by Nghi Vo
Releasing on May 10th, 2022
Published by Tordotcom
Adult Fiction—Historical, Fantasy
From award-winning author Nghi Vo comes a dazzling new novel where immortality is just a casting call away.
It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic.
“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.
But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.
Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.
Trigger/Content Warning(s): Addiction, Body Horror, Death, Gore, Racism, Homophobia, Sexual Content, Pregnancy, Violence, Injury/Injury Detailing, Classism, Sexual Assault (Alluded to), Alcohol Use, Murder (Alluded To)
Disclaimer: I was provided a physical galley by the publisher in return for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion.
Siren Queen is an elusive, spellbinding story that captures readers and encloses them in its hold. Written with prose and whimsical storytelling, it was easy to fall into the story, but it was difficult to fully comprehend what occurred within its pages.
Nghi Vo has a brilliant writing style, in that it easily grabs your attention and makes you attentive to the story. It was hard to pull away while reading, especially in the earlier chapters. However, while the strength lay in the writing style, the other elements just were not the best.
First and foremost, the pacing. As this book is just under 300 pages long, it can be expected that it would be a bit on the quicker side. This book debunked that thought, as it was nearly excruciatingly slow. It came across as though a minimum of 60 or so pages could have been cut from the book. There were many parts that felt as though they were just “fillers” in the sense that they were not important, nor did they do anything to move the book along. It made it difficult to read, and it required multiple breaks from reading to re-steady.
Along with this, the character development did not feel strong enough. Luli’s character was good, but she lacked in several areas. For one, it felt as though her character was being used in the sense that Nick from The Great Gatsby was—a narrator to oversee the events around her and the people she was surrounded by. But the events that took place outside of two major ones were not well-hitting, and instead, left disappointment in their wake.
To build off of that, this book as a whole felt like a fever dream dosed on extra speed. It was confusing, and there were several points that nearly called for a DNF of it due to the lack of connections and overall steady plot.
While Siren Queen is a beautiful book, its faults severely took away from the reading experience. And for that, I rate it 3.25 stars. This was my first book from Nghi Vo, and while I am curious as to the similarity in writing in her other books compared to this new one, I do still plan to pick them up based on peer recommendations.
Nghi Vo is the author of the novels Siren Queen and The Chosen and the Beautiful, as well as the acclaimed novellas When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain and The Empress of Salt and Fortune, a Locus and Ignyte Award finalist and the winner of the Crawford Award and the Hugo Award. Born in Illinois, she now lives on the shores of Lake Michigan. She believes in the ritual of lipstick, the power of stories, and the right to change your mind.