This magical story of a would-be starlet who may have to risk all to rise is as enthralling as a silver screen classic.
Good to know
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.
Wolfe Studios released a tarot deck’s worth of stories about me over the years. One of the very first still has legs in the archivist’s halls, or at least people tell me they see it there, scuttling between the yellowing stacks of tabloids and the ancient silver film that has been enchanted not to burn.
In that first story, I’m a leggy fourteen, sitting on the curb in front of my father’s laundry on Hungarian Hill. I’m wearing waxy white flowers in my hair, and the legendary Harry Long himself, coming to pick up a suit for his cousin’s wedding, pauses to admire me.
“Hola, China doll,” he says, a bright red apple in his hand. “Do you want to be a movie star?”
“Oh sir,” I’m meant to have replied, “I do not know what a movie star is, but would you give me that apple? I am so very hungry.”
Harry Long, who made a sacrifice of himself to himself during the Santa Ana fires when I turned twenty-one, laughed and laughed, promising me a boatload of apples if I would come to the studio to audition for Oberlin Wolfe himself.
That’s bullshit, of course.
What halfway pretty girl didn’t know what the movies were? I knew the names of the summer queens and the harvest kings as well as I knew the words “chink” and “monkey face,” hurled at me and my little sister as we walked hand in hand to the Chinese school two miles from our house. I knew them as well as I knew the lines in my mother’s face, deeper every year, and the warring heats of the Los Angeles summer and the steam of the pressing room.
The year I was seven, my father returned from Guangzhou to stay with us in America, and they built the nickelodeon between our laundry and the Chinese school. The arcade was far better than any old apple, and from the first, I was possessed, poisoned to the core by ambition and desire. The nickelodeon took over a space that had once sold coffins, terrible luck whether you were Chinese, Mexican, or German, but the moment they opened their doors and lit up the orangey-pink neon sign overhead, comique in the cursive I was having such trouble with, they were a modest success.
Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
I love precise language. As a student of both poetry and translation, I savor every word when it’s clear an author has done the same. Nghi Vo is nothing short of a master wordsmith; in Siren Queen, she has fashioned a language all her own, a dialect that transcends earthly matters and creates a brand-new, fantastical world.
Siren Queen centers around an intrepid, mesmerizing young woman. Luli Wei wants nothing more than to be a star of the silver screen. But Luli knows that to rise to those Hollywood heights will require incredible personal sacrifice, especially for a working class girl from the wrong side of the tracks. So when the opportunity comes to make a name of herself, she’s willing to sign her life away to achieve it—literally. But as Luli falls further into fame, the stakes keep increasing, until it becomes more and more difficult to fend off bloodthirsty directors all too eager to tarnish her name.
As I read this book, I was swept away by its vision of 1930s films—even as I worried for Luli and the lengths she’s willing to go to for her dream, which made for a delicious and nail-biting contrast. It’s with high praise that I say this: I have never read a book quite like Siren Queen. Whether you are a fantasy reader looking for innovative new monsters to fear or just someone who admires a groundbreaking conceit, this book will blow your mind.
Member ratings (1,777)
Most impressive in magical components and the power given to women. Vo refreshingly did not subject Luli to sexual abuse, a rare find in a book where the femme lead gains power. Can’t wait to read mor
Austin , TX
What a delightfully odd book! I went in expecting slight magical realism, but got a lot more magic (always good). I loved the theme of how the monstrous is beautiful, and the queerness was top notch.
Oak Lawn, IL
Old Hollywood with all its glitz, but there is a dark side, where wannabe actresses make creepy bargains for stardom and human sacrifice is a thing. Beautiful writing, dark, mysterious. I loved it.
What an absolutely stunning and beautifully written book! Old Hollywood was the real draw here but the magical bits thrown in were fascinating! I could not love this more!! What a sensational read!
New Braunfels, TX
Nghi Vo is such a master at writing historical magical realism. I highly recommend this book if you like Old Hollywood stories and wish that there were more stories about POC actors in that era.