I will forever keep anything Nghi Vo writes at the top of my TBR because every story is unlike anything I have read before. She has captured my attention once again with her most recent release, Siren Queen. This time, Vo pulls back the curtain on the glitz, glamour, and dark side of Hollywood as a woman prepares to risk it all to become a star.
From her Chinese heritage to her humble beginnings at her family’s laundromat, Luli Wei knows she has to work harder than any of the blonde, blue-eyed starlets gracing movie sets in Hollywood. Dangerous enchantments and even deadlier deals are made to make the magic happen behind the scenes. Luli is desperate to play the game, and she cunningly scraps her way to Oberlin Wolfe’s office and lands a contract on her terms—“no maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli wants to be a movie star, and she will become as monstrous as the studio that controls her fate.
Vo pulls me down deep into her stories until I’m gasping for air. When I am finally able to resurface it is a shock to interact in a world that is so plain and dull in comparison. Something I love about her worldbuilding in both Siren Queen and The Chosen and the Beautiful is how the story is dripping in magic but it’s always just out of reach. It’s elusive and tantalizing, giving you a taste of its power and potential before slipping through your hands. The magic is wild and all-encompassing. There are cow-tailed women, studio changelings filling minor roles, blood-soaked contracts seeped in tea, and something nasty in the Santa Anas that the studio heads made a deal with. Vo never explains it enough to let it sink its teeth into you, which is probably for the best because most of it sounds terrifying as hell.
Luli is a fabulous protagonist. Often said to be as “cold as the Atlantic,” she will earn your respect fast. Luli is not vicious per se but can be best described as unyielding as the coast while waves crash upon her. Vo has a knack for writing unapologetic women that blaze through the world. Yet Luli is not all-powerful; she is very real and flawed. Luli is not afraid to reveal her insecurities, but she remains unbreakable. Being a queer, Chinese American woman in 1920s Hollywood, her dream is constantly met with resistance. It is refreshing to see a character like Luli remain steadfast in achieving her goal without wanting to burn the world down around her. It is fascinating to see how she navigates the cruelty of Hollywood without losing who she is and what she wants to achieve.
The supporting characters in this story are so purposeful, and each one inspires Luli in a unique way. Each person that is introduced not only helps Luli progress but their presence drives the story forward as they incite Luli to evolve, take action, or make a choice. Every character shows us a different side of our star. With her family, Luli is cold and uninterested, seeing them as a means to an end until she can sign with a studio. With her first lover, she is spontaneous and enamored but remains rooted in the reality of their situation. When it comes to the studio and its minions, she’s direct and stays bullish in their attempts to mold her. With her first friendship, Luli displays loyalty and fierce protectiveness. And when she encounters a fading actor, we see her find comfort in a safe place that had never made itself known before.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo is delectable. Each little morsel of magic is like chocolate placed on my tongue, melting away before I can fully savor it. Vo leaves me wanting more of this world, but I am utterly enchanted. Luli guides the reader with a gloved hand, striking a purposeful step forward in a polished high heel to show you a wicked, brilliant side of Hollywood.
Rating: Siren Queen – 9.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.