Ren reviews We Were Witches by Ariel Gore

We Were Witches by Ariel Gore cover

TW: self harm, violence against women, sexual assault

‘Beautiful’ does not even begin to encompass the captive, rhythmic style Ariel Gore possesses. I found it difficult to read quickly despite it being a relatively short work; every few pages there would be a line simple in structure but devastating in truth. I would be left raw, and was often forced to take a few minutes of sitting quietly before I could pick it up again. Reading this book was not always comfortable, but it was always very real. Her revelations are gutting, the view of an unkind world is gutting, and I am so glad to have found and read it. This will not be the last time.

It begins with Ariel at age 19, delivering Maia in a hospital in Italy. The following chapters delve into her confusion and uncertainty as she returns home for the first time in a long time, and she slowly finds her footing in a world that is not good to her. It becomes an anthem for all that is endured silently for the betterment of privileged fragile men. Reading this book, I was angry, and I was heartbroken.

Poor little male violence
You can climb my hair.

The book is made of rage. And writing when you have rage is important (as is reading about rage when it’s so similar to your own) because more often than not, that rage is turned inward. Because suffering as one’s own island is what women have been groomed to do. There are endless layers and contrasts to Ariel’s explorations as she grows from teen to young adult, and she pulls no punches in her descriptions of suffering (and betrayal after betrayal). Nothing is easy. There is prejudice and rigidity even in the broader spaces in which she tries to make a home.

Ariel goes to college, baby in tow. She studies the witch trials extensively. Outlines the trends in accusing poor, unmarried women of witchcraft and executing them. Paints a picture of women who mattered so little, the only way to find their stories is by the court records of their trials.

Very few people in power really care about other people’s sexuality. They care about money. But shaming sexuality is easier because that realm is so vulnerable. And of course if you control sexuality, that’s power that can be transmuted into more money.… my public shaming is not merely designed for my own benefit, but rather serves as a sermon and a warning to other girls and other women who may hope to escape the confines of a system designed to support and enable the white-supremacist capitalist war machine.

Different is dangerous. Different needs to be leashed.

College teaches Ariel lessons in taking up space. She makes a few key friends. Finds some cute girls to make out with. Her Women’s Studies professor encourages her to explore feminism, and Ariel’s automatic rejection is, ‘feminists just get abortions’. I was taken aback, but equally appreciative of Gore’s ability to be honest about her growth. Because we aren’t born good feminists, and it is hard to accept a label often thrown like an accusation when you are too young to know it should be worn like a badge of honour.

She gains confidence in her desire to be a writer because here, at this women’s college, people do not laugh at her dreams. But she also learns that the people in her new home carry their own flaws. Her intro to (White Girl) Feminism gives her creative freedom and embraces her talent, but it does not account for poverty. It advocates for queer rights, but does not care for butch representation. Ariel’s employer stages a gay wedding between two femme white girls (one hetero, the other with no interest in marriage) – rejecting a butch couple actually looking to get married – because the butch couple are too gay for the kind of press this ‘feminist magazine’ is hoping to garner.

Ariel learns that feminists can be terrible too, when they are not willing to change. When their idea of Feminism is the only Feminism.

Also, honourable mention goes to Ariel’s crush on her Women’s Studies professor. Been there, Girl.

We Were Witches reads like a novel and you want it to be a novel, because in a novel, when the writing is this good, the ending always satisfies. But when my Kindle told me I was 70% through and things were still getting worse, I wanted to cry.

Ariel gives birth to a daughter, and the doctor mutilates her without thought.

The only alive the doctor knows is crying.

She goes home to a mother who will not let her forget the ‘shame’ of being a teenage mother. She takes Maia and branches out on her own and tries to finish college, only she needs welfare assistance to do so. And the woman she tries to befriend throws her to the wolves (the wolf being the woman’s asshole husband who shouts welfare/single mother-shaming abuses at Ariel, then escalates to threats, prompting her to pack her things and leave the city). She moves to a new college. A queer friendly, women’s college.

It does not get better.

Her ex-boyfriend punches through the glass window in her door to break inside. She phones the police. The police show up and Lance charms them, painting Ariel as hysterical. She tries to file a restraining order. But ‘children need their fathers’ and suddenly the choices are share custody with Lance, or have Maia taken away.

As the book progresses, a very clear picture begins to take shape. Here, we explore the pieces:

The police refusing to believe Ariel and Lance aren’t married. Refusing to believe that Lance broke down the door and was ready to hurt her.

Passing as straight for the courts because queer mothers have their children taken away from them.

Ariel’s friend raped – at 14, by a police officer – and told her rapist has visitation rights.

A childhood friend of Ariel’s, raped during her first year of college: her push against the college for laws of consent to be clear and mandatory are made into jokes on the radio.

The witch trials have not ended. And this is as bleak a reality as it is an important one to remember. Fighting when you’re tired, when you’re exhausted – because you’re fighting your fight and the fight of queer/poor/unmarried/underrepresented people before you, even preceding the witch trials, and you were brought into this world fighting – is important. The alternative is death. This book is about intersectional feminism, motherhood, male privilege, violence, the burden of emotional labour, and the one hundred other aggressions dealt with daily to varying degrees by anyone who is not a cis-white male. Everyone needs it.

One final note, and then I promise I will stop hyping it up. I’m a sucker for reimagined fairy tales; there are some brief retellings throughout the book, but the Rapunzel retelling wrecked me. I won’t spoil it, but it wrecked me. Do not read this book until you are in a place where you are okay feeling every feeling. But please read this book.

Marthese reviews Gretel and “Dragon Essence” by Niamh Murphy

”She had trusted two strangers in her house, offering them food and shelter. It was nonsense not to trust her.” – Gretel: A Fairytale Retold

With GDPR the copious amounts of author newsletters were at best purgatory. The ‘please subscribe to us’ emails were really great to weed out authors that I am not so interested in reading anymore. One author’s newsletter that I kept was Niamh Murphy’s. This author sends a lot of freebies and previews, is interested in fantasy and historical fiction (she’s actually a historian!) and sends advice and tips on where and what to read. I particularly liked her newsletter of Sapphic Fairytale Retellings! Anyone subscribed to her newsletter has received the short stories I will review below!

Despite knowing of this author, I hadn’t read any of her stories before last week, but now I’m intrigued. I started by reading “Dragon Essence: A Prequel to the Dark Age Trilogy.“This was, and and still is currently, free with a newsletter subscription! I have never read a prequel before the actual series, but this particular prequel was good at introducing the world and making the readers invested in seeing more from from it. The prequel is very short and can be read during a lunch break.

The plot surrounds Andra, a Captain of the Dragon Ward. Andra’s lover, Olwen is a mage set on getting a hold on a dragon egg – which Andra is bound to protect. Olwen gets killed, and the way to bring her back to life may see Andra breaking all sorts of oaths. This was a refreshing read, though very morally dubious. Why I could understand why the characters were acting in a certain way, I didn’t feel it was 100% okay. Be forewarned, there is violence on mythical creatures and violence of the human kind. The story contained also a preview of the first book Dragon Whisper. I love queer fantasy, especially with dragons and I’m interested to see how the wizards vs druids and the humans vs dragons elements will play out. I also do not know many queer fantasy books/historical fiction books with druids.

After I finished “Dragon Essence” I felt like reading the series…only it is not yet out. So I read Gretel: A Fairytale Retold, which as you probably guessed is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel: one of my favourite childhood stories! Gretel isn’t that long and is a bit fast paced, but then again, so was the original story. Hans and Gretel are introduced while running away from wolves and fortunately they are saved by a woman who offers them lodging until Hans heals. Gretel and Hans are away from home and have been looking for work. Maeve, the woman who saved them, lives in a cottage in a fort – all on her own. Gretel and Maeve grow closer in a really sweet way (and sexy way too as it involved a first-time sex scene in the woods!), but Hans is ever suspicious of the ‘witch’. Gretel has always had Hans and Hans had always had her back…until both those things are not true anymore. This story has a happy ending for the couple! It also has one of the best concluding lines from a character that I’ve ever seen.

While short, I think this story was great. It is a fast-paced story but there was no ‘love-at-first-sight’. It also featured a realistic fracturing of a family bond and growing romantic bond. I found Maeve to be an interesting character because she’s kind and feminine but still strong, physically and mentally. I absolutely hated Hans. Perhaps if it was longer, we could have seen a nice side of him. The writing was simple but effective and emphatic. This novella is currently free!

Overall, this is an author I would look into more. Niamh Murphy also has a youtube channel where she talks about books. I enjoyed discovering this author especially because of the fantasy and  retellings with a dash of history. I look forward to discovering new authors of those genres.

Mary Springer reviews Snow White and Her Queen by Anna Ferrara

Snow White and Her Queen by Anna Ferrara cover

Trigger Warning: the book contains scenes of suicide, rape, and assault and this review will discuss them.

This review contains spoilers.

Katherine was married to the King of the Northern Kingdom when she was thirteen. Seventeen years later, she plans to kill herself, but she is saved by a beautiful young woman. Soon she finds out this beautiful woman, only seven years younger than her, is her stepdaughter, Eirwen, also known as Snow White. What follows is a tumultuous love story and retelling of a classic fairy tale with a unique twist.

I have had a difficult time gathering my thoughts on this book. To be clear, I did enjoy reading this. However, there are several elements that I’m having a hard time reconciling with my enjoyment. Katherine married King Ferdinand when she was thirteen, a mere child. When we first are introduced to her as an adult it is through a graphic scene in which she has painful sex with Ferdinand. He is angry with her for not getting him a child after so many years of marriage. Katherine, believing him to be a good man and her to be a bad wife for not getting pregnant, then decides to kill herself in the garden. This is where she meets Eirwen. Later on, Ferdinand tells her to get a hobby, specifically hunting, and there she meets Phillip. Phillip decides he is in love with her and won’t take no for an answer. Eventually, this leads to him sexually assaulting her.

Another hard part about reading this is how the two men were supported and even enabled by those around them, men and women. Ferdinand blames Katherine for all his misdeeds, which is what causes her to be known as the Evil Queen. He has effectively isolated her from any support, including her own ladies-in-waiting who gossip about her behind her back. This is what leads to Phillips being so able to hurt Katherine, because she has no friends, no support system. This did feel believable and realistically explained the fairy tale aspect of Katherine being known as evil.

One of my biggest feelings of unease going into the book (before the assault scenes) is that this is a love story between a stepmother and stepdaughter. However, this book reassures the reader in that regard. Katherine and Eirwen are only seven years apart in age and Katherine only sees Eirwen once, on her wedding day to Ferdinand, before the beginning of the book. They are technically family by law, but do not grow up together and they do not act and are not treated as a mother and daughter. For the majority of the story, Katherine is thirty and Eirwen is twenty-two or twenty-three.

The romance felt real. From the moment Katherine meets Eirwen she is captivated by her and struggles with understanding how she, a woman, could be attracted to another woman. Eirwen has the same inner conflict. Not only did both characters feel complex but their romance developed in a believable manner.

The world building was well done. It wasn’t too complex because it didn’t need to be and I enjoyed being able to simply immerse myself in the characters. In this version, the dwarves are miners who have become hunched over or “dwarfed” from working in the mines. They are not good people in this edition, but it follows the book’s theme of patriarchy and misogyny, so I was fine with this change.

There were some choices the characters that felt too sudden. There were moments when characters would reveal motivations that I felt were not previously set up. For example, without giving too much away, Eirwen thinks about part of her plan for revenge against Ferdinand and how Katherine is involved. Her logic felt out of place because it seemed like it hadn’t been set up or foreshadowed. Later in the novel, Katherine tells Eirwen one of the things that attracted her to her in response to Eirwen’s plan for revenge. This reason for attraction felt odd because it seemed like it had been mentioned before at all.

The ending felt somewhat unsatisfying. There was so much violence perpetuated against Katherine and Eirwen that I was disappointed to see how those injustices were dealt with. However, considering the world and characters the author has built, the ending does make sense. Like I said, I’m not sure how to reconcile many elements of this book. However, I wasn’t totally disappointed in the ending and I am happy with where the characters end up.

Having said all of this and voiced many gripes I have with this story, I would recommend reading it. This book was engaging, interesting, and in many ways enjoyable. The story of Snow White is originally so intent on pitting women against each other over conventional standards of beauty and it was great to see a version in which both women get to have more character and agency. If you’re a fan of fairy tale retellings with a twist that the women actually love each other, I recommend picking up Snow White and Her Queen by Anna Ferrara.

Susan reviews Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill

Princess Princess Ever After is an all-ages graphic novel by Katie O’Neill about two princesses joining forces to rescue people and save the kingdom from an angry sorceress, and it’s really cute.

Sadie and Amira are very different styles of princess; Sadie is a traditionally feminine princess with an adorable pudgy dragon, who’s been locked in a tower by a wicked queen, and Amira is an action princess with very cool hair and a cookie-loving unicorn. It’s fun to see their different styles work together for solving problems, and I enjoyed seeing them work together to solve problems like dancing ogres and grumpy princes and wicked queens, and rescue each other!

They also solve problems without violence, and by gathering friends and supportive acquaintances! I don’t know if it’s supposed to be commentary on stereotypically feminine methods of resolving conflict or the tropes of magical girls and princess stories – but also I want stories that have all of the tropes of magical girls and princess stories, but with queer leads, so it worked for me. Plus: the drama is based on sibling relationships, rather than wicked mothers or stepmothers, and that’s a very welcome change. (Especially for me; complicated sibling relationships are my kryptonite.)

The art is very cute (and impressively different from her other all-ages graphic novel, The Tea-Dragon Society). Sometimes it’s maybe a little too simple, but it does work for the story being told, and the last page makes up for it.

It’s a light and fluffy story that reads very quickly, but it feels like a fairytale, and to be honest: that’s all I wanted. If you’re in the mood for a fluffy queer fairytale, this is a good place to start.

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.

Rebecca reviews Seeing Red: A Sapphic Fairy Tale by Cara Malone

Seeing Red is a cute and quick read with a sweet romance and really well-written characters. It’s loosely based on the fairy tale and I absolutely enjoyed this modern take with relatable characters.

Hunter has too much on her plate. She’s living with her sister, Piper and helping with the bills and her two nephews. She’s balancing a job in a care facility while also trying to keep Piper away from her jailed criminal husband, Jed Wolfe. Although things are really desperate, Hunter tries to show Piper that there’s a good life away from pulling cons. Meanwhile, wealthy college student Kiera has just moved in with her grandmother who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Kiera isn’t only taking care of her grandmother but also hiding after an embarrassing encounter at her sorority house. A chance meeting brings Kiera and Hunter together. Kiera needs help with her grandmother and Hunter becomes the old woman’s caretaker. The pay is great, Kiera’s grandmother really likes Hunter and her family, and…there’s something magical happening between Hunter and Kiera. Maybe, Hunter can finally slow down. However, Jed still has his claws in Piper and her desperation to provide for her family will have consequences for all.

The split perspective between Kiera and Hunter with an occasional chapter from Piper really works because the characters have such distinct voices. Malone deftly avoids stereotypes and creates characters that are wonderfully written and relatable. Kiera and Hunter are great protagonists who are brave, interesting, and very real. They are so well-written that I was totally invested in them individually even before their romance blossoms. However, I would have liked more development on Hunter’s history, and Jed’s presence needed to be more ominous because he doesn’t seem like that much of a threat.

The romance between Kiera and Hunter is gentle, sweet, and natural. Despite the fairy tale romance, I like that Malone avoids leaning on classic tropes. She examines real issues like manipulative relationships, financial struggles, and Alzheimer’s. There are many instances that could have been melodramatic but Malone excellently handles her plot and characters to avoid unnecessary drama.

Cara Malone’s Seeing Red is a lovely read. The characters are really well-written, the romance is cute and the happy ever after perfectly fits. If you’re looking for an adorable lesbian romance that’s loosely inspired by a fairy tale, you won’t be disappointed!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Danika reviews Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

This is a fairy tale about misogyny. About the men who pit women against each other, and force them into limited roles. And the relationships that form between these women regardless. The love that they share even when told they should they should hate each other. The revolutionary power of love and forgiveness to break apart these narratives and allow for a new beginning. Ostensibly, this is a retelling of Snow White, but while it uses touchstones from that story, it isn’t restricted by it.

Mina is a girl who’s been raised her whole life to replace her dead mother. Her father fawns over her similarities to his late wife, but Mina is uncomfortable being shaped into the mirror image of someone she’s never known. She wants the chance to be her own person.

The story alternates between her story and Lynet’s backstory–Mina’s stepmother and the only mother figure she’s ever known. Mina adores Lynet, but Lynet has a more complicated relationship with her. The only value she can see in her own life is her position as queen, and Mina is a threat to that. We get to see how Lynet was groomed into this “Evil Queen” role by her father, who is manipulative and unkind and uses his daughter to gain power. She uses everything at her disposal to escape her father, but she’s told that the only value she has is her beauty. No one will ever love her for anything else. (Those are the words from her father that continually echo in her mind.)

I loved that Girls Made of Snow and Glass took this fairy tale trope of the “Evil Queen”/”Evil Stepmother” and did a deep dive into imagining what could lead someone to feel like that was their only option. Why would someone act so unfeeling? Why would she be so cutthroat in her pursuit of the crown? Lynet can be ruthless, but she’s sympathetic. She’s been told her whole life that she is unlovable, that the only value she has is in her appearance. The only way out of that she can see is to become queen and be loved by her subjects. And if she has to scheme her way there, well, that’s what’s necessary.

The complex relationship that Lynet and Mina share is the central tension of the story. They are constantly pitted against each other, but they’re reluctant to follow through. Lynet has been told by her husband not to get too close to Mina (no one can replace her real mother!) but Mina has grown up with her. She’s the one who finger-combs Mina’s hair every night to gently release the tangles. She’s the person that Mina feels loves her for who she is.

There is, of course, an F/F romance in here as well. Nadia is the court surgeon, and Mina is immediately drawn to her. To be honest, I don’t feel like I can comment on this storyline without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say that I think it complemented the other narrative threads well. All three women are trying to create the most promising futures they can with the circumstances available to them, but they’re hemmed in by the expectations and limitations placed on them by the men in their lives. When they seem to have found a loophole, they’re somehow pulled back and forced to make the choice to hurt the people they love or hurt themselves. It feels so inevitable and tense that you can only anticipate that final moment, where they seem to have no option but to fall into the roles provided for them. But despite what they’ve been raised to believe, despite the hurts that they inflict on each other because of this, despite the mistrust and skepticism and pessimism, they still find a way to reach out–however briefly–and find connections with each other. And the bonds they form, the love that develops even then, creates the shimmer of other possibilities for them.

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.


Susan reviews The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

The Raven and the Reindeer is T. Kingfisher’s retelling of The Snow Queen. For those who aren’t familiar with the basic story of the Snow Queen: Greta and Kay are childhood friends, and when the Snow Queen carries Kay off in the middle of the winter, Greta sets off to find him and bring him home.

It’s really good. Gerta feels young and believable as a character, and her confused relationships sound about right for a girl of sixteen – Kay is a jerk and I’m so glad that it’s established up front that her crush is unreciprocated, because the way she tries to convince herself about their relationship is familiar but also very much oh honey, no, you can do better. In this case, better is Janna, a bandit princess who is delightful; Gerta is aggressively sensible, as are many of T. Kingfisher’s protagonists, but appears to understand that she’s in a fairytale world where ravens talk and witches are a hazard, so seeing Janna’s reactions to all of the strange things that happen is excellent. I truly enjoy how much strength they draw from each other; the Snow Queen has the ability to make you only see the worst in yourself and everything around you, and the difference in Gerta’s reactions when it is turned on her and when it is turned on Janna is beautiful. (Especially in contrast to Gerta’s relationship with Kay, who manages to be a worse person than the literal bandit.)

Also the animal characters in this are excellent, especially because they have such great personalities and recognisably not-human perspectives! And they’re fun! Mousebones, the titular raven, is funny and an excellent force for moving the plot forward when it might otherwise slow. The flying otters (DID I MENTION THE FLYING OTTERS) are adorable, and I love the way that the author manages to weave in the differences even between species! (I’m just saying, a raven arguing with otters about names is quite good.) The worldbuilding is woven in in all sorts of ways as well – there are stories woven in, and the secondary characters fit into the story so well. Plus, the details of the landscape are really well drawn, including the practicalities and dangers of it, and the descriptions are great. The road Janna, Gerta and Mousebones take to the Snow Queen’s palace, and what happens once they get there, is brilliantly done.

In conclusion: I really loved this, so if you like fairy tale retellings and/or flying otters (!!!), I absolutely recommend it.

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.

Shira Glassman reviews Ripped Pages by M. Hollis

Ripped Pages is a cute addition to the thank goodness growing collection of YA where a fairy-tale princess’s happy ending is with another girl. I’ve said before that since for so many of us, fairy-tales are our first exposure to romance, whether it’s bedtime stories or Disney movies, and that means for those of us who are attracted to the same gender, these same fairy tales were the first place we learned we didn’t exist. That’s what’s so soothing about being included in fairy-tales, even when we’ve moved beyond the age where they comprise the bulk of our romantic daydreams.
The story is a Rapunzel retelling that changes several details to carve its own place in the world–instead of adhering to the original legend where a baby is stolen from loving parents, this time it’s the cruel father himself who locks his daughter away from the world (not because she’s a lesbian, but because she stood up to her father when he said awful things about her or her dead mother.) It’s got to be baffling and invalidating for children of abusive parents to see story after story where the only reason a parent was abusive was that they were the step-parent or kidnapper, when they know they’re enduring such hardship from a blood connection. Hopefully some of the folks out there like that will take comfort in Valentina’s escape.
That escape, actually, is the main focus of the story, as well as Valentina’s new life with the family of the pan-or-bi girl who rescues her. Ripped Pages‘s short length and fairy-tale narrative structure (it literally starts with “once upon a time, in a land far, far away”) mean that Agnes, the love interest, isn’t the most fleshed-out of characters, but if you go into this expecting a fairy-tale instead of a fully fleshed-out fantasy novel it’s a satisfying and complete little read.
The worldbuilding was one of my favorite things about this book. The location is never identified, but I know the author is Brazilian and the names and place-names at least to my outsider eyes seem Brazilian or at least Brazilian-adjacent. (The geography seems to be made up of multiple small countries.) On a more intimate scale, Agnes’s family life, which includes a brother with a husband, several younger siblings, and two affectionate parents, was a neat enough place to “visit” that I’d gladly go back there for a sequel.
Speaking of the treatment of queerness in Hollis’s worldbuilding, the books Valentina finds in her tower include references to women loving each other, attraction to multiple genders, nonbinary people, and asexuality, both of which appear so seamlessly and naturally that it really shows how easy it is to do that when you’re writing in a fantasy world where you literally control everything.
See here:
There were girls kissing other girls! They could kiss whoever they wanted! And some people in the book didn’t want to kiss anyone. There were even those who didn’t call themselves men or women, but something else, something entirely their own.
and then, when another character is speaking:
“I love men, women, and people who are neither or both at the same time. Why do you ask?”
See? This stuff is pretty easy, once you remember that since you control everything about your fantasy world, you don’t have to adhere to any specific period in Earth’s real history. (That being said, there are still valid reasons to include discrimination and/or erasure–for example, getting to watch characters like you vanquish your IRL foes. I’m not saying either way is right, just that Maria Hollis’s way needs to get way more airtime!)
It’s hard to do complicated in a story that’s only fifty or sixty pages, but I liked the nod to the complex emotions that go along with escaping a bad situation and then having to think about it again when towards the end of the story Valentina has to decide how to move forward with her healing. I liked the decision Hollis made about how to tie up that particular loose end.
And of course I was charmed by a reference to pitanga, also known as Suriname cherry–the casual appearance of tropical fruit in fantasy lit being a particular interest of mine.
Really, the only thing that would have improved it for me is if I had a better grip on Agnes, other than as “the spunky love interest”, but the story still works without that particular kind of depth.
There are several trigger warnings, but the author has provided all of them in the intro page: Ripped Pages contains scenes of emotional abuse, forced imprisonment, child abandonment, minor violence, and trauma recovery. Shira’s additional note: when Valentina’s mother dies in the beginning of the book, it felt realistic and familiar to me as someone who has lost a lot of family, so if that’s something that’s likely to set you off, tread lightly until Valentina is already in the tower.
Shira Glassman is the author of the fluffy queer Jewish fantasy series the Mangoverse and also light contemporary f/f romances like Knit One Girl Two. Her next release, coming this winter, is the superheroine/damsel in distress adventure Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor, which you can TBR on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36321936-cinnamon-blade-knife-in-shining-armor


Danika reviews The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

one-hundred-nights-of-hero

I have to start this with my Goodreads status update from 5 pages in:

I literally cannot handle how much I like this book. I can’t get through a page without cackling or exclaiming. The art! The narration! The surreal worldbuilding! The f/f couple in the middle of it!!! The feminism! The cleverness! Like, I actually can’t handle it. I have to read it a couple pages at a time or I get overwhelmed. I don’t think this has ever happened??

I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddy from the first pages of a book. I was already hooked from the premise: a graphic novel retelling of the Arabian Nights featuring a woman who has fallen in love with her maid. Once I had it in my hands, I was stunned by the cover alone. It looks even more gorgeous in person, with the text in shining gold letters. And best of all, the two women reaching for each other: no attempt to disguise the queer content.

I’m a sucker for experiments in story telling, and I love how this book is structured. From the page layouts to the narration, the design and writing of this book perfectly fits its story, even when it deviates from the norm. A book that starts with a creation story of “In the beginning there was the world / And it was weird” is going to immediately jump in my estimation. I haven’t read the previous book, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, but this book stands on its own–while dropping enough hints that I want to pick up the earlier book to get an even richer understanding of this story.

The framing device here is that Cherry’s husband has made a bet with another man, Manfred, that he can’t seduce Cherry in 100 nights. In order to save Cherry from being forced into this arrangement, Hero (her lover and maid) tells Manfred stories over the course of these nights, with the promise that once he seduces Cherry, the stories will end. These stories are engaging in themselves, and resemble folk tales. They revolve around women, often sisters, and as those characters tell their own narratives, the nesting story structure grows.

Although there’s a timeless, folk lore feel to the story, there’s also some moments of great, clever humor thrown in, including the narrator cutting in for commentary, and Hero and Cherry using vocabulary I was not expecting! Mostly the humor is dry, feminist wit.

And, of course, there’s the romance. The unapologetic, unshakable love between Cherry and Hero. The moment that really made me trust this story was when it describes the two women getting into bed together and then cuts to after, with the narrator interjecting “No! Of course I’m not going to show what happened then! What kind of a book do you think this is?” It was setting up for a voyeuristic look into two women’s sex life, then makes a hard left and questions the reader’s expectations.

This a beautiful, epic love story that centres on two women. That fundamentally respects women and their love. This is a story that respects storytelling, that believes that stories can change the world.

This is the queer feminist mythology we deserve.