Siren Queen (Review)

May 27, 2022

Siren Queen is intimate and moving. Nghi Vo explores greed, jealousy, ecstasy, love, vanity, and a range of human emotions in Siren Queen. Vo lyrically weaves a personal journey on a young Chinese American woman allured by the magic of the silver screen. However, while the magic in Vo’s world feels real, it is just as strong as a metaphor for the seduction and price of fame.

Author: Nghi Vo
Publisher: Tor Books
Released: May 10, 2022

The Magic of the Silver Screen

A young girl stumbles into a Hollywood production and is thrust into a bit part. Fortunately for her, these bit parts continue and expand under the guidance of a studio director. Consequently, in the studio system of 1930’s Hollywood, the studios hold power and control over their actors. In Vo’s fictional setting, the studios maintain this control through magic. Sacrifice and dark magic give the studios this control over actors and a magical influence attraction to them from audiences.

Vo’s powerful narrative follows this young woman as she takes on the name of her sister, Luli Wei, and pushes back against those in power. Wei asserts her own power to break free of her first director’s influence. She holds onto her identity as she negotiates with the studio. Wei becomes a star without sacrificing herself. Although the cost of stardom surrounds her.

Siren Queen setting may appear as a haunting, magical version of Hollywood, but the laced throughout reveal the price to fame and identity. A studio that has the name of an actor or actress, holds control over them and their life. Furthermore, while Vo uses magic as a setting for this, in reality the Hollywood studios of the `30’s exerted control over their people and shaped the narrative of their stardom. Studios paired up stars as couples for public image, stripped individuals of a voice, and manipulated public perception.

A Harsh World of Humanity

Siren Queen walks between this real world and Vo’s magical one. A director with sexual pictures of an actress stripped her of her literal voice and energy, until the pictures were burned. Once destroyed the actress is free of the influence and undergoes a literal transformation in Vo’s world. The studio’s magic made a young actor into a handsome star. However when he tried to leave the studio, he is stripped of the glamor and appears as a humble, unattractive man. 

As Wei’s stardom rises throughout Siren Queen’s narrative, she witnesses this control and power from the magic of the studio system. As Wei finds love with another actress, the studio forces her love into a heterosexual relationship for public relation. Wei discovers that the studio destroys careers of those who do not fit into their heterosexual mold of accepted public opinion.

Vo’s voice and strength of Wei’s identity is the real power in Siren Queen. Wei’s determination to be true to herself, her heritage and sexual orienation, creates conflict through her life. Vo’s ability to use magic as a metaphor for the prejudice, and perception of a culture and society obsessed with fame and comfort provides a mirror not only to 1930’s Hollywood, but to modern life as well.

Siren Queen, Siren Song

Siren Queen is a powerful, intimate novel. Nghi Vo creates a dark and dangerous world of fame and identity. A world with resonance and meaning for anyone struggling and desiring to be their true self. Luli Wei’s power comes not through magic, but in the determination of her own identity.

Score: 9.0