Stephanie Cohen-Perez

In Siren Queen, Nghi Vo presents an alternate history of golden age Hollywood that is at times dreamlike, at times nightmarish.

When Chinese American movie fan Luli Wei stumbles onto a film set as a child and snags a minor role, her career aspirations are forever altered. She decides to plunge headlong into an industry where she is not accepted or celebrated, and must constantly claw her way through adversity to gain even the smallest achievement.

Luli is no stranger to enchantments—her mother weaves intricate household spells from time to time—but her time in Hollywood reveals their darker side. In Vo’s alternate America, movie magic isn’t just makeup, costumes and special effects. Young, vulnerable actors sell their souls, bodies and identities for fame and fortune, and still, the show must go on.

Vo’s spellbinding prose captures the allure and discomfort that Hollywood holds for outspoken, witty Luli. She experiences constant prejudice and possible danger as a queer Asian woman, but the film community also provides her with an opportunity to explore her sexuality in relative, if tenuous, safety. Formidable and talented, Luli is adamant that she will be the Asian actress who breaks the mold to play more than a scorned lover or a servant. At first, she sacrifices parts of herself to achieve this goal, but she eventually reaches the limit of what she is willing to give. The more secrets she learns, the more determined she becomes to overturn the status quo and create a safe haven for other marginalized actors.

Beyond its intricate world building and incisive cultural commentary, Siren Queen is a moving exploration of romance, loss and complex family dynamics. Readers will be fully invested in Luli’s journey as she comes into her own, defies the industry’s attempts to own her and pursues her happiness.

Beyond its intricate world building and incisive cultural commentary, Siren Queen is a moving exploration of romance, loss and complex family dynamics.

In Francesca May’s stunning, gorgeously composed fantasy debut, Wild and Wicked Things, a dissipated coven of witches and a meek young woman become unexpected allies.

Annie Mason has led a quiet and ordinary life. When her estranged father dies shortly after the end of World War I, she reluctantly travels to Crow Island to take care of his estate. The island also happens to be the very place her former best friend, Bea, resides in a fancy house on the sea with her new husband. Crow Island is famous across the land for its faux magic parlors and fake spells and potions, but Annie soon learns that its inhabitants also practice true, darker-than-imagined magic. When she rents a summer cottage next to the infamous Cross House, where a coven throws lavish parties that feature Prohibited magic, Annie is given an opportunity to find a place—and maybe a person—that actually feels like home.

May seamlessly transports readers to the shores of Crow Island, straight into the shoes of Annie and de facto coven leader Emmeline Delacroix. Annie is whisked away by the island’s enchantment, and May’s prose echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald to capture the finery and wild parties of the era. And while Annie originally thinks she’s being bewitched by the coven’s magic or the island, she comes to realize that she is simply following her innermost desires. The supposedly cursed island gives her time and space to come to terms with grief over lost loved ones and her internalized shunning of her sapphic sexuality. Emmeline’s inexplicable and undeniable magnetism is a clever plot complication but also the perfect setup for a passionate, slow-burning queer romance that feels forged in destiny.

Under all the glamour, Wild and Wicked Things is also a nuanced exploration of intergenerational trauma and abusive relationships. Emmeline hovers over her adoptive siblings, Isobel and Nathan, even though their abusive guardian, coven founder Cilla, is long gone. Annie finds herself in a similar situation as she tries to shield Bea from a marriage gone wrong, and she and Emmeline bond over their roles as protectors and healers. But nothing is truly black and white, from the witches’ backstories and intentions, to Bea’s desires, to Annie’s past. May does not shy away from the macabre, and every twist is better and eerier than the last.

May’s thrilling fantasy takes familiar tropes, mashes them with a mortar and pestle, sprinkles them with a bit of herbs and throws them into the cauldron, creating a fresh and exciting take on witchy historical fantasy.

Wild and Wicked Things is a stunning, gorgeously composed historical fantasy with a compelling queer romance at its heart.

Christina Henry’s Horseman is an atmospheric and haunting reimagining of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” perfect for both fans of classic horror and those new to the tale of the Headless Horseman. Henry’s retelling centers on 14-year-old Bente “Ben” Van Brunt, the grandson of Katrina Van Tassel and Brom Bones, whose tale-as-old-as-time romance once sparked rumors of the ghostly Horseman and ran a gangly, awkward schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane out of town. When a child is killed, supposedly by the shadowy folkloric monster the Kludde, the usually sleepy little town of Dutch descendants erupts into chaos as more murders ensue and people point fingers at the Horseman and each other.

The orphan Ben has lived his entire life in this small town with his Oma Katrina and Opa Brom. Ben, who is transgender, experiences much frustration with fellow townsfolk who insist on repeatedly misgendering him and accusing him of witchcraft, a traditionally feminine stereotype. Henry’s depiction of Ben’s experience as a trans boy feels a little forced, bordering on stereotypical. There are several descriptions of him being a “boy soul in a girl’s body,” as well as an assumption that he will not be able to have a family or children.

But there is even more that sets him apart from the other folks in the Hollow. Ben can hear whispers in the woods at the end of a forbidden path, and he has visions of the Horseman, who says he is there to protect him. And perhaps worst of all, he’s the only person who actually wants to leave the tightknit community marked by old wives’ tales and superstitious secrets.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: The year's best Halloween reads, ranked from slightly spooky to totally terrifying.


With visceral visions of nightmares, creepy prose and a pace as fast as the rush of horses’ hooves, Henry’s take on Irving’s classic story is a one-sitting read, a chilling romp into the forest that will remind readers that sometimes the scariest monster in the room is human nature (not even pumpkin-headed horsemen or the author’s horrifying twist on Ichabod Crane’s fate). While there are some truly shiver-inducing, gruesome scenes in which victims of the Kludde are discovered decapitated and handless, Henry depicts the evil that resides inside the human inhabitants of the Hollow as the most terrifying form, from racism and bigotry to transphobia and the sexualization of children.

Ben has staunch allies in his best friend, Sander; his Opa Brom; and eventually his Oma Katrina—not to mention in his guardian Horseman—but the closed-mindedness of the Hollow, and the nefarious intentions of some of its inhabitants, create a stifling atmosphere, one ready to erupt into flames from the strike of a single match. Readers should also be aware that Henry frequently includes dialogue that reflects the transphobic and sexist beliefs many people held during the Colonial era, while also depicting customs that reflect such beliefs. As Ben unravels the energetically paced mystery and makes connections between the death of his parents and the recent murders, he will inspire readers who love their families but long to forge their own paths.

Christina Henry’s Horseman is an atmospheric and haunting reimagining of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” perfect for both fans of classic horror and those new to the tale of the Headless Horseman.

Marjorie Liu’s haunting collection of short stories, The Tangleroot Palace, is an astonishing foray into fantastical escapism. These are reworkings of older works of short fiction, and together they create both a love letter to Liu's illustrious career and a curious and joy-filled glimpse into the future. Readers who want to be immersed in otherworldly adventures with feminist themes will find a gifted and enchanting guide in Liu.

As readers find themselves gleefully lost in the labyrinthine forest of stories and monsters that Liu has created, certain beloved tropes will ring true. Liu’s love for superheroes is apparent, especially in the tale of lonely geneticist Alexander “Lex Luthor” Lutheran, who fantasizes about being a comic supervillain. Liu consistently returns to themes of found family, freedom from societal expectations and grappling with the good, the bad and the ugly of family legacy to forge one’s own path as a strong hero. Her various reconstructed fairy tales will also be pleasant surprises for those who grew up wondering why princesses never had more agency and why witches were often portrayed in a negative light.

While common motifs develop across these tales, Liu’s versatility within and mastery of multiple fantasy subgenres also shines. In “Sympathy for the Bones,” teenage Clora reluctantly helps her guardian, Old Ruth, create poppets to kill locals on demand; “The Briar and the Rose” and “The Last Dignity of Man” showcase two very different queer love stories; “Call Her Savage” envisions an alternate history in which women are respected and feared in the military and across timelines; and “After the Blood” is a post-pandemic Amish vampire story (talk about words you never expected to see together in a sentence!) that tests a couple’s love and offers hope and light in the face of a ravaged world.

With its vivid characters and relatable themes, The Tangleroot Palace is, frankly, a marvel. Liu is a chameleon of a writer when it comes to settings and world building. From another writer, these various stories might have felt haphazardly cobbled together, but not here. These are all stories of survival and strength, no matter the cost, in which women are joyously celebrated as heroes, warriors, scientists, sorceresses and duelists. On every page of The Tangleroot Palace, women have the power to take their own stories back and rework them in ways that are resilient, powerful and new.

Marjorie Liu’s haunting collection of short stories, The Tangleroot Palace, is an astonishing foray into fantastical escapism.

T.L. Huchu’s first installment of the Edinburgh Nights series, The Library of the Dead, is a kaleidoscopic adventure that melds the phantasmagoric with the mundane.

Ropa Moyo is struggling to both make ends meet and take care of her beloved Gran and little sister, Izwi. She dropped out of school to work as a ghosttalker, a messenger between the deceased and the people they left behind. Ropa is always eager for a quick gig, but an eerie pattern has begun to emerge. Ghosts all over Edinburgh have been warning her of cursed and bewitched local children, and Ropa is wary of whatever powerful entity might be employing this dark magic. To help her figure out what’s going on, her childhood best friend, Jomo Maige, takes Ropa to the mysterious Library where his father works, an occult research facility where Ropa can check out books on magic to supplement her patient Gran’s ghosttalker lessons and where her library card is a desiccated ear. Huchu’s twisty and devilishly macabre novel follows Ropa, Jomo and Ropa's new Library ally, Priya, a healer who uses a wheelchair, as they unravel a mystery so chilling that even the ghosts of Edinburgh shudder in revulsion.

Huchu has crafted an unforgettable character in Ropa, from her green locs to her black lipstick to her sense of humor, which is sharp enough to rival the dagger she carries on her body at all times. Ropa is a smart-talking, intelligent survivor, and she wants to provide the best opportunities for Izwi and a safe, stable home for her benevolent Gran. Ropa secretly finds joy in helping set spirits free, though she hides this soft spot with her sardonic quips. She gives off the impression of being a lone wolf, but her friendship with Jomo is constantly endearing, and her connection with Priya provides her with a new ride-or-die pal who is just as passionate about all things strange and unusual.

Ropa conveys messages from the dead to their unrequited high school crushes and alleviates tensions to prevent intrafamily hauntings, so how difficult could this new adventure be? But her Library explorations push her skills further than she ever imagined, while helping her learn more about the magical abilities passed down through her Zimbabwean family. Ropa’s pursuit of greater power and knowledge is always tied to how she can best protect her community, which is one of the most charming aspects of this very charming book. She is dedicated to becoming not only a proper magician but also a more compassionate ghosttalker, trailing the footsteps of those who came before and forging a new path for those who will follow.

T.L. Huchu’s first installment of the Edinburgh Nights series, The Library of the Dead, is a kaleidoscopic adventure that melds the phantasmagoric with the mundane.

Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a captivating fantasy romance between the storybook Princess Aurora and the dark sorceress Alyce.

Walter’s immersive world building plunges readers into the Briar Kingdom, built on a system of inequality and discrimination. The fae, known as Graces, are kept as magical servants for cold-blooded mortal nobles. The Graces can create beauty and light, but Alyce’s magic seems to produce only ugliness and pain. Known as the Dark Grace, Alyce is the last descendant of a type of fae known as the Vila, and her relationship with the other fae is complicated—some avoid her, all fear her and most are willing to throw her under the bus. 

When Alyce decides to attend a masquerade ball despite not being invited, she is outed as the dark fairy by one of Princess Aurora’s failed and jealous suitors. Alyce flees, but Aurora runs after her and Alyce is shocked at how down-to-earth the princess is. Aurora must find her true love by age 21 or she will be cursed to sleep forever. She has been kissed by many noblemen, often strangers, to try and break the curse, but none have succeeded. As Alyce and Aurora grow closer, the Dark Grace becomes determined to find a way to break the spell.

Told through the puckish voice of Alyce, Malice is a sympathetic take on the traditionally one-dimensional figure of the dark fairy. Alyce’s wry wit and determination to save Aurora make her instantly sympathetic, a refreshing change from other fairytale retellings that attempt to conjure some meticulous, outlandish backstory to explain the evil doings of a nefarious character. Alyce is feared, yes, but for things she’s had from birth and can’t control. Her growing love for Aurora and her increasing resistance to the status quo shine through her gloomy outlook, and as she learns about the history of Briar and the truth behind the treatment of the fae, Alyce learns some unexpected truths about her powers as well.

This heartfelt, ever-escalating story of true love burns bright, encouraging readers to brush aside shame or condescension and follow their hearts.

Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a dark and compelling fantasy romance between the storybook princess and the dark sorceress Alyce.

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