First Look: Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Updated: Jan 25
I didn't know what to expect when I was able to take a read of the first four chapters of Nghi Vo's forth coming novel, Siren Queen: a sci-fi fantasy set in the 1930's golden era of Hollywood. I'm not the biggest reader of sci-fi, but I love a good historical fiction. The interwar period doesn't get much attention in the genre so my interest was piqued by this entry. The main character also offers a perspective that deserves to be read, and she adds a lot of dynamics to the story.
"To see her was to love her, and a wanting rose up in me like an ache. I wanted someone to look at me like
that; I wanted to change the world simply because I could."
From The Publisher:
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.
Lights, Camera, MAGIC!
I still do not know what to expect from Siren Queen just from the first look that I received. Admittedly, the first four chapters were not enough to get into the substance of the story. Instead, they serve as the set up, and introduce the main character, her family and how she first gets involved in show business, but the plot has yet to develop. The story's fantastical elements have only been hinted at or foreshadowed, therefore, I have no idea how far fetched the story might become, or how close to reality it may play.
However, what I can say without any hesitation is that I wish I could have read more of this book! The prose is delightful. Nghi Vo writes the way I wish I could write, and the story itself is intriguing to say the least. It follows the protagonist, a Chinese-American girl living in poverty, as she falls in love with cinema. She gets a taste for making movies when she is accidentally cast as an extra in a film, and she sees movies as a way to lift herself out of poverty.
I wanted [what she had], the ability to take those looks, to bend them and to make them hers, to make the moment hers, to make the whole world hers if she wanted. I wanted that, and that want was the core of everything that came after.
She is likely going to make tragic decisions given the very real history of movie studios abusing their starlets in Hollywood's early days. Reading the Siren Queen reminded me of watching a train wreck or other similar spectacular disaster: you know where it's going and you wish you could stop it, but you can't. All you can do is watch in horror and amazement, eyes glued to the scene.
Siren Queen is scheduled for publication May 10, 2022. You can pre-order your copy at a locally owned bookseller or at bookshop.org. Bookshop.org is an alternative to Amazon with a mission to financially support independent book stores.
Corey D. Evans received an advance excerpt of this book and was not financially compensated for his review. All quotes are from an unedited advance reader copy of the book and may differ from what will appear in final printed editions.