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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Davinia Evans! Her debut novel, the fantasy adventure Notorious Sorcerer, will be available on September 13—and I’m delighted to also be revealing its cover by Lisa Marie Pompilio and Andrew Broyzna!

Cover of Notorius Sorcerer by Davinia Evans
(click to enlarge)
Cover Design by Lisa Marie Pompilio
Cover Silhouette Illustration by Andrew Broyzna


In a city filled with dangerous yet heavily regulated alchemical magic, a man from the slums discovers he may be its only hope to survive certain destruction in this wickedly entertaining fantasy debut. 

Ever since the city of Bezim was shaken half into the sea by a magical earthquake, the Inquisitors have policed alchemy with brutal efficiency. Nothing too powerful, too complicated, too much like real magic is allowed–and the careful science that’s left is kept too expensive for any but the rich and indolent to tinker with. Siyon Velo, a glorified errand boy scraping together lesson money from a little inter-planar fetch and carry, doesn’t qualify.

But when Siyon accidentally commits a public act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight. Except the limelight is a bad place to be when the planes themselves start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send the rest of the city into the sea.

Now Siyon, a dockside brat who clawed his way up and proved himself on rooftops with saber in hand, might be Bezim’s only hope. Because if they don’t fix the cascading failures of magic in their plane, the Powers and their armies in the other three will do it for them.

The Reason

I like to read storytelling that feels intentional. Like the author made choices—careful or cunning or gleeful—to include these words, these characters, these elements of story and world and theme. That the story was crafted.

Everything is there for a reason, you could say.

And yet, I flinch from that question: Is there a reason to include this?

This romance.

This queer character.

This woman.

Is she here for a reason?


The first version of my debut novel, Notorious Sorcerer, was actually a fanfic, taking some beloved characters and putting them into a fantasy world and story of my own devising. For reasons good, bad and ugly, a lot of fandoms were (bless their hearts) a bit of a cockforest. To include even a few women in my fanfic, I had to hunt around the fringes. But that’s how that particular cookie crumbled.

When I decided to expand that little flight of fancy into a proper novel, one of my first notes was “More women.” (In all-caps and underlined.) This was my cookie; it crumbled like I wanted.

The obvious first choice would be to genderflip one of the two main characters. But the more I considered it, the less I liked it. For starters, the story involved a romantic element, and I didn’t like removing queer characters for the sake of adding female ones. (Is there a reason for her? A reason for them?)

And when I changed one character to a woman, the dynamic changed in ways that I could feel but not quite put my finger on. It put a whole new slant on their bickering, their negotiation, their banter. I finally realised that, to quote the inestimable wisdom of Avril Lavigne: “He was a boy / She was a girl / Can I make it any more obvious?”

Sure, I could decide what gender and relations meant within the fantasy society I created, but I have no control over what a reader brings to reading the story. And for a lot of readers (like me) when you get a story with a complicated and intense dynamic between characters of opposite genders, we all know where this is going. The dynamic did have a romantic element, but I didn’t like how obvious—how much bigger and more important—that felt when the characters conformed to a more heteronormative view of the world. (Is there a reason why they kiss? Is there a reason why they don’t kiss?)

I briefly considered making them both women. At the time, I shied away from an all-female main cast. Given the book’s themes of individual innovation and breaking-away-from-the-system, it felt a little overtly sisters-against-the-patriarchy, and I wasn’t sure I was angry enough to write that book. These days, I might feel differently. Max Gladstone’s done some absolutely kick-ass majority-female books. And I’m only getting angrier.

So I left those two main characters as men. I later added in two additional main characters, sisters with plenty of troubles of their own, but before I got to that, I considered the wider world of the story, and started asking my own question:

Is there a reason for this character not to be a woman?


I don’t just want to see women in stories. I want to see interesting women. I want to see all sorts of women. I want to see cis and trans women. I want to see these women having all the sorts of adventures, storylines, discoveries, agencies as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing men having. I want to see so many women that some can be “bad” and some can be “good” and some can be “problematic” and some can be all three and more in the one package, and all of that can be interrogated. I want to see angry women and feminine women and intelligent women and forgetful women and cheerful uncaring women and women who are tired and just want a damn drink. I want women who are all of these and more.

I want to see different sorts of male characters. I want to see characters who are non-binary, or aligned with different gender spectrums, or exploring options.

I want to see all sorts of people.

Is there a reason we’re not?


My world was still half-formed and malleable, when I started asking my question. The original version of the story hadn’t been very long, and the world had been commensurately thin. I didn’t have baked-in gender assumptions yet, ways it had to be for the system to make sense. Could the current ruler of the city, whose missing son kicks off a big chunk of the plot, be a woman? No reason why not! Could the leader of one of the street-duelling gangs to which our hero belongs be a woman? Yeah, sure! What about the mentor-type figure to whom our hero looks up? Definitely, she can be a woman too.

I ended up with a world full of women at all echelons of society. Women wielding power, finding fulfilment, behaving badly, being role-models, making messes. I ended up with a world where there was no reason why any character couldn’t be a woman.

I’m not saying the setting of Notorious Sorcerer is a gender-neutral space. There are still some very gendered elements, and no doubt a whole lot of assumptions I carried in with me that I didn’t even realise I had. But I have had an interesting time exploring the results of that one little question—is there any reason why not a woman?

And it meant that when I added those new main characters—a pair of sisters up against the expectations and flaws of society—those expectations didn’t specifically include “what is expected of women”. Both sisters are struggling with finding meaning, finding fulfilment, finding a way to make their own space in the world. And yes, they’re also struggling with a disappointing marriage and coming-of-age worries, but those things aren’t women-only problems—not in the world I made up, nor the world I live in.

We all have our struggles. We often don’t get to shed the layer of gender assumptions, expectations, restrictions. We often accrue extra layers, tangled up with the demands of others. With the assumptions they’re bringing to the story of our lives. (Can I make it any more obvious?)

But perhaps part of how we change that—keep changing it, because things have shifted so much even in the time I’ve been writing this one story—is by asking those questions.

Is there any reason not to have a woman? A queer character? A romance?

What am I including? What am I leaving out?

It’s always a choice. Make it intentional. Make it with care.

Photo of Davinia Evans
Photo Credit: Gray Tham of Simply Gray Photography
Davinia Evans was born in the tropics and raised on British comedy. With a lifelong fantasy-reading habit and an honours thesis in political strategy, it was perhaps inevitable that she turn to a life of crafting stories full of sneaky ratbags tangling with magic. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with two humans (one large and one small), a neurotic cat, and a cellar full of craft beer. Dee talks more about all of that on Twitter as @cupiscent

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Vaishnavi Patel! She’s the author of “Logic Puzzles,” “The Sister Line,” and Kaikeyi—the latter of which comes out next week! Her debut novel, available on April 26, “reimagines the life of the infamous queen from the Indian epic the Ramayana, weaving a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—and an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.” (And on a personal note, I am reading it now and loving everything—the writing,  the story, and most of all, Kaikeyi herself.)

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel - Book Cover

Divorcing the Evil Stepmother

The character of the evil stepmother is ubiquitous in myth, folktale, and fiction across the world. From stories like “Cinderella” and “Snow White” to modern plot lines in movies and TV shows, the evil stepmother character remains a popular villain archetype. But why is that? Why are we so eager to villainize women who, to our eyes, do not fit into the neatest possible category of motherhood?

To be sure, the actions of evil stepmothers in these stories are deplorable—and by stepmothers, I mean women married to a man with children from outside that marriage. Cinderella’s stepmother is downright abusive and genuinely evil, given the story as we know it. But Cinderella and all the other myths and legends I discuss are stories. In telling stories, authors make decisions about how to portray characters—they are not merely recounting objective biographical facts. Even when basing stories on real events, authors choose whose perspective to give, whose thoughts to privilege and whose motivations to assume the worst about. And of course, stepmothers in real life are just normal humans, on some shade of the good and evil spectrum. So why, then, is the evil stepmother the classic trope?

Stepmothers are, by definition, not the biological mother of the child they are parenting (my analysis is limited to portrayals of straight couples, but of course this trope also implicates judgments about any societally “atypical” family). Because they are marrying a man who has a child old enough to be the hero of a story, these fictional stepmothers usually fall into one of three categories: they are either entering a subsequent marriage themselves, they are unmarried and of an age that marks them as undesirable, or they are younger than the father by a significant margin. All of the stepmother figures are united in hating their stepchildren, and the different versions of the trope are generally used to feed into specific stereotypes about women, none of them kind.

The first category, which we might think of as the Cinderella type, is a stepmother that is either a shrew whose husband left her or perhaps is responsible for the demise of her husband. The second category, of Snow White or Hansel & Gretel fame, features women who are of the same age as their husbands but previously unmarried; impliedly because something may be wrong with them. And the third category, seen in one of my favorite childhood movies, The Parent Trap, is the young gold digger. There are countless other evil stepmothers out there across the fictional universe who themselves fit these categories, from the stepmother in Vasilisa the Fair (previously married) to the disguised troll in an episode of the TV show Merlin (both unmarriageable and a gold digger!). The woman who almost marries Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music also falls into several of these stereotypes, in contrast with Maria, who does not want money or marriage and simply happens upon it. Maria, by virtue of her penitent background in the abbey, is seen as far more sympathetic than the worldly Baroness.

Of course, we know that real people’s marriages fail all the time for reasons that don’t have to do with the woman being a bad person. Women choose not to marry for a variety of reasons. And often in straight couples with a much younger woman, if there is fault to be found among the parties, it does not lie with the woman. But the evil stepmother trope allows us to instead project our worst stereotypes of women—women are vain, women only care about a man’s money, women are jealous and petty, and on and on—onto these characters and show that these stereotypes are deserved. And these women, we are told, are decidedly evil because they commit the worst sin of all: they are bad mothers. Never mind that the fathers in the situation were perfectly fine marrying someone who despised their child. We are to vilify the woman.

My personal interest lies in an even more ancient source: mythology. There are several examples of “stepmother” characters in mythology. One of the most prominent examples might be Hera from Greek mythology. Hera and Zeus have their own children, who Hera sometimes loves (Ares) and sometimes rejects (Hephaestus). But Hera goes out of her way to be cruel to Zeus’s other children, rendering their lives into horrible tragedies. And while Zeus isn’t portrayed as a perfect god, the fact that he goes around having his way with women without regard or care for his children does not really mar his rule of the gods. Hera, on the other hand, is often the picture of a stereotypical jealous shrew—we look at her and think there is a reason that Zeus is straying; her unhappiness about her husband’s infidelity is her own moral failing.

Kaikeyi is another example of this trope, from the Indian epic the Ramayana. Kaikeyi is the hero Rama’s stepmother in the sense that she is married to his father but is not his biological mother; Rama’s real mother is also present in the story. Even given this minor distinction, Kaikeyi falls into the evil stepmother trope quite neatly. In the myth, Kaikeyi exiles Rama to put her own son on the throne. She is interested in keeping power as Queen Mother and accruing power to her biological son. Despite the fact that she is a warrior and well-respected queen prior to the exile, none of that changes Kaikeyi’s pure evil stepmother portrayal in most versions of the Ramayana today. Kaikeyi is often contrasted not just with her fellow queens Kaushalya and Sumitra, neither of whom try to seize power, but with Yashoda, the foster mother of the god Krishna. Neither Yashoda nor her husband are Krishna’s biological parents, but they choose to save him from death at great risk to themselves and raise him as their own. So Hindu mythology has examples of kind stepmothers and adoptive mothers—what sets Kaikeyi apart, in a way, is that she is too ambitious.

In particular, the evil stepmother trope serves to villainize atypical mothers. The stepmothers of stories often have multiple failings—they’re not just cruel to their stepchild but also interested in money and power, things that, these stories may posit, women should not crave. All of the “evil stepmothers” discussed above have characteristics that render them atypical for the purest form of a stereotyped ideal woman. Snow White’s evil stepmother in the Grimm fairy tale is a practitioner of the dark arts; Cinderella’s evil stepmother is prideful of her own daughters; Hera was too stubborn and willful to marry Zeus despite his repeated advances; Kaikeyi was a warrior before she became a mother, and was even gifted boons by the king for her service, something he ultimately came to regret when she used them to exile Rama.

By choosing to portray stepmothers as unloving people who commit these horrifying deeds, we are often giving in to age-old sexist stereotypes. There’s nothing inherently evil about stepmothers. In recent memory, blended families have become more common and socially accepted. I think many of us probably know more wonderful stepmothers than bad ones. So perhaps it is time to move past uncritically using this trope. In my novel Kaikeyi, Kaikeyi is a loving stepmother who is nevertheless deeply imperfect. While many of her actions are the same, and she is certainly flawed, she is not motivated by a preference for her biological children. By exploring her journey beginning in her own childhood, her triumphs and failures are part of what makes her a whole person. Portraying women in fiction as complicated and flawed not only allows us to defy the “mandated” role of women as a wife and mother but also makes for a more interesting and truthful story—and that, ultimately, is the point of fiction.

Photo of Vaishnavi Patel Vaishnavi Patel is a law student focusing on constitutional law and civil rights. She likes to write at the intersection of Indian myth, feminism, and anti-colonialism. Vaishnavi grew up in and around Chicago and, in her spare time, enjoys activities that are almost stereotypically Midwestern: knitting, ice-skating, drinking hot chocolate, and making hotdish. Her debut novel Kaikeyi, a retelling of the Indian myth the Ramayana from the perspective of the evil stepmother, is out April 26, 2022.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is speculative fiction author Ruthanna Emrys! Her short fiction includes “The Deepest Rift,” “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land,” and “The Word of Flesh and Soul.” The Innsmouth Legacy series, her Mythopoeic Award–nominated spin on the Cthulhu mythos, begins with the novelette “The Litany of Earth” and continues in the novels Winter Tide and Deep Roots. Her upcoming science fiction book, A Half-Built Garden, is described as “a novel of extraterrestrial diplomacy and urgent climate repair bursting with quiet, tenuous hope and an underlying warmth”—and is coming out on July 26!

Cover of A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys

As I write this, I’m crowded into a messy basement with two kids, five adults, two dogs, and two cats for a tornado warning. It’s well after the kids’ bedtime. Earlier I put in an ice cream order to cope with the state of the world. The delivery person, who lives a much more precarious life than any of my family, showed up in the middle of the warning but wouldn’t accept our offer to join us in the basement. The ice cream was a reaction to anxiety over distant wars that may at any minute draw closer, new transphobic and homophobic laws just across nearer borders, and an ongoing pandemic that might have been over by now if we were better at organizing collective societal responses to crisis.

No one needs to tell my children that the personal is political, but I tell them anyway.

Speculative fiction is full of starship crews and quest fellowships, found families pulled together by mission. Most of them are essentially single-generation, even if elves and humans may be centuries apart in technical age. When kids show up—How long a trek through space do you really want with no work-life balance?—they are most often a barrier to adventure, or else an impetus for it when they’re threatened. Other times the focus is on the younger generation, learning from mentors or dodging protective parents but ultimately bearing the weight of the world on their own.

When I had kids, the world didn’t stop dropping troubles in my lap, adventurous or otherwise. I just had to fit them into my lap with the kids also sitting there. And I had to bring my kids into the solving of those troubles, because problem-solving doesn’t actually pass neatly between generations.

When I set out to write A Half-Built Garden, I wanted a story that reflected my own experiences as a parent dealing with a troubled world. Maybe even a story that valued what parents in particular bring to world-saving (other than sleep deprivation). The opening scene includes both first contact with an alien starship, and a diaper change. I read it aloud at a get-out-the-vote event with Malka Older (author of the Centenal Cycle, and also a world-saving parent), and described the subgenre as “diaperpunk.” This resulted in months—a couple of years, in fact—of Malka asking me how “the diaperpunk book” was coming along.

But hard as it is to balance childrearing with everyday political activism, adding writing to the mix is even harder. So A Half-Built Garden was a slow, urgent creation. It grew: fed by the experiences of bringing my daughter to her first protest march, sitting down for “the talk”—multiple talks—about the injustices of bigotry, and working through pandemic safety and community response around the kitchen table. Like my characters, my own life has become a search for work/life/first contact balance.

This book has felt in some ways like an invocation. I set it just beyond the years I’m likely to live to see. I set it in my own neighborhood, envisioning how this beloved place might look in a world where we’ve grown just a bit as a species—where we’ve learned how to handle the existential challenges plaguing us now, and are not quite ready to be terrified by the next set. The neighborhood of 2083 includes trees I’ve already planted, mature technologies I’ve seen through their earliest stages, and watershed protection measures proposed a couple of years ago at our town’s environmental council meeting.

It’s far from a perfect world, but it’s a world I’d be glad to put in the hands of my grandchildren, when my grandchildren are old enough to juggle diaper changes with first contact.

Photo of Ruthanna Emrys Ruthanna Emrys is the author of A Half-Built Garden, Winter Tide, and Deep Roots. She writes radically hopeful short stories about religion and aliens and psycholinguistics. She lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, DC with her wife and their large, strange family. There she creates real versions of imaginary foods, gives unsolicited advice, and occasionally attempts to save the world.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Jenn Lyons! She was a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer both years she was eligible following the release of The Ruin of Kings, her epic fantasy debut novel and the first book in A Chorus of Dragons. The next three books in this series “about a long-lost royal whose fate is tied to the future of an empire”—The Name of All Things, The Memory of Souls, and The House of Always—are out now. The fifth and final book, The Discord of Gods, will be published next week—on April 26!

Cover of The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons Cover of The Discord of Gods by Jenn Lyons

Out of the Maze
By Jenn Lyons

Like so many girls of my generation (Gen X, to be specific), I grew up being told that I would need to be rescued. We were a generation that was starting to have some idea that this wasn’t true, mostly thanks to earlier feminist movements and our own mothers’ horror stories. But still, there was a lot of rescuing going on. The first two fantasies that I can distinctly remember as a child were Snow White (in illustrated book form) and Sleeping Beauty (the Disney animated movie) and both had a lasting impact on me. Even then as a child, I was starting to rebel from the messages presented therein. The idea that the Wicked Queen deserved to be literally tortured to death (yes, this was a version of the story where she’s forced to dance to death in red-hot iron shoes) was abhorrent. And Maleficent inspired in me an immediate and permanent love of dragons that has never faded to this day.

I felt little equivalent sense of connection to the princesses themselves.

I was too young, however (far too young) to have any idea why these stories didn’t quite mesh. Why I loved dragons but not unicorns. Why I was more interested in the ‘evil’ women who were out there scheming and acting than the ‘good’ girls who existed simply to have things done to them or for them. Cursed, rescued, married.

Then, I read one of those books that would change everything for me.

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

I had not yet read A Wizard of Earthsea, which in hindsight strikes me as almost miraculous in its own right given how I searched out books with dragons on the covers as a child (note: I confess I still do this). So I started out of order, with the second book in the series, with the book that so many others liked less because it stopped focusing on the main character they loved so much and instead focused on someone new, female, and perhaps not even that “likable.” (It was a sharp turn I would unintentionally echo with the second book in my own series, and with much the same reaction from readers.)

Tenar was imperfect and flawed, brittle and young, trapped in service to an evil god. In any piece of Western mythology, she would have been either a villain or the naive beauty seduced by the hero in order to escape. The story would never center on her. And yet, in this brilliant, miraculous story, it does. She is notably white, but that whiteness is not framed as a positive — something I had before that moment never encountered either.

Rather than seduce her physically, Ged encourages her to open her eyes and seek out the truth herself. He makes no move — none at all — to try to turn their relationship into a romantic one. (In much later books it will be revealed that this is less a testament to Ged’s gentlemanly nature than because he was essentially locked in a state of perpetual prepubescence, incapable of experiencing sexual interest. Rather than this being a statement of asexuality, it’s magical in origin, and when that block is removed much later in his life, he and Tenar do indeed turn their relationship into both a highly romantic and highly sexual one.)

But back to me, childhood, and how this book kicked over the first of the dominoes. The idea that Tenar might be the one with power, the idea that this power wouldn’t necessarily be a benevolent thing — that a woman with power might not necessarily be any better, gentler, or more perfect than a man with power — was heady stuff to a nine-year-old. It was a period in my life where I was being bullied, horribly bullied, and nursed a hatred for my tormentors that blazed with incandescent rage. I needed someone to tell me that I could still be in the wrong even if I had myself been wronged. I needed someone to point out that trauma in and of itself is neither entitling nor ennobling. Ursula K. Le Guin did that for me, even if it took decades before I fully understood the message.

It’s not as negative as it may sound. For, you see, if women are just as capable of men of being unworthy to give power, just as cruel, just as tyrannical, then it meant we were just as undeserving of rescuing, of pedestals, of towers. We didn’t need to be protected or coddled. Sometimes people need to be protected from us. If we’re like this, doesn’t that too mean that men can be kind, gentle, tender? That we are, in fact, equal?

I think of this every time someone suggests that SFF books don’t really matter, that SFF books by women, don’t really matter. How powerful it is to look at a book and for the first time see yourself reflected back as someone you would like to be, rather than as someone society has told you that you’re required to be.

It matters a lot.

Photo of Jenn Lyons
Photo Credit: Matthew & Nicole Nicholson, Dim Horizon Studio
Jenn Lyons lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, three cats and a nearly infinite number of opinions on anything from Sumerian mythology to the correct way to make a martini. Lyons traces her geek roots back to playing first edition Dungeons & Dragons in grade school and reading her way from A to Z in the school’s library. Formerly an art director and video game producer, she now spends her days writing fantasy. In 2020, she was nominated for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. Her five-book Chorus of Dragons fantasy series begins with The Ruin of Kings.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is fantasy author Chelsea Abdullah! The Stardust Thief, her debut novel and the first book in The Sandsea Trilogy, will be available in the US on May 17 and the UK on May 19. Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, this epic fantasy story is described as a book that “weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.”

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah - Book Cover

Why SFF?: Lies, Truths, and the Story Between Them

As a kid, one of my favorite games to play was Telephone, that children’s activity where someone whispers a story in your ear and you have to relay it to the next person from memory. The storyteller might begin, “Once upon a time, a prince rode out to slay a dragon and save a princess” but by the time we get to the final iteration of the story, the narrative could have changed to, “Once upon a time, a princess befriended a dragon and protected her from a conniving prince.”

I’ve always thought that there was a unique magic to oral storytelling. It’s impossible to peg down a single “truth” in those tales when everyone remembers the narrative differently. Perhaps that’s why those stories have always stuck with me most. Just recently, when I was asked which version of the 1001 Nights I used as inspiration for my Arab-inspired fantasy debut, my answer was “the versions my dad used to tell me and my sister as kids.”

The true power of a story is in the telling, and the “truth” that someone takes away from that story is dependent on their own lived experience. When I set out to write The Stardust Thief, I wanted to pay homage to the 1001 Nights and to Arab oral tales as I had experienced them. With that goal came a desire to write a fantasy that was a love letter to my Arab heritage.

Why a fantasy?

First, I’ve always thought the SFF genre is an evocative landscape for exploring the murky spaces between truths and lies—it allows authors and readers to examine human truths from a distance and through fantastical concepts that can both enchant and critique.

Second, I looked for these fantastical stories as a kid. In the Kuwait libraries, in the bookstores, online—I yearned to see nuanced depictions of Arab culture in fantasy that went beyond “exotic.” Many of the Arab-coded characters I read were portrayed as unfortunate archetypes: villains or barbarians who existed within a hostile, unhospitable desert environment. I was constantly searching for books that had rep that felt…real.

It wasn’t until much later that I started to find these books, rare as they were. The first time I saw Arabic words in a popular fantasy, I was overjoyed. I can understand those words, I thought. It was a magical moment, to feel like I was being spoken to.

That joy—that pride in my heritage—lies at the heart of The Stardust Thief. But this story isn’t just a love letter to oral storytelling. As I was remembering these old tales I’d grown up with, I mused a lot on the idea of stories as a bridge between truth and fiction.

When I sat down to write, I decided I wanted to explore that in-between space in my writing. In the world of The Stardust Thief, the lines between story and reality blur. Was the man who trapped the jinn in the mythical magic lamp righteous or evil? Is the King of the Forty Thieves, a famed jinn hunter, a hero or a villain? Depending on who you ask in the story, the answer changes.

And the same is true of our reality. The truth is slippery, and everyone is a storyteller. Even written stories evolve and, just like a game of Telephone, the meaning of the story changes with the reader.

Culture is a palimpsest of lived experiences, not just a single story told repeatedly. The Stardust Thief is a very personal story for me, but I hope that it inspires pride (for those who see echoes of their lived experiences in it) or wonder (for those seeing a new perspective) in the culture that inspired it.

The Stardust Thief is a quest narrative, but it’s also a story about stories—the ones we tell ourselves and the ones others tell about us. It’s a story about how those narratives shape us, and why remembering and sharing them is important. It’s a high fantasy, but the world and culture are inspired by my heritage. It’s an in-between place, a story between personal truths and fiction.

I’m excited to add my voice, as an American-Arab woman, to a genre that simultaneously encourages readers to suspend their disbelief and to expand their worldview. This is becoming even more true as the Adult SFF sphere becomes more inclusive, opening doors to voices from different backgrounds and cultures. (Which I hope to see even more of in the future!)

The true power of a story is in the telling. We’ve always told fantastical stories to make sense of the world, and it will be a joy to see—and an honor to participate in—the future of those evolving narratives.

Photo of Chelsea Abdullah Chelsea Abdullah is an American-Kuwaiti writer born and raised in Kuwait, where she grew up listening to stories about mysterious desert creatures and wily (only sometimes likable) heroes. Consumed by wanderlust, she has put down roots in various states. After earning her MA in English at Duquesne University, she moved to New York, where she currently lives. When not immersed in her own fictional worlds, she spends her free time playing video games, doodling characters, and hoarding books she doesn’t have the shelf space for.

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Thank you so much to all of last week’s guests for another great week of Women in SF&F Month 2022!

The third week of guest posts starts tomorrow and runs through Friday. But before announcing the schedule, here are last week’s essays in case you missed any of them.

All of the guest posts from April 2022 can be found here, and last week’s guest posts were:

And there will be more guest posts throughout the week, starting tomorrow morning! This week’s guest posts are by:

Women in SF&F Month 2022 Week 3 Graphic

April 18: Chelsea Abdullah (The Stardust Thief)
April 19: Jenn Lyons (The Discord of Gods and the rest of A Chorus of Dragons)
April 20: Ruthanna Emrys (A Half-Built Garden, The Innsmouth Legacy)
April 21: Vaishnavi Patel (Kaikeyi, “Logic Puzzles“)
April 22: Davinia Evans (Notorious Sorcerer)