Sapphic Novellas To Read In November (Or Any Time!)

You won’t catch me trying to write any novellas this November (respect for anyone who tries to write 50,000 words in a month, it’s just not in my plans any time soon), but I did read a few! To my mind, novellas occupy a challenging space when it comes to fiction. They need to be so much more tightly focused than a novel, and when done poorly they can feel anemic by comparison. On the other hand, novellas have vastly more space to breathe and play than a short story ever could; when done well, they’re like a satisfying main course next to a short story’s minimalist appetizer. The following novellas ran the spectrum in my opinion, though I think there’s something worthwhile in each of them for readers and writers of novellas alike.

Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry

Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry is a very loose retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in mid-2000’s rural Texas. It is also absolutely brutal to read. The underworld here is a conversion therapy camp that lesbian teenagers Raya and Sarah are sent to after their relationship is discovered. Raya is bent on saving Sarah and leading them out of there, but the things they are forced to endure are not easy to stomach, especially with the knowledge that this sort of thing still happens today. Of the novellas I read this month, Orpheus Girl is the only one that I felt had more words to play with than was strictly necessary, and could afford to spend them luxuriously. I can tell that the author was primarily a poet before moving to fiction. Still, reading Orpheus Girl left me in a half-heartbroken haze—I appreciate books like these, but they’re the reason I generally stick to lesbian fantasy and sci-fi more than any other genre of sapphic fiction.

Content Warnings: homophobia, transphobia, child abuse, self-harm, suicide attempt, torture

the cover of Fireheart Tiger

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard is a small, anxious story about finding agency while trapped in restrictive relationships. Princess Thanh and her kingdom of Bình Hải are stuck in several, be it with more powerful nations, former lovers, or even Thanh’s own mother. Fireheart Tiger is the shortest book here, and I felt like it struggled the most with the novella format. A large portion of this book is spent telling rather than showing, and the overall effect is that most of Fireheart Tiger feels like it is spent deep inside Thanh’s internal ruminations. Which isn’t to say that the situations it presents aren’t compelling; Thanh’s political predicament is a thorny one that presents no clear solution, likewise Thanh’s struggle to reconcile her troubled relationship with her mother and their cultural tradition of filial piety. However, Fireheart Tiger lost me at its treatment of the only overtly masculine sapphic character. I understand what Eldris is supposed to represent in the narrative—both the threat and unavoidable gravity of an imperial nation—but in practice it just feels like she was written like a man, which is a stereotype of masculine lesbians that I hate to see in any story.

the cover of Spear by Nicola Griffith

Spear by Nicola Griffith is another loose retelling of old myths, this time a clever weaving of medieval tales regarding Peretur—also known as Perceval, Parzival, or Peredur—along with a handful of other Arthurian elements. Set in 9th century Wales, Spear is a bewitching read right from the beginning, steeped in that subconscious feeling of agelessness that only really good fantasy can instill. The magic is mysterious and wild, the people historically grounded and human; each familiar name and face feels appropriately placed, and yet the story itself felt gripping and fresh. It has a young butch disguising herself as a man (without slipping into questioning her gender), a tender and passionate romance between a knight and a witch, a special import given to both etymology and food—in short, it feels like this book was written just for me, and I wish it were about a million times longer. As much as I want more lesbian low fantasy like this in my life, though, I can admit that Spear is only as long as it actually needs to be. Should I try to write a novella after all? …Maybe next November. Maybe.

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends most of her free time running Dungeons & Dragons (like she has since the 90’s), and has even published a few adventures for it. You can follow her @RainyRedwoods on tumblr.

Til reviews The Stone Child by David A. Robertson

the cover of The Stone Child

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The Stone Child is book 3 in the Misewa Saga, following foster siblings Eli and Morgan, who discover that they can travel to another dimension when they put Eli’s drawings on a wall in their foster-home’s attic. Here, in Misewa, they meet animals who wear clothes and live in villages, but sometimes face major crises with which the children can help. The series incorporates Cree words and rituals, with identity as a powerful theme for the main characters, both of whom are First Nations.

This is the first book to introduce a romantic side-plot. Since it’s a middle grade novel, I hadn’t felt that was especially lacking, but it was introduced with characteristic nuance. This time Morgan’s friend Emily is along for the adventure. The girls share a nerdy friendship centered around a mutual love of outer space adventure stories, especially Star Wars; they tease each other and generally enjoy one another’s company. This would have been a perfect portrayal of a friendship even without the romance aspect.

As for the romance itself? Adorable. It progresses slowly, with little jokes and blushes, a tiny kiss on the cheek and full stop to ask if this was okay. Morgan and Emily have a relationship built on shared interests, respect for one another, open communication, and trust. Their nascent romance never rises to the center of the story, something I consider a positive. There are life-and-death stakes in this book. Morgan is struggling with her family. Though Emily is a consistent positive in her life, she’s never a distraction from Morgan’s questions of identity and belonging. One of my biggest pet peeves in any fiction is a character losing their sense of self for a romantic partner, so I adored watching Morgan stay honest to her path, even as she invited Emily to walk with her.

I don’t recommend starting with this book. The first in the series, The Barren Grounds, is the place to start. Even before Morgan and Emily’s friendship begins to wend its way toward “something more”, the series is filled with nuance—from Morgan, an angry girl with a huge and damaged heart; to her foster-mom Katie, so eager to do right but oblivious as a white woman fostering First Nations children; to how right and wrong play out on a generational scale. It’s at times heartbreaking and at other times pure delight. And, consistently, it’s an exciting adventure.

Vic reviews The Wicked Remain (The Grimrose Girls #2) by Laura Pohl

the cover of The Wicked Remain

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The Wicked Remain by Laura Pohl is the follow-up to last year’s The Grimrose Girls and exactly the conclusion this duology deserved, which is to say it was clever, full of hope, with a clear love of stories and rage at their prescribed endings. While I will try to avoid spoiling either book, The Wicked Remain continues right where the first one left off, with the girls now having to deal with the consequences of everything they did and everything they learned at the end of the last book. Along with grappling with the stakes of their relationships, new and old, romantic and familial, they also must try to save themselves (and every other girl at Grimrose) from the tragedies that await them.

When I read the first book in this duology, I knew that I enjoyed it, but I didn’t actually realize how much I liked it until I realized six months had gone by since I read it and I was still thinking about it. Book two was even better. Now, I will say I often enjoy the second book more simply because I already know I like the world and the characters, so now I’m along for the ride. It’s the difference between making new friends and spending time with your old friends. However, I also think in this case book two works better because while the first book was driven by a mystery that I didn’t find terribly shocking in its conclusion, the second book is driven by “how do we fix this?” On a personal note, I always find myself more invested in those stories than in mysteries, but I do believe character arcs are where Pohl excels, much more than in shocking mysteries. In setting up The Wicked Remain as she did, she was able to really lean into her strengths.

Everything that I loved about the first book was present in this book, but, as I said, even better. I loved reading about all of these characters again, and I loved how themselves they were all allowed to be. While the first book had to spend time on setup, this book was able to jump right in, which also meant it could dive deeper. Yuki’s descent into darkness contrasted with her desire to be loved and fear that she won’t be made for a particularly fascinating journey, and one that I can’t think of too many similar examples of, though I’m sure they must exist.  

And the relationships! The relationships introduced in the first book were explored more in depth here, and in interesting ways that I didn’t always expect (I’m looking at you, Nani and Svenja), but always loved. I am always here for gay princesses, which this duology more than delivers on, but that is not even all that I am talking about here. The friendships, both old and new, are the heart of this book, and they were just as fascinating, from the still-slightly-awkward newness of Nani’s inclusion in the group to the “I would kill and die for you” intensity of Yuki and Ella’s friendship. Even the complexities of the relationship between Ella and her stepsisters are given their due, and I loved this book all the more for it.

While this is a series about fairy tales, it takes everything so seriously, in the sense that nothing is treated as worthless. Everything matters. Everyone matters.  I won’t say much about the ending, but I thought it was the perfect end to the series. If these books had existed when I was sixteen, I would have been absolutely obsessed with them, and I know that for a fact because even now, as an adult with bookshelves full of the sapphic fantasies I craved in high school, The Grimrose Girls duology is still a favorite.

Sam reviews Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

the cover of Nona the Ninth

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ʼTis at last that most frightful and morbid of months, a spooky season of ghosts and ghouls, the danse macabre we raise our jaded bones to join but once each year—October is here! And not a moment too soon, because it’s time to check in on everyone’s favorite lesbian necromancers from space. Three years ago, Harrow the Ninth managed to be both a hotly anticipated and shockingly unexpected followup to Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel. But after collectively turning our minds into pretzels trying to figure out what exactly was happening there, we finally have part three of the Locked Tomb series in Nona the Ninth.

Now, if you haven’t been keeping up with news of the series since you put down Harrow, you might be wondering—wasn’t the third book in the trilogy going to be Alecto the Ninth? And you wouldn’t be wrong. Alecto the Ninth is listed in all books published so far, and according to the author, the Locked Tomb was indeed intended to be a trilogy from the beginning. But Tamsyn Muir has since revealed that the first act of the novel ballooned while she was writing it, to the point that Muir’s editor forced her to break the manuscript into two books instead.

When I heard this news in the lead-up to Nona the Ninth’s release, I made peace with the possibility that previous protagonists Gideon and Harrow might not appear in this book at all. As it turns out, that was a very practical emotional defense to have going into Nona. If your only interest in these books is seeing more interactions between Gideon and Harrow, I don’t think you’ll like this particular novel. Which is a shame, because Nona the Ninth does a lot of other really neat things for the Locked Tomb quartet—and I say this as someone who has written extensively here about how much I love Gideon and Harrow! But here we get to see a side of Muir’s universe that we’ve only ever gotten hints at, and the characters she does choose to focus on definitely earn that spotlight. It’s not as surrealistically baffling as Harrow the Ninth was, but Muir doesn’t settle back into the comfortable foundations that I see now she was laying in Gideon the Ninth. I got a sense of Muir still pushing herself as an author, experimenting with form and narrative in exciting ways.

Because beyond the exposition and plot twists and preparation for the next book, Nona the Ninth grapples with some really compelling questions. What does it mean to love someone? Where do we look to find God, and what makes them worthy of our love—especially when God hurts us? What makes us worthy of the world’s love, after all we’ve done to hurt it? While Harrow the Ninth was unambiguously a book about grief, Nona plunges deep into the waters of family, faith, and forgiveness, all through the eyes of a girl who just wants one last birthday party before it’s too late.

I fully expect Alecto the Ninth to cast new light on the enigmas of Nona when it comes out. One of the really astounding things about the Locked Tomb series is how each book informs and illuminates the ones that came before. It makes them eminently re-readable, as each time through you see more and more pieces coming together to form a thematic whole. However, it also means that there is a lot of relying on faith that Tamsyn Muir will be able to cash the check she’s written with all this set-up, and I understand why some fans are looking at the looming end of the series with trepidation. Personally, I’m still safely on the side of eager anticipation for the series finale—though not as impatiently as I was between Gideon and Harrow. Even if the wait is long, I actually think Nona the Ninth provides exactly the kind of layered, thoughtful, yet charming company we need to make it through in the meantime.

Content Warnings: gore, violence, apocalypse

Samantha Lavender is a lesbian library assistant on the west coast, making ends meet with a creative writing degree and her wonderful butch partner. She spends most of her free time running Dungeons & Dragons (like she has since the 90’s), and has even published a few adventures for it. You can follow her @RainyRedwoods on both twitter and tumblr.

Danika reviews The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

the cover of The Book Eaters

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This dark fairy tale dances on the line between fantasy and horror. It follows Devon, a book eater, who is part of one of the aristocratic houses of book eaters (think vampires, but they eat books instead of drinking blood). She is one of very few women book eaters, which means she is primarily valued for her ability to get pregnant. (We only are introduced to cis book eaters.) She’s raised on a strict diet of fairy tales and is expected to be married to two successive houses, producing an heir for each and then leaving the child with them.

When we meet her, though, she’s on the run with a mind eater child. Instead of being born with a craving for ink, Cai craves human minds. She should have left him to be controlled by the house, weaponized and dehumanized, but she refuses. She’ll stop at nothing to keep Cai safe–including finding people for him to feed on, leaving them either dead or robbed of their memories and senses. Her only hope is to find the secretive house creating a drug that stops mind eaters from having to feed on minds to stay alive.

This book rotates between current day and how Devon ended up here, starting from her childhood. Despite having a rough idea of Devon’s past before getting those chapters, I was just as absorbed in her backstory as in the present day perspective.

From the premise, I thought of this as a horror novel, but despite the bloodiness and, well, the idea of a mother hunting and sacrificing people to her mind eating son, it reads more as a fantasy to me — a fantasy novel with teeth.

This is a fascinating look into the horrors we can do for love, especially maternal love. At several points, Devon reiterates that love isn’t necessarily a good thing. Her love for her son has left a trail of bodies in its wake. And to be clear, Cai isn’t just a monster. He is a sweet, intelligent boy who doesn’t want to feed on people. Despite her love for him, though, Devon knows her life would be better without him. Maybe the world would be, too. She’s daydreamed about his death even while stopping at nothing to keep him alive. Maybe that’s the horror, more than the deaths.

This narrative is also concerned with the gendered ways people are raised, and the limited set of expectations and imagination we have because of them. Book eaters are said to be without imagination; they can’t actually write any stories themselves. They can only conceive of what’s been fed to them, and with Devon and the other book eater women, those stories are carefully selected to encourage them to be passive and obedient.

Because this is the Lesbrary, of course Devon is sapphic, and she also has a minor romantic subplot with another woman. This is a small part of the book, but it was interesting.

I will say that this felt a little distanced, like watching the story unfold from above instead of being right in the thick of it. I’m not sure how to describe that or why it gave me that impression, but I know lots of readers balk at that sort of story. For me, it matched the generally thoughtful and even philosophical tone of the story, but your miles may vary.

This was a thought-provoking and unsettling read that is perfect for fall.

Content warnings: body horror, gore, violence, domestic abuse, and violence against children

Meagan Kimberly reviews Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

the audiobook cover of Gideon the Ninth

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Ready to cut loose from her life serving the Ninth House and a doomed future, Gideon makes plans to escape the planet, but Harrow has other plans for her. Harrow has been summoned by the Emperor to engage in a trial of necromantic skills and intellect. If either of them is to get what they want, they have to work together to discover the truth and survive it as a team.

Gideon uses her sarcastic humor as a defense mechanism to survive her servitude with the Ninth House. Throughout their lives, Harrow has made Gideon’s life a nightmare, manipulating her into getting involved with House politics. The evolution of their relationship as they become a necromancer/cavalier pairing sends them on a path to better understanding one another. Their antagonistic banter makes for a fun and funny romp of magical lesbians in space.

Gideon’s sexuality is established straightaway when she tries to bribe her superior with dirty magazines. Then, throughout the story, she grows close to Dulcinea, the Lady Septimus (of the Seventh House). While it’s absolutely clear from the get-go that Gideon is queer, it simply exists as part of who she is and is never questioned or condemned by characters around her, as it is a normal part of this world.

Muir’s world-building is intricate and complex. The story showcases necromancy magic more as a science, as well as part of the political structure of this world. Cavaliers and necromancers work together toward gaining power for their Houses, but within the events of this story, the characters start to learn their world and lives are not what they seem.

The narrative takes a turn as secrets start to come to light. The more the truth comes to light, the closer Harrow and Gideon become, pointing toward an enemies-to-lovers relationship in the works. The point where the tension breaks between them creates a satisfactory moment of letting go of the past so that they can move forward with a new kind of relationship.

I listened to this on audiobook as narrated by the animated and engaging Moira Quirk. Quirk truly brought each character to life, which helped in trying to keep track of all the different cast of characters throughout the story—although some kind of character chart/map would’ve been much appreciated.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, and the ending definitely leaves you wanting to read the rest of the series.

Til reviews The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning

the cover of The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell

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This is the sort of review best begun with a caveat that I intend no ill will toward those who enjoyed the book… but maybe they’ll want to give it a miss, because I really do not like this book. In fact, I found the reading experience so thoroughly a misery that I resent myself for sticking with it—and I have a bit of resentment left over for whoever approved that misleading summary.

Ostensibly, The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell is a futuristic revenge story in which a girl seeks justice for her deceased family. That does happen—but summarizing it this way is like describing Cinderella as the story of a girl who needs new shoes. Both are technically accurate descriptions of stories focused on a girl’s romance with her prince charming. That’s not inherently a bad thing, loads of people enjoy Cinderella, but it’s dishonest.

And I don’t like Cinderella.

Or this.

I chose this book because I love a morally grey badass heroine and I was excited to see a main character from the Ozarks. There are too few dynamic country girls leading YA adventures. Learning that said country girl was pansexual was a pleasant surprise, and as I continued reading, I even looked forward to reviewing this for the Lesbrary—positively. The villain, Gabriel Gates, felt appropriate to the heroine, too: not a President or a world dictator, just a capitalist baron ruling a few counties. He was a big enough bad to matter, but a small enough one that a girl might take him down.

Quickly, the shine came off. Dinah wasn’t a badass at all. This could have worked, too, but it only served to get to what seemed like the point of the story: Dinah’s romance with Johnny. Johnny is your stereotypical dreamboat love interest. He lives in a cave—but it’s a nice cave, and he has traplines so he never goes hungry and a hot spring for warm baths; he’s a musician and luthier; he’s a talented, ethical bootlegger; he’s got connections everywhere and inexplicable devotion to Dinah. Johnny is the real main character. The most emotional conflict even occurs when his little brother is taken in by Gates and begins parroting his rhetoric. It’s not a particularly well-executed conflict; I found it predictable, probably because the book focuses (inexplicably) on Dinah.

This goes back to my Cinderella complaint. The summary only mentions Johnny in the third paragraph, so I expected some romance. I did not expect the entire plot to put itself on hold for what felt like at least half the page count. It quickly became clear that the setting and plot served the romance, at massive detriment, because the plot still tries to happen. The result is a conflict that wants to be complex but instead is rushed, a denouement that someone forgot to write, and a romance that I didn’t want to read, all spearheaded by a character who thinks her grief entitles her to other people’s lives.

Yeah. People die in Dinah’s little revolution, and she doesn’t really seem to care, and nor does the narrative. It protects the characters it deems worthy—the ones who merit page time. In a way, I respect this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a sweeter-than-bitter ending. When paired with the amount of time spent on the romance, though, it begins to seem like the author really didn’t want to write the plot.

A few positives, to end on. The sex scene was good. It was awkward and required communication, that set a good example. I appreciated the worldbuilding—things like advanced tech being available only if people have resources to afford it.

Finally, I liked the metaphor of the pears. Near the beginning of the book, Dinah looks at three buckets of pears traded to her family for access to their well. Angry, she kicks over one of the buckets. She immediately regrets this and gathers up most of the pears, but so much happens that she misses one. There’s no closure on those pears—not once her mother and brother die, kicking off the plot—except that one outlasts the rest, crushed in the road, broken but still present. And had Dinah actually been a single thing like that pear, had she ended the book broken or even scarred instead of on a happy road to everything, it would’ve been a really strong metaphor.

Trigger warnings: animal death, child death

Danika reviews The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

the cover of The Drowned Woods

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“She had never been brave–but she’d always been angry. It would have to be enough.

I picked up this Welsh dark fantasy heist novel because I was promised two things: a corgi and bisexuality. I’m happy to say that it delivered on both. And now I need more corgis in fantasy novels.

Surprisingly, it’s the corgi who makes an appearance first; Mer’s bisexuality isn’t mentioned in the text until about 100 pages in. This book is separated into three sections and has three point of view characters. Mer is a water diviner, and she’s long been on the run from the prince. She once was a weapon of his, and after her escape, she can’t stay anywhere for long. Then, a solution appears: her old handler, who was simultaneously a father figure and her captor, has left the prince (cutting off his own finger to be free of his signet) and has a plan to overthrow him. There’s a magical well that is the source of the prince’s power, and with Mer’s magic, she can stop it—along with a team of other people with specific skills. Thus begins the heist.

Their team will need muscle/an assassin, and that’s where they find Fane, the second POV character–who is also the one with a corgi. Fane made a deal with the fae as a young man to get revenge on the people who killed his family. As these deals often go, though, it turned out to be more of a curse. Now, he constantly fears accidentally killing the people around him, and he’s determined not to use his deadly power for his own gain.

Then (spoilers?), about 100 pages in, Mer’s ex-girlfriend Ifanna joins the team. She’s a thief, the daughter of two women who run the thieves’ guild. Her and Mer’s relationship ended when she turned her in to the prince’s guard. Unsurprisingly, though there’s a bit of a romantic subplot with Fane and Mer, I felt like she had more chemistry with Ifanna–or, to be more precise, I just didn’t buy the romance between Mer and Fane, even before Ifanna shows up. Sidenote: I believe this is a queernorm world, because no one comments on Mer’s bisexuality or Ifanna’s two moms.

I definitely think this will appeal to fans of Six of Crows and other heist novels, though this story is really concentrated on these three characters, not the rest of the team. I liked the twists and felt like it was well-paced, between building the team/planning and the actual heist aspect, which includes a tense sequence through caves that will soon be flooded by the incoming tide.

The mildest of spoilers, but important information for many: the dog is okay! In fact, I really feel like this book was written with the pet-lovers in mind. The corgi is just a fun, adorable companion during this fairly dark fantasy story, and he ducks out when things get dicey. (More unimportant spoilers:) Mer is mentioned feeding an abandoned dog in the first chapter. At the end, after all of the epic events that have taken place, this dog has not been forgotten. He’s rescued. This trope always gets me.

Speaking of spoilers (actual, for real spoilers, highlight to read): One weird note is that the text on the cover is actually a giant spoiler. It’s literally the twist in the climax of the story. So that’s a puzzling decision. Also, my only real complaint, other than not really buying Thane and Mer as a couple, is that Ifanna just drops off in the epilogue. Even if they didn’t end up as a throuple (always an option, authors!), I thought they’d at least stay in touch. (end of spoilers)

Though fantasy heist novels are not usually the first subgenre I gravitate towards, I really enjoyed this. The dark fairy tale tone felt like a perfect fall read, and who can resist a bisexual fantasy novel with a corgi prancing through it? Not I.

Danika reviews The Dawnhounds (Against the Quiet #1) by Sascha Stronach

the cover of The Dawnhounds

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This is a queer, Maori-inspired, pirate, biopunk fantasy with worldbuilding so intense that I will be honest, I often was not following it all. It takes place mid-war, during a tense stalemate, in a city that’s bio-engineered plants to be buildings, weapons, and almost everything else. Metal is practically outlawed. As punishment for crimes (or perhaps just for being poor), people have their minds wiped for a certain number of years (theoretically) to act as mindless workers for the government.

Between the intricate worldbuilding and the references to Maori culture, stories, and landmarks that I’m sure I missed, this felt like a dense book to begin. But the story of the main character had me invested enough to let the rest of the story just wash over me.

Yat was once a street kid who scaled the roofs of buildings, lurking in the shadows and stealing to get by. Now she’s a cop, and she is busily convincing herself that she’s doing good in the world. It’s not exactly a leap up in respectability, though, partly because she recently got caught at a gay bar, which goes against the religious government’s orders. (Yat is bisexual.) Now she’s stuck working the night shift, trying to prove herself trustworthy.

Instead, she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, gets shot in the face, and dies in the harbor… and then she wakes up. A god has resurrected her, and now she has strange powers. She’s a weaver, able to pull the life force from people and plants and direct it in different ways. She falls in with/is kidnapped by (depending on who you ask) a found family of pirates, led by a sapphic married couple that Yat can’t help but envy for their freedom to have this relationship outside of the shadows. Now, obviously, queer pirate found family is an excellent selling point, but I do have to let you know that doesn’t come in until halfway through the book. In fact, the description on the back covers more than half the plot of the entire novel.

Because this is the first book in a series and it has such ambitious worldbuilding, much of this book seems to be setting up for the rest of the series, explaining how the world works: who is at war with whom, how the magic system operates, the status of the gods, etc. The heart of the story shines through, though, and I am definitely invested. I’m looking forward to seeing where this story goes next.

This is being pitched as Gideon the Ninth meets Black Sun, so if you’re looking for a queer fantasy with a fascinating and expansive setting, I highly recommend this one. Just be prepared to dive in and let the details flow past you, because The Dawnhounds is not interested in holding your hand through it all.

Content warnings: f slur, homophobia and biphobia, body horror

Maggie reviews Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axelrod

the cover of Galaxy the Prettiest Star

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In Galaxy: The Prettiest Star, Taylor has a life-threatening secret. She is the Galaxy-Crowned, an alien princess hiding on Earth from the invaders that destroyed her home as a baby. Taylor’s guardian fled with her and two others to Earth, disguising themselves not only as humans, but also turning Taylor into a boy as an extra layer of misdirection. Taking their cues about normal human families from sitcoms, they settle into a small town to hide, and every year that passes Taylor grows more miserable. Not allowed to be her true self, not allowed to hang out with other kids after school lest they figure something out or be put in danger, not even allowed to grow her hair out, Taylor feels like something has got to give. Which is when she meets Kat, a new transplant from Metropolis. They click instantly, and Taylor has to decide how far she’s willing to go to be herself. Galaxy: The Prettiest Star is a beautiful trans coming of age story with a layer of superhero science fiction shellacked over top, and the result is an enjoyable yet emotional and impactful read that I deeply wish I had had access to as a teenager.

The being yourself narrative is strong within this story, and with Taylor being forced to repress not only her gender but her very species; she is trans both in her gender and in the very makeup of her being, bringing multiple layers for her to work through. Taylor the human boy plays basketball, has one bro friend, and isn’t allowed to grow his hair out or go to parties lest something give away that he’s not human. Taelyr the Galaxy-Crowned has purple skin and luxurious teal hair, discovers she loves to experiment with hair and makeup, and hangs out with her new girlfriend.

I love Kat—who among us does not wish they met a cool out-of-town girlfriend who helped us immensely with our self confidence in high school?. Kat is dismayed to find herself in a small town, but not dismayed by anything about Taylor. They share an instant connection, and when Kat states that she’s not into guys, she accepts Taelyr’s statement that she is not a guy, even before she reveals that she’s also an alien. Kat is the lifeline that Taelyr needs to grow her self-confidence because even though they’re not alike, Kat understand being herself as a conscious process. I think both adult and teen readers will appreciate both the emotional resonance and the sweetness of their romance, and watching Taelyr coming fully into herself is a fulfilling arc. It’s so significant for DC to publish a graphic novel about a trans character, and although I suspect that some may find making a trans character also a secret alien from outer space a tad heavy-handed, I’m equally certain that there will be plenty of people over the moon excited to project themselves onto a purple space princess struggling to find herself in a small-minded small town.

The other thing I really loved about this story is the artwork. It’s bright and whimsical and really sets the mood as a teen story. Taelyr’s long teal hair flows across the page as she tries on look after fashionable look, trying to find her favorite style. There’s a whole sequence where Kat’s studied second reaction after seeing Taelyr transformed is to get excited about a makeup palette she normally doesn’t get to use, and Taelyr’s party look is off the charts amazing. Kat’s green hair and stylish butch looks provide an equally fun counterpoint, and together they are a riot of teenage love and self-expression across every page and a sharp contrast to the more plebian townsfolk that reject Taelyr. Plus, Taelyr’s other constant companion is a little monitoring robot that takes the appearance of a fluffy corgi that scampers around after her, adding a little extra dash of cuteness.

In conclusion, sometimes I feel like DC’s young adult graphic novels are a little heavy-handed and simplistic but Galaxy: The Prettiest Star is gorgeous and radiates much needed trans and queer coming-of-age energy. It’s a fun story that nonetheless has an out-sized emotional impact, and the artwork is strong and sets the whole tone of the narrative. If you’re looking for trans and queer comics, I would definitely add this to your list, especially for the young adult readers in your life. It is a great read, and one that I will definitely be revisiting when I need a fun boost.