Shira Glassman reviews Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky

My recs pitch for this book is: fashion college on the moon, with femme on femme Asian diaspora lesbian romance. Yes, I said on the moon.

Flowers of Luna, by biracial Japanese-American author Jennifer Linsky, has a very familiar structure and feel if you’ve been reading a lot of young adult and new adult contemporary f/f. Ran has just started college in fashion design, and the story is mainly about how she falls for a sexy, adventurous engineering student. Hana shows her a great time on the weekends but holds back a little too much of herself otherwise, which eventually causes problems. There are plenty of B-plots about group projects with Ran’s classmates, creating new clothing designs, and in staying in touch with her sister at another school far away.

Except, this one takes place on the freaking moon. So there’s an extra layer of fun and sparkle on top of the familiarity. The main character is biracial, and fairly in touch with her Japanese roots thanks to the moon’s culture having a lot of Japanese influence as a result of some postapocalyptic stuff that happened in Japan, driving everyone to seek homes elsewhere. She’s also a second-generation lesbian (or “mirror-biased”, in the slang of this imagined future; bisexual is “parallel-biased”) raised by two moms on a mining ship. Her parents were big heroes in some kind of major event that happened when she was too little to be involved, so she’s a little bit celebrity-adjacent and every once in a while it influences her interactions with the world and with strangers/new people.

But she’s on the moon to study fashion design, and on the moon you can socially get away with wearing clothing from different time periods or cultures to suit your whim, PLUS machines replicate whatever you design, so there’s basically no limit to what she can invent. (She does like doing some hand work, if she has the time for it.)

Hana, who Ran meets as a result of some weird posturing and playacting involving an insult in cosplay and the subsequent duel, is a Japanese diaspora engineering student who has to play it drab during the week so her being a cute lesbian doesn’t make her male classmates not take her seriously. But on the weekend, with Ran, she’s pretty sexually adventurous–for example, there’s a running gag about her not wearing underwear, even in public.

It’s hard to maintain true intimacy when one of you is holding back, so that’s the main conflict of the book, and there was a point in my reading where I kind of expected them to stay broken up and the MC to wind up with the nonbinary character she’d flirted with near the beginning. But the book’s main couple do work things out. I think I just wanted to be more convinced. Ran does acknowledge in the postlude that she has no idea what the future holds, but they’re enjoying themselves right now.

The moon environment itself is a very appealing place to spend your imaginary time, as a reader. There are cities, mostly Japanese and Russian influenced, with fake day and night, where you can visit cozy restaurants carpeted in tatami mats and floor cushions. “Shoes,” Hana reminds Ran. “The Moon is not a foreign country.” After the Japanese dinner they pop into Mr. Chung’s ice cream shop, where he does his best to balance heat and coolness with flavors like curry ice cream. “You must be careful to avoid an excess of yin; we live on the moon!”

They take a weekend date trip to Heinleinburg–many places in the moon civilization honor real historical figures in science and science fiction. Linsky writes, “Heinleinburg was settled by corporate pioneers who came to get wealthy from the moon. Set in Shoemaker Crater to be near the south polar ice fields, it had attracted everyone who dreamed of the moon; everyone who dreamed of riches; everyone who dreamed.” Love that kind of prose.

I want to specifically note that I initially overlooked this book because I thought, from the sample, that it was a different type of book, much weightier (the sample is from the insult scene in the beginning and I didn’t realize that was only cosplay playacting.) Had I known it was “lesbian college fluff on the moon”, I would have picked it up a lot sooner. Also, for a book that truly and thoroughly celebrates visual beauty, both of clothing and of women’s glorious, exquisite bodies, I think it would be better served by a different cover — just one woman’s opinion, of course!

In summary, Flowers of Luna is remarkably contemporary-feeling for sci-fi, a good gateway for SFF-intimidated f/f fans especially because the conflicts aren’t SFF-specific, while also including enough cool details to keep sci-fi fans happy.

Thank you for taking the time to read my review! I write more of them at http://shiraglassman.wordpress.com and on Goodreads, or check out my latest book, The Olive Conspiracy, Jewish fantasy about a young lesbian queen who must work together with her found-family, including her wife, a dragon, a witch, and a warrior woman, to save their country from an international sabotage plot.

Kalyanii reviews Trouble and Her Friends By Melissa Scott

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Within an inventory of my virtues, I guarantee that patience will not be listed as one. Thus, had I not been relegated to bed for a week in order to ride out a nasty virus, chances are that I would have abandoned Trouble and Her Friends within the first fifty pages.  However, lacking the energy or even the motivation to venture toward my bookshelf for a different title, I stuck with the novel ‘til the end – and now feel extremely fortunate for that fact.

After Evans-Tildale passes, Cerise returns home to discover her apartment half-empty and her lover, Trouble, nowhere to be found. Trouble, after all, had made it quite clear that if the new law meant to police the net were put into effect, she would be leaving the shadows. It was far too dangerous to continue “cracking” (hacking) within an environment controlled by real-world authorities.

Three years later, Cerise and Trouble as well as most of their friends, have abandoned their activities, relegating themselves to working within the “bright lights,” often as consultants or syscops themselves. Yet, after Cerise’s company, Multiplane, is hacked by someone calling themselves Trouble, whose immature and sloppily destructive style shows him as an imposter, the crew finds themselves reunited in an effort to stop the one who has upset the net and usurped Trouble’s name.

There is no denying that, especially within the first half, the novel moves so very slowly due to the amount of detail provided. Yet, what kept me going was my desperate need to know what would transpire once Cerise and Trouble reunited against a common enemy. The strength of their connection remained palpable in spite of Trouble’s absence, yet the nuances of their relationship were revealed without any of the professions of love that typically send me running.

Both Trouble and Cerise are, after all, incredibly competent hackers. They’re simply not wired for overt sentimentality, well aware that allowing emotion to override intellect may well prove deadly. Not only does this make for a much more interesting story, but that coolness comes across as incredibly sexy, especially as worn by Trouble, herself.

Published in 1994, Trouble and Her Friends engages with the virtual world in a manner that reflects the time. It actually rendered me a bit nostalgic for the early days of the Internet – minus the pay-by-the-minute usage rates. However, given the way in which the complexity of the plot was executed, the badass and incredibly likable protagonists and the subtly philosophical undertones, Trouble and Her Friends remains far from obsolete. Rather, it just might be considered something of a cyberpunk classic.

Danika reviews Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

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It’s hard to describe a book like Sister Mine. It would probably suffice to say it is just as surreal as the cover would suggest, but I’ll make an attempt anyways.

Makeda is a twin–originally conjoined twins–and is trying to strike out on her own. She and her sister have always been very close, but Makeda is sick of Abby’s controlling and overprotective attitude. It doesn’t help that while they are both mortal demigods, Abby has a magical gift with music, while Makeda is left with no mojo at all. She wants to make it on her own in the claypicken (human) world–but it’s not easy escaping from her supernatural family, when the unreal seems to follow her around.

There is a lot going on in this book. While it starts off following Makeda’s attempts at getting an apartment and establishing a “normal” life for herself, it quickly slides back into Fantasy. She’s being followed (hunted?) by a haint, her sister is dating the magical embodiment of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, her mother is cursed into being a sea monster, her father is temporarily human and has Alzheimer’s, and there’s something unnatural about her apartment complex. Phew.

Although there’s a ton going on in terms of gods, mojo, and the Fantasy world-building, Toronto as a setting is given just as much detail and life, which includes addressing the casual racism that Makeda deals with in the claypicken world.

Nalo Hopkinson throws you into the deep end in terms of introducing characters and lore. I wasn’t always completely sure what was going on–especially with the revelations around Abby and Makeda’s birth–but I was always immersed and fascinated. I love her writing. Everything I’ve read by her has been surreal and sometimes overwhelming, but always satisfying.

The queer aspect to Sister Mine requires a little bit of explanation that may be considered spoilers. Basically, the gods and demigods in this world don’t have a lot of qualms about sex and romance, which means that basically they’re all polyamorous and pansexual–oh, and also have sex with family. So even though Makeda in her claypicken life doesn’t seem to have any romantic or sexual interest in women (and makes a gay joke at one point?), she does have sex and date god/demigod women. Including her twin sister. To be honest, it made sense while I was reading it, and it didn’t occur to me until afterwards that it might be controversial.

If you’re looking for a surreal, immersive read, this is definitely one I would recommend.

Stephanie reviews The Builders by Tonya Cannariato

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TW: Mental illness, anxiety, and sexual abuse
Let me start by saying that I really wanted to love this book. It’s categorized as sci-fi/fantasy, so I was excited to read a novel that blended same-gender loving characters and science fiction. Unfortunately, neither of these categories actually fit this novel all that well.
The novel’s protagonist is Tara Shifflet, a meeting planner on her way back to Atlanta after finishing a project in Milwaukee. She spots a gorgeous, strangely tattooed woman in her hotel bar, and eventually strikes up a conversation with her. Tara is not lesbian, but finds herself extremely attracted to this woman. Before she can connect in any meaningful way, an interloper interrupts them, someone that Navenah doesn’t know, but was expecting.  Tara berates herself and tries to put the brief interaction behind her (this will be important later). The next morning, she arrives at the airport to catch her flight back home, but is delayed because of what seems to be a first contact event on the runway. It’s only a lightshow, but it triggers an airport lockdown and Tara finds herself in quarantine with the other passengers scheduled to fly out that day.
Thus begins what I had hoped to be an adventure, and for the first quarter of the novel, we do get a bit of excitement as Tara and Navenah make their way from Milwaukee back to Atlanta.  Most of what drives this novel is the author’s commitment to laying bare Tara’s anxiety, although we only get snippets of the cause of her trauma until near the end of the novel. We do know that her mother (a high-profile politician) has had her committed, and that her therapy cat, Bear, is her lifeline when she’s experiencing high-levels of anxiety. While I understand Cannariato’s decision to center this issue in the novel, it’s also what slows it down.
My main frustrations with the book are pacing and plot. While the initial first contact event works to drive the tension and plot early in the novel, nearly halfway through, I was still baffled as to what was really going on. There are also shadowy federal agents that never seem to materialize, seemingly important characters that just disappear from the novel, and for a novel that purports to be sci-fi, there just aren’t enough aliens.  Additionally, we never learn name of Navenah’s planet, exactly why her species may soon go extinct, or how it is that Tara is needed for them to survive. Make no mistake, there is a LOT of exposition in this novel, but most of it centers on Tara’s anxiety. Even with the spaceship propelled by Tara’s energy, and the cocoon-like pods where life is created, I never got the sense that I was actually reading science fiction, and for me, that was the major drawback of this novel.
Finally, this novel contains minor and graphic depictions of emotional, psychological and sexual abuse, as well as the strategies that Tara uses to cope with it. Like I mentioned earlier, Cannariato is committed to revealing the nuances and challenges of persons suffering from anxiety as a result of child abuse, and for that I’m grateful, we need literature that does that. However, if you’re looking for science fiction that’s heavy on action and aliens, this may not be the novel for you.
TAGS: Science fiction, fantasy, Tonya Cannariato, S. Andrea Allen,

Kalyanii reviews Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge

 

 

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With the turn of the new year, I decided it was high-time I broaden my literary horizons. After all, I came of age in the ‘80’s and attended a university that deemed literary fiction (often times penned by male authors of western European descent) to be the be-all-and-end-all of that worthy of one’s attention, much less scholarship and acclaim. Fortunately, over my decades of exploration since, I’ve encountered the diversity I sought as a student. However, up to this point, I had yet to venture into the realm of genre fiction and was admittedly more than a bit intimidated by Sci-Fi. Could I suspend my disbelief long enough to allow for the building of a future world? Would I be just as satisfied with a plot-driven work as one rooted within the characters’ internal landscape? Would there be anything of substance that I might take away?

After a bit of online research, I felt that my best introduction lay in Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire. I was drawn to the idea of a lesbian protagonist (as always), and several reader reviews alluded to well-drawn characters. In addition, Solitaire has received numerous recognitions. The forthcoming film, OtherLife, is noted as being loosely based on the novel.

As it turns out, it was, indeed, the perfect place for my first foray.

Ren “Jackal” Segura was held from the time of her birth as the Hope of Ko, a designation assigned to the first child of her corporate nation-state born in the first second upon the establishment of a one world government. As a Hope, she was given the most special of treatment, from respect and opportunity to outright adoration. Indeed, Jackal was blessed with a charmed life, until her extremely competitive and jealous mother let it slip in a fit of rage, “They give you everything and you don’t deserve it, you’re no more a Hope than I am!” Thus, Jackal unwittingly found herself privy, mere weeks before her investiture, to the unfortunate truth that, though her birth was calculated, she did not arrive into the world until several minutes past midnight.

When news of the cover-up comes to light after an accident in which Jackal is involved, killing 437 people, including an Earth Congress senator, her webmates and dozens of children, Jackal is given the choice of securing her own defense or pleading guilty in order to save her family from punishment. Choosing to protect her family, she is sentenced to 40 years in prison and later given the opportunity to fulfill that sentence within a mere eight years (10 months in real-time) by participating in a virtual confinement program that condenses the experience of real-life solitary confinement into a fraction of the time.

To my relief, the narrative was accessible right from the start, and the world built by Eskridge made logistical sense, even to a novice such as myself. Most of the characters were as well-developed as I anticipated them to be, especially Scully, a “solo” himself, trying to navigate life post-virtual confinement in the best way he knows how. Unfortunately, the least convincing character proves to be Jackal’s partner, Snow, though I’m quite sure this is due to the somewhat improbable interactions between Jackal and her partner rather than anything within the presentation of Snow, herself.

For me, the most compelling points of the story resided within the detailed experiences endured during Jackal’s virtual confinement, penned akin to a diary, revealing a progression from resolve, grief, fear, near-madness and dissociation to self-destiny, as well as the early days of her integration back into society, though one with which she was utterly unfamiliar. Within these chapters, the reader is able to witness Jackal’s internal evolution and the coping strategies she implements in order to keep herself from breaking beyond repair.

More profoundly, Jackal’s journey toward healing and reintegration became my journey, giving me pause within each step of the process. As the reader, I was provided the opportunity to witness, objectively, the benefits and pitfalls of each strategy and reflect upon my own application of it.

The apparent acceptance of a corporatized governmental system left me at something of a loss, however. Although its manipulative omnipresence was haunting throughout, Jackal continues to seek its validation, often expressing her desire to once again belong to Ko. Perhaps the author’s intent was to encourage readers to find ways in which to utilize the system for the public good, but, jaded as I am, I simply couldn’t buy into such a tidy line of thought.

Nevertheless, after a healthy dose of reflection, I continue to take comfort in Jackal’s resilience, the subtly underground communities that support those of us on the fringe and the value of offering hope to those who need it most.

Danika reviews Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

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Why did no one tell me about this book earlier?? Honestly, this should be much more well known. Ice Massacre is about Meela, and 18-year-old girl who has been trained to fight killer mermaids. She’s needed to defend her island, but she has qualms about being sent out to massacre the “sea demons”: she befriended one as a kid.

I was completely sucked in by this book. I can’t help but make Hunger Games comparisons: this is a story about teenagers at war, and it has some brutal violence. Each girl reacts to being in a war situation differently, some numbing themselves with drugs and others becoming vicious and unfeeling. Meela struggles to steel herself to the killing of mermaids–creatures who look eerily human–and it’s made worse by the fear that the next one she kills will be her childhood best friend.

In addition to the war with the mermaids, the girls turn on each other on the ship, splintering their ranks. The tension is high, and I ended up reading this book in a day, which is not a common occurrence for me.

The queer content of this book is understated, and it could easily be missed by someone who wasn’t looking for it, but it’s impossible to misinterpret by the end. If you’re someone who wants to get queer books in the hands of people who might not seek them out–or who aren’t able to openly read queer lit–this would make a great choice.

Ice Massacre also has a mostly indigenous cast of characters, but they are a fictional indigenous group. In the book, Eriana Kwai island seems to be an independent indigenous nation between BC and Alaska. The language is loosely based on Haida. I can’t speak to this representation, especially because the author did invent an indigenous group. I would be very interested to read a review from an indigenous reader, especially someone from the Pacific Northwest Coast.

With that caveat, I highly recommend Ice Massacre, as long as you can stomach some violence. Killer mermaids! It’s like Fox and the Hound, but with mermaids and lesbians! This deserves a much more prominent spot in queer YA and queer SFF.

Shira Glassman reviews Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee

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I’m surprised by how slowly the indie SFF world seems to be responding to fandom’s current preference for superheroes. Maybe that’s because superheroes originated in print to begin with, so anyone wanting to write them goes for graphic novels rather than prose. But CB Lee’s Not Your Sidekick is a much-needed contribution for those of us who for whatever reason just don’t tend to read comics very often and want superhero stories anyway.

When you read a book where the protagonist has both the same heritage and sexuality as the author (bisexual and mixed Chinese-Vietnamese), the whole thing shines with authenticity and verisimilitude. All the details that white cis/straight authors tend to shove in like political campaign fliers left wedged behind a doorknob are instead seamlessly woven into the text, as her default, whether they’re Vietnamese swear words, shame over how her former friends from Chinese school have become the “cool girls” and don’t talk to her anymore, or how she’s bi in the same awkward “I have crushes on the Talented Overachieving Femmes at my high school but I’m just gonna sit in a corner” way that I was at that age.
But the book isn’t about any of those things. It’s that kind of SFF so many people crave, where these marginalized kids get to battle evil forces and root out conspiracies as if–gasp–kids from marginalized cultures or sexualities have other enemies besides racism and queerphobia.
The book is really easy to read; CB Lee manages to explain a totally unfamiliar future following wars and radiation events without once losing me under a blanket of worldbuilding. Jess’s world of self-driving cars, electronic wrist devices, and three-dimensional holographic (I think) television seems completely normal and at times I almost felt like I was reading YA contemporary that happened to take place in a world with robots and superheroes, especially when she and the love interest, Abby, were flirting through school projects together.
But then the plot picks up, and the layers of twists begin to unpeel. There’s a really obvious twist that I saw coming because I have a similar one in my first book, but for me it almost served as camouflage and kept me from seeing all the other twists yet to come. For me, anyway, this didn’t turn out to be a predictable, simple book, and it had a lot of good things to say about the way we define heroes and villains in the public eye. Lee also came up with some pretty creative powers and super-identities that didn’t seem like the same old same old.
What I appreciated about the book is that even when things are Not Great, it never feels bogged down with that hopelessness and overwhelmingly dystopian feeling that it easily could have, given the subject matter. I mean, some people could plop you down as a reader in the middle of the desert in a future where there isn’t really enough good food to eat and various old forms of entertainment are forbidden, and it would seem depressing, but this just seems normal and even chirpy. I mean, it’s Jess’s normal. She just thinks she’s a regular kid, with a friend group and kids at school she feels weird around and homework and insecurities and crushes both on classmates and celebrities.
The ending isn’t really an ending at all, which is frustrating, but at least it’s not a cliffhanger, just the first book in the kind of trilogy where all three books tell one complete story. And yes, the girls end up together and alive. Behold the low bar television has set for SFF–the bar is on the ground. But this is, happily, more than just a book where Girl A gets with Girl B and fight some bad guys.

More of Shira Glassman’s reviews here.

Shira’s fluffy f/f fantasy series about a lesbian queen with a bi partner and a warrior/wizard sidekick couple here.

Shira Glassman reviews Swan's Braid and Other Tales of Terizan by Tanya Huff

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Fantasy literature is rife with ‘clever thief’ protagonists for the vicarious entertainment of the virtuous, like Bilbo Baggins, but most of them are not even female, let alone lesbians. Swan’s Braid and other Tales of Terizan gives us the wily but honorable Terizan, who waltzes away from the first story in her collection with the affection of a female mercenary with whom she maintains a casual romance for the remainder of the book. Most of Terizan’s adventures aren’t love stories, but “capers”–she gets assignments from the Thieves’ Guild, which she joined pretty much for their health insurance plan (“the guild takes care of its own,” and she’s worried about what would happen if she ever got more seriously hurt during one of her falls from a mark’s window. It’s that kind of book.)

The plots themselves are pretty clever, with inflection points and twists and rising action and punch lines, reminding me of Maurice Leblanc’s dashing gentleman burglar Arsène Lupin, only in a fantasy setting with a lesbian heroine. Whether Terizan’s adversary is a ghost, a wizard, a prince, or the cult of an upstart goddess, reading about her besting them was satisfying and not stressful at all because they’re written in that “good old fashioned fun” way, not grimdark.

The prose is easy to follow, with the occasional evocative bit like “[…]sales pitches as wilted as the vegetables[…]” Huff’s worldbuilding is unobtrusive and “generic fantasy” enough to be pretty easy to understand, yet with enough originality that I didn’t feel like I was reading homage or parody. And I really can’t say enough good things about how relaxing it is to read a story about a woman Doing Things in a shady underworld without having to fear gendered violence. The villains in this book are mostly men, but their offensives and defenses against Terizan never include a sexual element.

I love so much about what Terizan’s stories have and don’t have. Her best friend is a bisexual male sex worker, her adventures aren’t gendered (in other words, she gets to interact with her fictional universe pretty much the way male characters usually get to), and her three bosses at the Guild are a man, a woman, and someone who “could be either or neither” whose gender is never further discussed. These days things like this are becoming easier to find in SFF, at least if you’re like me and play Heimdahl with indie LGBT publishing, but this particular story was written in the NINETIES. So I quietly hold this up to those who go around leaving skeptical, ossified reviews on fiction with nonbinary characters.

I would love to see these done in graphic novel form.

(Warning for the word ‘whore’ used a few times; I think it was only said by the sex worker character but I can’t actually remember and I returned my eBook to the library already.)

Find more of my reviews here.

Find my f/f fantasy books here.

JJ Taylor reviews The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

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In a future where pirates rule the open seas, the fleets the shore are kept at bay by genetically engineered giant sea creatures bonded to their ships and guided by their trainers. You want to read The Abyss Surrounds Us. You really do. It has pirates, sea monsters, queer lady romance, lady villains, pirate queen moms, an Asian-American lead character – it’s packed with all the things you’ve been wanting in your YA. Honestly, I think most books could benefit from a good dose of lady pirates.

This is fantastic sea adventure with a queer lady romance that doesn’t pull it’s punches. The fights hurt, the romance hurts, and it’s all worth it. This sea adventure ride is full of twists and turns and they start right away.

Spoilers ahead! I’ll try not to give too much away, but it’s hard to get to the heart of this book without some spoilers.

Cassandra Leung goes through an incredible journey. At the start of the story, she’s a teen just about to go on her first mission for which she’s been trained on all her life. By the end, she’s surviving and thriving in a completely different world. She transforms into a competent, brave, skilled commander of a Reckoner, and a clever and savvy fighter. She sense of herself and where she belongs, even if it means turning her back on everything she knows.

The world of Reckoners pulled me in from the first scene. I was convinced our future could look like this, with condensed political nations in the wake of rising sea levels, flooding destroying whole portions of continents. Like all good speculative fiction, the changes in the new world don’t seem that far off a possibility from our current world.

We feel the loss of Durga, Cas’ first trainee, throughout the whole book, which is about the only way I can tolerate animal loss in a story. It was awful, don’t get me wrong, but it was awful for Cas and the loss remains raw and informs her decisions all the way through the story, even in the end. It’s not for the faint of heart, though, and there are more vicious attacks of sea monster on sea monster further into the story. Cas knows what it means to turn a Reckoner on other Reckoners, and she knows what she’s done in training Bao, the Minnow’s Reckoner, and in using him as a shield in battle. It’s an adult awareness that marks part of Cas’ growth as a character. Bao is never the quiet friend that Durga was. He’s a beast, and Cas bonds with him as she raises him, but the circumstances of their relationship were too forced, and ultimately too violent for it to last.

And that brings me to The Pirate Queen. Santa Elena is a terrifying villain. She’s not a kinder version of a pirate just because she’s a mother; she’s cruel, manipulative, calculating, and she has no qualms hurting those who hurt her. She sets Cas and the crew against one another in a myriad of ways, and delights in the outcome, even when it’s violent. She’s dangerous from start to finish.

And Swift, oh, Swift, with her bird tattoo like her name and her ship brand on the back of her neck like the sword of Damocles. I fell for Swift as hard as Cas does, but she also remained unknowable until the very end. I loved the tension of their building romance, their struggle to find one another on equal footing, and I was disappointed that the two proto-pirate queens don’t get an HEA. I had several theories while reading about how the book would end, and none of them were anywhere near being right. Cas and Swift aren’t together, but at least they’re not apart. They face nearly as many challenges as they did at the start, which has kept them on my mind days after I finished the book.

Go get The Abyss Surrounds Us. You’ll suddenly find yourself hatching escape plans for Swift and Cas, or maybe you’ll be rooting for Santa Elena. On the ship full of cutthroat lady pirates, you can’t go wrong.

Warning for animal harm/death

Aoife reviews Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

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Jessica Tran is almost seventeen, bisexual, Vietnamese-American, a ‘high school nobody’, average student – and haver of no superpowers. Not that she hasn’t tried. Her sister does, is off somewhere being a journalist slash super hero, and her brother is at least a science genius. But what does Jess have? Well, hopefully, an internship.

The best way I can describe Sidekick is as something of a cross between Strong Female Protagonist and Always Human, while still doing its own thing. Set in the future, the Sidekick world was devastated in the early 2000s by something to do with solar flares, which caused a bunch of natural disasters and a war, and also gave a number of people across the world meta-abilities, or superpowers. Her parents, who met in a refugee camp, were two of those people, and now divide their time between their cover lives – real estate – and their jobs as Shockwave and Smasher, the C-class superheroes of Andover, Nevada. The world itself is run under a bunch of kind of capitalist collectivist dictatorships; North America is now the North American Collective, where all media prior to 2035 is banned, there’s some other shifty stuff going on, and absolutely no one seems to think there’s a problem with the government. The American high school seems unchanged, though, so I guess that’s something. Probably not a point in their favour.

This book isn’t perfect, but I loved it. It’s never explicitly said, but there’s a lot of textual evidence to say that Jess has ADHD, which is exciting, and in addition to our excellent bisexual protagonist, we have a trans best friend (Bells) who is tragically in love with the other best friend (Emma), and a very lovely romantic lead (Abby). Also, Bells is Creole-American and Emma is Mexican-American; I think the only white main character is Abby? Pretty damn cool. I also liked the exploration of Jess’s – I guess race anxiety? She’s Vietnamese, and she feels Vietnamese, but not Vietnamese enough for other Vietnamese people. It made her feel more real, somehow.

The plot is pretty obvious – I figured out the majority of the ‘big reveals’ and plot points halfway through chapter two, and the others were also not particularly surprising – and the villainous characters are incredibly two-dimensional, to the point where I wonder if Lee did that on purpose. However! while it would have been nice if everyone was a little more perceptive, I loved this book. I loved the romance, I loved the characters, the writing is good, I’m super excited to read the next book… it definitely deserves its five stars. Lee does relationships really well, and she was so good at writing Jess being in love with Abby that I’m pretty sure I’m also in love with Abby now. 

Like SFP, there are a lot of really interesting implications within the world building that Sidekick barely scratched the surface of, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where Lee goes with it. There are a lot of good but short interrogations of things here, like Jess’s criticism of the school’s LGBTQIA club, and I have to say, I’m really interested in Lee’s choice to keep all of the queer stuff accurate to the present, as opposed to doing something like Always Human. I just want to read more.

The next book in the series, Not Your Villain, is out sometime next year (2017) and will be told from Bells’ perspective. I’m excited.

Trigger warnings: nothing particularly big I can think of. Jess gets electrocuted at some point? Missing family members?

This and other reviews by Aoife can also be found at https://concessioncard.wordpress.com/.