Medieval Queer Chaos: Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

the cover of Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

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Gwendoline and Arthur have been betrothed to one another since birth. Too bad they absolutely hate each other. When forced to spend a summer in Camelot together, Gwen and Arthur discover tantalizing secrets about one another: Gwen witnesses Arthur kissing a boy, while Arthur learns that Gwen has a crush on the kingdom’s lone lady knight, Lady Bridget Leclair. Stuck at a stalemate, they make a reluctant pact to cover for one another. While Gwen and Bridget finally connect, Arthur finds himself enamored by Gwen’s brother. Can they navigate their messy feelings to find their own places in history?

Oh my goddess, the queer chaos in this is everything. Lex Croucher has spun Arthurian legends of old into a queer medieval YA rom-com that could easily alter history as we know it. Gwen is a bi baby, newly navigating her feelings for a badass lady knight, while Arthur is a gay, sassy messy shooting heart-eyes at Gwen’s brother (the one-day king). The dialogue is EVERYTHING: sassy, quick-witted, and all too entertaining. There’s somewhat sexy sword-fighting (come on, sword-fighting is always sexy, but when your queer crush is schooling you, it’s all the better), fake dating (does it count as fake dating when you’ve been betrothed since childhood?), and heart-warming found family vibes. The queer panic and nervous humor were all too relatable, even though the story is set in medieval times. That’s a true feat; you can connect with the queer chaos, even if you’re shooting heart-eyes in the 21st century.

That being said, let’s talk about Gwen and her lady knight. I mean, get ready to absolutely SWOON alongside Gwen. Lady Bridget Lechlair is all fierce confidence—a necessity, when everyone has an unpopular opinion of you simply because you’re a woman, regardless of your badass abilities—but she’s also an enigma with a gooey interior. I loved seeing Gwen find her confidence through Bridget, discovering her voice and standing up for them both when necessary. Though Gwen is a royal, she’s questioned her inner power and authority, as everyone around her has made it clear her only worth is in her marriage to Arthur as a political move. Spending time with Bridget gives Gwen the chance to realize she’s worth so much more. Though the story’s quick wit and banter stand out, I think this character development is the story’s real strength. Sometimes, you need someone who believes in your potential before you can see it yourself.

The only real hang-up for me was the pacing. The ending felt especially rushed, which was a disappointment after the queer chaos dragged a bit. I wonder if the writer paused for a moment, then returned to finish the latter half of the story. I also found the relationship between Arthur and Gabriel (Gwen’s brother) a little underwhelming when it had so much potential at the start. Regardless, I appreciated all the queer hijinks and humor.

Recommended for fans of Heartstopper, Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow trilogy, Red, White, & Royal Blue, and the TV show Merlin. Get ready for a swoon-worthy, medieval mess of pining and romance!

The Vibes
⚔️ All the Queer Ships (w/ Serious Queer Panic)
⚔️ Fake Dating
⚔️ YA Debut
⚔️ Found Family
⚔️ Medieval/Historical Fiction/Rom-Com
⚔️ Enemies to Allies

What classic story would you love to read a queer retelling of?

An Enemies-to-Lovers Space Opera for the Ages: No Shelter But The Stars by Virginia Black

the cover of No Shelter But The Stars

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No Shelter But The Stars by Virginia Black was published on January 23, 2024 and follows Kyran Loyal, the last in her line of family royals for a planet that has been lost to her people for years, and Davia Sifane, a woman from an empire Kyran was raised to rebel against. When a battle takes place and everyone around them perishes, they are left to fend for themselves on a desolate moon. With no one to rely on but each other, they have to decide if they can put aside their feelings about their pasts and work together to survive for an indefinite period of time in an unforgiving environment. 

Virginia wrote a gorgeous novel that captures the things that make us all human. At its core, it is a story that explores all the things that connect us, no matter our backgrounds. Through Kyran and Davia she presents raw emotions–pain, grief, frustration, anger, fear, and gay panic over a pretty woman, despite the fact she’s your mortal enemy. At their base, these are the things that transcend all others. She has created an environment where these two characters have no other choice but to feel all of those things. There are no distractions. Her exploration of what happens when there is nothing else left but two human beings, and what that looks like when everything else is stripped away, is truly breathtaking. 

There are too many things I loved about this book to put in this review, but one of my favorites is her use of language and language being more than a means of communication. These two women literally speak different languages, and yet they have to find some way to communicate. And they do. What I loved about Virginia’s decision here is that it is clear Kyran is guarded and protective of her language. In many ways, it is all she has left of her people and of her loved ones. So even as she starts to open up, she still refuses to share that part of herself with Davia. Davia, on the other hand, is not as protective of her language (which made sense to me in the context of how she grew up), and Kyran actively tries to learn it. I loved this aspect of Kyran and Davia’s relationship development because it created such an intimate way to bond. And I happen to think there is something inherently romantic and beautiful about learning another language for someone. I love how language and teaching one another is a thread throughout the story, with one of my favorite moments coming in towards the end.  

Kyran and Davia come from very different backgrounds. Kyran has never really had stability, and has been searching for a home for most of her life. That instability is owed to Davia’s home–one of privilege and wealth. It is hard to imagine that these two would have anything in common, but again, Virginia is so good at finding that commonality between two very different characters, and showing you that these two share much more than a desolate moon on the outskirts of a galaxy. Despite coming from vastly different worlds these are two women that were tasked with carrying on a legacy and duties neither really wanted. Because of that, there is a complicated and beautiful exploration of competing emotions about becoming stranded. Of course there is sadness and anger about their losses, but additionally there is relief and a sense of freedom that comes from being somewhere where nothing is expected of them. Those loss of expectations, and feeling relief about that, also comes with guilt. Virginia presents these dueling emotions so well, and were among my favorite parts. 

This story was both gorgeous and haunting. I rarely get literal goosebumps from books, but I did several times while reading Kyran and Davia’s story. Their evolution from enemies, to tentative allies, to maybe friends, to eventual lovers was so immaculately crafted that I was often left breathless. These two are enemies by birth, and not by choice. Each grew up with an idea of the other, and yet I found their evolution to be believable. The characters are so rich, you can tell there was an immense amount of planning and thought that went into every detail of their arc, both individually and together. And it is why it works so well. 

The thing is, when you read such a well crafted story, it also has the power to leave you feeling so many emotions. Virginia had me crying with just two words. Two words that said and held so much, and that is a testament to everything she had written prior to that point. The ending to this story felt so perfect to me. I read it and felt in awe with how someone could write a conclusion that seemed so fitting and perfect, but that I still never saw coming. That, to me, is the sign of an incredible author. Virginia Black’s words moved me in a way that makes me so thankful there are sapphic authors out there writing incredible stories like No Shelter But The Stars. I am in awe of how Virginia created a story that had such moments of softness–in direct contrast to the harsh reality these two women were living. She is an amazing storyteller and I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

While I could go on, I’ll just say I cannot recommend this book enough. You will not regret it.

Cheesy Goodness: The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz

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Note: Though plot spoilers are restricted to the very end of the review, this review discusses some themes and character arcs in the latter part of the book.

As the first snow falls in my region, it’s a perfect time for a cozy graphic novel with grilled cheese oozing on the cover. Despite some quibbles, I had a great time with The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz, a lighthearted young adult romance inspired by the author’s own love story.

In the kingdom of Fromage, Lady Camembert can’t legally inherit her father’s fortune without marrying a man. Aware that she isn’t into men, her father suggests she move away and pretend to be his son. After his death, she follows his advice. She brings only one servant, Feta, who has been with her since birth. While taking on a masculine persona is no problem for the dashing, gregarious Cam, discretion proves a greater challenge, as she immediately makes waves at the princess’s no-furs ball. Cam has always been a fan of Princess Brie’s activism and develops a crush on her, causing no end of frustration for Feta, who knows Cam could be arrested if her secret gets out. 

If the naming scheme isn’t making it clear, this is a story more interested in a fun time than a realistic time. If you want to be swept away in an earnest fairy tale of a royal romance, be assured that this one doesn’t take itself too seriously. The expressive art style was what personally sold me on it and gave me the most giggles. Cam especially is a bundle of charm thanks to her mannerisms, ranging from debonair to excitable to flustered. The pages’ compositions effectively conveyed the story, with clarity, good flow, and emotional impact. Plus, Brie’s puppy is top-tier precious.

Despite the title, this book is less focused on food (if anything, the main characters are into fashion, which Cam nerds out over adorably) and more on whether it’s worth giving up true happiness to take a path focused only on avoiding pain. As is pointed out later in the book, many people don’t have the luxury of trying to actively pursue a good option in life and must instead choose the least undesirable path. Being a princess gives Brie more freedom to break boundaries and set a new standard, despite the societal limitations around gender and sexuality—yet even as an activist, she balks at the idea of upending the status quo. Meanwhile, from the start, Cam rejects the “safe” path of marrying a man, but then has to choose between the safety of living a secretive life versus pursuing a chance at love. 

Without spoilers, I’ll just say I didn’t personally enjoy how the midpoint turn played out or where it left the status quo of the main characters’ relationship for a portion of the book. I would have preferred a direction that allowed for more interaction between the main couple in the book’s second half. I also wished that Brie’s best friend, Ricotta, got to shine more as an individual. Her design and personality were fun, so I would have liked her to get a bit more depth outside of her support of the main couple, and for her to be more in the loop in the end. In contrast, I thought that the other main supporting cast members, Gorgonzola and Feta, had satisfying character arcs, as some of the most memorable moments involved them changing their approaches to the central conflict and theme. 

Everything else aside, I couldn’t stop grinning at Cam’s reactions from panel to panel, and I’m glad I read this. Order this book up if you like your romance with an extra helping of cheese.

The following content note contains spoilers:

This book contains an instance of a character guessing her love interest’s assigned gender due to a visual cue and then reacting negatively, which may be triggering for trans readers. As implied in the summary, the book also contains parental death and discussions of structural sexism and heteronormativity. 

Til reviews Into the Bloodred Woods by Martha Brockenbrough

the cover of Into the Bloodred Woods by Martha Brockenbrough

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Trigger warnings: gore, torture, death, mutilation, sexual assault, child abuse, violence, harassment… and likely others I’m forgetting. This is a relentless work.

Imagine a story that understood the true horror of the old fairy tales, the depths of yearning and human pain that crafted them, and the wonder that lets us believe, and rolled them up into a young adult novel. Stuffed it with a cream of gorgeous prose. Sprinkled in some sapphic love here, a mature conflict about class distinctions there, a smattering of werefolk. Dusted liberally with feminism that permits physical strength to exist in equal validity.

Am I trying to describe a book or win Bake Off here? Who can tell!

Into the Bloodred Woods takes characters familiar to Western audiences and introduces them in a new telling that uses the strengths of that familiarity. For example, many books with this many perspectives have a confusing start—it’s hard to keep track of all the worldbuilding and four points of view. It’s easier here because I already knew their contexts. Hans and Greta, the woodcutter’s children, are familiar enough. Except this time, they’re left alone in the woods when illness claims their loving father and stepmother.

It uses those familiar characters to tell an original story. A summary of key events would only touch on a tiny fraction of the book itself. This is, as the back-cover blurb promises, a story about a king’s son and daughter, each of whom inherits half a kingdom, and the ensuing battles, politics, conniving, and cruelty. But all of that is shaped by characters: a prince who worships automation and pain, a well-intentioned but spoiled princess who thinks she’s clever enough, a child of the forest when the town is drawing near, and a woodcutter’s daughter who wants little more than family and safety. It’s the intermingling of those characters with the machinations of the wicked prince and his hoard of gold that can be melted by blood. There’s a lot going on, which leads to a fast-paced and multi-faceted story.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book centers on Ursula, daughter of the queen from Rumpelstiltskin’s story, who wants to be queen and has high ideals, but isn’t realistic or mature about them. I would argue that’s the point. She was raised on misogyny and fairytales. Of course she’s unprepared for the real world. It’s a flaw I liked, especially in the way it caused her to interact with Sabine, her love interest. Their love never felt easy. Sabine is of the oppressed werefolk, forced to live in a slum, sleep in a cage, and fight in a ring to earn her way. Though Ursula is also a were, she sleeps in a golden cage in a palace, and has limited understanding of the world and how power feels to the truly powerless. Love never handwaves their differences: they earn their closeness. Ursula has to grow and change, to do a lot of learning—some of it bitter and much of it alone. I liked the realism of that. Sabine didn’t excuse her mistakes. Distances between them feel honest, even as they both long for closeness.

This is an intense read. I wouldn’t recommend it without warning about that. It’s brutal, it’s relentless, and no one is ever truly safe. The primary villain, Albrecht, believes he understands the world better than anyone, that his rule is justified and his attention is a gift, and this justifies any act of violation. The woods themselves respond to the narrative by becoming dangerous and reactive. It’s a powerful story; it’s a story about power. It’s a story about survival, but it’s well worth the ache, as much for the catharsis as because Brockenbough doesn’t lose sight of what’s worth surviving for.

5 out of 5 stars, would be damaged by again!

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.

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.

Vic reviews The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

The Jasmine Throne cover

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Considering it’s commonly referred to as part of the Sapphic Trifecta of fantasy and sapphic fantasy is, in my professional opinion, the best genre there is, it seems almost criminal that it took me so long to get to it. Maybe it was intimidation (how often do popular things actually live up to the hype?), or maybe it was distraction, but now that I’ve finally read Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, I get it completely.

Simultaneously a complex, epic political fantasy and a beautiful love story, The Jasmine Throne follows Priya, a maidservant who possesses forbidden magic, and Malini, a princess who has been imprisoned in the temple by her brother for her refusal to be burned. When Malini sees Priya use her magic, she realizes she may be able to help her make her escape and enact revenge on her cruel brother, but as the two women start spending more time together, their feelings begin to deepen.

I really thought this was going to be enemies to lovers for some reason, so I was surprised (but not at all disappointed!) by how tender their relationship was from the start, and it only got better from there. I loved both Priya and Malini as individuals, but God, their relationship. From the very first time they meet, it is clear that they see each other, see that there is more than the cover they present to the world, and that more than anything is the root of their attraction.

Priya and Malini are two of my favorite characters I have ever encountered, and my favorite between them was more often than not simply the one whose head I was in at that moment. Malini’s ruthlessness paired with Priya’s kindness gave this book a ferocity that made me devour every page because I just needed to see more. Indeed, every single woman in this book has a ferocity to them, though it takes shape in different ways for each of them.

Multi-POV stories can be difficult to manage, particularly when there are as many as this book has (7+), but Suri balances them impressively. Every perspective served a purpose, whether they were a main character or a single-chapter soldier, giving the reader insight on an attack for which none of the leads were present, for example. Admittedly, some of the POVs didn’t interest me nearly as much as others, but by the end, I was shocked by how much certain characters had grown on me. Even when I sighed to see a name I didn’t know after a particularly tender Priya/Malini scene, for example, I never felt like a perspective was wasted.

Everything in this book is crafted with such care. Based in Indian history, the world of this book is as vivid as Suri’s writing style. With characters hailing from all parts of the empire, I never struggled to keep track of the customs or the religions of any of them. Because of that, the stakes of the rebellion felt immediate. I understood what the world looked like before Malini’s brother stepped in, and I understood what it would become if the revolution could not put a stop to his reign.

If you are thinking about reading this book and have somehow managed to skip it up until now, I highly recommend picking it up. It was somehow both fierce and tender, and it is one of my favorite recent reads (and I’ve been on a roll with some really great ones this month). Believe me, this review undersold the book. I can’t wait to pick up the next one.

Nat reviews Her Royal Happiness by Lola Keeley

the cover of ​​Her Royal Happiness by Lola Keeley

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If there’s a perfect time to read about the English monarchy and all its drama, well, it’s probably right now. Her Royal Happiness is low on the angst without glossing over the big ticket issues. Classism, racism, colonialism—Keeley touches on them all, without ever delving too far into serious topics, because let’s be honest, we know how to turn on the news. Bringing up serious themes in this work feels more like a placeholder or an acknowledgement—let’s put a pin in this for another time, but right now, let’s read a kissing book. 

Not that I’m a big follower of the royal family’s comings and goings, but if you’ve seen any news at all in the last several years, you probably know a thing or two about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Let’s be real, Her Royal Happiness is pretty much the queer version of them, but with a squishy royal happy ending. Princess Alice is an Olympic medalist and two tour combat pilot with medals to show for it. Her father was killed in an accident when she was young, while he was running from paparazzi. Sound familiar? Sara is Persian, a single mother raising a child on a modest income in South London. She might not be an American actress, but the tension is mirrored in the form of class differences and her family background.

Sara’s mother fled from Iran to France, but ironically, her mother is not the one who has issues with the royal family and their colonizing ways. Our main character is not a fan of royalty, and not quiet in her criticism. Keeley does a good job at showing Princess Alice being aware of some issues around racism and classism, while pointing out that she’s still been living in a bubble and has some growth ahead of her. Sara notes things along the way that our posh Princess may not have considered, including her views on war, especially from the POV of a soldier of an invading country. Again, we don’t get too deep or dark, but the author keeps us aware that it’s not all corgis and sunshine at the palace. 

Autism and the need for education tailored to different children’s strengths is another key topic of this work. But for those of you who don’t particularly like reading romances featuring children, I’ll note that one thing I really appreciated is that although some of the conflict (not to mention the meet cute and much of the motivation) is centered around the kids, the kids’ points of view don’t feature heavily and there isn’t a lot of kid-centric description. 

Overall, Keeley masters the balance between real world issues and a modern fiction fairy tale. If you need a bit of a warm blanket in the next few months, or just want a bit of a do over of current events in the multi universe, here’s a good place to find it. 

Shana reviews Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is a novella about a second chance romance between Likotsi, an African woman visiting New York City, and Fabiola, the Haitian-American femme from Brooklyn who she can’t stop thinking about.

The story is part of Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, which primarily features straight couples. Likotsi was my favorite character from the first book, and I was thrilled when she got her own story. The cover is amazeballs! I would love to have it as a poster for my wall. I often get annoyed by singular queer stories in a straight-ish series because they feel like throwaways, but this book delighted me.

Likotsi is the assistant to Prince Thabiso, the protagonist in A Princess in Theory, the Coming to America + Black Panther mashup in which she features heavily. Likotsi lives in a fictional African country that feels vaguely like Lesotho, but even more like Wakanda. She lives a fairly luxurious life, thanks to her proximity to royalty. Likotsi frequently travels for work and loves her all-consuming job, but she struggles to take breaks from running the Prince’s life and getting his UN policy priorities passed. The book opens with Likotsi enjoying a rare weekend off in New York, doing touristy things. She’s trying to distract herself from brooding about the woman she met in NYC eight months ago. Unfortunately for her, on her very first morning of vacation she runs into the girl on the subway.

Fabiola is an aspiring jewelry artist, and an accountant who loves math. She spends a lot of time worrying about her extended family, some of whom are undocumented immigrants. Fabiola has a fantastic sense of style, and I found myself drooling over her femmy outfit descriptions. When Likotsi and Fabiola meet up in the subway car, they’re both wary of one another. Likotsi is still smarting about Fabiola dumping her without an explanation. Fabiola isn’t sure if Likotsi can handle her complicated family situation. They end up exploring Fabiola’s favorite parts of the City together, while we’re treated to flashbacks of their initial whirlwind romance. Likotsi and Fabiola first met through a dating app, but the casual connection they were both planning on, quickly turned more serious. So why did Fabiola end it so abruptly, and can a relationship work when they live on different continents?

This was a fast and lighthearted read. I loved the evocative New York City setting, and enjoyed vicariously tagging along on the heroines’ adventures. I sympathized with Fabiola even though she was a breaker-of-hearts, because her family’s situation is tough. However, because this is a fluffy romance, all problems are solved, with hot sex scenes along the way. The book has some royalty trope flavor, because one character has more social power than the other, but there weren’t any celebrity dynamics to get in the way.

I think Once Ghosted, Twice Shy works well as a standalone. There are passing references to characters from the previous book, and this story glosses over some of the cultural context of Likotsi’s country, but none of that would prevent a reader from following along with the story. The plot is pretty straightforward—women date, they fall in love, the end—which I found relaxing, but could be frustrating for readers looking for more twists and turns. I’m generally not a huge fan of flashbacks, and they sometimes disrupted the flow of the story here. But the flashbacks also added balance to their relationship dynamics, because Likotski drives their romance initially, and with Fabiola taking the lead the second time around.

I would love to read more characters like Likotsi in f/f romances. She’s a dandy who loves clothes; and an unapologetically romantic and squishy cinnamon roll. Likotsi has access to a great deal of power through her work, and I enjoyed seeing an African character in that role especially since Africans are underrepresented in American queer romance. I also adored watching the two women flirt by talking about math and art. The heroines in this slow burn story had excellent chemistry, and I was dying for them to get together. My main critique is that the book felt short. It’s only 106 pages, so we mostly see the characters on only a few epic dates. I was left wanting more of these two. Overall, a quick and pleasurable read.

Maggie reviews The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin cover

Obviously, there has been a lot going on recently. In light of the new stresses in my, and everyone else’s, lives, what I wanted to read was some light romance as an escape. I turned to The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin, because it had been recommended to me a while ago as a very cute fantasy f/f romance. I liked it immensely. The twin influences of fantasy and romance combined for some highly enjoyable, wish-fulfilling world-building, bulldozing all potential problems to create a fantasy realm where queer romance can reign and the problems are mostly fantasy-plot related.

Princess Esofi of Rhodia has journeyed for months to get to the kingdom of Ieflaria and marry her long-time betrothed, Prince Albion. Although the betrothal was born out of political necessity – Ieflaria needs the battlemages that Rhodia trains in order to fend off escalating dragon attacks – she believes her union with Albion will be a good one based upon the long series of letters they’ve exchanged. However, upon arrival she finds out that Albion is dead. Esofi is left to marry another in the line of succession to keep her and her resources in Ieflaria. Albion’s sister, the Princess Adale, is the logical choice, but Adale never thought she would rule and rejects the violent upheaval of her life. Esofi and Adale have to build their relationship in the midst of dragon attacks, culture shock, rival heirs, and Adale’s own personal crisis.

What I enjoyed about this book was that there was a lot of traditional fantasy elements – magic, dragons, elaborate regency setups – but a strong romance sensibility made it all very soft. Princess Adale has strong feelings about being forced into the position of Crown Princess, a common enough fantasy element, but she starts to reconsider when she becomes enamored of how nice and soft Princess Esofi looks, a common romance element. Watching her become tongue-tied over her feelings is a delight. Court politics and arranged marriages are standard fare in both fantasy and romance, but this book wanted them to be a backdrop, not a real obstacle. Princess Esofi is both incredibly politically savvy and sensible about her position and also more than willing to have an emotional relationship. It was just so nice to take a break from everything happening in real life and watch a disaster princess trip and fall head over heels for a soft but extremely capable princess while also reading about dragons and magic.

What was also very nice about this book was that it was set squarely on Queer Romance and no problem was too real life to get explained away. How can they expect Princess Esofia to switch from marrying a guy to marrying a girl? Obviously Everyone is Pansexual. What about the line of succession? There’s some magic for that. A 400 page fantasy novel would explain and justify all of these things, but this is a romance first and foremost, so you don’t have to worry about it. Neither do the characters – it’s all built into their society from the ground up so they can immediately get to the romancing and the magic. A queer reader can sit back, read some inept wooing and dragon fighting, and feel warm and fuzzy for a while without any of the conflict having anything to do with queerness, which is always an experience I don’t realize I’m missing until I get into a story like this.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Queen of Ieflaria. It’s just the sort of fast-paced but incredibly soft romance I was looking for right now. If you’re at all into fantasy elements, this is a fun and feel-good read, and I’m excited to continue on to the rest of the series.