Seductive and thoughful

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I was lured into this novel like a child following a candy trail into the dark woods. Vo imagines a glamorous and monstrous version of 1930s Hollywood, where aspiring actors make Faustian bargains with smiling devils and casting directors ravage the sky with the Wild Hunt while girls with cow tails and boys with magic fizzing in their blood claw and scrape for the privilege of adding a star to the sky. What, this story asks, makes a monster? And, in the end, what is so bad about being monstrous if it is synonymous with cherishing the things about yourself that are built on love and truth? I am reminded of a line from the TV show Black Sails: "Everyone is a monster to someone." In learning to embrace the aspects of her culture, sexuality, and personality that 1930s society deemed "monstrous", our protagonist is able to exist and create art that defies convention and plants a kernel of hope in an environment of injustice.

This novel is luminous and ethereal but also firmly grounded in real-world issues of racism and homophobia in creative industries. Our protagonist, her name stolen and rebranded as Luli Wei, comes from a family of Chinese immigrants and must simultaneously face down racist Hollywood typecasting, predatory directors, and actual beasts lurking in the dark edges of the studio to preserve her identity in a place that wants to suck away her life and replace her with a pretty, palatable lie. As much as this is a dark fairy tale, it is also a love letter to the early Hollywood stars of color who fought down insurmountable odds to become beacons of hope and resilience, and the unfair pressure they faced to represent not only themselves but their communities to the world