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ARC Review: Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

Publication Date: May 10, 2022


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.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Gods I love Nghi Vo’s books, and they just keep getting better. This one keeps the same vibe as the Chosen & the Beautiful but lays the magic and raw ambition on much thicker. I absolutely could not look away from the Siren Queen as she clawed her way to stardom on the silver screen, finding her limits and her people along the way.

The whole idea of the movie industry as a place steeped in magic, where stars literally rise into the sky and a kind of immortality can be wrested by those who want it enough, where the cameras steal a piece of you even as they capture you on film, is brilliant. More than that, it’s written in a way that makes it believable and real and true in a way that Hollywood and show business often isn’t.

There is a hunger to these characters that echoes and leaves you empty. Pain that leaves you with a phantom ache. The way the queer characters have to hide but still find each other, the way the studios can scrape you raw and remake you and sacrifice you if you displease them is desperate and true.

The writing is gorgeous and to die for. I read it in over a little more than 24 hours and fell absolutely, madly in love with it. It is absolutely going in my top 10, probably top 5 books of the year.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, and Bookishfirst for providing an arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The trains had run the night before, and her hair, hanging over her shoulder in a braid, looked like a strip torn out of the world.

Women disappear, and even if you are famous, it can happen without a sound, without a ripple.

I liked being cold as the Atlantic, somehow monstrous and untouchable.

He looked like a man carved out of rock, like a mountain ready to fall.

Time stretched like a piece of taffy. I stood on Oberlin Wolfe’s rug, and names feel from my lips like rose petals, and then like rocks.

That was where I lost the very last of my Cantonese, and it died with a soft aspirate, a consonant rhotic.

“He was shrugging into a stiff, shiny new jacket, and though he’s still big, there was something different in his eyes. Maybe this was who he used to be, or maybe I chased him out, and something else came to live inside him instead.”

She couldn’t help what she was, and I couldn’t help what I was. We were stories that should never have met, or stories that only existed because we met. I still don’t know.

They were mostly terrible choices, and being smart and lucky only meant that they were ours. We made them because otherwise it was one more choice that the studios could take away from us…

He was kind though, and I remembered the glow in his eyes when he called me a monster. In his mouth, it was a compliment, and I would much rather be a monster than a victim.

The car slipped down the road as if it came on tiger’s paws, like a menace disguised in fog.

Would I be as brave now, in the light of day? I already knew that being brave didn’t mean anything unless you were willing to do it again.

I spent November haunted by October.

There was a cragginess to her features, her strong nose and her sharp jaw. It would crash ships rather than launch them, but I never knew a woman who didn’t want to crash at least a few ships.

The entire way to Jacko’s trailer at the back of the lot, my tall heels clacked a military beat. They still pained me, but I had learned years ago that there were things more important than pain.

When I drove north to San Francisco in a dead man’s car, the Pacific Coast Road was California’s dream turned flesh, the way Illinois dreamed of Chicago.

Beautiful but not pure, my mind whispered while I begged. Nothing we had done in the shadows of the Friday fires was pure. It was better than that. It was true. It was everything I was and everything I could be—was meant to be—if only I dared. It twisted inside me, hungry and vicious and clever.

It was worth dying for, it was worth living for, and now Nemo’s daughter was walking towards me as I writhed in the sand.

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