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Siren Queen by Nghi Vo (Book review)

Cover of the novel "Siren Queen" by Nghi Vo. On the cover, there is a close-up of the face of an Asian girl wearing 1930s-style makeup. She smokes a cigarette, the smoke shadowing her face, and she haughtily looks directly at the watcher. The picture is in blue tones.

(Goodreads description)

“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.

Thursday Quotables Meme

I’ll be honest, it took me some time to get into Siren Queen by Nghi Vo, but I really enjoyed it once I got into it.

Though I had to admit, most of the time, I wasn’t sure where I was heading. I even thought this was going to be the first instalment in a series right to the last chapter.

But in the end, I liked the concept and the atmosphere, and I warmed up to a few characters, though I didn’t find this the stronger part of the story.

Luli Wei – though this is not her real name, and I’m not sure it sits well with me that I never learn her name – starts off as a humble but very ambitious second-generation Chinese-American girl in Los Angeles, where she slowly finds her way to stardom in Hollywood.

But this is not the Hollywood that we know. In this world, Hollywood is some kind of parallel world where demons and magic exist.

I loved this part of the story – the way magic and supernatural beings were taken for granted. Some ideas are truly surreal, and I loved those best.

This is a very apparent magic realist world, and I love the way magic filters through everywhere. Not just in Hollywood and its studios, where it is particularly strong, but also in the world outside.

I really really loved the atmosphere.

Though I also have to admit, sometimes I found the author tried too hard, creating situations that felt obscure and were never explained. I don’t have an issue with the fact that they weren’t explained because that is clearly part of the mood of the story. It’s just that sometimes I felt these kinds of studiously mysterious statements were unnecessary because the mood was already strong enough.

But, of course, this is just my feeling.

I loved the circular structure of the story instead. The insertions of events and dialogue that very clearly happened after this story was concluded. It added to the sense of mystery and surrealism, and I loved them. Some of them only fall into place when the final chapter ends, and I found this particularly satisfying.

When the story is over, you can see its structure. Therefore you can also see why some episodes were there. But as I read, more than a few chapters felt superfluous and idle, which is a shame because the story is actually very strong. So I won’t hide that I would have liked more purposefulness to the plot.

Still, I loved the story. It is such a different one.

Siren Queen by @NghiVoWriting #BookReview #HistoricalFiction #MagicRealismA magic realism story set in 1920s Hollywood, where actors fight for visibility among competition and … monsters. Share on X

Siren Queen

Pinteret pin. The title reads, "Siren Queen by Nghi Vo - book review". The picture shows a young Chinese woman against a very dark background, partially covering her face with one hand.

Friday, I’m sure, was meant for something, but whatever it was got lost in Friday night. Friday night was when all the walls came down, and Wolfe Studios shifted that slight bit to make it something other than a series of sound stages and back lots in the middle of Hollywood groves. Something about Friday dropped the boundaries down like silk banners. The hunt rode on Friday nights, not like they did on Halloween or Midsummer, but we could hear their horns through eh clinking of champaign glasses and the laughter that rose in an attempt to hide them.

If we were clever, we would have barred the door and stayed inside, but I think if we were that kind of clever, we would never have walked past the great silver wolves at the gate. Deals were struck on Friday nights. Directors had their heads turned by clever girls and beautiful boys. A Friday night lover could be a formidable ally on Monday morning, and they said that children conceived at the Friday night fires went on to be stars in their own right, heroes and ringmasters, politicians and beauty kings. Once, a girl in our dorm saw something enormous and horned devour a darkly beautiful girl with a lisping Castilian accent. The next Monday, I saw that same girl in dance class, a calm and silver light in her eyes, and I wouldn’t have bet a single cent on whether she was more or less than she had been.

The Friday fires never became normal. I remember one girl, tugging her pearl earring restlessly, who said that they exited outside of time. If we went walking too far into the dark, the studio would turn into earthwork halls and stone circles, unmoored and drifting in the dark and the smoke. A boy with a delicate moustache and wild eyes said that the fires were the reason for the studios in the first place, that it all went on to keep the fires burning. He jumped into one, nothing to sacrifice but himself. I remember his mother coming to pick up his name from the receiving office, carrying it out in an envelope. She was lucky to get that.

The Thursday Quotables  was originally a weekly post created by Lisa Wolf for her book blog Bookshelf Fantasy . It isn’t a weekly post anymore, not even for Lisa, but just like her, I still love to share my favourite reads on Thursdays and I still use the original template which included an excerpt.

NOTE: This blog contains affiliate links (including Amazon links) to the book I independently review. When you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a commission for advertising the product (at no extra cost to you).

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