published: 10th May 2022
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.
Galley provided by publisher
Siren Queen is a book that cements, for me, the knowledge that, while I love Nghi Vo’s novellas, her novels just don’t do it for me in the same way. So, really, this is about to be a very short review, because I don’t have a whole lot more than this to say (except that, feel free to ignore all of this).
The story follows Luli Wei, whose dream is to become a big-screen star, and the sacrifices she makes in the pursuit of her dream. That is, honestly, pretty much it. So, perhaps here’s the first reason I didn’t love it. While Nghi Vo’s novellas work when there is minimal plot, novel-length books don’t. For me, at least.
This is a very character driven novel, but it’s not in the sense of watching a character develop. Luli Wei stays pretty much the same throughout, ruthless in her quest for fame in Hollywood. And, sure, that’s okay as a novel, if that’s your thing. That’s not my thing. I think the major issue here is that, while there was a plot happening in a sense, it wasn’t clear exactly what it was until it had happened. So you get a character without much development and a vague plot, and you feel like you’re drifting along until the end.
And then there’s the magical element of the story. Much like The Chosen and the Beautiful, it’s just there in the story. You could remove it and nothing about the story would change (except, perhaps, how a few things come about). To be blunt, its addition seemed entirely pointless. Maybe it’s meant to create a heady atmosphere, to raise the stakes a little (Luli sacrifices years of her life in return for success, for example), but. I do feel like if you’re going to change your world in such a significant way, there should be a reason. Is it only Hollywood where you get, and use, this magic? Can ordinary people use it? Is it something that’s frowned on? Are there any beliefs about morality attached to its use? Instead, as I said, it felt as though it was just there.
However, I am perfectly prepared to be (and hopeful of being) a minority in terms of liking this book. It’s just one of those that wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy it.