Sign Up

Get the latest ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

All Fantasy Coverage

Interview by

Bold thief Kierse gets more than she bargained for when she breaks into a terrifying creature’s home in The Wren in the Holly Library, the first in a new series from K.A. Linde.

The Wren in the Holly Library takes place in a fantasy version of New York City, and the cityscape is written with so much detail. How many nooks and crannies in the novel are based on real locations? Most importantly, does the shop that sells Kierse’s favorite cinnamon babka actually exist?
This was such an interesting part of the editing process, actually. I wrote it as monster New York City and based it off of my experiences in New York over the last couple years. Then after I finished, I spent a week with my husband walking the streets of the city, riding the subway and taking photographs. I came home and edited the entire book in one fell swoop to bring all the reality of Manhattan to the locations. So everywhere is real or based on something, including the history of Five Points, Track 61 and yes, Kierse’s bakery! It’s based on William Greenberg’s bakery on the Upper East Side. It’s one of my favorite places to stop when I’m in the city.

I have a master’s degree in political science and my husband is a professor in the field. Political landscapes are woven into nearly all of my works.

The novel depicts gangs, blackmail and slavery, all of which we obviously deal with in the real world. How do you balance bleak political elements with more lighthearted action or romance?
To be honest, the political side comes so easily to me. I have a master’s degree in political science and my husband is a professor in the field. Political landscapes are woven into nearly all of my works. I like to think that those lighthearted things, especially love, are what keep us going when our day to day feels bleak too. You have it all in your life, and in a novel, it keeps the pacing from feeling bogged down.

The banter is so enjoyable! Do you draw inspiration for witty dialogue from certain people or conversations in your own life?
Honestly, I just have a very vivid imagination, and I’m inherently sarcastic. Kierse having that dry wit that she can fire back in banter is just what my brain immediately comes up with. She has to know how to handle herself, and a lot of it comes down to using the banter to control a situation. Which Graves obviously likes.

Kierse reads and dissects a number of myths and folk tales. Do you have a favorite folk tale that you’ve held onto from childhood? What is the “kernel of truth” that you’ve gleaned from it?
This is such a fun question. I read a lot growing up. Like I was Matilda at the library reading through all the shelves. Probably my favorite kernel of truth is from Roald Dahl’s The Witches, the idea that monsters live among us and even ordinary people can seem scary. Which parallels the story, but also suggests that you never really know what anyone is going through.

I love “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Help people, bring people up with you, raise your voice for the things that you believe in.

In some lights, Kierse could come across as a “Strong Female Character” (a trope where a woman is tough and capable, but also emotionless and often two-dimensional), but she also embraces her sensuality and openly relies on others. Were you consciously trying to avoid certain stereotypes?
Kierse being both strong and vulnerable mimics how so many women have to go through life. To quote Barbie, “It is literally impossible to be a woman.” It’s important for her to be three-dimensional, for people to be able to relate to her because she’s not a blank slate or entirely larger than life.

Character names in fantasy can be tricky, but I genuinely loved all the names in the book, especially Torra and Lorcan. How do you know when a name is right for a character?
I almost always know the names of the main leads before I even start writing the story. Graves came to me immediately, and I knew from the start that I wanted to only use his last name. I love when a character goes by an unexpected name and we don’t know the full version until later. For Kierse, I was researching Irish names and Ciaran was the Irish version of the Scottish Kier. And I wanted to do a play on that. So I came up with Kierse. Plus, the names have to sound good together. Also, Torra is my favorite name too!

The central motto of the society of The Wren in the Holly Library is “Monsters not magic,” which is not only a fun catchphrase but an extremely effective piece of exposition. Do you have any personal mottos that you swear by?
I love “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Help people, bring people up with you, raise your voice for the things that you believe in. And in the same vein, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” We’re helping each other out. We’re not competing with each other.

The Wren in the Holly Library is the first book in a new series. If you were to describe the sequel in one word or short phrase, what would it be?
Trust issues.

K.A. Linde’s urban fantasy is set in a monster-filled New York City.
24 LGBTQ+ books for 2024.
STARRED REVIEW

June 1, 2024

Your Pride reading list for 2024

Call your queer bookclub—we’ve rounded up the 24 best LGBTQ+ books of 2024 so far!
Share this Article:
Review by

The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin—dubbed the “Nazi Olympics” for providing an international platform to the genocidal regime—produced lasting memories, including the triumphs of Black American track and field star Jesse Owens and the “Boys in the Boat” rowing team that beat Germany in a dramatic upset. Less remembered is the wide speculation at the games that Helen Stephens, a U.S. runner who won two golds, might actually be a man.

She wasn’t. But the phony controversy was symptomatic of a panic in the Olympics establishment. Not long before the 1936 games, two top track and field athletes who had competed in international competitions as women said publicly that they were men (we would say now that they had come out as trans). A handful of Olympic leaders, including Nazi sympathizers, immediately drew the wrong conclusions and called for mandatory medical exams to determine sex prior to sports competitions.

In The Other Olympians: Fascism, Queerness, and the Making of Modern Sports, author Michael Waters sensitively tells this forgotten history and reveals its modern resonances. The book connects the struggles of those two athletes, Zdenek Koubek of Czechoslovakia and Mark Weston of Britain, with the relatively open attitude toward queerness in pre-Nazi Central Europe, the resistance within the early Olympics movement to women’s sports, and the failed effort to boycott the Berlin games.

The Other Olympians is full of surprises for contemporary readers. For example, anyone who mistakenly thinks Christine Jorgensen was the first person to have gender affirming surgery will learn very much otherwise. But Waters’ detailed description of the outspoken Koubek’s life before and during his transition is the heart of the book. He emerges as an overlooked pioneer.

Koubek, Weston and other trans and queer people profiled here never wanted to compete against women after their transitions. Yet an entire regimen of sex testing was built on the unfounded belief that men were somehow masquerading as women to participate in sports contests. Decisions made in the late 1930s created sports competition rules that still exist today, as debate over trans athletes rages in school board meetings, courtrooms and legislative sessions. Waters doggedly chronicles where the debate originated and calls for what he believes is overdue change.

The Other Olympians doggedly chronicles the lives of pioneering trans athletes and the historically fraught 1936 Olympic Games.
Review by

Mike De Socio loves the Boy Scouts. In Morally Straight: How the Fight for LGBTQ+ Inclusion Changed the Boy Scouts—and America, De Socio, an Eagle Scout, details how Boy Scouts gave him, a nerdy misfit, the space to thrive. He is also queer, coming out while in college in 2015, the same year that the Scouts lifted its ban on gay leaders and two years after it had lifted the ban on gay Scouts. De Socio learned he was not alone: Boy Scouts had provided a safe haven for many other queer Scouts, a haven that was repeatedly taken away because of a policy that they had no idea even existed.

Taking its title from the Boy Scout Oath, Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders. It starts with the story behind Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, the 2000 Supreme Court case that allowed the Scouts to discriminate against queer boys and men.

At the heart of De Socio’s book is the work of Scouts for Equality (SFE), an activist group formed in 2012 after the Scouts expelled lesbian den leader Jennifer Tyrrell. Headed by Zach Wahls and Jonathan Hillis, two straight Eagle Scouts, SFE evolved into a broad-based alliance of LGBTQ+ and straight Scouts, parents and supporters that eventually persuaded the Scouts to rescind their policies.

Under Wahls and Hillis’ leadership, the SFE became a juggernaut. In their early 20s, both men  were uniquely qualified to take on the BSA. The son of two lesbian mothers, Wahls was already a LGBTQ+ activist and the author of My Two Moms. Hillis was a prominent youth leader at the BSA’s national level. Ironically, both credit the Boy Scouts with developing the moral courage and leadership skills that made SFE possible.

Morally Straight is both clear-eyed and optimistic. BSA is now a broader tent, accepting gay, trans and even female Scouts. But, as De Socio’s own experiences show, it still grapples with how to give its members the space and tools to remain true to who they are.

Morally Straight weaves detailed journalism and author Mike De Socio’s deeply personal memories in its recounting of the effort to lift bans on LGBTQ+ Boy Scouts and their leaders.

As the Texas legislature attempts to ban books; dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion; and threaten LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, poet and author KB Brookins’ debut memoir, Pretty, arrives when we need it most. Brookins is a Black, queer and trans writer and cultural worker whose previous work includes two poetry collections, Freedom House and How to Identify Yourself With a Wound. Pretty details their experience navigating gender and Black masculinity while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, exploring how they have moved through a world of cisgender Black and non-Black people, from their biological parents to their adopted family, from classmates to lovers, and from their gender transition through adulthood.

Brookins spent their youth challenging binary spaces and expectations. From early childhood to the present, they have desired to be seen as pretty, and this book is the search to find out what that means for them: “Though not gendered, we often associate prettiness with womanhood, femininity, and objects we see as dainty,” they write. “I’ve never been interested in womanhood, but I’ve always wanted to be treated softly, like a fat pleasantry to the eyes.” Through often striking prose and imagery, Brookins questions the restrictions involved in those associations: “When I was femme, my prettiness was canceled out by Blackness. When I was butch, my prettiness was seen as invalidating my masculinity. Who taught us that masculinity can’t be pretty? Who taught us that Blackness was devoid of prettiness and delicacy?”

While Brookins searches for answers to these questions, they continuously remind us of how hostile the U.S. is to Black and trans people: “As the perception of me changes before my eyes, I realize that it is a specific sadness—embodying patriarchal masculinity in a country that wants your blood more than it wants you to breathe.” We need words and stories like this. By describing their movement through the world, Brookins simultaneously critiques the conditions that oppress Black and racialized people who seek radical self-acceptance, and refuses the state’s malicious attempts to criminalize gender and sexuality.

Pretty offers far more than just pretty words—Brookins tells their side of the story as an act of resistance against those who would silence them. This book is as much a story of self-discovery and survival as it is a love letter to their younger and current self.

As Texas threatens LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, KB Brookins’ memoir, Pretty, is an act of resistance against those who would silence trans writers.
Review by

A romance is all about the final payoff: After pages of will-they-won’t-they teasing, readers anticipate the moment when everything falls ecstatically into place and our lovers end up together. Kate Young’s Experienced takes this model and twists it, leading readers on a wholehearted, fun exploration of dating and love in the 21st century. After her girlfriend Mei suggests they take a break so the newly-out Bette can casually date and get the full single experience, Bette goes on an awkward odyssey of first dates. Her journey is silly and relatable, and stays away from romance cliches—although that isn’t to say that the book doesn’t end happily.

Bette tries to be chill about the break. After a bit of confusion and hurt, she decides the best course of action is to actually get some dating experience. With her roommate Ash and Ash’s token straight-guy boyfriend Tim, Bette begins crafting her dating app profiles. They choose the best pictures—though Ash and Tim have to convince Bette that she really does look hot in some of them—and write cool, ironic responses to the prompts. Soon after, Bette starts dating a lineup of strange, sexy characters running the gamut of British lesbian baddies. The most memorable is Bette’s first date, Ruth, a PhD student and experienced casual dater who gives Bette the recipe for success and, in a twist of fate, helps her realize what she really wants from a relationship.

Chapter titles that count down to the date when Bette and Mei are supposed to get back together lend Experienced a sense of anxiety and longing that will be all too familiar to 21st century daters. Young’s charming British English pairs with a young millennial’s quirky, anxious interiority for a fun, surprisingly profound read. Romantics, if you’re lonely or even if you’re happily in love, this novel will be a treat. 

Kate Young’s charming British English paired with her young millennial protagonist’s quirky, anxious interiority makes Experienced a fun, surprisingly profound read.
Review by

Chukwuebuka Ibeh’s debut novel is a quiet but profoundly moving coming-of-age story about a young gay man in mid-2000s Nigeria. It’s an at first straightforward novel that deepens as it progresses, building toward an ending befitting its protagonist—a young man continually moving through different versions of himself.

Blessings opens in 2006 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. When Obiefuna’s father catches him in a moment of tenderness with another boy, he immediately sends him away to boarding school. Life at school is strictly regulated and often violent. Older boys abuse and terrorize the younger boys without consequence. Obiefuna, fearing that his sexuality may be discovered at any moment, does what he thinks he has to in order to survive.

Though the novel continues to follow Obiefuna through his early years at university, his time at the boarding school takes up the most space and carries a hefty emotional weight. At times it may feel as if the story drags, but the beautiful and complicated third act reveals that Ibeh knew exactly where he was going all along. He captures the uneven importance of memory and experience, the way certain events can haunt a life without our knowledge. Obiefuna’s relationships to himself, his family, his lovers and his country change dramatically over time, a shift that Ibeh weaves almost invisibly into the prose.

Interspersed between chapters from Obiefuna’s point of view are ones told from his mother Uzoamaka’s perspective. These feel less immediate and vivid, but do add a poignant narrative layer, giving readers a glimpse into what goes unspoken between mother and son.

Blessings is an excellent work of queer fiction, full of characters who are neither good nor bad, but simply human beings in constant flux. Ibeh writes cruelty onto the page alongside tenderness, crafting scenes of domestic gay love with the same attention and detail he gives to scenes of emotional and physical violence. He offers us a precious glimpse of the world as it truly is for so many queer people: not tragic, not perfect, not all suffering or all joy—but worth living in and telling stories about.

Blessings offers a precious glimpse of the world as it truly is for so many queer people: not tragic, not perfect, not all suffering or all joy, but worth living in.
Review by

The Safekeep, Yael van der Wouden’s debut novel, is set in 1961 rural Holland. At 30, Isabel is living in the house where she was raised after the death of her father forced the family’s move from the city and into a furnished house their uncle Karel found for them. Isabel lives a circumscribed and watchful life, guarding her dead mother’s things, suspecting the maid of theft and fending off the attentions of a flirtatious neighbor. Of her brothers, Louis and Hendrik, she is closer to Hendrik, although she disapproves of his friend Sebastian, suspecting a deeper connection. Of Louis and the steady stream of girlfriends he introduces to her, she thinks even less. Until Eva.

The siblings meet Eva at a dinner out. With her clumsy manners and brassy dyed hair, she hardly impresses, and Isabel is shocked when Louis brings her to the house, telling Isabel that Eva must stay there while he goes away on business and showing Eva to their mother’s room. Even under Isabel’s watchful eye, things begin to disappear—a spoon, a bowl, a thimble. More alarming to Isabel is the overwhelming attraction she feels to Eva, an attraction that spills into an obsessive, intensely depicted sexual relationship.

Van der Wouden may be familiar as the author of the 2017 essay “On (Not) Reading Anne Frank,” which explored what it means to be a Dutch Jewish writer and her complicated relationship to Frank’s legacy. As Isabel and Eva’s connection unfolds, Van der Wouden’s true subject comes into view: how ordinary people were implicated in the ethnic cleansing that took place during World War II. Even in peacetime, Isabel and her peers are quick to notice people who appear different, with a fierce disgust that Isabel risks turning on herself as she comes to terms with her sexuality. A novel of redemption as much as revenge, The Safekeep has the pacing and twists of a thriller, while delving into the deeper issues laid bare by the Holocaust.

In Yael van der Wouden’s mesmerizing debut, The Safekeep, Isabel lives a circumscribed life in her dead mother’s house until her brother’s girlfriend comes to stay, alarming Isabel when an obsessive attraction develops between the two.

Get BookPage in your inbox

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday. 

Recent Features

Call your queer bookclub—we've rounded up the 24 best LGBTQ+ books of 2024 so far!

Running Close to the Wind

Avra Helvaçi is lucky, perhaps supernaturally so, but he refuses to believe that. Luck can’t be proven, after all. Did he test the limits of his luck by drunkenly traipsing into a highly protected vault of the Arasti government and stealing the most powerful secret of the empire without getting caught? Well, yes, but that could just be coincidence.

With copies of Arasti intelligence hidden on him, Avra flees to the high seas and back into the arms of his on-again, off-again partner, the intimidating pirate captain Teveri az-Haffar. Tev wants nothing more to do with the spy-turned-poet-turned-traitor, but selling Avra’s secret could solve his ship’s financial problems. Can they get to the Isles of Lost Souls to fence what Avra stole before the Arasti government finds them, the hot monk on the ship drives them mad or before the isles’ infamous cake competition concludes?

A standalone novel set in the world of author Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, Running Close to the Wind and its self-proclaimed “silly little slut” of a narrator will have readers laughing on every page. Despite the book’s zany, breezy to a fault tone, the Isle of Souls and the many political machinations of background characters are refreshingly complex, and Avra’s “Is it blessed?” luck is a fascinating story element. Yet it is the characters that make this story shine. Though some readers are sure to find Avra’s gremlin-esque behavior aggravating, as Tev often does, the rest of the cast makes up for it. Standouts include the flustered yet noble Tev, knowledge-driven and rebellious monk Julian, secretly softhearted fence Black Garda and friendly sex worker Cat.

Though Avra thinks—and speaks—constantly of sex and how hot Julian and Tev both are, there are few actual romantic moments, and Rowland cuts away from any on-page love scenes. Fantasy romance aficionados will find themselves as blue-balled as Avra often claims to feel. However, “Our Flag Means Death” devotees looking for a lighthearted solace after the show’s unfortunate cancellation and fans of whimsical main characters a la Alexis Hall’s Mortal Follies will enjoy Running Close to the Wind.

—Nicole Brinkley

Dreadful

Dread Lord Gavrax has somehow lost his memory, and is unable to recall why he decided to become a Dread Lord in the first place. Gav, as he now calls himself, decides to change his life for the better by vanquishing his rage and toxic masculinity. Complicating matters is the presence of Princess Eliasha, whom Gavrax kidnapped before his hard cognitive reset. Eliasha is determined not to trust her captor’s sudden change of heart, and understandably so: Dread Lord Gavrax has committed a great many crimes. The princess is also a key ingredient in a mysterious ritual of great power. Dread Lord Gavrax is one of four Dark Wizards that are collaborating to do something very important . . . if only Gav could remember what that something is.

Throughout Caitlin Rozakis’ Dreadful, Gav faces several simple yet charming challenges, such as finding a way to save a starving village and undoing years of fear he instilled in his goblin staff. While Gav grows and learns from his and his former self’s mistakes, a series of sitcom-esque events nudge him onto the path of righteousness. His goblin cook, Orla, is thrilled to don an apron and cook truly good food—but she only knows how to cook steaks, bake bread and shove whole (occasionally alive) animals into pie crust. The village decides to throw a garlic festival to make up for the fact that all of their other crops failed. Heroes run in by the hundreds, tripping over each other in an effort to rescue the princess. Dreadful never takes itself too seriously, so moments that could induce secondhand cringe become hilarious escapades instead.

However, Rozakis’ story is not all jokes and gags. Gavrax had serious issues with his own masculinity alongside his relationship with women, and Gav is not immune to his former self’s impulses. Violence is still a reflex, and he must resist incinerating anyone who annoys him. He also must learn to choose other people and his dawning sense of morality over his own self-preservation. Rozakis unobtrusively guides the reader through Gav’s evolution via his inner monologue, never allowing the lessons to get preachy.

With its charming cast and unique mixture of slapstick and sincerity, Dreadful is a heartwarmingly earnest story about how to grow into a better person.

—Ralph Harris

Two tales of swords and sorcery from Alexandra Rowland and Caitlin Rozakis look on the brighter side of life.
Review by

The Mahabharata is among the most complex epic poems ever written. One of the most foundational and influential pieces of literature in history, this masterpiece of ancient India has been translated, analyzed, deconstructed and reconstructed countless times. In the afterword to Vaishnavi Patel’s reimagining of the poem, Goddess of the River, the author states she has not attempted to complicate an already complicated narrative. Instead, Patel simplifies it by centering on one key relationship within the Mahabharata: that between the river goddess Ganga and her mortal son, Devavrata, who will become Bhishma, one of the poem’s iconic heroes. In doing so, Patel distills the mythic fall of the Kaurava family into a deeply personal and painfully human tragedy, one where the defiantly chaotic mother and her dogmatically lawful son are doomed to always struggle against their own natures.

Goddess of the River is beautifully crafted. Patel moves between Bhishma’s childhood and the end of his life with limpid fluidity, never losing her cohesive narrative structure. No shift in time is without purpose, no dramatic irony is unintentional. Aside from Ganga and Bhishma, virtually every other character is static, each emblematic of their own particular mythological trope. This narrow focus is not a detriment; rather, it only highlights Ganga and Bhishma’s complex relationship and how they come to resemble each other despite their seemingly opposite natures.

Read our starred review of ‘Kaikeyi’ by Vaishnavi Patel.

Goddess of the River has an intriguing moral ambiguity that readers familiar with the Mahabharata will recognize. None of Patel’s characters are truly good or evil. They all have clear goals, with some being motivated by principle and others by selfishness or caprice. Goddess of the River is a messy story about messy people and even messier gods, all just trying to make the best choices they can to make those they care for proud of them. Thus, Patel makes despite Ganga and Bhishma eminently relatable despite their larger-than-life natures: While neither can fix everything that’s broken within their world, they can at least do some things right along the way.

In Goddess of the River, Kaikeyi author Vaishnavi Patel reimagines the Mahabharata with an intriguing moral ambiguity.
Cozy fantasies feature header image
STARRED REVIEW

May 1, 2024

3 spellbinding cozy fantasies

A bucolic island, a dazzling underwater world and an alpine tea shop beckon to readers in search of charming magical retreats.

Share this Article:
Review by

When royal guard Reyna almost dies in service of wicked Queen Tilaine, she decides that it’s time to hang up her boots and take up an offer from her longtime girlfriend, Kianthe, to run away and open a bookshop. Is it technically treason? Yes, but Reyna is an expert swordsperson and Kianthe is the Arcandor, the most powerful mage in the world. With their talents, they’re sure they can stay beneath the queen’s radar.

Together, the two women flee to Tawney, a tiny mountain town on the border of the Queendom. Despite being plagued with dragon attacks and bandits, it offers the perfect sanctuary for the couple to craft their dream store, which features wooden floors, abundant plant life, a lending library of books and a wide selection of teas. As long as they stick to their pseudonyms and fake backstories, they should be fine. But the town is full of mishaps and mysteries, and the couple can’t help but stick their noses into everything. Did the previous town leaders steal dragon eggs? Who is sending aspiring kid bandits to their store? And most importantly: Can Reyna and Kianthe make this strange new life work?

Rebecca Thorne’s Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is a fantasy for readers itching for soft escapism above all else. There’s a creative world around Reyna and Kianthe, but it’s primarily a backdrop as Thorne focuses on the townsfolk of Tawney and the gentle emotional drama of her central couple. Despite the illusion of high stakes, problems big and small are quickly fixed or hand-waved away. Though the couple frets about money, repairs and inventory are purchased with funds to spare; larger issues, from the murderous queen to the raiding dragons, remain in the background and are resolved with ease. Even spats between Kianthe and Reyna are swiftly and affectionately settled as they reassure each other that they’ve made the right decision and that their love, like Kianthe’s ever-flame, will never fade. 

Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is an ambling romantic adventure for those who prefer episodic, sentimental stories. Fans of emotionally-driven tabletop games like Wanderhome and cozy fantasies like Legends & Lattes will find this a soothing addition to their shelves.

Rebecca Thorne’s Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is a romantic fantasy for readers itching for soft escapism above all else.
Review by

Marigold Claude is the least talented woman in her artsy family. She’s resigned to her fate as a spinster, flouncing away from suitors and fleeing balls to dance barefoot with spirits beneath the full moon. So when her grandmother offers Marigold the chance to be the next Honey Witch, the protector of the isle of Innisfree, the decision feels easy. Marigold doesn’t feel like she belongs in her town, but Innisfree, with its magical guardians and abundant plant life, could be home.

The title of Honey Witch, however, comes with consequences: An Ash Witch wants the isle for herself and has cursed the Honey Witches to live without romantic love. It isn’t until her grandmother dies that Marigold realizes how lonely a curse that can be—especially once Lottie, a beautiful, grumpy skeptic who refers to magic as “mythwork,” arrives in her life and upends everything she thought about love.

But the Ash Witch is waiting for a moment of weakness. If Marigold doesn’t learn how to control her magic and break the curse, her island, her family and the feisty woman who holds her heart are all at risk.

“Wild women are their own kind of magic” in Sydney J. Shields’ The Honey Witch. The pacing of this ambrosiac fantasy might leave diehard romance fans wanting more—Lottie is not involved in the first third, which rushes the sweetly erotic love story—but the whimsical world is more than enough to keep most readers enthralled. Shields’ descriptions of elements such as the landvaettir spirits that guard Innisfree and the blossoming gardens of Marigold’s familial home are impeccably lush. The coziness of the setting is offset by grief and a sense of impending disaster. Marigold spends much of her time reminiscing on loneliness and lost love, and even as the book buzzes towards its predictable, happy finale, the curse and the Ash Witch’s arrival bring destruction and terror.

At its heart, however, The Honey Witch focuses on the internal strength of its characters and how “anyone can be capable of something impossible.” Shields’ warmhearted fantasy will satisfy readers of sapphic romances who love the alternate historical world of “Bridgerton” or who grew up rewatching Halloweentown and Practical Magic.

The Honey Witch will satisfy readers of sapphic romances who love the alternate historical world of “Bridgerton” and grew up rewatching Halloweentown and Practical Magic.

Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep is a poignant epistolary adventure set in an underwater landscape filled with academics, explorers and artists. Through letters, log entries and other documents, various narrators describe their society, their passions, their families and, most importantly, the mysterious disappearances of eloquent recluse E. Cidnosin and the socially anxious yet brilliant scholar Henerey Clel. The primary correspondence takes place between Sophy, E.’s sister, and Vyerin, Henerey’s brother, who have bonded through their shared grief and wish to learn more about what actually transpired between their siblings. 

Cathrall’s whimsical water world is filled with remarkable settings like the Cidnosins’ Deep House, a home well below the ocean’s surface that is as mysterious as it is beautiful, and academic institutions such as the Boundless Campus. Each character’s voice is distinct, and readers will blush and giggle along with Sophy and Vy as they track E. and Henerey’s relationship as it evolves from friendship into passionate love. One of the most memorable aspects of the book is watching Sophy and Vy’s own relationship grow. While Sophy is insatiably curious about E.’s past, Vy is a bit more cautious when it comes to learning more about his brother. As Sophy and Vy realize how important this shared cause is to them, readers get to see them develop their own wonderful friendship. 

While the plot largely focuses on love both romantic and familial, the elegant letters hold sinister memories as well, clues leading up to the seaquake that shattered Deep House, after which E. and Henerey disappeared. There are many secrets to uncover, from a mysterious object found just outside Deep House, to E. and Sophy’s strained relationship with their brother, Arvist, to Sophy and her wife’s discoveries in the Ridge, home to deep-sea monsters. It’s up to Sophy and Vy to put the pieces together to heal the hearts and souls of their families and themselves.

A whimsical yet emotional fantasy, Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep is a delightful, oceanic twist on epistolary romances and dark academia.

Get BookPage in your inbox

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday. 

Recent Features

A bucolic island, a dazzling underwater world and an alpine tea shop beckon to readers in search of charming magical retreats.
Review by

Marigold Claude is the least talented woman in her artsy family. She’s resigned to her fate as a spinster, flouncing away from suitors and fleeing balls to dance barefoot with spirits beneath the full moon. So when her grandmother offers Marigold the chance to be the next Honey Witch, the protector of the isle of Innisfree, the decision feels easy. Marigold doesn’t feel like she belongs in her town, but Innisfree, with its magical guardians and abundant plant life, could be home.

The title of Honey Witch, however, comes with consequences: An Ash Witch wants the isle for herself and has cursed the Honey Witches to live without romantic love. It isn’t until her grandmother dies that Marigold realizes how lonely a curse that can be—especially once Lottie, a beautiful, grumpy skeptic who refers to magic as “mythwork,” arrives in her life and upends everything she thought about love.

But the Ash Witch is waiting for a moment of weakness. If Marigold doesn’t learn how to control her magic and break the curse, her island, her family and the feisty woman who holds her heart are all at risk.

“Wild women are their own kind of magic” in Sydney J. Shields’ The Honey Witch. The pacing of this ambrosiac fantasy might leave diehard romance fans wanting more—Lottie is not involved in the first third, which rushes the sweetly erotic love story—but the whimsical world is more than enough to keep most readers enthralled. Shields’ descriptions of elements such as the landvaettir spirits that guard Innisfree and the blossoming gardens of Marigold’s familial home are impeccably lush. The coziness of the setting is offset by grief and a sense of impending disaster. Marigold spends much of her time reminiscing on loneliness and lost love, and even as the book buzzes towards its predictable, happy finale, the curse and the Ash Witch’s arrival bring destruction and terror.

At its heart, however, The Honey Witch focuses on the internal strength of its characters and how “anyone can be capable of something impossible.” Shields’ warmhearted fantasy will satisfy readers of sapphic romances who love the alternate historical world of “Bridgerton” or who grew up rewatching Halloweentown and Practical Magic.

The Honey Witch will satisfy readers of sapphic romances who love the alternate historical world of “Bridgerton” and grew up rewatching Halloweentown and Practical Magic.
Review by

When royal guard Reyna almost dies in service of wicked Queen Tilaine, she decides that it’s time to hang up her boots and take up an offer from her longtime girlfriend, Kianthe, to run away and open a bookshop. Is it technically treason? Yes, but Reyna is an expert swordsperson and Kianthe is the Arcandor, the most powerful mage in the world. With their talents, they’re sure they can stay beneath the queen’s radar.

Together, the two women flee to Tawney, a tiny mountain town on the border of the Queendom. Despite being plagued with dragon attacks and bandits, it offers the perfect sanctuary for the couple to craft their dream store, which features wooden floors, abundant plant life, a lending library of books and a wide selection of teas. As long as they stick to their pseudonyms and fake backstories, they should be fine. But the town is full of mishaps and mysteries, and the couple can’t help but stick their noses into everything. Did the previous town leaders steal dragon eggs? Who is sending aspiring kid bandits to their store? And most importantly: Can Reyna and Kianthe make this strange new life work?

Rebecca Thorne’s Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is a fantasy for readers itching for soft escapism above all else. There’s a creative world around Reyna and Kianthe, but it’s primarily a backdrop as Thorne focuses on the townsfolk of Tawney and the gentle emotional drama of her central couple. Despite the illusion of high stakes, problems big and small are quickly fixed or hand-waved away. Though the couple frets about money, repairs and inventory are purchased with funds to spare; larger issues, from the murderous queen to the raiding dragons, remain in the background and are resolved with ease. Even spats between Kianthe and Reyna are swiftly and affectionately settled as they reassure each other that they’ve made the right decision and that their love, like Kianthe’s ever-flame, will never fade. 

Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is an ambling romantic adventure for those who prefer episodic, sentimental stories. Fans of emotionally-driven tabletop games like Wanderhome and cozy fantasies like Legends & Lattes will find this a soothing addition to their shelves.

Rebecca Thorne’s Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea is a romantic fantasy for readers itching for soft escapism above all else.

Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep is a poignant epistolary adventure set in an underwater landscape filled with academics, explorers and artists. Through letters, log entries and other documents, various narrators describe their society, their passions, their families and, most importantly, the mysterious disappearances of eloquent recluse E. Cidnosin and the socially anxious yet brilliant scholar Henerey Clel. The primary correspondence takes place between Sophy, E.’s sister, and Vyerin, Henerey’s brother, who have bonded through their shared grief and wish to learn more about what actually transpired between their siblings. 

Cathrall’s whimsical water world is filled with remarkable settings like the Cidnosins’ Deep House, a home well below the ocean’s surface that is as mysterious as it is beautiful, and academic institutions such as the Boundless Campus. Each character’s voice is distinct, and readers will blush and giggle along with Sophy and Vy as they track E. and Henerey’s relationship as it evolves from friendship into passionate love. One of the most memorable aspects of the book is watching Sophy and Vy’s own relationship grow. While Sophy is insatiably curious about E.’s past, Vy is a bit more cautious when it comes to learning more about his brother. As Sophy and Vy realize how important this shared cause is to them, readers get to see them develop their own wonderful friendship. 

While the plot largely focuses on love both romantic and familial, the elegant letters hold sinister memories as well, clues leading up to the seaquake that shattered Deep House, after which E. and Henerey disappeared. There are many secrets to uncover, from a mysterious object found just outside Deep House, to E. and Sophy’s strained relationship with their brother, Arvist, to Sophy and her wife’s discoveries in the Ridge, home to deep-sea monsters. It’s up to Sophy and Vy to put the pieces together to heal the hearts and souls of their families and themselves.

A whimsical yet emotional fantasy, Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep is a delightful, oceanic twist on epistolary romances and dark academia.
Review by

A hitman. A thief. A poisoner. A hunter. A spy. Five of the deadliest individuals in the kingdom of Yusan have all been assigned the same mission: Kill the king.

Under the name Meredith Ireland, author Mai Corland has written a number of beloved children’s and young adult novels including The Jasmine Project and Emma and the Love Spell. With Five Broken Blades, her adult fantasy debut, Corland takes readers to a much darker place. The kingdom of Yusan is wilting. People are starving, and murder and exploitation have become the standard for survival. Above the mayhem sits King Joon, cruel and apathetic, a god king made immortal by the Dragon Lord’s crown. King Joon should be unkillable. But several of his subjects, who range from wealthy nobles to poor orphans, are desperate enough to call on one of the blades to try.

Five Broken Blades alternates between the first-person perspectives of Corland’s full cast, introducing readers to a vivid array of motives and backstories both converging and diverging. Although the shifting point of view takes a little getting used to, every protagonist is entertaining, with a rich internal monologue. The greatest benefit of Corland’s approach is that readers get to see how the characters view each other: What does the flighty thief think of her new bodyguard? Will the exiled hunter ever acknowledge the love he’s harbored for the man who betrayed him? How does the poisoner feel about reuniting with her childhood nemesis now that they’ve both grown up?

Corland’s novel is certainly ambitious, balancing amorous entanglements with friendships, sibling relationships, mentorships and rivalries. Readers follow the five blades through mountain passes, marketplaces, villas, gardens, backstreets and waterfronts, all the way to the palace where King Joon resides. Corland deftly establishes setting and conflict, and readers are able to fully immerse themselves in the story. Korean folklore serves as a source of inspiration for the realm, and it is a true delight when flashes of mythology shine through. Additionally, the book incorporates historical elements like the traditional gender roles of ancient Korea in order to offer commentary and explore the consequences of discriminatory power structures.

Five Broken Blades is daring, expansive and memorable. Although the protagonists are hardened criminals and professional killers, their vulnerability—and their struggles to be vulnerable—will have readers rooting for them from the beginning. This is a book to be consumed in one sitting, and will leave readers eager to hear more from a bold new voice.

Mai Corland’s new fantasy novel will thrill fans of Six of Crows.
Review by

The Napoleonic wars have been fertile ground for historical fantasy in recent years. From the draconic aerial combat of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke’s wry fairy tale of manners, that continent-spanning conflict provides an ideal canvas for fantastical retellings. It’s sweeping in scope, and is easier to romanticize than more recent wars. Hester Fox’s The Book of Thorns, however, is not about magicians single-handedly winning battles. Rather, it is about two women who can hear flowers. Englishwoman Cornelia and Belgian maid Lijsbeth escape their abusive homes and find themselves on opposite sides of the Waterloo battle lines. Neither woman can change the course of the war. All they can hope for is to somehow find safety and joy in a hostile world.

Fox insists on confronting Cornelia and Lijsbeth’s individual traumas head-on. They bear profound scars and are, in their own way, survivors, although both would balk at being called such. Like Katherine Arden’s The Warm Hands of Ghosts, The Book of Thorns is fundamentally a war novel dressed up in magical conceits—in this case, talking rosebushes. Its villains are selfish, not self-consciously evil; its heroes are genuinely decent people, but decency alone is not enough for them to prevail.

The Book of Thorns has a happy ending, in its own way: Both Cornelia and Lijsbeth find people they love, who love them back and who would never cause them pain. That is a kind of joy, if hard-won. Fox does not hide from the fact that for all the romance surrounding Bonaparte’s exploits, nobody who fought at Waterloo came out unscathed, whether they were breathing by battle’s end or not. But Fox also reminds us that, even in fields tilled by cavalry charges and fertilized with gunpowder, flowers can grow.

Hester Fox’s The Book of Thorns is a gentle, magical tale of hope and healing in the midst of war.
Review by

What’s the difference between witchcraft and a miracle? According to The Familiar, beloved fantasy author Leigh Bardugo’s latest novel, the answer is simple: politics. This distinction is of life-and-death importance for Luzia Cotado, a scullery maid in a less-than-fashionable Madrid household whose milagritos, or little miracles, can lighten a heavy load or make flowers bloom in winter. As a conversa, a descendant of Jews who converted to Catholicism under the threat of death, Luzia is careful to appear devout lest she fall under the scrutiny of the Spanish Inquisition. That means keeping her milagritos, with their incantations derived from a patois of Hebrew and Spanish, secret. But when her lonely, petty mistress discovers her gifts, Luzia is forced to display her power publicly and thus increase her employers’ standing in society. If she successfully navigates the elite’s whims, a more comfortable life awaits. If she fails, she can only hope the Inquisition will offer her a quick death.

The Familiar is a book where candles cast deep shadows and even sunlit scenes take on an air of unease. At its center is Luzia, a difficult woman to like, both in-world and for a reader. Foolhardy and ambitious without wisdom, she makes decisions that endanger her life for little reward, time and again. Her counterpoint is Guillén Santángel, the eponymous familiar. As with so many of Bardugo’s morally gray (and potentially evil) male characters, Santángel is immediately compelling, even before readers venture into his perspective. The mysterious immortal wraith holds not just Luzia’s attention, but that of the entire city. Through his ancient eyes and almost alien mannerisms, Bardugo adds depth and intrigue, preserving the mystique of the pre-modern world even as the Age of Exploration begins. Full of hidden perils and twisting machinations, The Familiar is Bardugo’s most assured and mature work yet, a remarkable portrait of the magic of exiles and the traumatic echoes of the Spanish Inquisition.

Full of hidden perils and twisting machinations, The Familiar is Leigh Bardugo’s most assured and mature work yet.
Review by

When shape-shifting monster Shesheshen is woken from her hibernation by monster hunters, she does what she must: She kills and eats one of them. In retaliation, the nearby townsfolk, scared and desperate to hand over a “wyrm” heart to Baroness Wulfyre, poison Shesheshen with rosemary and hunt her until she toddles over a cliff . . . into the care of a kind human woman.

The sweet and tender Homily thinks Shesheshen is human, and laughs at the things Shesheshen says. She would be the perfect partner if she weren’t a Wulfyre, off to kill the beast who ate her brother. The more Shesheshen learns about Homily, the more she realizes how poorly Homily’s been treated by her family—and how desperately she wants Homily’s love. She’ll need to explain to Homily that the Wulfyres are the real monsters, and she’ll need to do it before they destroy all she holds dear.

John Wiswell has created a monster you’ll fall in love with.

Come for the body horror, stay for the romance: There’s a little something for everybody in Nebula Award-winner John Wiswell’s genre-blending debut novel, Someone You Can Build A Nest In. Told from the unexpected perspective of our sentient, hungry blob of a protagonist, this innovative gem doesn’t shy away from the sweet or the unsavory. Her penchant for absorbing things into her body to make bones—or to hide bear traps in her chest as future weapons—is inventive and gruesome, the perfect balance of horrific and fun. Wiswell pulls from fairy tales of yore to build an intriguing world, including the unique landscape of the isthmus where the action takes place, herbal science and an adorable big blue bear. 

Wiswell is best known for his award-winning short stories, experience which is evident in bite-sized chapters that readers will swiftly devour. But it’s the emotional core, Shesheshen and Homily’s asexual and sapphic bond of solace, that will ultimately hook their hearts. A romp that’s both bloody and sweet, Someone You Can Build a Nest In will delight readers who loved Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth and Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered.

Horrific and fun, bloody and sweet, Someone You Can Build a Nest In is a deliciously dark fantasy romance starring a shape-shifting monster.
Interview by

In Someone You Can Build a Nest In, John Wiswell takes a fractured fairy-tale setup—What’s the monster’s side of the story?—and cracks it open, using the love story of Shesheshen and Homily, a kind woman from a monster-hunting family, to launch a rollicking exploration of queerness and asexuality, disability and how society shapes what is monstrous, in addition to a whole heap of dysfunctional family relations.   

Your unique take on a shape-shifting monster—in this case, a sentient blob who must actively and constantly work to form limbs and organs—is charming and innovative. What drew you to a shape-shifting main character?
Feeling like a blob that has to perform and pass as human is a regular feeling for me, as it is for many other disabled people. There have been so many times when I’ve fought with my body to make it walk correctly, or let me socialize in a normal way. Sometimes I feel like an outsider among healthy people. Shesheshen’s shape-shifting nature started there.

But she also started with Homily. Before there was a book, there was the idea of the two of them, and their series of miscommunications that leads them to both fall in love and hunt each other. The central humor is Shesheshen trying so hard to pass for human, and then she finds love in the one person who mistook her for someone worthy of love when she wasn’t trying. It speaks to how caring Homily is, which is the spark for their relationship. Shesheshen goes to great lengths to hide her blob nature from her girlfriend, while trying to figure out how to break the truth.

After writing a few scenes of that, I was in love with Shesheshen’s nature. She couldn’t be anything other than a shape-shifter who built her own DIY body out of chains and discarded bones. And how fun was it, as a disabled writer, to have a monster who treated bones as assistive devices?

“Family leaves its mark on us, even if it’s by absence.”

Shesheshen’s best friend is a bear named Blueberry. Tell us about her.
As soon as Blueberry waddled onto the page, I knew she was here to stay! Despite her reputation, Shesheshen can coexist with other creatures, and Blueberry is proof of that. Early on, I wondered what sort of critter Shesheshen might keep as a pet, as she’s not exactly an orange cat person. Her destined buddy was a huge predator. There are implications (that I don’t want to spoil) about where Shesheshen got her favorite set of false teeth, that point to how the two of them met.

Blueberry also reflects a truth about predators: They aren’t inherently monstrous. Most bears would rather eat your garbage than eat you. It was nice to shed a little sympathy on a real animal that often gets vilified, alongside the mythological Shesheshen. Wouldn’t you give Blueberry a hug? I mean, if she wasn’t too hungry?

Shesheshen never knew her mother. Homily has a complicated relationship with her abusive mother, who Shesheshen wants to eat “for the common good.” You pay tribute to your mother in your acknowledgements. Mothers, including stepmothers and the consumption by and of mothers, are a huge throughline in fantasy and horror stemming all the way back to fairy tales. Why do you think that is?
Family leaves its mark on us, even if it’s by absence. So Shesheshen lives under the image she has of her mother, that great apex predator who went down swinging. Homily has a very different family, like you mentioned. Several readers have compared them to a fairy-tale couple, in the Brothers Grimm sense of the phrase. When you think about the Grimms’ fairy tales, family is often the cause of the dramatic conflicts. Some father ditches his kids in the woods to starve, so that he won’t. A single parent needs somebody else to help look after their child, and so they beseech god, the devil and death itself to be godfather. We all feel that profound emotional charge of connection with our loved ones, or the ones who should love us and don’t. They can make us question what we really are. So from fairy tales and legends up through contemporary fantasy, you often see that charge explored. And, in my favorite stories, we see the effects of that charge on us explored. How do we deal with what our families made us into? Do we decide to stay that way?

Someone You Can Build a Nest In by John Wiswell book jacket

Neither Homily nor Shesheshen are interested in sex, but between Laurent’s love of threats and Epigram’s various lovers, the presence of kink and sex still play a role in the lore of this world. What was it like to develop a visceral yet asexual sapphic relationship while still creating an actively sexual, queer setting?
Shesheshen is less of a sexual creature than she thought she was, because she grew up with beliefs about what she had to be. Her feelings for Homily challenge her ideas of what she wants in life. That’s an existential problem for her, but a familiar one. Many asexual people (myself included) grow up expecting to want to participate with the same drive as those around us, and then get woefully disoriented. We aren’t what the world convinced us we were. So where do we fit? Do we belong in our world? Stories can help us understand that we belong everywhere. One reason readers love Shesheshen is she refuses to give in. If the narratives are wrong, she’ll grab them and change them herself. Especially if it means helping someone she loves.

That said, I tried to write a world with robust queerness. Just because my main characters are asexual-curious doesn’t mean allosexual people don’t exist or have meaningful struggles. We meet parents, couples and people with fetishes. It is a little fun to see Shesheshen look down on some of them the very same way they look down on “poor, confused” asexual people. Shesheshen is an opinionated monster. And good for her!

Someone You Can Build a Nest In takes place on an isthmus, an in-between place, and many of the struggles of the book are reflected in not just the in-between nature of its setting but the in-between nature of its characters, torn between what they should be and what they want to be. What drew you to working with such a setting? What are some of your favorite parts of the strange little world you have built?
You caught that! Yes, it was deliberate to have a monster at odds with what the locals let her be, contrasted with a small town that lives at the behest of these enormous outside forces, all living out their life-and-death context on a small strip of land that is tiny compared to the empires outside its borders. Their whole struggle with each other is minor in the eyes of the L’Étatters, Engmars and Wulfyres. The isthmus never participated in the historic war of outside powers, yet because they are at the mercy of those countries, their whole history shaped by it.

I love a great epic fantasy about a clash of cultures, like Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty and C.L. Clark’s The Unbroken and The Faithless. But not everybody affected by a war is fighting it, or is even part of the nations involved. We don’t hear enough stories of people stuck in between powers. It felt right to show the fallout of these terrifying forces that could, on any single wrong day, destroy the isthmus. It’s another kind of estrangement. One that Shesheshen has taken very personally.

I’d love some edition of the book to someday include a whole map of this world, to show just how tiny and vulnerable Shesheshen’s whole world is. The isthmus would be tiny! And, nevertheless, at the center.

“Stories can help us understand that we belong everywhere.”

Homily’s family believes they are cursed by a local monster, but Shesheshen disputes that, mostly as she doesn’t remember cursing anybody. Do you think curses are cosmically real or things we create ourselves?
Are you suggesting I’m under a curse right now? Please tell me a phantom isn’t hovering overhead. What’s fascinating to me about omens and curses and spells is how they make us question what our actions mean. Did I do this on purpose? Is it a habit, or addiction? Is an outside source influencing me in ways I don’t understand? Those are eternal questions, whether you were a ninth-century hermit, or somebody who can’t stop checking their phone because your apps have trained you.

So now this family thinks they’re being killed off by Shesheshen. And Shesheshen thinks she’s innocent of casting the curse on them, but she isn’t exactly innocent in some of their demises, is she? Maybe there’s more going on than she thinks. When somebody accuses you from out of nowhere, it’s natural to wonder where they got this idea. Especially if that idea threatens you.

In your acknowledgements, you pay tribute to the monsters and villains that you grew up rooting for. Queerness and monstrosity, as well as disability and monstrosity, have been tied together in fiction in a way that both communities have embraced rather than rejected. What draws you to the monstrous, and why do you think our communities are drawn to them?
Let me start here: Monsters are often the character a story says we don’t have to sympathize with. The characters that are said to be evil for evil’s sake. They are supposed to have no depth. But the moment you find monsters interesting, you question: What depth might they have that a storyteller might deny is there? What is it like to live as this creature? Those questions always wake up the part of me that wants to run to the keyboard and find out.

Back before I became disabled, and before I knew I was queer, I still loved monsters. There’s a fascination with what scares us, especially when what scares us is a person. What’s it like to live as Dracula? Not for one book, but for centuries of that existence? If you can be a monster, then you’ll be the one doing violence. And many of us are taught this corrosive lie that if you are the one doing violence, then you’ll be safe.

Then you grow up, and you realize how many of our fantastical monsters are coded to be like so-called “undesirable” people. The cloying line between zombies and the fear of unwashed masses of outsiders. How many monstrous body parts look like “disfigured” people, and that such stories basically validate the irrational disgust for people who just look different. That vampires were coded as queer to some extent because audiences would fear them more and saw queer people as predators. Just the cultural tonnage of media saying mentally ill people are monsters who must be killed for your own safety is crushing, especially if you’ve ever known a mentally ill person and what they have to survive just to live a life.

So at some point you say to yourself, “If all of these stories say I’m a monster because I’m chronically ill, or because I’m queer, or I’m the wrong religion? Then I’m going to be a monster and proud.” The draw is adopting these fictional critters into our real psyches. Making them avatars of refusing to conform. Because werewolves aren’t the only ones uncomfortable in their skin.

Read our starred review of ‘Someone You Can Build a Nest In’ by John Wiswell.

Up until now, you’ve been working in the realm of short stories, having won a Nebula Award and been published in Tordotcom, Apex, Uncanny and, honestly, nearly every established genre fiction magazine. What drew you to writing a novel-length work? What are some of the biggest differences between writing short stories and writing a novel?
I’ve actually been writing novels since before I started blogging in 2007. Novels just take longer! I fell in love with writing because it lets me explore the wholeness of characters. To do justice to a story that captures who they are. Some characters are simpler, or have shorter journeys to express themselves. Others, like Shesheshen and Homily, require a lot of gory room to get their truth out. That’s honestly the big difference between writing shorts and novels for me, too: How much does a character need to share with us in order to be heard?

Which means going forward I want to write more novels, but also more shorts. Characters come in all sizes. And I love meeting new characters.

How has genre fiction changed since you first began sharing snippets of your writing on your website back in 2007?
Oh, wow. Since the mid-2000s? You’re talking about A Song of Ice and Fire growing into a global phenomenon, and “grimdark” going from a pejorative term to thousands of people’s favorite thing to read. The boom of young adult dystopias. BIPOC creators getting way more equity—the breakouts of modern greats like Ken Liu, N.K. Jemisin, Fonda Lee, Shannon Chakraborty, P. Djeli Clark, C.L. Polk, Shelley Parker-Chan, Tasha Suri and so on. LGBTQ+ authors and characters appearing far more frequently.

If I had to simplify it to my own experience? Back when I started writing, I wouldn’t have expected a short story like “Open House on Haunted Hill” or a novel like Someone You Can Build a Nest In to be publishable. It felt like the only place for disabled characters was as an object of pity or as a grotesque villain. Now, did I want to read stories like these back then? Badly. Desperately. But I wouldn’t have even tried to write them, because I would have been sure they weren’t allowed. What’s changed is many brave authors and editors and agents, and readers and critics, have demanded better. Feeling like more people would give me the time of day if I was myself. You can’t get a greater gift than that. I try to pass it on, when I can.

Ultimately the greatest change, from flash fiction all the way to multibook series, is that more kinds of stories are getting published. More perspectives are getting shared. Horizons broaden. It makes me glad to be alive and writing now, among so many great peers.

Photo of John Wiswell by Nicholas Sabin.

Meet Shesheshen, a carnivorous shape-shifting blob who might eat her girlfriend’s mom. She’s the best.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Recent Reviews

Author Interviews

Recent Features