Welcome to Pride Month at the Lesbrary!

Pride Month at the Lesbrary

Happy Pride Eve! Of course, at the Lesbrary we celebrate sapphic books all year long, but Pride is the one time of year that queer books get a spotlight, and this year, we want to take advantage of that!

To celebrate, the Lesbrary will be posting an article every day in June! Some will be re-posts of content you might have missed, some will be updated versions of previous posts, and some will be brand new. This is in addition to the regular features like reviews, so some days will have two posts go up. So check back every day in June for posts like: sapphic mermaid books, F/F romances by Black authors, queer lit lost in the fire, and lots more.

I’m also hoping to use this time to promote the Lesbrary Patreon! By supporting the Lesbrary for $2 a month, you get entered in monthly giveaways of sapphic books–and I have a huge stack I can’t wait to get to a good home! You also get access to the Lesbrary Discord channel, where we have a little community of nerds who love queer books. $10 and up Patrons get a monthly lesbian pulp fiction postcard from me in the mail, as well as a guaranteed sapphic book every three months (on top of the giveaways). Or you can pledge $25 to become an Honorary Lesbrarian and get a sapphic book in the mail every month, on top of the other rewards.

With the rise in anti-LGBTQ book bans, now is the perfect time to celebrate Pride by stocking up on queer books and books by queer authors and recommending them to others, so get ready to see your TBR grow. And while you’re doing that, make sure to show up to your local school board and library board meetings to fight for the freedom to read. Here’s an anti-censorship tool kit that has more info on fighting book bans.

Happy Pride! And be sure to come back every day in June for more sapphic book recs!

F/F Romance + Community Service + Cheeky British Humor = 200 Hours by Natasha West

the cover of 200 Hours

Natasha West’s 200 Hours is the kind of romcom that I would happily lead the crowdfunding effort in order to see on the screen. Set in the UK, West’s motley crew of characters evokes The Breakfast Club’s dynamic of different walks of life all thrust together. Instead of high school detention, we’re bonding over community service for minor infractions, with lots of cheeky British humor and a side of angst. Teetering somewhere in between a new adult and YA, our main characters are just out of high school, yet with more life experience than perhaps the average young adult. 

West deploys some classic tropes of rich girl/poor girl with our main characters, who couldn’t be more different from each other in how they handle and view the world—the thing they happen to have in common is making bad decisions. The trope really works here because West uses it skillfully but doesn’t rely on it for everything, giving all her characters, even the side characters, lots of depth and, of course, more than a few witty one-liners. 

Lola Morgan is our resident bad girl from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks with young Amy Winehouse vibes, sans the music career. From an outsider’s perspective—an outsider like the posh and somewhat naive Abby Granger who’s landed herself 200 hours of community service—Lola appears to have nothing but swagger and devil may care attitude. But as we alternate perspectives, we immediately see a ton of vulnerability and a person who may care a little too much. In taking care of her sister and mom, Lola hasn’t been taking care of herself. 

As West alternates chapters switching between our two main characters, we get a  good look at what makes both Abby and Lola tick, though Lola is an especially sympathetic character, in part because of her fierce protectiveness over her family, and even over perfect strangers if she feels they’re being bullied. As for Abby, who comes from money but is the poster child for “money doesn’t buy happiness,” we see plenty of growth and personal development, though she struggles and sometimes backslides in her lack of confidence. While Lola is learning to be vulnerable, Abby is learning to stand up for herself and stop letting the world dictate the terms of her life. Somewhere along the way, a friendship is forged, and romance follows. 

The book ending did lean a little hard into the “we had what we were looking for all along” vibe, but that may be my one complaint. West makes up for it by giving us the most ridiculously satisfying happy ending that pulls no punches. Parents finally step up, a little justice is served, and love prevails.  

Feral Sapphic SFF, Plus-Sized Yuri Leads, High Femme Camp, and More Lesbrary Links

I follow hundreds of queer book blogs to scout out the best sapphic book news and reviews! Many of them get posted on Tumblr and Twitter as I discover them, but my favourites get saved for these link compilations. Here are some of the posts I’ve found interesting in the last few weeks.

This Is How You Lose the Time War cover
the cover of The Unbroken
The Jasmine Throne cover
the cover of A Long Time Dead
the cover of  She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Yuzaki Sakaomi

Just 11 People Nationwide Responsible for Majority of LGBTQ Book Challenges

LGBTQ Reads celebrated Pan Visibility Day with this list of pansexual books!

Feral Sapphic Sci-fi and Fantasy

On Reclaiming Vampires as Queer and Jewish

What Queer Parenting Memoirs Teach Us About Motherhood

The joyful affirmation of plus-sized leads in yuri

the cover of Girls Like Girls
the cover of Dykette
the audiobook cover of Dykes to Watch Out For
the cover of Homebodies
the cover of the Tegan and Sara Junior High graphic novel

Roxane Gay, Carrie Brownstein, Roberta Colindrez, Jane Lynch To Star in Audible Adaptation of Dykes To Watch Out For

The Color Purple Trailer Is Here, But Is It Queer?

Read and Listen to Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko Book Excerpt

In Dykette, Jenny Fran Davis Makes Her Contribution to the Lesbian Lexicon (Vanity Fair)

Dykette Has Plenty of High Femme Camp Antics

Homebodies Examines “the Risks of Speaking Truth to Power”

Tegan and Sara’s Junior High Brings Their Origin Story to a Graphic Novel

This post has the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even more links, check out the Lesbrary’s Twitter! We’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

If you’d like more LGBTQ lit links, subscribe to my Book Riot newsletter: Our Queerest Shelves! I round up the newest LGBTQ book news as well as the most exciting queer new releases out this week, plus each newsletter comes with an exclusive queer books post from me.

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon at $2 or more a month and be entered to win a queer women book every month, plus $10 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year!

An Epic Queer Fantasy With Some Uncomfortable Straightness: A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon

the cover of A Day of Fallen Night

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Samantha Shannon’s high fantasy novel Priory of the Orange Tree made a pretty big splash when it came out in 2019. Not only did it have detailed and expansive worldbuilding that supported a rich cast of compelling characters, the book was also huge—a full 830 pages long. I’ve heard some criticisms of Priory’s length in particular, but the novel has a lot of devoted fans nevertheless. Shannon’s fantasy world is built around a fresh interpretation of the story of Saint George and the dragon, and Priory did a great job describing religions and worldviews in conflict while telling a complex story about unprepared and individually weak people working together to defeat an existential threat. Clamor for more books in this world filled the internet, especially in the first year of the pandemic; Shannon delivered earlier this year with A Day of Fallen Night, a prequel set nearly 500 years before the events of Priory of the Orange Tree. I was moderately enthused by the news—I wasn’t entirely sure at first that a prequel would be able to hold a lot of suspense, considering how effectively I remembered Priory establishing and then shattering the status quo of its setting. I remained optimistic, however, until about a third of the way through the book, at which point disappointment started to set in.

Now to be clear, I don’t think A Day of Fallen Night is a bad book. I think perhaps the overall plot is a little weaker than Priory, mostly due to the characters never really knowing as much about what is going on as a reader who remembers Priory does. But the smaller stories and character work makes up for it, and Shannan makes a solid return to the genre of doorstopper fantasy novels (868 pages, if you were wondering). No, my issue with A Day of Fallen Night is much more personal, and it comes down to bloodlines. Three of the four viewpoint characters are the ancestors of characters from Priory, which means they have to have children—whether they want them or not.

It’s rare that I look at an original fantasy setting and think, “why isn’t this society homophobic?” Usually we have the opposite problem—oppression and prejudice included in fantasy worlds when they really don’t have to be. But it was Shannon’s increased inclusion of socially accepted gay, bi, trans, and nonbinary characters in A Day of Fallen Night that made me realize that the values and mores of her fictional societies really should lead to social stigma around those identities. The unfortunate result of this dissonance is that societal and religious forces pressure two of the main characters, a lesbian woman and an asexual girl, into having sex with men and giving birth to children—and the text can’t really treat this like a problem. Only in the last quarter of the book that a third viewpoint character, another lesbian who also faces this pressure to reproduce (but is never forced to), expresses how traumatizing such an event would be; but for the two other women, the horror of the situation is only acknowledged belatedly in the epilogue for one and not at all for the other.

I want to stress that all things considered, this is a relatively minor aspect of the novel. And I actually do admire Shannon’s ability to write characters of differing faiths compassionately and without irony. But the overall inclusiveness of her societies makes their intense compulsory heterosexuality feel weirdly uncriticized. If you enjoyed Priory of the Orange Tree mostly for the politics, the characters, or the dragons, then maybe this won’t be a dealbreaker for you. But for me, what made all those things sing was a lesbian romance to tie them all together, and A Day of Fallen Night nearly lost me multiple times on that account. There was simply almost too much uncomfortable straightness getting in the way.

Content Warnings: childbirth, plague, violence, sex

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends her spare time playing and designing tabletop roleplaying games. You can follow her @LavenderSam on tumblr.

For Nerdy Queer Teens Past and Present: Out of Character by Jenna Miller

the cover of Out of Character

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Talk about a painfully relatable read. I’m almost glad this wasn’t around when I was a teen, because I’m not sure I could handle reading it then!

Cass is a fat, nerdy queer teenager who is obsessed with a book series and roleplays as one of the characters in an online community. I was a fat nerdy queer teen who was obsessed with a book series and roleplayed in an online community! She’s a chronic overthinker, I’m a chronic overthinker. Needless to say, I cared a lot about Cass and felt protective of her while reading.

Cass has escaped into the world of roleplaying to avoid her parents’ fighting. Then, at the very beginning of the book, her mom sits her down to have a conversation. She met someone online, and she’s moving to be with him and divorcing Cass’s dad. She immediately gets up and drives off to another state. I feel like I was more angry at her than Cass was.

Her mother was the most important person her life, the one who overdoes holidays and ropes her and her dad into a million traditions, the one who was there for her in all her lowest moments. She was a central pillar of Cass’s life—and she just drives off after a five minute conversation. I won’t spoil anything, but she hardly gets in touch with Cass at all after that.

Needless to say, Cass is devastated. So she spends even more time in her roleplay world. She stays up late, ignoring her homework and checking her phone constantly. She’s struggled with gaming addiction before, so she keeps this part of her life from her dad and her IRL friends, because she can’t stand the idea of this being taken away from her.

Some of her best friends are online, and they are a big source of support. One of them is Rowan, who plays the other half of her ship, and they’ve always been there for each other. (Psst, I also roleplayed a gay couple with my best friend as a teen… I told you this was relatable.)

Then, something unexpected happens. Taylor, the girl Cass has had a crush on for the longest time, asks her out. Suddenly, she has a girlfriend. It’s not perfect timing, because Cass is struggling, but she’s not about to turn down this opportunity—even if Cass feels a little awkward with her, especially because she’s hiding both her online life and her family struggles from her.

The chapters are interspersed with roleplay scenes, which might not work for everyone, but was very nostalgic for me, and they nicely complemented what was happening in Cass’s AFK world.

As I mentioned, I felt so protective of Cass. Her and her dad are doing their best to make a new normal at home, so Cass hides how much she’s struggling. Her grades begin to drop, she forgets to apply to universities, and it feels like no one is noticing that she’s in free fall. My heart broke for her, and I understood completely why she felt helpless to reach out, especially as each problem compounded, making her life feel like a house of cards.

It was also nice to read about a main character who is so confident both in being fat and being a lesbian, especially as a teenager. There still aren’t many examples of that in media.

Although obviously I have talked a lot about Cass here, none of the characters felt one note—not even the peripheral ones, like Cass’s best friend’s girlfriend. It would be easy to write Taylor’s character in a way that excuses Cass not totally clicking with her, but she seems great, and I felt for her.

The conflict all comes from people having different perspectives, which are each valid. Cass’s roleplay friends are hurt and angry that she’s hiding them from the people in her life, for instance, which is understandable—even as Cass isn’t ready to have anyone question this part of her life.

While there are a lot of elements to this story, including family as well as romance, it was the friendships that stood out to me, and how seriously they’re taken. They’re often messy and imperfect, but they’re also so important to Cass, and they can be unexpected and beautiful even when they’re messy.

I highly recommend this for nerdy queer teens and those who once were nerdy queer teens—though I’m sure lots of other readers would enjoy it, too.

A Queer Abolitionist History: The Women’s House of Detention by Hugh Ryan

the cover of The Women's House of Detention

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Since the days of lesbian pulp fiction, Greenwich Village has been seen as a gay hub, a refuge for queer people from all over the country. In this book, Hugh Ryan shows that part of the reason for that is because from the 1920s to 70s, it held The Women’s House of Detention, a jail/prison for women and transmasculine people, and many of the people held there were queer.

At first glance, this seems like a narrow focus typical of a very academic book. But as each chapter looks at the prison through the decades, we see how this is a microcosm of broad social issues at the time. The story of The Women’s House of Detention is the story of LGBTQ liberation, and it also illustrates how prison abolition is a necessity.

In the introduction, the author explains how he began this research believing prisons need serious reform, but after seeing how prison reform over the decades in The Women’s House of Detention has only ever resulted in larger prisons with more people packed into them, he now believes abolition is the way forward. The prison was first built with smaller cells so that prisoners would have more privacy, each with their own cell–and then years later, they started keeping multiple people in each. A hospital was added–and then years later, it was gutted to make room for more cells. Then a hospital was reinstated. Then it was gutted again. Any attempts at reform always deteriorated with time.

Each chapter looks at a few of the queer people imprisoned during that decade, telling their stories–at least, what we know of them. It’s a fascinating look into the horrors of the criminal justice system, past and present, as well as the no-win situations these people were put in. Many of them return multiple times, because once they had a criminal record, they had no legal means of making money.

Since each chapter focuses on personal stories as a window into the lives of queer women and transmasculine people during that time period in New York, it makes this accessible and readable. We also get a look into queer communities in each decade, including how the people in The Women’s House of Detention participated in Stonewall and previous protests, even if few people saw or heard about it.

The Women’s House of Detention itself is a complicated place for many of the people imprisoned there: the conditions were horrible, but they also found a queer community there.

I haven’t read as much queer history as I would like, but this is one of my favourite books I’ve read on the topic, and I highly recommend it. The discussion about prison abolition versus reform is relevant to the conversations we’re having today, and seeing a timeline of how this push and pull has played out over a 50-year time period is helpful background. Both for the personal stories and the overall message, you should definitely pick this one up.

The Aftermath of Gay Conversion Camp: Tell the Rest by Lucy Jane Bledsoe

the cover of Tell the Rest

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In 2014, I read The Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe based solely on the fact that it was included on a book list called “Lesbians In Cold Places.” And you know what? That was a great decision, because I really enjoyed it. It was a slow-building character study set in Antarctica, with a queer main character, of course. So when I saw that she had a new sapphic book out today, I had to pick it up.

I have to start this with some heavy content warnings, because this is a book about conversion therapy and its aftermath. This review will discuss conversion camp and homophobia, and the book includes homophobia, abuse, rape, religious trauma, and suicide.

The book starts with two kids, a thirteen-year-old white girl and a sixteen-year-old Black teenage boy, running through the woods, trying to escape conversion camp. Then we flash forward to 25 years later.

Delia is fresh from a divorce and has just gotten fired as a college basketball coach. She’s also struggling with uncontrollable attacks of anger. She’s never felt so lost or out of control. So reluctantly, unbelievably, she drives across the country to her hometown in rural Oregon to move in with her brother and coach her old high school’s girls’ basketball team.

Her coach in high school was her hero. She gave Delia a path to follow, skills to develop, and a passion to nurture. Since then, basketball and the discipline she has around it has been her guiding light in her life. Maybe she’s hoping that by confronting her past, she can address the anger issues she’s having. Maybe she wants to step into her old coach’s shoes and inspire a new generation of kids. Maybe she just has nowhere else to go. Whatever the reason, she’s determined to take this team to victory, and she demands the best.

While I think this is Delia’s story, we do also get some point of view chapters from Earnest—the boy she escaped with. They never saw each other again after that night, but they both are still grappling with it and their experience at Celebration Camp. While Delia is at a difficult time in her life, though, grappling with her past, her personality, her anger, her family, her career, and more, Earnest seems more settled.
He has a job teaching poetry and a boyfriend he loves. The central tension in his story is struggling to write a poem about his experience at camp and their escape—something he’s been trying and failing to do for years.

As both of them find themselves needing to confront the past, it seems inevitable they will meet again. As we follow along with Delia and Earnest now, we also get chapters of their time at Celebration Camp, revealing more about the experience that had such an impact on them. Still, this is more about the ongoing effects of that experience than the camp itself.

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a light read. It feels like an open wound: Delia especially is still hurting so much and hasn’t gotten closure on it. Eventually, though, we do see her begin to work through it, accompanied by the glimpses of the lives of the teenage girls she’s coaching.

If you like to read character studies and quiet stories about working through trauma—and trying to lead a high school girls’ basketball team to glory, because that really is a big focus—I highly recommend this one. It’s a thoughtful, sometimes painful, but effective narrative, and it’s one that’s interesting to read after books like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, because this looks at not just the immediate horror, but the aftermath of being taught to hate yourself as a young person.

Lesbian Gladiators, LGBTQ Jewish Books, Essential Queer Comics, and More Lesbrary Links

a collage of the covers listed with the text Lesbrary Links: Bi & Lesbian Lit News and Reviews

I follow hundreds of queer book blogs to scout out the best sapphic book news and reviews! Many of them get posted on Tumblr and Twitter as I discover them, but my favourites get saved for these link compilations. Here are some of the posts I’ve found interesting in the last few weeks.

the cover of Brown Neon
the cover of Going Bicoastal
the cover of Chlorine
the cover of Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American
the cover of Buffalo is the New Buffalo

2023 Publishing Triangle Award Winners Announced

LGBTQ Reads: Happy Jewish American Heritage Month 2023! and Happy AAPI Heritage Month 2023!

20 Essential Queer Comics from the Past Five Years, According to a Queer Comics Creator

Literary Lovers: A Sapphic Reading List for Every Mood

Quiz: Which Queer Short Story Collection Should You Read?

These LGBTQ Reads Prove That Book Bans Are Regressive Trash

the cover of Moby Dyke
well of loneliness cover
the cover of Thirsty Sword Lesbians
the cover of She Drives Me Crazy
the cover of Our Hideous Progeny

Revisiting Radclyffe Hall’s Groundbreaking Lesbian Novel The Well of Loneliness, 95 years on

‘Thirsty Sword Lesbians’ Publisher Is Releasing a New Magical Girl Tabletop RPG!

She Drives Me Crazy Should Get a Shot at a Rom-Com Adaptation

C.E. McGill, author of Our Hideous Progeny, writes about queerness, monstrosity, and Frankenstein

the cover of Homebodies
the cover of I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself
the cover of Rosewater
the cover of Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer

Tembe Denton-Hurst was interviewed about Homebodies at ELLE.

Marisa Crane’s new novel is a queer dystopia, but they’re dreaming of a queer paradise

Liv Little on her debut queer novel Rosewater and LGBTQ history

Cosmoknights Hannah Templer on Her Space Opera Comic about Lesbian Gladiators Battling Against the Patriarchy

the cover of Stars Collide
the cover of If Tomorrow Doesn't Come
the cover of Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl
the cover of This is the Way the World Ends

Stars Collide Is a Fun, Layered Queer Romance About Pop Stars Falling in Love

In Lesbian YA Debut If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come, Teen Girls Find Love in the Midst of an Asteroid Barreling Toward Earth

Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl Is a Swoony Queer Neurodiverse Romance

Autistic Teen Girl Takes On the Rich and Powerful in Queer YA Thriller This Is The Way The World Ends

This post has the covers linked to their Amazon pages. If you click through and buy something, I might get a small referral fee. For even more links, check out the Lesbrary’s Twitter! We’re also on FacebookGoodreadsYoutube and Tumblr.

If you’d like more LGBTQ lit links, subscribe to my Book Riot newsletter: Our Queerest Shelves! I round up the newest LGBTQ book news as well as the most exciting queer new releases out this week, plus each newsletter comes with an exclusive queer books post from me.

Support the Lesbrary on Patreon at $2 or more a month and be entered to win a queer women book every month, plus $10 and up patrons get guaranteed books throughout the year!

A Con Artist at Grief Counselling: The Fake by Zoe Whittall

the cover of The Fake

Amazon Affiliate Link | Bookshop.org Affiliate Link

Zoe Whittall is a master at writing broody queer novels, and ever since reading Bottle Rocket Hearts, I just can’t resist them.

The description and first chapter of this might lead you to believe that it’s an action book or at least a mystery. Befriending a con artist sounds like the premise for anything from whacky hijinks to thriller territory. But while the first chapter has the main character hiding in her closet, afraid for her safety, this really isn’t a book about danger or mystery. Instead, it’s more of a character study about these people in awkward times in their lives.

After Shelby’s wife died, she couldn’t seem to find her way out of crushing grief and depression. She struggles to leave the house at all. One day, she finally works up the strength to visit a grief support group, which is where she meets Cammie. Cammie a breath of fresh air. She is energetic and adventurous, pulling Shelby out of her shell. That’s especially impressive given the long (long!) list of tragedies she’s gone through, including multiple family members’ deaths by suicide and her ongoing cancer treatment. And she always seems to find herself in bad situations at work. Shelby takes Cammie under her wing, inviting her to stay at her place. She’s happy to help her and to find something to distract from her grief.

We also get point of view chapters from Gibson, a forty-ish recently divorced man who meets Cammie at a bar and they start dating. He can’t believe this younger, attractive woman has fallen in love with him so quickly. It’s almost too good to be true—especially when she starts to demand more and more from him, guilting him if he refuses or even questions him.

When Gibson and Shelby finally meet, it’s not long before they realize that Cammie’s stories about the other are true, and that’s not the only thing she’s lying about.

I can imagine many people will find this a frustrating book, because the description basically tells you everything that happens. This is only around 200 pages, and it’s more sad than it is exciting. Shelby and Gibson are both lonely and vulnerable. Cammie is hard to pin down: is she deliberately cruel? Does she believe her own lies? We only get a little taste of her point of view in this story.

I especially liked Shelby’s struggle to decide the best way forward. Even when she’s hurt, she wants to help Cammie—but at what point do you have to cut your losses and face that this other person doesn’t want to change?

I haven’t met any con artists—that I know of!—but I think if you have had a relationship (friends, family, or romantic) with someone who is manipulative, you’ll find some uncomfortably relatable moments in the way Cammie keeps the people around her on her side—until it’s time to drop them and move on to the next marks.

The Fake isn’t a perfect fit for all readers, but if you like a glimpse into other people’s complicated psyches, though, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a slow-paced, thoughtful look at these three characters.

Sponsored Post: Kickstart This Sapphic Fairy Tale Visual Novel!

an illustration of Robin shooting an arrow

Red Rebellion is a sapphic fairy tale fantasy that follows Robin Hood and Red Riding Hood as they team up to save their village while navigating their growing feelings for each other. It combines magic and folklore with real history, and aims to accurately explore the lives of queer folk living in late Medieval England.

an illustration of two women touching foreheads and smiling

You can check out the demo (PC/Mac/Linux) here, which contains the first chapter of the story: https://aikasacolle.itch.io/red-rebellion

And you can learn more about the characters and setting in our ongoing Kickstarter campaign: https://bit.ly/3Hcrwpl

Our first, completed project is also available on the Kickstarter at a steep discount for backers: Mizuchi, a sapphic retelling of the Legend of the White Snake.

an image of three figures holding hands

The group behind these projects is Aikasa Studio, a queer, WOC-lead team that loves fairy tale retellings, and is dedicated to the representation of minority voices in historical fiction.

We’re also passionate about interactive fiction. We love being able to explore the different ways a story could end. Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books from your childhood? We create stories with choices – and also with sound, visuals and animation.

an image of two figures embracing while falling through the air, roses falling around them

Thank you for checking out Red Rebellion. We hope you’ll join us in making this fairy tale a reality!