I Liked It (Mostly)

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pramsey23 Avatar


3.75 stars rounded down. Minor spoilers throughout

For the most part, I liked this book. I enjoyed reading it, and never felt myself becoming bored with it even if the plot was pretty predictable. My favorite character was Luli herself (although Greta comes in a close second). Reading the description, I thought she was going to end up becoming a terrible person as she desperately chased the fame she craved. Looking back now, the whole "becoming a monster" thing was most likely a reference to her breakout role being a siren, so that's a mistake on my part. She only really does one thing I'd consider to be kind of evil and that is stealing her sister's name, and I'll forgive her for that since it was framed like she didn't do it on purpose. Luli from the beginning wants to do and have things her own way, and I really like that. She does have moments where she's afraid to rock the boat, but those moments are understandable given the fact that she is a Chinese girl in an especially racist time period. The whole time I wanted her to succeed, and I was glad she was able to on (mostly) her own terms. Besides Luli, the other characters were serviceable enough. The ones that were meant to be likable were, and the ones that were meant to be gross pieces of trash were gross pieces of trash. I don't really think I'll remember any of them, though. Except for Greta, I will always remember her. She is a badass and I was sad to see her leave so soon in the book.

I also like the way the queerness was implemented in this book. Luli is sapphic, and heavily implied to be a lesbian. She has three main love interests in this book. The first, Emmaline, a fellow actress and her first love, was my least favorite. Their entire relationship just felt like girls who fuck sometimes, and I never really bought that she liked Luli. It was a bit irritating how much Luli pined over Emmaline, especially considering that Emmaline dropped her the moment it wasn't convenient for her to be with her. I was really glad the book didn't end with them being together, I just couldn't stand her. The second, Tara, was thankfully more tolerable. She's an aspiring writer who wrote the screenplay for one of Luli's movies under a male pseudonym. They have chemistry and I like them well enough together, though they did feel like a couple that wouldn't last forever. Finally there is Jane, who Luli actually ends up with. There are brief interludes in parenthesis that show Luli and a woman named Jane commenting on something that happened in the story. Maybe these are meant to be Jane reacting to stories Luli is telling her about her life? I'm not sure. Jane isn't formally introduced until literally the last few pages. She is either a director or screenwriter who worked with Luli on some movies. I don't really mind that we don't know her much, though, because I don't feel its important for the book that they have some big romance. Aside from Luli's love interests, there is also a gay bar that Luli begins to frequent in the last third of the book, which is interesting. I think my favorite inclusion of queerness in the book has to be at the end where Luli mentions the aftermath years later of a kiss between her and Emmaline in one of her movies. She mentions debate and speculation about her and Emmaline's relationship, along with how much the movie and kiss meant to the sapphic community. It felt very similar to how implied queerness on and offscreen in old Hollywood is debated by the queer community now, and I can't really explain why but I liked it a lot.

My favorite thing about the book, and what ultimately pushed me to keep reading even when I started getting confused (more on that later), was the writing. My god, the prose in this book is beautiful. Every single time I thought I had read the best line in the book, another one just as good if not better would follow. The sentences all flowed from one to the next so beautifully, and I couldn't tear my eyes from the page. I think there could have been a chapter of Luli just watching paint dry and I would read it happily.

However, there was something about this book that I didn't like. Something that was so irritating and pervasive that it unfortunately keeps me from rating it higher. And that is the extremely confusing magic present in this world. It literally took me until the part where Luli's mom made those dolls to trick her father for it to register that magic existed in this book. Which is not a good thing since I know instances of magic had already happened before that. So much of my read through of this book was me playing this weird game of trying to parse if what I was reading was an instance of magic or just another one of the author's flowery metaphors. The worst offender of this is the fires. I think that they are supposed to represent the actors and actresses becoming stars? And they only burn as long as they still are one? I think that the ending scene was supposed to be Luli getting her own fire, which I'm also confused about. What was it exactly in that moment that made her a star? Was it just because she was a woman who kissed another woman? Or was it her acting??? I really hope it was the second one, because while Luli's queerness is important to the book, it doesn't take precedence over her desire to be an actor. So why would her fire light because she was kissing Emmaline? I don't know, the whole fire thing is confusing just like most of the magic. I think that this was a story that didn't really need magic, and that the beautiful writing and Luli's story of her rise to the top would carry it just fine. I struggle to think of a moment where magic is irremovable from the plot, but there really is nothing. It would have been fine without it.

All in all, I would recommend "Siren Queen" As long as you can stand the weird magic system, but I think the book has enough good going on to keep you interested. Definitely don't go in expecting a magic filled experience, though because you'll be a bit disappointed.