Tierney reviews Can You Hear Me? by Geonn Cannon

Colonel Noa Laurie, sole survivor of the catastrophic failure of her space station, heads back into space once more on a mission to help eradicate space debris, on her own. She has volunteered to pilot the one-person Orbital Debris Independent Eradication (ODIE) engine, circling the Earth over the course of her two-year solo mission. She doesn’t expect to have contact with anyone but the scientists in charge of monitoring her progress, and the occasional classroom of schoolchildren interviewing her – so she gets a shock when her communication system is somehow connected with the old radio in Jamie Faris’s woodworking barn in rural Indiana.

As the ODIE orbits the Earth, the two are within each other’s range for an hour a day – and they soon come together every day to spend every minute of that hour talking (at least, when it doesn’t coincide with sleeping). Noa and Jamie’s unlikely friendship deepens, becomes a sort of flirtation, and then takes a turn for the romantic. The novel alternates sections showcasing them as they go about their daily lives, thousands of miles away from one another, and then as they come together to talk, share stories, flirt (and eventually, have radio-sex). But the impossible-to-surmount distance makes things difficult, and so does Jamie’s ex-husband Louis, who is hell-bent on getting back together with her: there are many obstacles for Noa and Jamie to overcome, if they want to make things work together.

Can You Hear Me? is a delightful slow-burn romance: the improbable premise is a lot of fun, without being too convoluted or hokey, and it allows Cannon to deftly develop Noa and Jamie’s relationship and deep emotional connection, making their emotions, hopes, and concerns feel real. Their communication veers effortlessly from sweet to sexy and back again: they are both truly delightful characters, who feel fully realized. The sections of the novel that delve into their separate lives help flesh them out, and make their very-long-distance relationship feel all the more poignant and true.

One misstep, that seemed all the more glaring given how sweet and moving the rest of the novel is, is a throwaway comment by Noa as she and Jamie are discussing the fact that Noa doesn’t know what Jamie looks like, having only ever heard her voice. She makes a crack about not caring as long as Jamie doesn’t have a penis, which is transphobic and entirely unnecessary (and not to mention a thoroughly tired remark). It’s regrettable that this comment was included at all, and that it isn’t addressed.

Can You Hear Me? does do a decent job of portraying Jamie’s bisexuality: it’s an important part of her identity, and it exists independently of the dissolution of her relationship with her ex-husband and her growing relationship with Noa. Her ex is an ass about her being in a relationship with a woman, but he’s pretty clearly a villain in the story. All the characters who matter to Jamie, including her sister, and Noa, don’t question or demean her sexuality.

And something Can You Hear Me? gets very right is the portrayal of Noa and Jamie as whole people. Their connection and their burgeoning relationship drive the plot, but they lead interesting, independent lives – lives separate from one another because of physical distance between them, but lives that they choose deliberately and tenderly to share with one another. The arc of their relationship is a pleasure to take in, but so is their development and growth as human beings.

Can You Hear Me? is a delightful and well-developed romance, with a fun premise and good pacing, that hits almost all the right notes. Noa and Jamie are both endearing characters, who make a relationship unfolding through radio conversations from thousands of miles away seem like the most natural thing in the world!

Whitney D-R reviews Motor Crush Volume 1

Domino Swift lives Nova Honda, a city where almost everyone lives and breathes racing.  You’re either a sponsored racer in the World Grand Prix or racing at night against biker gangs.

If you’re Domino Swift, you do both.

From the very first page, you’re rooting for Domino.  You want her to “crush” the competition, even if you’re first introduced to Domino when she’s racing a slew of biker gangs– and kicking all their butts.  These night races, called cannonballs, are a new definition of racing for pinks.  Instead of the pink slips to cars one would win at the end of a race, Domino is racing for a neon pink substance called crush.  Crush is mostly used to give a biker’s engine a boost, but Domino needs it to survive.

Domino must lead a double life and it causes contention with the people she loves, namely her ex-girlfriend, Lola.  (Though I hope they’ll get back together in the next volume.) Even though they’re not together, you can tell the love is still there between them.  Domino still tries to protect Lola when she’s get in trouble with some loan sharks.  They initially broke up because Domino kept Lola in the dark about her nightly activities and who she really is.  Lola wanted an all-open, honest relationship with Domino or nothing at all.  But how can Domino be honest when she doesn’t even know who she is or where she came from?

How can you tell the woman you’re in love with that when you take a neon drug meant for motors, you become one with the speed force?  Is she some human-machine hybrid?

There’s more questions than answers so far in this series, but you’ll be instantly sucked into to this high-stakes world.  The art is vivid and gorgeous, the storyline easy to follow, and I can’t wait for the next volume.


Shira Glassman reviews That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole

                         Alyssa Cole’s drawing of her characters

That Could Be Enough, the lesbian offering in the early American romance collection Hamilton’s Battalion, is everything a gentle historical f/f romance should be. Both characters, Mercy the servant/secretary and Andromeda the dressmaker, are fully fleshed out even within the novella’s small scope — it feels fully complete and I truly felt like I watched their courtship unfold even though it’s less than a hundred pages (in my Kindle app, anyway.)

The skeleton is your basic “woman has been hurt Really Badly and finally opens up to love again despite all her fears” trope, but the prose is so approachable and the characters so vividly painted that it felt completely fresh to me. When Mercy first sees Andromeda in the doorway of the house where she works, she’s affected in a soul-claiming way that I don’t often see represented in the romances I read but have definitely experienced in the presence of a gorgeous and captivating lady.

Mercy’s a poet, but she shut all of that down because of the way a previous girlfriend treated her poetry as part of a cruel, fatalistic breakup. “There’d been a time,” Cole writes, “when she’d felt beautiful things acutely.” This is someone who’s natural personality wants to appreciate and worship all the glories the world has to offer, but can we blame her for being terrified and walled-in after such treatment, and with nobody else in her life – before Andromeda – contradicting her ex’s pronunciations about the fate of queer lives? However, when she starts emerging from her shell again, the poem Cole gave her to write is truly beautiful. I’d put it in the review, but I want you to discover it for itself 😉

In this respect Cole herself is a bit like Mercy, inasmuch as she did some truly stunning things with language. For example, close to the story’s opening, Mercy accidentally wrote “Yearned” in her diary when she was too tired to stop herself. The next morning, she scratches it out, in progressive horizontal lines compared to a wall, and replaces it with “Slept.” That’s some powerful imagery right there. We feel her sense of perpetual retreat.

I also really liked the scene where Andromeda whisks Mercy away to something truly cool that the local Black community is working on, something that feels so in tune with Mercy’s own interests that there’s narration about how “seen” she feels, by Andromeda’s choice. I can relate to that a lot; being truly seen is high on my list of things that I’m hoping will get me out of my current, Mercylike frame of mind, romantically.

It does contain That Old Standard Trope where someone believes the worst and doesn’t ask for clarification, but from misunderstanding to pain to happy resolution there really aren’t that many pages and honestly I can’t say I’d have behaved any better in her place because when you’re scared of rejection, asking frankly is… difficult.

Andromeda is clever and enterprising and devoted to her community, especially to her fellow Black women, and Mercy is sweet and deserves lots of pampering and reassurance and validation after the kind of self-denial in which she’s been wallowing.

Author Alyssa Cole did her research and shows us a dainty, yet earnest portrait of what life might have been like for two relatively fortunate queer Black women in the early days of America. We queer women deserve a part in the costume drama world that dazzles many of our imaginations. So do Black women, not that I can speak for them, obviously. Cole’s plot solution/resolution is completely realistic, which makes it far more enjoyable for me because it’s easier for me, personally, to enthusiastically embrace a happy ending if it’s set up to be a plausible one.

That Could Be Enough fulfills its mission. The setup and resolution affirm that yes, while the road has never been a guaranteed red carpet, it has always been possible for WoC and those of us who are queer to have a far more decent life than the hungry eyes of non-queer white literature with its appetite for exploitative tragedy would have us believe.

Incidentally, the story does contain some bits here and there that will probably make more sense to people more familiar with the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, but I was mostly able to piece together from context what Mercy’s inner voice was thinking about and don’t worry if they lose you anyway; they’re not key to enjoying the story itself. (He’s not even alive anymore when the story takes place.)

I don’t remember this having any of the most common triggers I usually warn for. It does have a sex scene, so if that’s your preference, enjoy!

Shira Glassman writes affirming fantasy and contemporary fiction centering mostly on queer Jewish women. Come join Queen Shulamit as she saves her country’s farms with the assistance of a dragon and a witch in The Olive Conspiracy, or hang out with Clara Ziegler as she dyes yarn to match a cute girl’s wildlife paintings in Knit One Girl Twowhoops, she just accidentally dyed the cat pink, too!


Megan G reviews Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn 

Lai has spent her entire life training to be a priestess for the gods, taking in her mother and grandmother’s steps. Yet, when her trials arrive, she finds herself rejected by the gods after a mysterious vision from her favourite goddess. Confused and lost, Lai makes the decision to leave the only home she has ever known, and venture out in search of her true fate.

Keeper of the Dawn is a novella with the plot of trilogy of novels. So much happens that if you get distracted for even a moment, you can lose your place in its chronology. Now, this allows for a quick read, but honestly, I would have preferred the story be longer. There is so much that goes unexplored that could have strengthened the story. Every aspect of the story is important, too, meaning that Gunn could not really afford to cut any of it. The problem was that, because it was a novella, a lot of what happened was condensed greatly, to the point where at times several years passed over the course of a paragraph.

The length also affected the characterization of essentially every character, but Lai, the protagonist, in particular. By the end of the story, I felt like I barely knew her outside of her devotion to her religion and her ancestry. Because of this, I found it difficult to become invested in her and in the relationships she formed, especially the romantic relationship she enters about half-way through the novel. I would have loved to learn more about Lai and about her motivations. As it is, her desires seem shallow, and I am unsure if she really felt a connection to her goddesses outside of the fact that her mother and grandmother were strongly devoted.

Something I did not realize when I began this novel is that it includes an asexual character! Which was quite a pleasant surprise, even if I’m not entirely sure if I’m comfortable with the way it was handled (before she admits her lack of desire for sex, she is questioned by her girlfriend about what “normal couples” do in bed. The use of the word “normal” to describe a sexual relationship felt a bit off for me). I would not advertise this as an asexual novel, however, as I feel that anybody reading it exclusively for asexual representation will feel let down.

Although not as developed as I would have liked, the relationship between Lai and her love interest, Tara, is quite sweet. It provides several nice scenes, and is a necessary reprieve from the action within the novella.

A few short warnings about this novel is that it isn’t explicitly racially diverse, so while technically you could assume all the characters are of different ethnicities, it is most likely that Gunn wrote them all to be white. There are non-explicit mentions of dangerous levels of homophobia, but these mentions are brief. There is also some fatphobic implications, in that there are only two characters throughout the entire novella who are described as fat, and both are villains. As well, there is quite a large amount of violence throughout.

Overall, Keeper of the Dawn was an enjoyable story. The only true complaints that I have can all be reduced to the length of the story, which was far too short for the amount of plot that Gunn included. I would still recommend it to any lovers of fantasy, though, especially those looking for fantasy with a queer female protagonist.


Danika reviews The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

I’ve got to say, with a title like “The Cybernetic Tea Shop,” I expected this to be a fun, silly, quick read. Instead, it was thoughtful and quiet, seeming to take up more space than the pages it occupied. This is set in a world where sentient, sapient robots were once mass-produced, but given the ethical problems they raised, they’re now illegal to make. Hundreds of years later, some of those original robots are still around, with questionable legal personhood and a lot of animosity aimed at them by a public who wants to forget the whole thing ever happened.

But it’s not about the sci fi world, really. That’s just backstory for Sal, who has been running a tea shop for more than 200 years, continuing after her old “master”/partner died, while facing constant harassment and even violence. She meets tech Clara when she visits the shop, and despite Clara’s wanderlust and Sal’s complicated situation, they hit it off.

Although the word isn’t used, both Sal and Clara are asexual. Clara explains that she doesn’t have sexual attraction to people, even when she has a romantic relationship with them (and Sal isn’t programmed for that):

[Sal:] “I mean, I’m not designed to be sexual. That’s to say, I can act on others, but I don’t want—”
“That’s okay. Me neither.”
“Oh, but—”
“It’s not something I need from someone else,” Clara said firmly, willing Sal to understand. It wasn’t something that needed explanation, but something that too many people had wanted one for. Love, romance; those were things she’d felt before, even if she wasn’t often inclined toward them. But she didn’t need anything from or with that person, never felt attracted to them even with the addition of love. If her body wanted something, she could spend five minutes with her hand. Another person never needed to factor into that for her.

(I include that quotation because before reading this, I saw that people referred to it as having asexual representation, but that it didn’t use the word “asexual.” I wasn’t sure whether there was just no sex on the page, or whether there was more textual rep, so I wanted to put the paragraph out there for anyone else wondering.)

I really appreciated how character-based this is. In a small amount of time, I felt like I really got to know both the character and how they complemented each other. I’m interested to read more by this author! (Especially when I found out after reading this that we live in the same small city! What a fun coincidence!)


Sarah reviews Intersection by Nancy Ann Healy

 

Intersection is a romance/thriller featuring an FBI agent and a politician’s ex-wife. Although I wanted to fall in love with the book—the first in a series—it fell short for me in a number of different ways, and I don’t see myself picking up the sequels.

The novel kicks off with Agent Alex Toles and her partner receiving an undercover assignment to protect Congressman Christopher O’Brien and his ex-wife Cassidy, who have been receiving threatening messages. Alex poses as Cassidy’s new public relations assistant, and a relationship rapidly blossoms between them while Alex tries to get to the bottom of the threats.

There are a couple elements of Intersection I sincerely enjoyed. Cassidy has a six-year-old son, Dylan. Since she’s a single mom, it makes sense that any potential partner would need to be understanding and open to that priority in her life. Alex goes above and beyond. Her quick bonding with Dylan is well-explained by the fact she has a nephew and likes kids, Dylan’s father is too busy for him, and their shared interests (sports and superheroes). I found myself smiling at how cute they were together: particularly when Dylan is “explaining how his trucks could be superheroes…torturing [Alex] with Tonka trucks in the living room,” and when Alex teaches Dylan the license plate game. Their relationship was the highlight of the book for me.

Cassidy’s mother Rose also plays a significant role. She helps Cassidy balance her day-job as a teacher and caring for Dylan by picking him up from school and making dinner often. She wants her daughter to be happy and is totally supportive after Cassidy realizes she’s attracted to women. I was pleasantly surprised by how important extended family and friends were to the overall story. Alex’s partner and his family, her brother, and her former military colleagues all help out at various points. Many of the queer narratives I’ve encountered in literature are defined by isolation and unhappiness, so it was refreshing to read about protagonists with such extensive support networks. But the list of things I enjoyed about Intersection unfortunately ends here.

One of my key issues was the writing. At its best points, the prose is nondescript. At its worst, it’s distractingly poor. The novel would have benefited greatly from more editing. It could have been about a hundred pages shorter. There are a number of typos. Healy sometimes reaches for other dialogue tags (directed, griped, grumbled, groaned, questioned…) in places where said would suffice, and actions are used incorrectly as dialogue tags.

There are also strange point of view switches. Healy divides chapters into multiple parts, with each part in a different character’s perspective. But she also jumps between points of view within the same part. In Chapter One, for example, there’s a place where one paragraph describes Alex, the very next paragraph describes Cassidy who is in a different location, and then the next jumps back to Alex. I wouldn’t have minded the point of view changes if they were consistent and made sense for the narrative. But they were jarring, and a serious detriment to the pacing.

Healy also made unusual choices about which scenes to describe in-depth. When Alex and Cassie first meet, we see all of their back-and-forth dialogue and movements in great detail. I wasn’t sure what it was adding to the plot or the development of their relationship. But when Alex takes Cassidy on long drive, the first extended alone time they have, Healy summarizes the majority of the conversation.  It would have made all the difference to see more of them talking and reacting to each other and actually falling in love.

This brings me to my second issue with Intersection. Alex and Cassidy’s relationship never drew me in. Almost immediately, Alex and Cassidy feel the electricity, but I didn’t understand what they find so compelling about one another. The relationship develops absurdly fast. By the sixth of twenty-eight chapters, less than a week in book time, Cassidy already knows “she could never walk away from Alex Toles.” I was like, Cassy you have a son! What are you thinking? The speed with which they decide they’ll be forever together is frankly terrifying. Although both characters acknowledge the extreme pace at which they’re moving every so often, they make no attempt to slow down. The rapidity of the relationship feels incompatible with Alex and Cassidy’s other priorities and how sensible and intelligent the two women otherwise act.

Alex and Cassidy spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed with love for one another and professing their love, but the progression to that point didn’t work for me. And then there’s nowhere unexpected or interesting for the relationship to build to for the remainder of the book. The sex scenes are vague and a little dull, and I struggled not to skip them. There are places that Cassie and Alex speak to each other in French (with the English translation in awkward brackets behind the French text) because…why not, I guess. Although I wanted to be invested in their relationship, I simply wasn’t.

I was also taken aback by how other characters react to Cassidy and Alex. Almost everyone they encounter quickly figures out, or already knows, that Alex and Cassidy are together, even though they haven’t told people. And every character is wildly in support, because it’s clear that “what they have is special,” or that they “love each other very much.” No one (other than Cassidy’s ex-husband, who is portrayed as a pretty selfish and terrible person) questions the pace, or the extent to which they intertwine their lives. I would have even been satisfied with a brief, “Hey, Cassidy, don’t you think your relationship with this FBI agent who’s supposed to be protecting you is moving a little fast?” from her mother, but Rose is just as thrilled as everyone else. Minor spoiler: if I was planning on moving in with someone after less than a month of knowing them, I’d hope that someone in my life would object.

My third issue is that Healy struggles to integrate the romance and thriller plots. Although Cassidy’s life is in danger, the threat is frequently tabled for an entire chapter in favor of developing her romance with Alex. Additionally, the antagonists are introduced in short, vague scenes throughout the book before they finally clash with Alex and Cassidy. Although I’ve seen this work to terrifying effect in some thrillers, with Intersection I felt I was waiting for things I’d already anticipated to go down, since I had so much information about the situation than the characters.   

The thriller plot also splits into two distinct issues towards the end. One of them is resolved. The other is not at all, which I found highly dissatisfying. The book ends on an explosive scene that I think is supposed to make readers want to buy the sequel (and the e-book version does, in fact, include the first chapter of the second book), but I don’t feel inclined to.

I can’t in good faith recommend Intersection, but it certainly made me want to read other more satisfying lesbian thrillers.

Marthese reviews The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

”Is there such a thing as promiscuous love, or dies it only apply to sex?”


The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins is a 500+ page book, written almost entirely in poetry form. It was such an intense read! It leaves an impression; I couldn’t help not think about it when I was not reading it. I read this book thanks to RivetedLit 25 Reads of December. They do have free Queer YA books almost every week (although with the different identities within the Queer spectrum).

This book is dark, and fast to read. The poems are in different forms that read more like prose but shorter than if it were prose. They were my type of poetry so great. I have to take time though to process so it took me a while.

This books is about ‘Ariel’ who lives with her father. For the first time, they’re sort of settled somewhere instead of going round the country on an incessant road-trip. She’s friends with Monica and Syrah – her first friends since ever. She’s actually more than friends with Monica. There’s a connection there and Monica is ever-supportive and ever-patient. Ariel doesn’t know how to feel, she’s confused. But that confusion increases when Gabe, her father’s partner’s (Zelda!) nephew comes to Sonora. She likes both Monica and Gabe and has to figure out what to do.

More than that though, this book is about Ariel’s relationship with her father – who’s probably the most despicable character ever but whom she cannot help but love because he’s been the only constant in her life. He is so abusive though! A lot of trigger warning here! Including a rape attempt. And lots of violence all around.

Soon, her mother – it was kind of predicable who that was and how she found her- comes into her life again and tells Ariel that her father has been lying to her all her life. More confusion and identity crisis ensure.

I liked how abuse was shown, in the sense it’s very realistic. Gaslighting was mentioned by name and it was shown clearly how her father did it. The value of honesty is given a lot of importance. That was refreshing as it reduced the usual teenage drama found in books. Although there was a lot of drama, nothing major was about dishonesty – at least apart from her father’s lies. Maya was very honest and open even when writing about small things, which her father had withheld from her. Zelda, although we didn’t see a lot of her, was another nice character that supported Ariel, though a bit alcoholic, which goes to show that punches don’t need to fly when someone is drunk.

I also appreciated the Spanish but like why did there have to be a direct translation right after? Footnotes could have been used. The translations were a bit out of place.

Although Gabe seemed like a really nice person (when not blood-driven) I didn’t really like his connection to Ariel. It’s like ‘boy-next-door’ connection, or maybe just teenage lust. Monica was a really enjoyable character and Ariel, I was both worried and upset with. However, I know it’s wrong to feel upset since she was groomed from a young age and couldn’t see the abuse.

Apart from Ariel and Monica there was more queer women representation.

Ellen Hopkins writes beautifully and this book is partially inspired by real events!

This is a noteworthy book but you must have stomach for it. It’s dark because these things could happen to anyone and in plain sight.

Susan reviews Fearless by Shira Glassman

Fearless by Shira Glassman is a short and sweet romance about a newly-out divorced woman, her crush on a music teacher at her daughter’s school, and falling back in love with music.

I quite liked this one! The story takes place over two days of rehearsals for a high-school music event, where Lana’s daughter is playing, and they get snowed into the hotel. Lana was very sweet, and the story’s depiction of her struggle to work out how to meet people as a middle-aged newly-out queer woman felt very realistic to me as a queer woman who has also struggled to find community. Plus, her kindness and obvious pride in her daughter’s accomplishments really touched me; Fearless is a story of such lovely affection, both familial and romantic, and I found it so warm and lovely.

The romance itself was slow-building in a realistic way – it’s very much about a crush and the flustering rush of feelings at the start of a new relationship! Mel is depicted as talented and kind, and it is very easy to see how Lana found her attractive! Especially because a lot of the story is spent on establishing common ground between them and talking about their shared love of music, which is something I always appreciate. But I especially liked the arc running through it of Lana coming back to music herself after twenty years; the fear and longing felt very believable, and Mel’s understanding of it despite her own confidence was really good to read.

Honestly my only complaint is that some of the descriptions of people felt a little clunky to me, but it wasn’t distractingly so, so your mileage may vary! If you want a peaceful story without much conflict, but with a well of kindness and warmth running through it, Fearless is worth checking out!

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.


Julie Thompson reviews Don’t Date a Writer by Maj al-Yasa

Inspired by a summer spent swirling between Germany, Spain, and Iowa City, Iowa, poet Maj al-Yasa explores the vagaries of love. This poetry collection is organized as a journey in four parts: Unrequited Love (I don’t understand); Requited Love (why you loved me once); Loss (and then let me go.); Vices (Asshole). Or, read more directly together as “I don’t understand why you loved me once and then let me go. Asshole.” In the foreword, al-Yasa ruminates at a bus station about the journey that resulted in these verses. The poems reveal a traveler, warts and all, as she makes her way through different continents, bodies, and memories. al-Yasa conveys a muddled romanticism, optimism, and cynicism, which renews in short cycles: infatuation and hesitation, finally getting what is desired, fleeing from connections like it’s a house on fire, but then loathe to leave.  al-Yasa exudes joyful abandon, insecurity, indecision, and a wanderlust that itches her mind like fiberglass. Despite the collection’s structure, I got the sense as I read that there isn’t a single beginning or end on this emotional journey; there’s just a past, present, and future tense. It also resonates with the sense that adulthood, and other mythical states, don’t exist as such.

A few of my favorite poems blend contrasts. For example, you encounter fragile confidence dressed up in boi-ish bravado, which falters and stammers at the sight of a beautiful woman in “she said nah (freestyle”. There are two acrostic poems that I stumbled upon like Easter eggs. An acrostic poem, for those who may be unfamiliar with this form, uses the first letter of a word in a line to eventually spell out a word. If you’re not paying attention, you can easily miss them. While I will leave it to you to find them (because that’s part of the fun in stumbling upon them), they stand out because the letters are in bold text. The imagery is straightforward, but at times there are artistic flourishes. “Our Colors” refracts a relationship through a ROYBGIV lens. You may not always like what is reflected in these pages, but it is honest and accessible.


Danika reviews The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang

This is a fascinating novella. It’s a dark, reversed retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” from the point of view of a human scientist who acts in an anthropological capacity studying the atargati (definitely not “mermaids”). If “dark queer retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid'” didn’t already hook you, I don’t really know what else to say.

I really liked the author chose to not only have the atargati not have gender, but to also have a nonbinary human character (who uses hir/zie prounouns), so that it wasn’t presented as an alien concept:

We did try to describe binary genders to [the atargati] once. Of course Dr. Hansen jumped in and tried to expand the conversation to sex versus gender, and to explain intersex and genderqueer people, and I tried to stop hir because I thought that would be too confusing, but it turned out that part made more sense to them than what we tried to tell them about men and women.

This also had personal appeal to me because the main character falls in love with one of the atargati (of course), and really grapples with what this means for her identity as a lesbian, especially when she had to fight so hard to claim that space in the first place:

I lost my whole identity. I had to rebuild myself brick by brick and seal a shield around myself with the label “lesbian.” I’m attracted to women. I was born that way. I’ve always been that way. If that’s not true, then my whole life, every relationship, every broken tie—it was all a lie. …

I’ve never been attracted to a human man, and still can’t conceive of such a thing. But maybe… maybe I can’t be slotted into a box either. Maybe I don’t have a definition

Have I mentioned that this is a dark retelling? And that it is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s original, and not the Disney version? I probably should have paid more attention to that, because I was disappointed by the ending. I was looking for a little more from the story: I think I was so intrigued by the world that I wanted to spend more time with it, even outside of this specific story. I wanted to know what happened after the story was over. I wanted to learn more about the atargati.

Still, this science fiction, queer, dark take on “The Little Mermaid” is compelling and memorable. You can easily finish it in one sitting, but it will stick with you long after that.