Welcome to another Women to Read: Where to Start. Last month, I focused on non-fiction, but this month I’m back to fiction with a mix of short stories, novels, and novellas. Away we go!
Sarah Kuhn has written for comics, has written essays on geek culture scattered across many publications, and her novella One Con Glory is in development as a feature film. My recommended starting place for her work is Heroine Complex, the first book in a trilogy following the adventures of Evie Tanaka, personal assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter. The novel opens with Evie filming Aveda’s battle against a horde of demons who just happen to have taken the form of cupcakes and are wreaking havoc on a local bakery. With an opening like that, the novel has high potential to be goofy or cheesy, and while what unfolds from there never loses its sense of fun, Kuhn layers in a serious examination of complex relationships while dismantling several tropes. Aveda and Evie are fiercely devoted to each other at their cores and have been since they were children, bonding over being the only two Asian girls in their kindergarten class, teased by the white kids. However that doesn’t mean their relationship is always perfect – Aveda’s obsession with pleasing her parents and living up to their ideal image of her often leads her to be domineering, bossy, and controlling, while Evie’s fear of her own superpowers lead her to push people away, or lash out at them in anger. The story explores female friendship, lust, family relationships, insecurity, and the desire for parental approval. While many of the characters present as stereotypes at first (e.g. the means girls, the tomboy, etc.) Kuhn peels back the layers of each character over the course of the novel to refute those stereotypes. The storytelling is slick and fast-paced, and as mentioned, never loses its sense of fun. For example, one of the epic showdowns with the villain takes the form of a karaoke battle. It’s not a typical superhero story, though it does hit some of the familiar beats – the hero/villain dynamic, the superhero support team, and a character coming into their powers. Kuhn puts her own spin on things though, and always keeps her characters at the story’s heart. The relationships in Evie’s life are the prime driver for everything that occurs – her loyaty to Aveda, her burgeoning lust for Nathaniel, her efforts to keep her sister Bea safe and give her a normal life, and her alienation from her father. Even Evie and Aveda’s relationship with the villain is important, playing with the idea of women cutting each other down because there’s only room for so many women in the world. There’s action, humor, sex, and genuinely touching emotional beats between the characters, and they all blend smoothly to make a wonderful whole. The sequel, Heroine Worship, was just released, and I look forward to reading it.
Tonya Liburd is an author and the Associate Editor at Abyss & Apex. My recommended starting point for her work is A Question of Faith published at The Book Smugglers. Ceke works in the Temple of Ra, researching the connection between the human mind and the concept of divinity. Her primary subject is a young man named Wahibra who was abandoned on the temple doorstep as a child. Wahibra is uniquely talented, manifesting psychoacoustic phenomena through singing, and Ceke believes he may be the key to unlocking higher planes of consciousness and essentially transcending humanity. Just as Wahibra begins to manifest some unusual results during his tests, he goes missing. Meanwhile, Ceke’s co-wife and co-worker, Ngware, is home on maternity leave getting ready to have their first child. Ceke has fears and doubts about raising a child. She wants to be there for Ngware, especially with the extra medical risks associated with child coming from two eggs and no sperm, but she can’t abandon work. Things become even more complicated when rumors begin to circulate of Wahibra performing miracles and attacking people. Ngware vanishes as well, and Ceke knows Wahibra is involved. She tracks him down, discovering he’s become something more than human and can’t control the divinity inside him, and she must help him fight it off in order to save her wife and unborn child. Liburd explores science and faith on multiple levels throughout the story. Ceke must learn to have faith in her relationship with Ngware and in the future of their child. This is paralleled with the idea of humans ascending to divinity and attaining godlike powers, questioning whether divinity is an external force or something that comes from within. The same parallels exist with the science in the story – the medical advances allowing Ceke and Ngware to have a child together, and the science elevating human consciousness and transforming the understanding of religion. Both big picture questions are also happening on a small scale, affecting very intimate and personal things within Ceke’s life, and Liburd blends them together seamlessly. A Question of Faith is an excellent story and an excellent starting place for Liburd’s work.
K.T. Bryski is an author, playwright, fellow Canadian (woot!), and a person who is extremely knowledgeable about beer. My recommended starting place for her work is La Corriveau, which is currently a finalist for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. The story centers around the legend of La Corriveau aka Marie-Josephte Corriveau, whose second husband died under suspicious circumstances, resulting in both Marie-Josephte and her father being accused of murder. Legends grew around her until it was rumored that she married and murdered seven husbands and practiced witchcraft. Bryski’s story attempts to reclaim Marie-Josephte from history, making her into a real woman with hopes and dreams. Marie-Josphte was ultimately found guilty of murder, hanged, and her body displayed in an iron cage post mortem. While some question remains as to Marie-Josephte’s guilt as a historical figure, Bryski offers up a sympathetic portrait of an innocent young woman married at age sixteen, learning to love her husband, losing him to war, and being forced to remarry an abusive man in order to support her children. Marie-Josephte’s hope for the future is palpable, and her loss is crushing. The story underlines the relative powerlessness of women during Marie-Josephte’s time, as well as the power of history to write people out of existence. This is especially true of women and other marginalized people who were rarely the ones writing the official history, making it easier for their stories to vanish under sensationalism, convenient lies, and outright slander. Whatever the truth of La Corriveau’s life, this fictionalized version is a lovely and painful story, and worthy starting place for Bryski’s work.
Sarah Gailey is an author, a columnist for Tor.com and Barnes and Noble’s Sci Fi Blog, and a 2017 Campbell and Hugo Award finalist. My recommended starting place for her work is her debut novella, River of Teeth. The novella posits an alternate history where the US Government’s plan to farm hippos for meat actually came to pass. Set in the 1890s in Louisiana, the story follows Winslow Remmington Houndstooth as he assembles a band of outlaws and mercenaries to rid the bayou of the feral hippos that have overrun it and are interfering with trade. His team includes Regina Archambault aka Archie, a con artist and pickpocket, Hero Shackleby, an expert in explosives and poison, Cal Hotchkiss, the fastest gun in the west (or the world, if you ask him), Adelia Reyes, a deadly assassin, and, of course, their hippos. The first half of the novella sees Houndstooth building his crew, a familiar scenario, but one that is elevated beyond the ordinary but Gailey’s exquisite worldbuilding and wonderful characters. The world feels real and lived in, and her characters are people you want to spend time with, even though you’d have to constantly watch your back and your wallet. Gailey gives each character a history, and many of them a history with each other, and these histories and unique personalities drive the story. The hippos have unique personalities in their own right, and they are every bit as much central characters in the story as the humans. The writing is smooth and sharp, highly visual and cinematic while not neglecting the other senses, and by turns fun, violent, emotional, and action-filled. The sequel Taste of Marrow, is out in September, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. While I am recommending River of Teeth as a starting point for Gailey’s work, I’d highly recommend her Tor.com and Barnes and Noble essays as well. They’re insightful, and in the case of her Women of Harry Potter Series, pack an emotional punch. Basically, seek out her work and give it a read!
That wraps up another Women to Read: Where to Start. Because one can never have too many things to read, I’d love your suggestions for your favorite female authors and a good starting point for their work. Fire away in the comments, and happy reading!