Today I have a couple of queer, female-lead, fantasy novellas to talk about!
Thank you to Neon Hemlock for sending me these two books for free in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling
My Edition: Paperback – 132 pages – 2020 – Neon Hemlock – ISBN: 9781952086038
From the back of the book: Shipping magnate Evelyn Perdanu controls the dying city of Delphinium with trade deals and secrets. But when mysterious sickness sparks death and obsession, all leading back to her, Evelyn’s brittle existence is strained to breaking. She retreats to her estate, amidst paranoia and poisonous secrets, intent on rooting out this plague before it destroys everything she has built.
This is an atmospheric story with a touch of the fantastical/paranormal that had me wishing for more.
The story follows Evelyn and as it progresses, we learn more about how she grew up and came into the power she’s managed to hold on to in her dying city. The setting has a Victorian or Regency vibe, which adds to the mystery of Evelyn’s backstory and her skills with plants and poisons.
Like I say for most novellas I review, I don’t want to say much about the plot because the book is so short. The end really threw me for a loop though, and I found myself pleasantly puzzled by the conclusion. If you’re looking for a quick, atmospheric, and just a tad queer, historical fantasy, check this one out.
Also, the cover and chapter header designs… -chef’s kiss-
Stone and Steel by Eboni Dunbar
My Edition: Paperback – 91 pages – 2020 – Neon Hemlock – ISBN: 9781952086052
From the back of the book: When General Aaliyah returns to her city triumphant, she expects to find the people of Titus prospering under the rule of her Queen and lover, the beautiful stone mage Odessa. Instead, she finds a troubling imbalance in both the citizens’ wellbeing and Odessa’s rule. Aaliyah must now rely on all of her allies, old and new, to do right by the city that made her.
For an even shorter novella than Yellow Jessamine, Stone and Steel covers a lot of ground fantasy novel readers will be familiar with. Would I love to see the world, especially the magic system, and the characters fleshed out more? Of course! This is yet another book that I easily could have read a full-length novel of.
I’m a dingus and didn’t make a note of the different types of mages in this world, but I believe there are six. I know there’s steel, bone, and stone; I also know that if you’re a bone mage you can literally manipulate bones, which is badass and scary as hell. I would have gladly read many chapters about the different types of magic and what the mages could do with it.
But the story focuses on Aaliyah, her relationship with Odessa, and her dedication to the people of her city. She finds herself fighting to end the suffering of the poorer citizens, of which Aaliyah was raised, and who she thought would be cared for when Odessa came to power. Aaliyah’s return is complicated by both her family and romantic dynamic with Odessa, making her mission to save her city all the harder.
Again, I won’t really talk about the plot, but I’d also recommend this if you’re looking for a quick, magical fantasy with a couple female/female relationships. Of note, I did notice several typos throughout, which kept taking me out of the story – but don’t let that stop you from checking this one out!
This novella also has a stunning cover design. Props to the design team!