A Sapphic Sherlock Series in Space: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles by Malka Older

the cover of The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles

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The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles is Malka Older’s second novella in the Mossa and Pleiti series, set in the far future, when the last of humanity is in a thriving colony on Jupiter amidst an expanding series of platforms and rails. Like the the first novella, The Mimicking of Known Successes, Unnecessary Obstacles is a murder mystery, with the inscrutable but brilliant detective Mossa taking the lead on investigating a series of disappearing persons cases and her girlfriend Pleiti filling in the vital gaps with her academic connections and slightly superior people skills.  

This novella series perfectly fits the cozy mystery niche. While there is a little danger for spice, Mossa and Pleiti spend most of their time hunting down leads and deciphering what they find, letting a reader sit back and enjoy the ride. As a second book, I really enjoyed that Mossa and Pleiti are working to settle into their relationship. I also like that this book fills out their characters a little more. There’s a fun field trip to Jupiter’s moon, where Mossa grew up, which fills out a little of Mossa’s character and a little of Jupiter’s society. It was interesting to see the sentiment towards a shuttle ride and driving their own vehicle versus the ubiquitous rail cars of the planet. And Pleiti, who in her role at the university is attempting to reconstruct an Earth-style garden, is dealing with the political fallout of the first novella. I enjoyed seeing them work together again, more deliberately this time, and I enjoyed that their search led them to different areas than the first book. They also take a long distance railcar trip, which I found a delightful idea and I can’t believe isn’t a romantic novelty trip on Jupiter.

Although I did ultimately enjoy this novella and have a fun time reading it, I did feel like this one was a little slower compared to the first—the mystery didn’t seem as urgent, and although we did get some new environments on the moon and in the student clubs, I found that this book had fewer of the really cozy world-building details from the first one—or maybe it’s that there were more locations but we passed through most of them fairly quickly. I also felt like, while Mossa had taken their new relationship status to heart and was intent on improving upon her own shortcomings, Pleiti felt stuck in her past mindsets. Mossa was strangely the one doing the best communication in this book, which Pleiti should really think about in my opinion. However, I still liked this book and would read several more in this series —hopefully with more world-building and relationship development each time. I think this Jupiter colony is so fascinating, and this is a series that could sustain an whole progression of mysteries without being too repetitive. 

In conclusion, this series is one of my favorite recent sci-fi developments. I love that the recent trend towards really developing novellas has given scope for amazing authors to present us with fun little stories that aren’t doorstops. Sci-fi and mystery is also a pairing of genres that I love. If you enjoyed The Mimicking of Known Successes, this book is a nice treat, and if you’re looking for a short cozy read, you should definitely add this to your list. 

Credit Card Debt, Climate Change, and Magical Girls: A Magical Girl Retires by Park Seolyeon

A Magical Girl Retires cover

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I am sure you are all familiar with magical girl stories like Sailor Moon, but have you ever heard of a magical girl with credit card debt? In Park Seolyeon’s A Magical Girl Retires (translated by Anton Hur), our unnamed protagonist is 29, has lost her job during the pandemic, and is now drowning in credit card debt, with no way out that she can see. She decides to jump off Seoul’s Mapo Bridge, but is interrupted by a girl all dressed in white—Ah Roa, the magical girl of clairvoyance. Ah Roa explains to her that in this world where magical girls join a trade union and protect others, the protagonist may be the most important magical girl of all time. But as they work together to unlock her powers, the protagonist’s problems don’t go away: she still struggles with low self-esteem, has her debt, and doesn’t know how to battle the most terrifying threat the magical girls will ever face: global climate change.

A Magical Girl Retires is a fantastic original story that pays homage to the fandom of Sailor Moon while blending the realism of today’s society. The protagonist may be unnamed, but the way that Park outlines her various woes and thought processes makes her anything but a stranger. The conflicts of being in credit card debt and struggling to find a job that will pay the bills is an all-too common one, especially post-pandemic, and I admire the author for not only taking on that challenge, but thriving in showing how it can seem almost impossible to get out of it without losing all hope. At the same, the protagonist maintains a sort of wonder about the task of becoming a magical girl and unlocking her powers, which makes it a joy to read this book. 

Of course, I have to mention the sapphic subplot of A Magical Girl Retires! Ah Roa, the previously mentioned magical girl of clairvoyance, deems the protagonist as being the most important person for her to have ever found, and while the two never establish an official romantic relationship, the vibes are still here. The protagonist wonders what Ah Roa is doing and what she thought of her, and Ah Roa does at one point mention how she never wants to leave the protagonist. 

A Magical Girl Retires is translated by Anton Hur from the original Korean and clocks in at a short 176 pages. I did listen to it through the e-audiobook narrated by Shannon Tyo, and it was an enchanting experience. I have seen mention of the illustrations in various reviews and while I haven’t seen them myself, if they are anything like the narration style of Tyo or the lyrical prose of Park, then I am sure they are lovely. If you are the type of reader to enjoy endnotes, then you will love Hur’s endnote on why he translated the work and the joy he found in doing so. Trigger warnings include domestic violence, idealization of suicide, financial trauma, terrorism, and murder. 

If you enjoy urban fantasy, magical girl transformation sequences, and finding your way in this unpredictable world, you can order your copy of A Magical Girl Retires through Bookshop, your local indie bookstore, or your library.

Grief in Utopia: The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep cover

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This review contains spoilers.

The Seep might be one of the most refreshing takes on alien invasion I’ve ever read. This novel follows Trina FastHorse Goldberg-Oneka, a middle-aged trans woman, as she and her wife Deeba, along with almost everyone else in the world, are forced to live with something called the Seep. The Seep is an alien unattached to concepts like linear time and physicality that invades humanity and simply… makes life perfect. People can alter their appearances at will, ingesting the Seep feels like getting high, and there are restaurants that only give you good-tasting food that will help your body out, along with a bunch of other seemingly-awesome changes. After a few years of living under its power, Trina doesn’t love the Seep as much as her friends do anymore—and then her wife Deeba decides she wants to be turned back into a baby and give up the life they’ve built together.

Trina does what I think any of us would be tempted to do in that situation: she drinks herself half to death. Living under the Seep, though, means that her actions don’t go unnoticed, and what really kicks the story off is someone coming to Trina’s place and telling her that she’s hurting the entire community by not taking care of herself or her house. This sends her on a mission to hunt down an old friend of hers and to save a boy she meets along the way who comes from the Compound, one of the only places untouched by the Seep.

What I really liked about this story is how deep Trina is in her grief. It’s been about five years since Deeba left, but the way Porter writes Trina is like it happened yesterday. Deeba isn’t dead, not really; she is a small child being raised by a lovely couple far away from Trina. However, to Trina, it’s like she is, and that comes through spectacularly through Porter’s writing. Trina hasn’t moved on at all in those years after Deeba’s departure. She could move on: she could let the Seep erase her memory of Deeba, or she could let it change her feelings into something more manageable. But Trina is all about the old days and the old ways. She misses what art was back when humans still routinely felt things like pain and sadness, and she doesn’t get the appeal of having an all-knowing alien rooting around in her skull and changing her brain chemistry every second of every day of every week.

So when she meets this kid from the Compound who wants to know about the world outside and wants to join with the Seep, it’s like her brain finally has something to focus on that isn’t Deeba. It’s never really about the kid; in the end, Trina doesn’t really care about him, not like she tries to convince herself that she does. It’s a distraction from the pain she has carried with her since Deeba’s departure. All of it leads her to a friend (ex-friend) who goes around wearing his dead boyfriend’s face and pretending that he is a different race than he actually is. It takes Trina finding him again and confronting him for any real change to happen within her, and Porter goes exactly where you want her to go when Trina is shoved back into the past for a little while. She watches her wife from the same place she watches her in a scene from the beginning, caught in a memory, and the pain of losing that part of her wife hits Trina all over again. She’s been lost in her grief, and she has been for a while now. This is simply when she finally realizes it.

Trina’s conversations with the Seep are also a high point of the book. The Seep talks to Trina by changing the writing on a pamphlet she is given, then by changing the writing on a pamphlet that the boy drops, and then it actually speaks to her from the pamphlet cover and heats up in her hands when it wants to tell her something. Trina tries to get the Seep to understand that sometimes humans need to be able to choose bad things or things that hurt, but it takes the Seep a long time to grasp that point. If the Seep isn’t there to make life perfect and wonderful, then what is it for? The relationship between Trina and the entity known as the Seep is the thing that drives the story onward when Trina’s previous excuses and distractions run a little thin. In one of the most moving scenes of the book, Trina and the Seep talk to each other in a sort of talk show style set-up where every person in the audience is a different iteration of Deeba. Deeba left her because of the Seep; we know that, the story literally begins with that. Seeing it laid out so viscerally, though, with the Seep wearing somebody’s face and talking to Trina while every version of Deeba she ever knew laughs out at her from the background really made it hit home. That’s what this sort of grief is like, and Porter captures it so perfectly. I’ve been thinking about that scene for days since I put the book down. It takes having this conversation with the Seep for Trina to decide to try to move past everything with Deeba, and the story ends optimistically with Trina beginning to take care of herself and the house she used to share.

I know I’m a little late at finding this story (it was published in 2020), but I’m just glad I found it when I did. It’s moving, thought-provoking, and exactly the sort of thing I’m into. The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is because there are a couple plot issues it took me a minute to get past (she’s on a Do Not Admit list to her ex-friend’s shows, but she’s able to go in anyway?), but other than that, I really liked it. The way that the novel is bookended by “Tips for Throwing a Dinner Party at the End of the World” is really cool too and ties the story together. I would absolutely recommend this.

Triggers warnings for: death, slight suicidal ideation, loss of bodily autonomy, and drug use (kind of).

A Wacky Adventure Through Working Retail and the Multiverse: Finna by Nino Cipri

the cover of Finna

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Ava just broke up with her partner, Jules. They both work at an Ikea-like furniture store, but they’ve been managing to work different shifts after the breakup… until today. That’s already awkward enough before they discover a portal and are tasked with going through it together to retrieve a customer’s grandmother who wandered into it and is now lost in the multiverse. Don’t worry: in exchange for risking their lives, they will receive a gift card from corporate.

This was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Finna is a novella, and it feels almost like a montage as they run through different multiverses, including ones with carnivorous armchairs and hivemind employees. It’s a zany adventure that reminded me a bit of Doctor Who, especially the episodes that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Grounding the wackiness of the setting is the dynamic between Ava and Jules. You can see how much they care about each other and why they were together for so long—and why they broke up. Ava has anxiety and depression, and Jules is neurodivergent. Often their different ways of thinking end up with them clashing: Jules rushes into things and can be a bit erratic, which is hard for Ava to plan for and stresses her out. This isn’t really a second-chance romance story: there’s good reason they broke up, and because it’s so fresh, they have a lot of anger and hurt around it still. It’s more like a second-chance friendship, trying to recover any sort of friendship from the rubble of their breakup.

I thought the balance between the over-the-top adventure story and the very human main characters worked well. Jules is nonbinary and Black, and we also see how they have difficulty being accepted and fitting in, especially in combination with their neurodivergence. It creates layers of conflict: the life-or-death, sci-fi, world-jumping stakes of the plot with the complicated, painful complexities of their relationship as they’re forced to work together to survive. As you’d expect from the premise, it’s also an anti-capitalist story that explores the horrors of working retail.

If you’re a fan of books that use an out-there premise to explore characterization and relationship dynamics, I highly recommend this one. It was the perfect book to read in one sitting during a readathon.

A Queer Futuristic Take on a Classic Mystery Setup: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles By Malka Older

the cover of The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles

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I love sapphic novellas with an unconventional blend of genre elements—so of course, after reading The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older last year, I eagerly awaited the sequel, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles. I had the sense I’d enjoy it even more as a series, with the chance for the lead investigators, Pleiti and Mossa, to deepen their relationship as they uncover further mysteries in space. I’m pleased to report that I was right.

I can best sum up this series’ mashup of elements with the following detail: At one point in the second book, Pleiti, who lives on a platform attached to the rings of Jupiter, sends a telegram to Io. As a series of standalone mysteries featuring a Holmesian duo, the books’ narrative style evokes the classics. As sci-fi novellas, they explore a future where humans were forced to leave Earth centuries ago due to a climate apocalypse. The compact page count lends itself to tight plots and focused theming, as well as worldbuilding the reader can easily absorb. As a sapphic love story, Pleiti and Mossa’s tale is one of college girlfriends who went their separate ways, only to come back together in a high-stakes environment that reignites their tender partnership.                   

These elements are tied together through the narration of Pleiti, who works at a university’s Classics department, combing old literature from Earth for details that might help the scientists recreate its ecosystem in a long-term project to make it habitable once more. As the Watson figure in this duo, she records the investigations that Mossa, a high-standards whirlwind of an investigator, drags her along for. The dynamic and style bring in that classic element, but they also make the sci-fi worldbuilding surprisingly approachable—it’s not difficult to justify the narrator going on a brief aside to explain an aspect of humanity’s life above Jupiter when she’s a professor recording the events in an old-fashioned narrative voice. The duo’s banter and history lend a coziness to the books that lighten the post-apocalyptic setting and threats of murder.  

With it being easy to disappear over the edge of the platforms and be lost forever, both books so far have dealt with missing person cases, where of course the plot thickens as murder and politics get involved. While I’ll try to avoid major plot spoilers for the second book and for the first book’s mystery, note that as I focus in on the sequel, the rest of the review will necessarily spoil the status quo at the end of the first book re: the main characters and their relationship.

In this second installment, Mossa and Pleiti are investigating the disappearances of a wide array of seemingly unconnected people at the university where Pleiti works. Their investigation takes them all the way to Io, where Mossa was born, and the reader learns more about the history of humans leaving Earth as well as some of the current politics. 

In the meantime, though Pleiti and Mossa rekindled their romance in the last book, Pleiti’s yearning remains in full force, as the characters are in a tentative stage of their relationship. Pleiti is still unsure where she stands with Mossa, and the same overthinking that helps her uncover mysteries proves to be counterproductive as she ponders the subtext of their interactions, not aided by Mossa’s intense personality. While investigating, they are able to fall back on their partnership as a source of security, but the hesitancy in their relationship maintains tension even in those quiet moments. This is my favorite stage to read about in a romance, as the characters share fondness, domesticity, and trust, but still have to navigate uncertain waters. 

One theme that lends itself well both to the book’s small scale and large scale concerns is the concept of home. Being from Io, Mossa has dealt with the preconceptions people have about her. Meanwhile, having been born on a platform, Pleiti is unmoored both by the openness of space travel and the solidity of a chunk of land. Her awkward attempts to prove to Mossa that she can nonetheless be open-minded about Mossa’s home provide a relatable human element to the bigger questions explored. As humanity as a whole has not been to Earth in centuries, the planet feels unreal to Pleiti, with all the classic Earthen literature she studies taking on a fairy tale quality. The idea of the very goal of her research—a return to a place she’s never been—actually happening in her lifetime thus unnerves her. 

This book also touches on themes of classism, as due to the current politics at the university, Pleiti is confronted with the fact that once again a rich man who did horrible things will be venerated. Meanwhile, nobody had noticed over a dozen people disappearing from that same university, in part because many of them had low-paying jobs. At one point, Pleiti wonders with some shame if she had subconsciously thought of a porter as enough of a person to be the subject of a missing person case. This subject is also touched upon on Io, with the discussion of which people had the means to escape Earth to begin with, and some families still being concerned with the supposed status of that lineage. 

As the plot unfolds, Mossa and Pleiti must confront the question of why humans impose unnecessary obstacles on their lives, whether it’s within a relationship or the very structure of society. Thankfully, with this book being just a little over 200 pages, there aren’t many obstacles to getting lost in its vision of the future.

Content notes: In addition to the obvious topics related to a climate apocalypse and (off-screen) murder, this book contains one homophobic microaggression and a brief discussion of eugenics. 

Making The Future Gay: The Five Things I Checked out From the Queer Liberation Library

Recently, a nonprofit in Massachusetts put out an exclusively queer book collection on Libby called the Queer Liberation Library (also known as QLL). Their mission is simple: by providing queer people with diversity-focused literature and resources, QLL is building a future that is undeniably queer. This collection of e-materials is available to anyone with an email address, and sign-up is very easy. I signed up and had received confirmation and account information within twelve (12) hours. There are so many titles and collections available, with the focus of their homepage collections being on Black queerness right now in celebration of Black History Month. I would highly recommend signing up for a card if you want exclusively queer literature available at your fingertips. 

Of course, I went a little wild and immediately began downloading so many sapphic titles on the QLL. Here are five things that I checked out from the Queer Liberation Library that I think you should too:

Those Who Wait by Haley Cass

the cover of Those Who Wait

Sutton had a simple plan for her life: finish graduate school and fall in love. But life is never that simple, and it doesn’t help that she is useless around other women. On the other hand, Charlotte has every bit of her life planned out and is not willing to compromise it for love. When the two meet through a dating app, Sutton and Charlotte know they aren’t meant to be—or are they? I picked up this audiobook because of the cute cover and stayed for the slow-burn, friends-with-benefits romance. Don’t let the length of the book (21ish hours) intimidate you: Those Who Wait is a fast-paced epic romance sure to make your top ten books of 2024.

Sing Anyways by Anita Kelly

the cover of Sing Anyway

Nonbinary history professor Sam Bell is committed to a new (non)romantic strategy after numerous failed relationships: Thirst Only. However, having no emotional ties to relationships can be hard, especially when they are left by themselves at The Moonlight Café, otherwise known as Moonie’s to its largely queer regulars, and on karaoke night of all nights. But then Sam’s karaoke crush, Lily Fischer, steps up with a mic, and the two work together to weather the outside world and to keep singing through it all. I read this back during the summer and I remember being actively disappointed that there was no audiobook that I could listen to through my library—never again!

Mimosa by Archie Bongiovanni

the cover of Mimosa

Best friends and chosen family Chris, Elise, Jo, and Alex work hard to keep themselves afloat. In an effort to avoid being the oldest gays at the party, the crew decides to put on a new queer event called Grind—specifically for homos in their dirty 30s. Grind is a welcome distraction from their real lives while navigating exes at work, physical and mental exhaustion, and drinking way, way too much on weekdays. This chosen family proves that being messy doesn’t always go away with age. I love Bongiovanni’s art style and can’t wait to sink my teeth into this story about older queer people (which I am swiftly approaching with mild disbelief).

Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought edited by Briona Simone Jones

the cover of Mouths of Rain

Mouths of Rain traces the long history of intellectual thought produced by Black Lesbian writers, spanning the nineteenth century through the twenty-first century.

This anthology features a mix of literature (nonfiction, poetry, and fiction) about a variety of topics from a variety of Black sapphic authors like Audre Lorde and Alice Dunbar-Nelson. 

Mouths of Rain first caught my attention because of the gorgeous cover, but kept me enthralled by the sheer intersectionality of the work. 

Lesbian Love Story by Amelia Possanza

the cover of Lesbian Love Story

This is the story of Possanza’s journey into the archives to recover the stories of lesbians in the 20th Century: who they were, how they loved, why their stories were destroyed, and where their memories echo and live on. Centered around seven love stories for the ages, Possanza’s hunt takes readers from a Drag King show in Bushwick to the home of activists in Harlem and then across the ocean to Hadrian’s Library, where she searches for traces of Sappho in the ruins. Along the way, she discovers her own love—for swimming, for community, for New York City—and adds her own record to the archive. I am not the biggest fan of nonfiction (regardless of how many nonfiction titles are on this list), but loved how Possanza would switch genres and use the histories to discuss questions of gender, love, and self. 

Bonus: Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H

the cover of Hijab Butch Blues

Bonus pick because I got very attached to all of these choices: Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H! When fourteen-year-old Lamya H realizes she has a crush on her teacher—her female teacher—she covers up her attraction, an attraction she can’t yet name, by playing up her roles as overachiever and class clown. However, Lamya eventually begins to make sense of her own life by comparing her experiences to the stories of the Quran, and expands on those thoughts in this searing memoir in essays. This is a title that so many of my friends have been reading lately and I am excited to join them once my audiobook hold comes in!

Happy reading!

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 his spare time, he acts in his local community theaters and plays role-playing games. You can find them on GoodreadsTwitter, or Instagram.

A Rich Fantasy Novella: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

the cover of Empress of Salt and Fortune

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I don’t know why I put off The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo for so long despite all of the good reviews. Maybe it was the short length, novellas sometimes being an awkward pace. Or maybe it was the fact that all too often I mistake “high fantasy” for “too much exposition” with all of those battles and complex magic systems that just aren’t my cup of tea. Either way, it was my loss. This slim book is packed to the brim with court intrigue and politics of war, sure, but it does so by quietly unpacking the stories of characters traditionally kept to the sidelines. Nghi Vo’s work is always filled with such depth and lyrical writing, but this series in particular has quickly become one of my all-time favorites because of the way in which it insists on telling a different sort of fantasy story.

The book follows Cleric Chih from the Singing Hills abbey who is traveling with their talking hoopoe Almost Brilliant to record history, in this case the story of the recently deceased empress In-yo. Through a constellation of lost objects and the words of the empress’s former servant, Vo shows the outlines of a life in what it leaves behind. The story unfolds delicately through this collection of remnants. The book feels like a refutation of traditional history-making, Chih’s character almost fading into the background as they focus on listening and learning how to read the subtext. So much is left to interpretation, to tone, to understanding secret codes and double meanings. This is reflected, too, in the way the book refuses to overly-explain its setting, leaving the reader to tease apart the worldbuilding like a puzzle.

It’s a beautiful book that I’ve been recommending to everyone. With its short length you’ll only be giving up an hour or two, so I encourage you to give it a shot even if you aren’t typically a fan of high fantasy. With the fourth book just recently out (Mammoths at the Gate) and a fifth on its way in May (The Brides of High Hall), it’s nice timing to catch up on the books now. Each novella is meant to serve as a standalone entry point so you can’t go wrong with any of them—or really any of Vo’s works—but it’s worth starting with this one.

Trigger warnings: death, misogyny, war, suicide, murder

How to Un-Princess: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

the cover of Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower

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When I first picked up the fantasy novella Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir in 2020, I knew that I’d be coming back to it for more. Because I’m more of a science fiction person, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bought it; I knew I liked Muir’s writing, and the premise sounded fun, so I took a chance. Given that this story has been read more than once, I’d say it paid off.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower follows Princess Floralinda as she tries to escape the tower a witch has trapped her in. She starts out the book as storybook princess as a princess can get. She dutifully watches for princes to come and save her from her fate, she obediently remains confined to her room, and she doesn’t make any attempts to free herself at first. A diamond-scaled dragon guards the bottommost level of the tower, and Floralinda waits and listens as each and every prince is gobbled up until the princes and their horses stop coming.

Now, in a different fairy tale kind of story, the princess might continue to mope about, doing nothing to try and free herself from her tower prison. A prince might finally come and save her…or she might end up like the princess who came before Floralinda, flinging herself out the window. Floralinda, however, starts shucking off the role of princess in order to become something bigger than that, beginning by leaving her room to check out the thirty-ninth floor. This story, while at first appearing to be a fairy tale, is actually a story about change. Floralinda changes throughout the book, so much so that other characters make mention of it. I found myself on this read trying to tally up every time Floralinda grew, little by little, into something that no longer resembled a princess. The Floralinda who ends this short book is not the same as the Floralinda who starts it, and I was constantly cheering her on because of it.

Her fairy companion changes alongside her. The secondary main character, Cobweb, is a fairy who gets blown into Floralinda’s tower during a storm and is forced to stay until the next full moon comes, due to the storm having ripped one of their wings off. The biggest change in this character comes when Cobweb chooses to become a girl because Floralinda asks them to do so. At first, Cobweb is referred to using “it” or “they” pronouns, but Floralinda presents them with the choice to either be a boy or a girl because it’s easier for her to wrap her head around it. Cobweb doesn’t want to be a girl; she expresses more than once that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. But she chooses to become one, at least for a little while, joining Floralinda in her metamorphosis. Both of these characters grow tremendously from where they start, and it’s so much fun as a reader to watch these changes unfold, especially as a queer reader who understands the idea of choosing how to present in front of other people. Cobweb is an almost refreshing take on a character who is nonbinary or genderqueer, and was also a big surprise to me on my first read because I did not expect to encounter a character like Cobweb in this short of a piece.

Because it is a novella, Princess Floralinda has a lot to cover in its short length. The world is expansive, the monstrous threats that wait for Floralinda and Cobweb on every level of the tower are both intriguing and confusing, and it could have become a much longer work if Muir had not reigned it in. While the pacing does feel off at times—we spend the first half of the novella stuck on the first two floors, then run through three floors in one short chapter later on—I found myself being okay with it because of the way the pacing reflects Floralinda’s character development. Floralinda rolls through the story like a boulder down a hill. Once she receives the initial push towards change, she loses bits and pieces of her princess-hood at an exponential rate. Muir keeps the focus of the story on Floralinda’s journey to un-becoming a princess, leaving some of the world around her unexplored in order to maintain that focus. If you’re looking for a story that gives you tons of lore on the universe and that doesn’t move at breakneck speed, this maybe isn’t the novella for you.

The romance between Floralinda and Cobweb was handled in such a good way too. At the point in their relationship that Floralinda realizes she is in love with Cobweb, she betrays her in a very specific way in order to keep her close. Reading them navigating that relationship after Floralinda’s betrayal was so riveting and interesting to me as someone who reads a lot of enemies to lovers. While I won’t go so far as to say that Floralinda and Cobweb are enemies, their dynamic after this scene mirrors that sort of romance and fleshes out both characters in ways that they could not have been fleshed out without exploring these feelings. If it was hard to see Floralinda as a complicated, well-rounded character before, from this point on, Floralinda is no longer a princess archetype and is instead a character capable of much more than was first expected of her. When I say that she changes, I mean that she changes. Through her relationship with Cobweb, her life experience grows, her ability to defend herself grows, and she finds herself transforming in ways she would not have on her own. Their growing relationship is not something Muir shoehorned into the narrative or put there just to have it in the story; their relationship to each other is the basis for both of their metamorphoses, and it is as important to the novella as the tower itself is.

Something else worth noting is the way the story is written. The narrator has fun telling this story. There are so many lines that had me laughing, not because they were necessarily funny, but because they were so specific and aware of the story that was being told. The narrator knows that this is supposed to be a princess story, but it’s like Floralinda is steering it off a pre-determined course. Floralinda finds her way out of the fairy tale destined for her, and the narrator tells the story to us with a bit of an attitude about it. Having read Tamsyn’s Locked Tomb series, it was refreshing to get a taste of her playful prose again in this novella. Her narrators usually hold some sway over the way lines are delivered to the reader, and I enjoyed having more of that in this story.

All in all, this novella is probably one of my favorite stories I’ve ever read, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see the role of princess get turned on its head.

Trigger warnings for: death (both human and creature) and some gore to go along with it. Floralinda also gets an infection in her hands that is described in detail, so be mindful if reading about infected wounds makes you squeamish.

All The Pretty Girls Read Sapphic Stories: More Readalikes for Reneé Rapp’s Snow Angel

the album cover of Snow Angel

If you have Reneé Rapp’s album Snow Angel playing on repeat, these are the sapphic books you need to read! Pick up the one that matches your favorite song, or get the whole stack if it’s too hard to pick. You can get a copy of any of these titles from your local bookstore or library, or you can get a copy through Bookshop. Click here for Part One! 

“Pretty Girls”

the cover of Girls Like Girls

In the p.m., all the pretty girls/They have a couple drinks, all the pretty girls/So now, they wanna kiss all the pretty girls/They got to have a taste of a pretty girl

Pretty Girls is a song for people who keep falling for “straight” girls, and a celebration of those exploring their sexuality, even if it feels frustratingly drawn out to the other person. In the same vein, Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko, inspired by the sapphic anthem of the early aughts, follows the story of Coley and Sonya, two teenage girls in rural Oregon who each find themselves falling for the other girl. This lyrical debut novel fills out the gaps in the plot to Kiyoko’s music video, but balances the overall sweetness of the summertime romance with an exploration of grief and what it means to be out in today’s society. I think Pretty Girls would fit in beautifully during the summer romance montages that Girls Like Girls lays out.

“Tummy Hurts”

the cover of she is a haunting

Now my tummy hurts, he’s in love with her/But for what it’s worth, they’d make beautiful babies/And raise ’em up to be a couple of/Fucking monsters, like their mother and their father

In Tummy Hurts, Rapp explores a past relationship through an analysis of heartbreak, grief, and bittersweet predictions of the continuing cycle of unhealthy relationships. This song contradicts and supports the exploration through using a childlike imagery of an upset stomach and the consequences of an unhealthy romance. If you are looking for a book that explores being haunted by a past relationship or dysfunctional relationships, I would recommend reading She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. In this horror young adult novel, Jade is visiting her estranged father and her only goal is to end the five-week visit with the college money he has promised her—but only if she can seem straight, Vietnamese, and American enough. However, Jade can’t ignore the effects of colonization on the house or a ghost bride’s warnings to not eat anything. She is a Haunting explores the concept of places being haunted by dysfunctional family dynamics, just as “Tummy Hurts” explores the haunting of a romantic relationship.

“I Wish”

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers cover

I wish I could still see the world through those eyes/Could still see the colors, but they’re not as clear or as bright/Oh, the older we get, the colors they change/Yeah, hair turns to gray, but the blue’s here to stay/So I wish, I wish

“I Wish” is the Pisces moon of Snow Angel, with Rapp singing about how she wished she didn’t know about death as a concept. This sweet ballad mourns the loss of an important figure and the resultant loss of innocence in the world around her. Similarly, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers explores themes of existential dread, fear of not living up to people’s expectations, and a loss of innocence once you grow up. Twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes to Vegas to celebrate getting her PhD in astronomy, but accidentally ends up getting drunkenly married to a strange woman from New York. This triggers a rush of questions about herself, including why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled in her life, and Grace flees home to move in with her unfamiliar wife. Honey Girl is a story about self-growth, finding queer community, and taking a journey towards better mental health, and it honestly made me cry as much as I Wish did the first time I listened to it.

“Willow”

the cover of Even Though I Knew the End

Don’t cry, don’t cry, Willow/I’ll cry, Willow/Willow/I’ll cry for you

Willow is another sad ballad, in which Renee talks to her younger self (metaphorically) under a willow tree, and tries to reassure them that everything will be alright. This concept of wanting to take away someone’s pain, regardless of your own, made me think of one of my favorite novellas, Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk. Elena Brandt is the hardboiled detective of mystery noire past, with her private eye set up in a magical 1930’s Chicago, and a lady love waiting in the wings for her. However, Elena’s days are numbered and she decides to spend the last of them with said lady love, Edith. Just as she is about to leave the city, a potential client offers her $1,000 to find the White City Vampire, Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. To sweeten the pot, the client offers something more precious—the chance to grow old with Edith. As Elena dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life, she learns that nothing is as she thought it was. If you want a read that will capture your mind and heart for an afternoon, then grab a copy of C. L. Polk’s Even Though I Knew the End. 

“23”

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann cover

But tomorrow I turn twenty-three/And it feels like everyone hates me/So, how old do you have to be/To live so young and careless?/My wish is that I cared less/At twenty-three

Finally, 23 explores the emotional turmoil and questioning that can come with turning twenty-three years old. Rapp’s lingering lyrics ask why she doesn’t feel like she has been succeeding in life, especially when compared to society’s expectations and assumptions about her career. By the end of the song, Rapp expresses the hope that she can grow into herself as a person and learn to love herself more by her next birthday. In the same vein, Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kahn is about a nineteen Black year old college student named Alice, whose summer was going to be perfect until her girlfriend broke up with her for being asexual. Alice had planned on remaining single as to never experience being rejected for her sexuality again, but then she meets Takumi, and Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood. A huge theme in Alice’s story is that of figuring out what you want to do and/or be as opposed to what your family and friends (or society) expects from you, whether it is about your sexuality or career choices. I think Alice would be wistfully listening to 23 right before the climatic third act, as she contemplates what to do.

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.

A Sapphic Gothic Fairy Tale: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

the cover of Down Among The Sticks And Bones

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My favourite holiday of the year is Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, particularly the October readathon. My roommate and I spend all day reading horror books and snacking. It is a delight. Last year, I read Every Heart a Doorway and really enjoyed it. The horror/fantasy novella series felt like a perfect fit for the October readathon, so I decided I’d read one every year. Each follows different characters, and this one has a sapphic main character (who was also a side character in the first volume).

I still love the writing style, including the little asides to the reader, and I was especially delighted by the first chapter: The Dangerous Allure of Other People’s Children, which explains how easy it is to see families that seem picture perfect on the outside while missing the real difficulties and messiness of raising kids. Jacqueline and Jillian grow up with parents who are determined to have perfect children to further their own image. They were hoping for a boy and a girl, but they’ve made the best of having twin girls by assigning one the role of tomboy (Jillian) and one the expectations of femininity (Jacqueline).

This beginning section explores gender roles, showing how both Jill and Jack chafe against these expectations, and how every person is a constellation of many characteristics that are gendered in a variety of ways. They are raised to compete with and judge each other, and they have no safety with their parents. It’s no surprise they want to escape.

As is the premise of this portal fantasy series, they find a door to another world—but it’s a gothic world, with vampires and resurrected corpses. Before long, they both feel at home here, able to explore the sides of themselves that they repressed as children. Jillian is enraptured by being chosen by a vampire lord, enrobed in the fancy dresses she was previously denied, and with freedom she couldn’t previously dream of. Jack is able to find value in hard work and her own intelligence instead of just as an adornment. Both can see a future for themselves in this world, and Jack even finds a girlfriend. But this is a gothic story, so you know we’re not heading towards a happy ending.

I enjoyed this book and will definitely be continuing this series, but I did like Every Heart a Doorway better. This is the backstory of two side characters from the first book, so I already knew the ending of this one. Spoilers, highlight to read: I knew that Jack and Jill change their gender presentations from what was assigned to them as kids. I know that they don’t stay in that world. And, the biggest spoiler: I know Jill is a murderer. End of spoilers. It was hard to have much tension with that in mind.

I still am glad I read this one, but it was a little disappointing after loving book one. This is an atmospheric gothic read with sapphic and OCD representation in Jack. It has engaging writing and a dramatic plot. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read it before the first book. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the series compares, but I’m predicting that I’ll enjoy the books set at the school more than the books set in the different worlds.

Not every book in this series is sapphic, but it seems to include different kinds of queer representation throughout.

If you’re looking for a queer gothic fairy tale to read on a blustery Autumn evening, definitely check this one out. It works as a standalone, so you don’t need to read any other books in the series—though you’ll probably want to. And it’s short enough that you still have time to read it before October ends!

For some other perspectives on this Down Among the Sticks and Bones, check out Marike’s and Til’s reviews.