A Comforting Queer Cozy Fantasy Comic: The Baker and the Bard by Fern Haught

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One of my favourite micro niches is queer cozy fantasy middle grade comics—which mostly just means I adore the Tea Dragon series by K. O’Neill. I have a print from that series on my wall. I have the box set. I have the card game! And since I read it, I’ve been looking for something else that is just as sweet, comforting, kind, and magical. When I heard about The Baker and the Bard, it rose to the top of my most-anticipated queer books of 2024. I’m happy to say that it lived up to those expectations.

Juniper and Hadley are friends in Larkspur: Juniper is a baker’s apprentice, while Hadley is trying to make it as a bard. When the bakery receives a very expensive rush order for galettes, the two of them set out to try to gather the rare mushrooms the recipe requires. Along the way, they discover that a nearby town has been dealing with something coming out of the woods and devouring their crops at night—a mystery Hadley is determined to solve.

I really don’t want to say much about the plot, because this is a short comic and would be easy to spoil. I’ll instead say that while they do go on a little adventure, it’s fairly low-stakes, just as I’d expect from a cozy fantasy. They make some new friends, including encountering fantasy creatures, which is a huge plus for me. I never really got past the Pokemon stage of wanting to collect and care for a variety of beautiful fantasy animals (though I never wanted them to fight).

Hadley is nonbinary, and there’s a little romance subplot between these two friends. It’s very cute.

If you like The Tea Dragon Society, cozy fantasy, or gentle and comforting comics, you have to pick this one up. I want a hundred more just like it.

An Ode to Burning it All Down: The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang

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Have you ever been seized with the inexplicable urge to destroy an intricate and beautiful object? But you don’t; you just sit with that strange, uncomfortable urge twisting in your chest and gnawing away at your heart. That’s a bit like what reading The Genesis of Misery is like. The title is Neon Yang’s debut novel, released in September 2022.

Let me back up a little and maybe add a warning: gentle lambs, if violence is not your thing, maybe sit this one out. 

The Genesis of Misery is a frame novel, so we’re told the story by another narrator, which adds an immediate additional layer of intrigue. We open knowing that Misery Nomaki (they/she), just turned twenty and believed to be the Last Savior of the Faithful, has arrived at the Imperial Capital already a prisoner. 

Reader, we are plunged into the surge of their escape and exposed to their raw ability to manipulate stone as they attempt to phase through the holystone door of their cell. The action fiend in me was already on its feet, wildly cheering. I didn’t know Misery yet, but I wanted her to win. 

We learn quickly as we go, frantically fed threads of information about this new world with every sentence. There is so much about it that’s just cool. You like magic? Space cults? Mechs? Rocks? A void virus that lives in your head and explodes out of your body in the form of too many teeth, bones, limbs? The Genesis of Misery has it all.

You could live inside of the universe that Yang created, and foul-mouthed Misery navigates it effortlessly. They’ve had a hard life, made harder by the creature no one else can see. It says its name is Ruin, Misery calls it a demon, but the information it has is good. Though Misery believes it to be a manifestation of voidsickness, they’re keen on survival, so they play up the role of inscrutable messiah, trying to stay one step ahead of the not-quite-openly-warring Church and Empire. 

Throughout The Genesis of Misery, we’re given the chance to see Misery grow into her self-appointed role as chosen one, Hand of the Larex Forge, leader of a ragtag mech squad meant to eliminate the Heretics once and for all. We watch as they continue to gather belief and followers, carefully manipulating those around them, and we watch them fight space battles with fierce joy and explore the crackling tension with Princess Alodia Lightning—and others. It’s a riveting, wild ride, one that begins with a sinking feeling and ends with one, too. Misery has never had it easy. 

After finishing the book, I haven’t been able to stop tumbling it over and over in my brain, fixating on the strange world and still half-living inside its constructs. 

Is Misery an antihero? Maybe. 

Is she likable? Maybe. 

But are they forgettable? Absolutely not.

The Genesis of Misery is for you if you’re looking for a queer, gritty, “chosen one” retelling with a morally gray protagonist. It’s for you if you want a painfully intimate view of fanaticism, all nestled within a glittering, imaginative sci-fi universe. It’s for you even if you’re just here for mech battles in space. 

But mostly, it’s for you if you’ve ever felt like burning it all down.

A Cozy Queer Comic of Community: Matchmaker by Cam Marshall

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This was a surprise, last-minute entry in my list of favourite reads of 2023!

I stumbled on this while researching new releases for Our Queerest Shelves, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was by a local British Columbia author/artist! I requested it from the library knowing pretty much nothing else about it except that it was queer and looked cute. I ended up devouring it in a couple days, and I’m now mourning that it’s over.

This follows Kimmy and Mason, best friends and roommates trying to survive the early 2020s in their early twenties. Kimmy is a nonbinary/genderfluid transfem lesbian, and Mason is cis and gay. As the title suggests, Kimmy is determined to set Mason up with his first boyfriend, which is made a lot more complicated during a pandemic when Mason is high risk.

This was originally a webcomic, which is obvious from how each page is set up to be somewhat complete in itself, but there is a narrative. We follow Kimmy and Mason through dating, breakups, and accumulating a growing group of queer friends. I loved these characters so much, and I was laughing out loud at several pages. It’s just such a cute, funny, and relatable read.

Kimmy is an unforgettable character. They’re over-the-top bubbly and silly, and they radiate confidence. I really appreciated reading about a fat transfem character who is so secure in themselves. They usually use they/them pronouns, but they also experience gender fluidity and change pronouns some days.

About halfway through the book, we find out Kimmy has depression, and they have to taper off their medication to start a new kind. As they go off their depression medication, they become an almost unrecognizable numb, closed-off version of themself Mason calls “Normal Kimmy.” Their friends support them through the weeks of this until they’ve adjusted to the new medication and begin to feel like themself again, including being able to better take in what’s happening around them.

This community of queer friends was the strength of this story. Not only have Mason and Kimmy been best friends since high school, but they also make connections with other queer people, quickly growing a supportive friend group. Despite the struggles they’re dealing with in terms of employment, the pandemic, dating, capitalism, and more, that rock solid foundation made this a comforting and cozy read.

This is not a short comic: it’s 280 pages. But by the time I finished it, I was already missing spending time with these characters.

I do have one complaint, though, and I hope it’s changed in later editions, because it doesn’t fit with the range of queer identities represented positively in this story: Kimmy refers to their lack of libido from being off their medication as being asexual, including triumphantly declaring, “I’m not ace anymore!” when their sex drive returned, which isn’t great, especially because I believe that’s the only mention of asexuality in the book.

That unfortunate inclusion aside, I really enjoyed this book. You can also still read it as a webcomic!

An Anxious Nonbinary Lesbian Sheep Solves a Murder: Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything by Justine Pucella Winans

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Bianca has overwhelming anxiety, especially social anxiety, to the point that trying to have an everyday conversation is a monumental struggle. They keep a numbered list of fears, like “Fear #6: Initiating Conversation,” “#13 Beautiful People,” and “#11 Parents Discovering They’re a Raging Lesbian.” So they’re definitely not going to ask out the cute girl in their birdwatching group. Or even speak to her at all. Bianca compares themself to lesbian sheep, standing beside each other perfectly still, hoping the other makes a move.

The only person other than family she feels comfortable around is Anderson. They bonded over anime, though Anderson is too cool to admit to liking manga and anime at school.

If it was up to Bianca, they would stayed in that safe bubble forever, but while people watching with their birdwatching telescope, they witness a murder in building across the street by someone wearing a plague doctor mask. Getting up the courage to tell the police is hard enough, but when the cops dismiss them and rule the case a suicide, Bianca is now the only one who can get justice for the neighbour who used to put bird drawings on his window for them to enjoy. (The cops are useless at best in this book, and I appreciated that: it is a murder investigation that doesn’t glorify the police at all.)

This is a satirical mystery perfect for fans of Only Murders In the Building. It’s whacky and over-the-top when it comes to the murder case, but the interpersonal and self-discovery elements feel grounded. Bianca ends up convincing Anderson and Elaine (from the birding group) to help investigate, changing their dynamic and bringing them closer together.

Meanwhile, Bianca is having Gender Feelings. At first, it’s not conscious, like feeling uncomfortable in their body and enjoying being compared to a male character. As they reluctantly explore these feelings, though, they begin to experience gender euphoria by changing their gender expression, coming out to some people as nonbinary, finding nonbinary friends and community, and using they/them pronouns. This is one of the few books I’ve read with a character who identifies as a nonbinary lesbian!

This was a lot of fun, and I appreciated both the satirical murder mystery plot and the well-rounded characters.

“Perhaps the real murder investigation is the friends we make along the way.”

Trans Horror Satire with a Beating Heart: Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky

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Boys Weekend a satirical horror graphic novel about Sammie, a trans feminine person who is invited to a bachelor party of an old friend as the “best man.” While there, Mattie seems to be the only one concerned about the cult sacrificing people. This was already on my TBR, and I was happily surprised to find out this one is sapphic! Sammie has a wife.

This is illustrated in a style I associate more with adult cartoons than graphic novels, but it works well for this dark comedy. Sammie is conflicted about whether to attend Adam’s bachelor party, but Adam has been fairly accepting after they came out, so they decide to take the leap. The party takes place at a sci-fi, ultra capitalist version of Las Vegas: it’s called El Campo, and on this island, anything goes. Including hunting your own clone for casual entertainment. Adam’s friends are all tech bros, and Sammie is uncomfortable with them on multiple levels: while their home is decorated with ACAB signs and pride flags, Adam’s friends are interested in strip clubs, get rich quick schemes, and everything else associated with hetero masculinity.

Even before the outright horror elements come in, this is an unsettling and upsetting environment to be in. Sammie constantly misgendered, both from strangers and friends/acquaintances who should know better. The horror plot is really just an exaggeration of the cult of masculinity that the bachelor party is so devoted to. There is some gore, but as a whole, it is focused on the satire, not being outright scary.

It’s difficult reading Sammie experience the unrelenting transmisogyny that they do, but there’s also a defiant, hopeful element to this story. It explores the complicated question of which relationships are worth holding onto after coming out—what about the friends and family who don’t get it but aren’t actively hateful? When is it time to walk away, and when is it worth reaching out and trying to repair the relationship?

Despite the horror, the micro- and macroaggressions, and the constant misgendering, this wasn’t bleak. Sammie reaches out to their wife and other queer friends throughout the story, asking for their advice and support over the phone, so even when they are surrounded by assholes, they don’t feel alone. Sammie is secure in their identity and self-worth and has support from coworkers, friends, and in their marriage.

While having lots of over-the-top elements—El Campo is something else—I actually teared up a bit at the end. The setting and plot might be cartoony, but the emotion is grounded. I recommend this both to horror fans and to those less familiar with the genre: as long as you’re okay with a few pages of gore, this is well worth the read.

Healing Through a Haunting: The Fall That Saved Us by Tamara Jerée

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The author’s content notes, which also apply to this review: “While Cassiel’s story is focused on healing, heavier themes of trauma and shame are explored to give context to the protagonist’s journey. Please consider the major content notes: cutting scars, brief self-harm ideation, discussion of an eating disorder, family emotional abuse, and a manipulative mother. This book contains sexual content and is only intended for adult readers.”

The first time I learned about Tamara Jerée’s The Fall That Saved Us, I was sold. A sapphic paranormal romance with a protagonist who runs a bookstore and heals from trauma? That sounded like the perfect way to ring in October. I’m happy to say that not only did it meet my expectations, but it became a favorite of the year.

Cassiel has cut off ties with her divine family of demon hunters, other than her sister, with whom she now has a complicated relationship. She has spent the last three years living in the ordinary world for the first time, trying to establish a life independent of the oppressive rules of her mother, Gabriel. She runs a bookstore and is friends with Ana, a witch with a coffee shop. Still, she won’t fully open up even to Ana, and she has struggled to integrate into society or unpack her internalized shame, as she was raised to avoid pleasure of any kind.

Though Cassiel is laying low, she attracts the attention of the succubus Avitue, who has been ordered to steal Cassiel’s soul. Avitue haunts Cassiel, attempting seduction through gifts and shared dreams. But by the time the two meet face-to-face, Avitue has realized that Cassiel is more than meets the eye, as someone who has been harmed by her family and is trying to escape the life of a demon hunter. Ordinarily, a confrontation between a succubus and an angel’s descendant ends in violence, but they both exercise restraint. This gives them enough pause that they develop a tentative trust and a less tentative chemistry. When Cassiel’s family gets involved at the same time that Avitue’s superiors apply pressure, they must team up to navigate these threats while also navigating their feelings.      

A whirlwind romance with a succubus pushes Cassiel out of her comfort zone in more ways than one, forcing her to confront the idea that demons are more complex than her family claimed and allowing her to embrace sensuality for the first time. Initially, going against her conditioning makes her recoil. However, Avitue understands that it’s important for Cassiel to push herself toward new ground on her own terms. When she falls, Avitue is there to catch her.                  

As an immortal succubus who fell millennia ago, Avitue is chaotic, morally grey, and distant from humanity. She is electrifyingly charismatic and doesn’t mind wielding this as a tool. However, coming into contact with Cassiel forces her to question her own assumptions about their natures. From the start, Avitue cares for and refuses to hurt Cassiel. Their developing relationship involves all of the negotiation and communication that this sort of dynamic requires, without shying away from the darker aspects of Avitue’s life.  

The theme of healing from trauma, especially religious trauma and familial abuse, stood out to me the most. Cassiel is reclaiming her own body, her own divinity, and her own experience with the world. As she explores all of the things she was denied, she finds that rather than being cut off from her power as her mother had claimed, she is actually growing more fully into herself. The narrative is a celebration of love, warmth, and tenderness, and an indictment of forcing people to sacrifice parts of themselves in order to fit into narrow boxes. 

This book understands that healing is not linear. Cassiel has already spent years living out in the world, but she still hides herself away from it, and she relapses into shame when she experiences attraction, enjoys food, or tries to wear nice clothing. Because she has people who genuinely care about her, she is able to pick herself back up when she falls. Healing may not be a straight path, but time marches onward, and so does she.

As someone who hasn’t read a lot of paranormal romance, the pacing of some books can require adjusted expectations, with characters who’ve only known each other a short time falling in literally eternal love. However, I realize this is a genre convention borne of the combination of high-octane plots and immortal characters, and that this type of story asks for suspension of disbelief. What’s important is that I bought into these particular characters’ dynamic given their circumstances. The story calls for a breathless intensity that the book delivers on. I was also impressed with the layered ending, as the book’s complex conflicts weren’t wrapped up in a tidy bow after one event. 

An additional note that made this nonbinary reader happy: while the synopsis refers to both characters as women, Avitue doesn’t feel a connection with the concept of gender due to her experiences as a succubus. Being nonbinary doesn’t require any specific pronouns or presentation, so I was glad to read about a femme-presenting character who uses she/her pronouns and does not identify with gender.  

The Fall That Saved Us is haunting yet hopeful, with lush writing and aching devotion in every line. If that’s how you’d like to experience your fall, there’s still time to pick this one up before Halloween.

Emory Rose is a lover of the written word, especially all things whimsical, fantastical, and romantic. They regularly participate in National Novel Writing Month as well as NYC Midnight’s fiction writing challenges. They are fueled by sapphic novellas and chocolate.

Getting the Band Back Together: It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland

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It Goes Like This is a story about friendship, second chances, and not giving up on the people who care about you. The story follows the former members of Moonlight Overthrow, a band of teenagers who split up a year and a half before the events of the novel. Celeste and Gina, two of the members, have built new solo careers for themselves in music and acting. Steph has disappeared from the public eye and cut off all communication with their former friends. And Eva is a college student, writing music and closely following the fandom of her former band on Tumblr on a secret account. When dire circumstances cause the band to come back together for a one-time charity concert, the former friends are forced to confront their past together and decide if they’re really better off without each other. 

Each of the four members of Moonlight Overthrow are featured and are fully fledged, three-dimensional characters. However, Eva is the clear primary protagonist. The core of a story is a pair of questions, both centered around her. Will the band get back together, now that they’ve seen what their lives are like without each other? And will Eva and her ex, Celeste, rekindle the relationship that they were in for much of their time in the band? As the story goes on, it becomes clear that the answer to both questions depends on Eva, as she was the person most hurt by the end of both the band and her relationship.

Eva’s journey is deeply sympathetic. Through a series of flashbacks in the story, we see how deeply hurt she was by the band’s breaking up, the only person who wanted to stay together. How abandoned and lost she felt in the immediate aftermath. We also see her fear over seeing her best friends back together, and her ex-girlfriend, whom she still has strong feelings for, reaching back out. These people hurt her without warning before, and it’s hard for her to decide to trust them again, no matter how much she wants to.

Celeste’s story revolves around Eva. A successful solo performer now, Celeste still finds herself writing songs about her ex, even more than a year after their unceremonious breakup. Now, finally with the chance to make things right, she’s desperate to show Eva that she’s realized that breaking her heart is the biggest mistake of her life. Her coming to terms with the ways that she has hurt and continues to hurt Eva is a compelling part of the story.

Gina’s story is more introspective than the previous character’s. Her primary conflict of the novel revolves around how she, and the world at large, perceive her. Throughout the story, she refers to herself as the next Rihanna, or the next Beyonce, comparing herself to other successful Black performers. As the story goes on, she’s forced to confront the ways she’s comparing herself to others, and the ways that has caused her to push away those close to her. 

Finally, Steph’s story is much smaller in many ways than the other characters. After Moonlight Overthrow broke up, Steph disappeared, returning to the band’s home of Duluth and cutting off contact. Their conflicts within the story primarily revolve around the fears around the effects of being a nonbinary person in what was most well known as a “girl band”, and around the effect that being in a band had on their family, who also feature prominently in the story.

Miel Moreland has a talent for writing sapphic romance, and this story is no exception. The “will they, won’t they” tension between Eva and Celeste is palpable throughout the story, especially with the commentary from their friends and flashbacks to their time together. Celeste grows to understand the ways in which their breakup hurt Eva, and takes actions to rebuild her trust. The regrowing friendship between them and questions about more make a compelling romantic core for the story.

Gina also has a sapphic romance of her own, though it is less relevant through the story. Her girl back home serves less as a romantic subplot and more of a chance for Gina to open up to her old friends and show her willingness to rekindle the friendship that has long since died out.

The real representational win though is Steph and their identity. Cleverly, though Steph’s identity isn’t revealed to the characters until the end of the first act and there are several flashbacks throughout the story, these parts of the book are written so that rather than either misgender the character or have a character use they/them pronouns they wouldn’t know to use, pronouns are avoided altogether. Not gendering Steph until the characters are aware of their gender identity makes the world feel more natural, without resorting to misgendering the character. 

And Steph’s identity does form an undercurrent through the story. One of the primary reasons that they left the band was its identity as a “group of queer girls”. When their friends re-enter their life, Steph is unsure whether they have a place in this group, and their friend’s quick acceptance and willingness to defend them is a heartwarming piece of the story.

All in all, It Goes Like This is an excellent read. The story flows well and stays engaging, with multiple POVs and a few flashbacks helping to keep up the pace and stop things from feeling too slow. The story has some good thematic depth as well, though we can’t get into specifics there without spoiling the story. Rest assured, this is a story that stuck with me after I finished reading it, and even inspired a reread to see these characters I enjoyed so much again. You won’t regret your time with Moonlight Overthrow.

Kids Can Fight Injustice Too: Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith

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“My name is Callie, and I’m not a girl. I am here as Papa’s squire, and I want to train as a knight.”

Content warnings: verbal and physical abuse from parental figures; internalized homophobia/transphobia; deadnaming; bullying; queer-coded distrust of magic; parental figure with implied depression; implied suicide of SC; death of sibling to SC; grief, anxiety and other traumas 

Rep: nonbinary/sapphic MC; sapphic SC; genderqueer SC; gay parental figure; bi parental figure 

I received an e-arc from Netgalley and Labyrinth Road free of charge, and my opinions are completely my own.

As an adult reading middle-grade, I am often wary of either reading a narrative that infantizes the reader or overestimates their experiences. When I read Sir Callie for the first time, I was delighted to see that I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Syme-Smith’s voice is an entrancing one, with their writing transporting the reader back to being twelve years old and having an idealized version of the world. Callie’s perspective on her family and her reactions to Helston’s intolerance feel incredibly true to not only the character that Syme-Smith skillfully crafted, but to tweens everywhere, regardless of sexuality or gender. Beyond Callie, the rest of the cast is as wonderfully wrought, whether you look at Elowen and her fierce determination for equality, at Willow and his fear of letting down his kingdom, or at Edwyn and his desire to please his father (the villain of the book) battling what he believes to be good and true. Even the adults shine as full-fledged characters who are not necessarily demons or angels, but rather are judged by their intentions and interactions with their privilege. 

Sir Callie is a book that validates the childhood experiences of readers who have experienced prejudice, abuse from parental figures, and internalized and externalized queerphobia. I personally fell in love with Sir Callie because I felt seen—the things that happened to me as a child were acknowledged with a gentle hand, and I saw kinship in Willow’s struggles with magic and Elowen and Edwyn’s relationships with their parents. Readers of all ages can find healing amongst Callie’s family, both birth and chosen, as Symes-Smith assures us (through Nick) that as kids, our only job is to be a kid.  

Of course, I cannot NOT talk about the queer representation within Sir Callie! We come into Callie’s story with them having realized that they are not cisnormative, and fast-forward to their identifying proudly as nonbinary. The words that Symes-Smith uses to describe being nonbinary are simple, and yet lifechanging. Here are one of my favorite quotes: “I wasn’t a she, and I wasn’t a he, I was just . . . Callie. Eventually, I put on “they,” and I haven’t taken those shoes off since.” Beyond the nonbinary representation, Symes-Smith makes having magic (and not being a girl) immensely queer-coded, especially when seen in Prince Willow, who is bookish and wants to please everyone around him. There is little to no romance in Sir Callie—the only romance blossoming is between Nick and Neal, Callie’s dads, and perhaps a slight crush on a certain girl…But no spoilers!  

Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston (I dare you to say that five times fast) has become one of my absolute favorite middle grade books with its placing queer characters and realistic themes front and center. This is an incredibly important title that I can see being discussed in schools and library book clubs—and should be! The fantasy elements bring a bit of distance to a plot that discusses real life issues such as prejudice, intolerance, and abuse, and treats its readers with respect and care. The only real complaint that I could have about it is that the ending felt a little too perfect. However, Symes-Smith has since revealed that Sir Callie was just book one, and will be part of a four-book series. Sir Callie and the Dragon’s Roost is set to focus on obstacles outside of Helston and to show how fighting for justice never ends at getting rid of one villain. 

Are you still not sure about reading Sir Callie? Well, if you like these books: 

  1. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle 
  2. The Sun and the Star, by Rick Riordan 
  3. The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag 
  4. Dear Mothman, by Robin Dow 

Then you’d definitely want to grab a copy of Sir Callie! You can get a copy of Sir Callie from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop

Chloe (they/he) is a public librarian in Baltimore, who identifies as Indigenous, autistic, and panromantic demisexual. They enjoy reading queer literature for any age group, as well as fantasy, contemporary, and romance. In their spare time, they act in local community theaters, play D&D, and are halfway through their MLiS program. You can find them on Goodreads, Twitter, or Instagram.

Rebel Lesbrarians in a Dystopian Western: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey cover

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I’m not sure when I bought the ebook for Upright Women Wanted. It was probably on sale, and when I heard that there were lesbians and rebel librarians in a western-themed dystopian setting, I guess I thought it was too good to pass up. Like most of my ebook purchases, it sat on my Kindle for an indeterminate amount of time, passed up by groups of library ebooks (that mostly also go unread), until I finally decided that I’d dallied long enough. I’d recently learned that Sarah Gailey is an excellent horror writer in Just Like Home, so it was stupid to keep procrastinating on a novella that so clearly fits my niche. My friends and gays, it is everything I could have wanted.

Our main character, Esther, has decided to escape the horrible fate that just befell her best friend: engaged to a man just as horrible and controlling as her father, hanged for possession of Unapproved Materials, the only relief being approved novels about queer women who die—and seeing that tragic ending made reality spurs her to hide in the back of the first wagon out of town: the librarians’ store wagon. Of course, the librarians are more than just meek women distributing state propaganda. Shockingly, people who dedicate their lives to the spread of information don’t like being told what information is and isn’t acceptable, and any profession that’s limited to one gender will attract plenty of queers.

One thing I appreciated about this novella is that Gailey uses a light touch with their worldbuilding, letting us fill in all the details. Despite the fact that the book opens on a hanging, there’s no real dwelling on excessive cruelty and pain. We know that Esther’s father was abusive and controlling, and the man he picked out to be her fiancé is probably just as bad. We know that there are strict gender roles, which is why Cye takes the time to put on a skirt any time they get close to town or approached by any potentially dangerous travelers. We don’t really need to know what the war is or what the state’s justifications are for it; it’s enough that there’s an excuse to ration supplies and set up checkpoints. We don’t need to see the minutiae of the world, because the details don’t really matter. Is the State run by an emperor? A president? What kind of history do they teach about how democracy fell and they got caught up in a seemingly endless war? I don’t really care. Considering how our politics are going, it’s believable enough that I don’t need elaboration. Besides, it doesn’t really matter to Esther anyway. She’s just trying to survive the next week and maybe get her life into a place that allows for some form of happiness.

I’d also be remiss not to mention the characters, because again, they felt perfectly crafted to my specific tastes. Bet and Leda are really my ideal couple dynamic—small hard angry lesbian with her big, soft wife who wears her heart on her sleeve (but who will still kill a man, like, don’t get me wrong: she will absolutely kill someone). I could collect them forever. And I appreciated that Cye was the right mix of gruff without being rude or unlikable. They won’t take any shit, but they aren’t unnecessarily mean, even when they think Esther is just going to be a waste of water in the desert. I also appreciated Esther herself and her emotional journey with self-acceptance. Much in the way that the narrative doesn’t dwell on society’s cruelty, Esther doesn’t dwell on self-hatred, even when she firmly believes that there’s something wrong with her. She’s very matter-of-fact, and manages to be a people pleaser without being self-detrimental. There are the perfect number of characters for this little novella, and they’re all given a chance to shine.

All in all, this is a perfect bite sized story that manages to blend the classic Western aesthetics with a queer speculative twist, and I only wish it was longer. There’s nothing in this story that feels stunted or left out, but I could easily see the characters and situation being worked into a larger story. Esther’s involvement feels like a piece of a larger narrative, one that she could easily be either an active, driving force in, or a side character offering support. I do love a good novella tie-in where side characters are given center stage, so I wouldn’t complain if we got a novel focused on new characters. However, it’s great for what it is, and I think a novella is really what I needed to read right now. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a quick, satisfying story with just the right amount of everything.

Larkie reviews Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

the cover of Persephone Station

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Persephone Station is a space romp with everything you could ask: crime bosses, alien life, assassinations at fancy parties, rogue AI, and fancy flying. There’s a ton packed into this book, and even when you think you’ve reached your limit, it turns out that there’s more just around the corner. If a bunch of queer ex army women getting into and out of trouble in space is your jam, then this book might be for you. However, if you’re looking for serious scifi that has a strong, unique perspective on society, then it might not. Like the source material, this review is going to be long, so buckle up.

First of all, the things I loved about this book. There was a ton of snappy dialogue, plenty of tense action, and mysteries abound as the broad cast of characters slowly came together. The aesthetics of the book come together in a very tangible way, and Leicht clearly had a strong vision as she wrote. She also has strong characters with a great team dynamic, everyone with their own specialty and voice. Her world is meticulously built, and while most of the action is on Persephone, we get a galactic tour of other planets through various backstories and outside cultural influences. 

There were, however, several aspects of the book which fell a little flat for me. One was pacing: it felt like we were going through cycles of quick scenes filled with action and snappy one liners, and then into long exposition dumps. There were a LOT of these, and they delivered most of the world building. It was a bit of a shame, because some aspects of it were really cool! But it’s hard not to space out when I’m just reading a list of detailed personal histories for the main girl gang, or an intricate explanation of alien biology (that honestly raised more questions than it answered, but typing them all out made this review unreadable). I also felt like, despite all the world building that we had, most of the book felt like it could have easily translated to a contemporary action flick with just a few scifi elements. The beginning of the book in particular is loaded with English based pop culture references, that are often pointed at and explained to be references so that there’s no way the audience could miss them. Most of the book I was questioning why this was even set in space, when it could have easily been set in Los Angeles or Chicago and very little would change. There aren’t any aliens living outside of major US cities, of course, but it was a little frustrating to feel like the setting was more of an aesthetic choice than something that’s actually important to the story.

And, since I am writing this review for the Lesbrary: what about the gays? Leicht doesn’t shy away from including a rainbow of people in her book, with lots of non binary characters, casual mentions to same sex relationships, and a lack of major male characters in general. That being said, this was…not as gay as I expected? This was mostly fine, because it’s a very action focused book. There is no major romance, no big relationship drama, and that was actually really nice. Friendship and family is more important to the story, and I loved that.

There was one thing that struck me as odd though: multiple times in the book, whoever had the POV for the chapter met a group of new people, “2 men, 4 women, and 3 nonbinary individuals”. I was really confused as to how someone would look at a group of people and be able to discern who identified as what. It couldn’t be clothing choice, because there is a non binary main character whose clothes are very femme, more so than some of the cis women. So how would they know the gender of everyone in a crowd? It felt like a well intentioned attempt at inclusiveness but it yanked me out of the story every time, when “a group of people” would be inclusive without being so awkward.

Overall, the book was fun. I would have loved it as a movie or show, which felt like the medium the author wanted as well—her attention to detail with hairstyles, outfits, and appearances really contributed to the powerful visuals in this novel. As a book, however, I was glad to be listening to it rather than reading it, because the info dumps and pacing would have dragged me down a lot. One final thing that I really, really appreciated: this book doesn’t shy away from characters over 30. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when books have ex soldiers and pilots and crime bosses who are all like 18-26. This was NOT a problem in this book, and I do recommend it to anyone who wants a fun queer action flick with emphasis on the action.