon as you get re-introduced to everyone, the book jumps five years into the future, forcing the reader to quickly adjust to the new (and very bleak) realities facing the characters.

After a failed escape that resulted in losing both her lover and her closest friend (with one ‘killing’ the other), Nahri has been forced to marry the crown prince Muntadhir, aligning herself with the royal family that de-throned her own. Every move she makes is under scrutiny, and this makes her desire to help and protect the Shafit (beings of both djinn and human ancestry, who are treated as less than second-class citizens) near impossible. But of course that doesn’t stop her from trying. Ali, who has been exiled for treason, finds a new home deep in the desert where he explores the mysterious and increasingly dangerous powers he gained at the end of the first book. Dara, who now has his own chapters, has been brought back by Manizheh (the original Nahid) to help train an army to take back Daevabad from King Ghassan. This puts him once again at odds with Ali – since, you know, he’s the exiled prince and all.

We see the characters grow in their individual plots, making new alliances and friendships with beautifully developed side characters that we only got glimpses of in the first book. The alternating POV form allows us to see how none of the original three characters seem to be on the same side when it comes to the future of Daevabad. This forces the reader to question who is right and who is wrong, while simultaneously wanting all of them to be happy. I’m still not sure who I was rooting for! The three plot lines can feel like a lot to keep up with, and at times it feels like Chakraborty keeps the main characters apart (and unaware of each other’s fates) for too long – but when their storylines finally converge after all the build up, the payoff is worth it.

“Rage ripped through her. And just like that, her magic was there. The smoky binds that had dared to confine her – her, in her own damned palace – abruptly burst apart, and Nahri inhaled, suddenly aware of every brick and stone and mote of dust in the building around her. The walls erected by her ancestors, the floors that had run black with their blood.” (Chapter 38, page 565)

Keeping with the theme of familial bonds and betrayals, as well as exploring colonization, genocide, and the racial and ethnic prejudices present in her first book, Chakraborty raises the emotional stakes even more in The Kingdom of Copper to bring out the best and, unfortunately, the worst in her characters. At almost 650 pages, there’s a lot to take in, and it can feel overwhelming at times, but what kept me turning the pages was how invested I was in all of the characters. Nahri, in a refreshing development, is learning how to play the game of politics that is always afoot in Daevabad. We see her start to come into the full potential she has as the Banu Nahida (the title bestowed upon the female healer of the Nahid), while also discovering the true strength of her magical abilities. Ali flounders at times, still showing a lot of the naïveté that Nahri has lost since the first book, but he is endearing and has come into his own in a way that I want to see more of. Dara is the wild card in this book, making the most questionable choices, and yet the emotional turmoil he experiences and his feelings for Nahri keep him from becoming entirely unsympathetic.

Chakraborty ends her second book with what might just be her most noticeable trademark – an agonizing cliffhanger that leaves readers needing the next book in their hands as soon as possible. But with the third and final book, The Empire of Gold, not hitting shelves until 2021, readers will have a long time to wait. My suggestion until then? Pick up The City of Brass if you haven’t already, and then grab The Kingdom of Copper as soon as you finish. The books don’t disappoint.

My rating:

7.5 Suleiman Seals out of 10

-Sara

Book Review | Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Genre : Magical Realism, Horror
Date Published : October 3, 2017
Publisher : Graywolf Press

For my first ever book review for Sister Shelf, I decided to review a short story collection that means a lot to me: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. I first picked up this collection in October 2018, right around the time I was getting back into writing short stories myself, and it reopened my eyes to how joyously weird writing can be. When the Feminist Sci Fi Book Club I recently started attending chose this collection as its February 2019 read – the same month Sara and I decided to start this blog – it seemed like the universe was shouting at me: review this strange and unsettling little book!!!

I knew only two things going into this collection: it was supposed to be 1) Super Spooky and 2) Super Queer. Machado did not disappoint. Through the lens of magical realism, Machado explores the many ways in which women’s bodies (in all their forms) are mistreated, exploited, and controlled. The stories in this collection are unique and expansive – a woman inventories her past lovers to keep herself sane during the apocalypse; two women make a baby (or do they…???); an epidemic causes all women on the earth to slowly fade away; and, of course, there’s the 272 (yes, that’s two hundred and seventy two) vignettes inspired by every single episode of Law & Order: SVU.

My favorite story in the collection is “The Husband Stitch” – a retelling of the classic folktale about the girl with the green ribbon around her neck. This story felt like it was being whispered to me by my best friend at a middle school slumber party while I, being the whimp that I am, alternated between telling her to stop when it got too scary and begging her to finish the rest. Machado seamlessly weaves countless fairytales and urban legends into this piece (the hook-handed man, the girl raised by wolves, the girl who dies of fright in cemetery) and by the end they all begin to run together with one common theme: women are punished for simply existing as women.

“He is not a bad man, and that, I realize suddenly, is the root of my hurt. He is not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would do a deep disservice to him. And yet – ” (The Husband Stitch, p. 30)

On my reread of this collection, what I enjoyed most was the unabashed queerness of each and every story (on the first read, I enjoyed having my pants scared off me!!). The queerness present in Machado’s stories breathes life back into the sometimes unbearably violent collection. For all the horrible and unthinkable things that happen to women in this collection, Machado also gives them the ability to feel pleasure and joy. And, let me tell you, these stories are sexy. Super spooky, yes, but so so sexy (which, honestly, is such a #LifeGoal).

When we discussed this collection at book club in February, our usual hour-long meeting extended to over two hours, and we still had more to talk about. That’s how Her Body and Other Parties leaves me feeling each time I pick it up – that maybe, just maybe, if I read it again I will find some answers to life’s many questions. Or, at the very least, give myself a very good scare.

My rating:

9 Madwomen in the Attic out of 10.

-Emory