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.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review & can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Growing up a child of immigrants, helping her mother in the launderette she runs, and doing her best to stay out of her fathers way, she has always dreamed of more, and one day she gets it. She becomes Luli Wei and inserts herself into the magical and dangerous world of pre-code Hollywood, filled with monsters both human and magical. But Luli is not stupid, and not someone to be messed with. She refuses to play maids and fainting flowers, bit parts, but monsters, monsters she is happy to play. The studios want to own everything from her name to who she loves, but Luli is determined she will not become some helpless girl in over her head, she knows how to play the game, and she will play it until she becomes the star she so deserves.
I buddy read this book with Leah over at Leah’s Books & that is the only reason that I managed to stop reading and not devour this book in one setting. There was something about Vo’s writing and the overall story that just drags you in and makes it nearly impossible to stop reading, and a large part of why I enjoyed this book so much was Luli. Luli has always wanted more than the life she was given, and when she gets the chance, she jumps at becoming a Hollywood starlet, but she will not go in naive and unknowing. Instead she rises like a phoenix from the ashes, making sure that the studios, and Wolfe himself, know that as much as she needs them, they need her more. But being needed is just as dangerous as being wanted, and before long she finds herself in over her head in this world of magical pacts and beings. I just loved her absolute determination that she would play the game her way, only playing the parts she wanted, and never loosing herself in the process like so many others had. She plays monsters because she is one herself, ferocious and not afraid of a fight, and I was enthralled seeing her take on the studio big wigs and win.
There are a whole host of side characters in this story, some you will love and some you will fear. Everyone from the studio exec’s, to Luli’s co stars and fellow actresses jump off the page as effortlessly as Luli does herself, and through them, Vo shows not only the danger of life in Hollywood back then, but also the loneliness, the ferocity, the bleakness of the most glamorous place on earth. My favourite of the side characters without a doubt was Greta, Luli’s roommate who was kidnapped from her home and brought to work for Wolfe studios. She is protective of Luli and the only true friend she has throughout the book. Vo does an excellent job of, through her different characters, showing the ways in which Hollywood could trap it’s artists, making them feel like their only option was to submit, for fear of loosing not only themselves, but also those they love.
Vo creates a magical Hollywood filled with monsters and magic, but also managed to make it feel incredibly realistic. It’s not hard to believe that people sometimes sold their souls to get their five minutes of fame, changed their names to become someone else entirely, had their lives owned by the studios down to who they ended up marrying. It’s a dark and sometimes enticing world, but one that takes a strong and resilient kind of person to get through it intact, someone who knew they never truly fit, so created somewhere that they did. The magic system was intricate and even after finishing I still don’t know the rules, don’t fully understand it, but that in itself lends a kind of magic and mystery to the novel, especially when we realise it’s not just us, but the characters in the story who don’t fully understand it & it’s limits. The magic adds an extra danger and depth to a story that, without it, would already be dangerous, and some of the scenes where it was used were so beautifully depicted as well as being eerily creepy.
Siren Queen is a story that lives up to it’s name in more ways than one. Thanks to Vo’s lush writing style, Luli’s story and the magical Hollywood she inhabits drags you in almost like a Siren song until you are in too deep to escape. But it’s also relevant to Luli’s journey throughout the book, how she becomes this beautiful monster more likely to wreck you than save you, a creature she had to become to survive in a world where she was looked down on for her heritage, deemed a monster because of who she loved, a world where she feared becoming just another actress with no lasting legacy, a world where she was quite happy to become a monster if it meant she would be a star.
If you want to know how much I loved this book, just know that my Amazon basket is currently filled with Vo’s backlist of books. She has a unique writing style that just draws me into the story, as well as unforgiving and incredibly realistic characters. Siren Queen is a story that lured me in until I was in too deep to let go, with an intriguing magic system and a magical Hollywood that was so well written it kept off the page.