The Queer Heart of the Circle of Magic Series by Tamora Pierce

Something I’ve discovered recently is that you can tell a lot about a person based on which Tamora Pierce series they loved as a child. Song of the Lioness fan? Congratulations on your transition. Anyone who was really into the Immortals probably has a disaster prep bag (or three) and is working on their off the grid cabin in the woods dream. But I was always a Circle of Magic fan, which is why I’m a lesbian.

For those who are unfamiliar: Tamora Pierce is a prolific young adult writer, who, similar to authors like Terry Pratchett, has a shared setting that she writes multiple series in. The Circle of Magic books are also called her Emelan books, after the name of the primary setting. The plot follows four characters: Sandry, Daja, Tris, and Briar, four ambient mages who were discovered later than most mages usually are, and how they learn to harness their powers and find their places in the world. None of them fit in with other students, both because of their unusual magic and their unusual backgrounds. They come together to live in Discipline Cottage, with two of their teachers, to receive a more personalized education. The second quartet, The Circle Opens, follows them after they become certified as adult mages and go out into the world, and they come back together as adults in The Will of the Empress.

I hadn’t read these books in around 15 years, maybe more, which left me in an interesting position: I remembered a lot of emotional beats and character development, but was hazy on specific plot details. This allowed me to read the books almost like they were new, but not quite. My final verdict? Tamora Pierce is an incredible writer and these books still hold up very well. Reading these books was like peeling back layers of my personality and taste and exposing the core of my soul. How many characters have I loved (and written) that are just a slightly different version of Briar Moss? How many times have I read a story claiming to be found family and thinking that their friendship was nice, but it was just lacking something? Circle of Magic feels like the platonic ideal of many of my favorite tropes and character archetypes.

While the characters have stuck with me, one of my favorite parts of this series as an adult was the world building. Pierce uses a lot of clear inspiration from real world countries, both as cultural and racial influences, but she also works hard on magic systems and how they influence culture. The Traders are particularly fascinating, as they’re less of an ethnic group and more of a collective culture shared by a variety of people. While at first glance it’s easy to tell that they’re just visiting Fantasy Russia, there’s so much more depth that she builds up. The result is a diverse, interesting world with characters to match. I have done a lot of nostalgic childhood rereading this year, and it’s incredible to me how much more diverse these books were compared to others that were out at the time, and even those that are coming out now.

While it’s easy for me to wish that there was more obvious queerness in the early books, the thing is that the kids are 10 years old and probably don’t care very much about whether or not Lark and Rosethorn are kissing. Also, considering that Sandry’s Book was published in 1997 and The Will of the Empress was published in 2005, I’m more surprised that there were any canon gays at all. (In this reread I also hit up Melting Stones and Battle Magic, which is as recent as 2013, but I’m not focusing on them quite as much since they are less about the relationship and growth of the main foursome). Besides, the books feel like such a metaphor for queerness: all of the kids don’t fit in with other people and feel closer to each other than their own families, there’s an acknowledgement of their differences but they have more in common with each other. And even though only Daja is the only one who gets a girlfriend, we all know how friend groups tend to become more queer as time goes on. These books are just as fun to discuss as they are to read, and that makes them a fun series to read with friends.

Overall, I love these books. I’m not going to wait another 15 years to revisit them, they are staying near and dear to my heart, and they are required reading for anyone who wants to really understand who I am and what kinds of characters I like. I need to reread more Tamora Pierce now, since I’ve confirmed that she really is as good as I remember. They even appealed to my incredibly picky girlfriend, who doesn’t like reading middle grade/young adult books as much as I do! I think that’s the biggest endorsement I could give.

Larkie is a west coast lesbian living with her girlfriend and cat. When she’s not reading every queer genre book she can get her hands on, she’s probably playing video games or taking pictures of mushrooms. Larkie’s Lesbrary reviews can be found here. More reviews are on Storygraph.

Nat reviews How To Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow

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Sweet yet angsty. Coming of age and coming out stories. A meet cute that’s…not so cute. Jewish holiday rom com. All the big, tender feels of young love. Non-stop cackling, except when you take a break to have a good cry. A prominently featured corgi. These are a few of my favorite things about Jake Arlow’s How to Excavate a Heart.

College student Shani Levine is determined to spend the holidays alone doing a winter internship at the Smithsonian—that means she’ll be away from her family, her mom specifically, which she feels guilty about while also desperately feeling the need to get away. There are a lot of complicated feelings around this stage of life, and Arlow’s character portrayals feel very authentic—the main characters are both first year college students figuring out what it means to be independent, to manage this in-between phase of life, caught between home and their new freedoms. This is also where Arlow nails the post-teenage angst humor. 

We meet May in a rather abrupt manner—and this is not really a spoiler as it’s in the book’s synopsis and in the first chapter—with the front of Shani’s mom’s Subaru. May is also spending the holidays in DC with her dad, but not because she wants to be there. She’s having her own family issues, and being rudely greeted by the bumper of a car doesn’t exactly put her in the holiday spirit. May initially comes off a bit frosty, but of course we’ll eventually see those walls melted away. 

The book is told in first person from Shani’s perspective, so you really get into her mindset. As she works out her feelings and makes self discoveries, you’re along for the ride. While this book is a holiday romcom, it’s also just as much a coming of age story, and we see a lot of Shani trying to figure out how and when to talk about her “new” life with her mom, when she doesn’t quite know how to come to terms with it herself. This includes keeping her first real relationship a secret, along with her sexuality. 

(Spoilers and Trigger Warnings:) We kind of see this coming, like the Titanic about to hit the iceberg, as we see more snapshots of Shani’s first relationship. Each memory reveals more specific—or perhaps more accurate—details, as her relationship with May progresses. Our narrator is holding back so much in part because she’s just not had certain realizations herself about the abusive nature of her first relationship. Acknowledging these truths is a big turning point in the book, and it’s clear Shani can’t move forward with May until she’s come to terms with her own past. (End of Spoiler)

The supporting character cast gets major points, especially Beatrice (Aunt Bea) who is her own one woman comedy show, and Shani’s mentor at work who’s a few years older—the wise lesbian we all wish had been in our lives to dispense advice. And yes, the corgi (dogs absolutely count as characters). Overall, Arlow’s given us a sapphic holiday romcom that will excavate your own frozen little heart.

Trigger warnings: abuse, sexual assault

Maggie reviews A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

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I was ecstatic when I heard that Malinda Lo was writing a loosely connected follow up to Last Night at the Telegraph Cub because Last Night at the Telegraph Club is a hugely important lesbian coming of age novel set in 1950s San Francisco Chinatown that A) I wish I had had access to as a teenager and B) I’m so happy the youths have access to today. In A Scatter of Light, Lo attempts to recreate that same sense of teenage discovery and feelings in a more recent decade and succeeds wildly. I listened to the audiobook and had a fantastic experience. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Lo is unparalleled at invoking the teenage experience, where your feelings are huge and undefined and you don’t yet have the life experience to have perspective.

In A Scatter of Light, when recently graduated Aria West arrives at her eccentric artist grandmother Joan’s house in California for the summer, she’s upset that she’s not spending the summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her friends as planned and doesn’t expect the summer to come to much. But Joan, rather than judging her for the high school scandal that landed Aria in California, encourages her to pursue her interests, interrogate her own perspectives, and look at things in new ways, leading Aria to both connect with her past and push her boundaries with art while she’s there. Aria’s summer is further derailed by Joan’s gardener Steph, an aspiring musician, who invites Aria into a community of working class lesbians and queer events that Aria had previously never thought about. What started out as just killing time until she could leave for college turns into a life-changing summer as Aria learns several new things about herself. Dyke marches, art history, music festivals – Lo balances the nostalgia-drenched coming of age experience with real emotion for a surprisingly solid teenage narrative.

What I loved best about this book is that Aria’s beautiful emotional queer journey happens with all the grace of getting tackled by a football player and all the emotional subtlety of a fireworks show. It’s perfect and wonderful and great fun to read because Aria feels and loves with all the explosive power of a teenager who doesn’t have the experience to put her emotions into context. And many times her narration had me screaming with glee and with the experience of an adult perspective. It was an absolute blast to watch Aria have her hot lesbian summer, I had the most fun time listening to the audiobook.

Alas for Aria, not everything is as simple as getting flirted with by several lesbians and slowly realizing her feelings are not just friendship. For one thing her grandmother Joan, her ostensible reason for being in California to begin with, encourages her to explore art, something that Aria had never considered but starts mixing with her passion for astronomy and her history with her deceased grandfather. Her mother delivers some family news that sends Aria into a minor tailspin. (spoilers) And Steph, the object of Aria’s newly awakened queer desire, comes with an established relationship, albeit one that is making both halves of it miserable. It all comes to a head when Joan’s physical condition abruptly worsens, bringing Aria’s summer of awakening to an emotional close. (end spoilers)

A Scatter of Light is a dramatic, and fun ode to early 2000’s queer culture, coming of age, and teenage feelings, and I am so, so glad that youths today can just pick it off of any shelf. The characters feel deeply, the decisions are messy, and the open mic nights are queer. And journeying along with Aria while she had a wild summer awakening was the highlight of my fall. I appreciated the masterful way Lo handled themes of growing up and reaching new emotional maturity and dealing with life’s complicated circumstances. I especially appreciated that the summer remained what it says in the title – a scatter of light, a transient experience, a bubble of time that changed everyone involved but was not a lifetime commitment at 18. This book was amazing to read as an adult, would have absolutely given me new thoughts and perspective if I had had it available as a teen, and would be a great addition to your to-read list.

Danika reviews A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

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This is a YA sapphic heist story set on the Titanic. I’m sure most of you have already stopped reading to go add it to your wishlist, but just in case, I’ll keep going.

This is from the author of The Henna Wars and Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, but while there is a romantic subplot in A Million To One, it’s not the focus as it was in her previous two books. This follows four point of view characters, all of whom have their own reasons for wanting to pull off a heist that could set them up for life opportunities that have previously been unimaginable.

Josefa is the mastermind and leader of the operation. Thievery is how she gets by day-to-day, and this is the job that’s going to change anything. She wants to steal the Rubaiyat, a jewel-encrusted book being transported that is worth more than any jewelry the first class passengers are wearing. She’s already managed to steal some tickets, but she can’t pull off this heist alone.

The easy choice to join her is Violet, a friend who has helped her out on several other jobs before. Violet is a very convincing actress, making her the perfect choice to be the face of the operation. She can charm almost anyone, which will help get them out of any tight spots. In her real life, though, Violet is closed off and suspicious, especially of the much less seasoned additions to their team.

The next person Josefa recruits is Hinnah, a circus performer and contortionist. In order to steal the Rubaiyat, they need someone who can fit into tight spaces. She’s eager to walk away from her life and pursue something new, even though she’s never done anything like this before.

Emilie is the last addition to the team, and the most unlikely. She’s a painter who is feeling lost after her father died. She lives in a different world than the other three young women, making Violet suspicious of her motives and capabilities. Still, Josefa is adamant that they need someone to forge a convincing copy of the Rubaiyat to buy them time. And it doesn’t hurt that she also has a crush on Emilie and has been looking for an excuse to spend more time with her.

Each chapter begins with a countdown (3 DAYS, 7 HOURS, 25 MINUTES), because, of course, this is a Titanic story. While the characters are busy trying to pull off a heist, we know there’s something much bigger and more dangerous approaching. Meanwhile, they have to dodge the Matron suspicious of four young women travelling without an escort as they navigate their tenuous relationships with each other–including a budding romance. And they’re all keeping secrets about what really brought them to this mission.

As with Jaigirdar’s previous books, the main characters all live in Ireland. Josefa is originally from Spain, Emilie is part Haitian and part French, Violet is from Croatia, and Hinnah is from India.

I found it interesting how this diverse group in a very rich, white environment was written. Racism is mentioned in the novel, but it doesn’t play much of a role while they’re on the Titanic, and as far as I remember, homophobia isn’t mentioned at all. I can’t imagine I would have enjoyed a book that realistically describes how queer women of colour would have been treated in this situation, but it feels like this exists somewhere between an alternate history and a realistic depiction, which was a little hard to pin down for me.

If the premise intrigues you, definitely pick this one up, though of course keep in mind that it takes place on the Titanic, so you know how it will end. I sometimes felt like I wanted to spend more time with the characters and their relationships to each other, but that’s a function of the genre, I think: it’s more focused on the plot than the characters, especially with four POVs to juggle in a fairly short book.

… Did I mention this is a sapphic YA heist on the Titanic?

Danielle Izzard reviews Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken by Nita Tyndall

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Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken by Nita Tyndall is a queer YA historical fiction novel—a genre that I had yet to come across, and knew I had to read as soon as it was released. I was immediately intrigued by its poetic title, as well as by the promise of a topic I wasn’t used to reading. Tyndall certainly delivered with this novel: it is well written, intricately plotted, and overall beautiful. Following strong female characters as they navigate not only personal relationships, but WWII in the heart of Germany, this was an interesting read that captured my attention from start to finish. It’s a perfect YA novel, dealing with teenagers struggling with very real issues that have been faced throughout history: identities, relationships, and emotions. It presents strong family dynamics, which strengthened its appeal, showcasing both supportive and unsupportive families, making the novel realistic and believable. Tyndall writes with beautiful imagery: poetry, jazz music, maps that the protagonist, Charlie, creates. These images and Tyndall’s descriptions of the setting makes the novel vivid, easily bringing words to life.

Despite its strengths, Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken was slightly too short for my liking. Not that short novels aren’t appealing, but in this case, it didn’t help with the progression. It was at times too fast paced, leaving me feeling breathless as I struggled to keep up with the unfolding events. The short length left little time for character development, or even introduction. Throughout reading, I wondered how the characters had come to know each other, and felt that their personalities weren’t conveyed very strongly. I didn’t feel as though I knew them by the end of the novel. I’d have traded the short length for a slower, more drawn-out story. Really, I’d have liked more time in this setting Tyndall so beautifully crafted.

A captivating YA novel that covers WWII in Germany, with queer characters and relationships, Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken is a great example of books we need more of. It’s perfect for fans of Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club, and for readers of all ages.

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

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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.

Danika reviews The Restless Dark by Erica Waters

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During October this year, I tried to pack my TBR with seasonal, Halloween-adjacent reads, and The Restless Dark looked like the perfect match. It’s a sapphic YA horror/thriller book set at a true crime podcast event where listeners compete to try to find the unrecovered bones of a serial killer. As the retreat continues, though, it begins to seem like the danger isn’t past…

Lucy only narrowly escaped being one of the Cloudkiss Killer’s victims, and she was the last person to see him alive. She’s gone on this retreat not out a love of true crime — a genre that’s profited off and sensationalized her trauma — but because she hopes to find closure. Carolina, the other point of view character, has come to try to assure herself she’s nothing like the Cloudkiss Killer, even though she may have killed her boyfriend. (Or maybe it was an accident? She can’t remember.)

Lucy and Carolina end up in a group with Maggie, a psychology student writing a paper about all the fascinating characters at this retreat. They almost immediately end up in a tense dynamic with each other: both Caroline and Maggie are interested in Lucy, but Lucy falls for Maggie. She appreciates that Maggie gives her agency, and she’s frustrated that Carolina keeps trying to protect her. She doesn’t want to feel like a victim anymore. Carolina, though, is worried that Lucy is beginning to become violent herself, and she knows how much that can destroy your psyche, because that’s what she’s going through.

This plays out at Cloudkiss Canyon, which the locals all avoid. It’s coated with an ever-present, unexplained fog, and the legend is that the fog will show you your true self, the one you fear and avoid, if you let it. There’s a dreamlike quality to their time here, and it’s unclear if something supernatural is happening or not. Carolina, especially, seems to be losing time, which is all the more worrying when it becomes obvious someone is hurting people at the retreat.

The setting and danger contribute to a tense, claustrophobic environment where everyone starts to turn on each other. They seem to be acting out of character — is it the fog affecting them, or is this who they really are?

This isn’t a mystery; I found it pretty easy to predict who was responsible for everything going wrong, but in a way, that just contributed to the tension, and I found myself compelled to keep reading just to get to the point where it all came to a head.

The Restless Dark is a moody, atmospheric story perfect for fall reading. I was completely absorbed while reading it, even if it’s not a book I found especially memorable. If you’re looking for a fall read that’s chilling without being gory, this is a great choice — and I always appreciate an F/F/F love triangle.

Til reviews The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning

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

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

And I don’t like Cinderella.

Or this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trigger warnings: animal death, child death

Danika reviews The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie reviews Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axelrod

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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.