Queer Lit Review: December 2023

Welcome to the December 2023 edition of the Queer Lit Review blog! This month we have queer rebel nuns in space, soccer camp rivals to lovers, and facing your past in parallel universes.

These books may be available in other formats or languages. Check the catalog for availability.

Title/Author: Sisters of the Vast Black & Sisters of the Forsaken Stars by Lina Rather

Reviewer: Jordan

Summary: Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing spaceship. When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the people in their care are in great danger. The danger comes, not from the void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself. With one act of defiance, they may set off a second war that’s been a long time coming.

Series/Standalone: Our Lady of Endless Worlds books 1 & 2

Genre/Sub-Genre: Science-Fiction/Space Opera

Book Format: Print

Length: Sisters of the Vast Black – 155 pages; Sisters of the Forsaken Stars – 187 pages

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Lesbian, Asexual

Content Warnings: Brief mentions of gore, sickness, and a coming war

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written

Would I Recommend?: Yes

Personal thoughts:  Rebel nuns in space. Specifically, queer rebel nuns in space. Sign me up!

This story is told from the point-of-view of several of the sisters, which works out really well. Each of the nuns is a unique character with their own reasons for joining the church. None of them are perfect and most of them, it seems, are running from something. I like that we get to slowly explore that for each of them, as their pasts easily relate to the present. Two of the sisters are queer. One is a lesbian and another is asexual. We find out in the second book that one of the sisters is Black and I don’t remember that getting a mention in the first book, which seems odd to me.

The first book has a very slow start and ends in a wild rush of action. To some degree, this works, but I do wish the story had been longer. I would love to take a deeper dive into their actions and their pasts. Everything ends so quickly and I want it drawn out more, to be able to savor it and linger there awhile. There’s a lot more happening in the second book and I wanted to spend more time with everything. Again, it ends very quickly.

The ship they live on is a living slug shaped on the inside to accommodate the sisters living in it. For example, the chapel has pews shaped from the flesh of the slug. Everything is squishy. The hatchways make sucking noises when they open and close. This might squick some folks out, so it’s good to know this ahead of time. I found it a little confusing in the first book, but having spent more time on a living ship in the second book, it began to make more sense.  

One line that really got to me in the second book was this:

“Why do you want to join us?” asks the Mother Superior.

“I would like to be a person who answers a call when no one else is listening.”

As these nuns are living on a spaceship deep in outer space, they heed the distress calls from small colonies and anyone needing help who might not otherwise receive it. Knowing that, this line sucker punched me, and I can only hope the novitiate who said it will live up to those words in future installments.

After the halfway point of the first book I couldn’t put it down once I fully realized what was going on, what the secrets were, and what the sisters were determined to do. I recommend checking both out together so you can jump right into the second book as soon as you finish the first. These are very fast reads! While there doesn't seem to be a third book planned yet, these seem very much like they’re part of a longer series. I am interested to see where the sisters end up next!

Title/Author:  You Don't Have a Shot by Racquel Marie 

Reviewer: Allison 

Summary: Escaping to her beloved childhood soccer camp after a fight with her long-time rival, Vale discovers she and Leticia will be co-captaining a team that could play in front of college scouts, compelling the two to form a shaky alliance that turns into something neither of them expected. 

Series/Standalone: Standalone 

Genre/Sub-Genre: Teen Fiction 

Book Format: eBook 

Length: 384 pages 

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Sapphic  

Content Warnings: Emotional abuse, Panic attacks/disorders, Death of parent 

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written 

Would I Recommend?:  Yes! 

Personal thoughts:  I would say this was my favorite teen book I read this year, but I read Marie’s Ophelia After All (which Laura reviewed in April 2022) this year as well so we’ll have to call it a tie! Marie has quickly emerged as one of my favorite young adult writers. I’m currently reading an advanced copy of her book that’s due out in 2024 and enjoying it as well. 

This is a true rivals-to-lovers book, which was wonderful! So often I pick up a book marketed to me that way and one of the rivals is a literal murderer and that’s just more than I want most of the time. Marie perfectly captured the feeling of a high school rivalry and how the feelings around that rivalry changed over time without once compromising on her characters or making the relationship building feel inauthentic. Vale and Leticia both work at finding common ground and by the time the romance makes its way into the story, the two are no longer rivals and have instead found their way to each other more naturally, which I thought was an excellent choice. There was no anger in their decision to become romantic, just a deeper understanding of each other. 

I do think that distilling this book down only to a rivals-to-lovers trope does it a disservice. More than anything, this book was about Vale; about who she was, who she wants to be, where she was going, and the choices she’s willing to make to get there, no matter what they cost her. It’s the story of a teenage girl who is desperate to feel some kind of control in a world that has felt uncertain since the death of her mother, and feels even more uncertain now as college admissions roll around. Very similarly to Ophelia, Vale is a deeply likeable and understandable character. She makes the same kind of impulsive and emotional decisions we all made as teenagers and that teenagers are still making today. Marie writes teenagers better than almost anyone in the game and it’s that skill that really makes her books stand out.  

What starts off as a story about an angry teenage girl making a mistake turns into a heartfelt, moving novel about accountability, vulnerability, and finding a family who accepts you just as you are. I laughed, I cried, I became wholly invested in every member of Vale and Leticia’s camp team. I’m so happy that this book exists, and that Marie’s voice is in the young adult conversation. The genre is better for it and so are we. 

As a kind of P.S., I will add that I know Marie wrote this book while dealing with the loss of her own mother. The love and care with which Vale and her siblings are written – the gentleness that surrounds even Vale’s angriest of choices – clearly comes from Marie herself. It was incredibly generous of Marie to not only share her own grief with us but to also write Vale in such a way that readers are given hope about the healing process, even when they’re still only a few steps into it. I hope it helped Marie in her own healing process as well.  

Title/Author: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson  

Reviewer: Veronica  

Summary: In Wiley City, a utopia with universal healthcare and basic income for its citizens and walls to keep everyone else out, technology has been developed to allow travel between parallel universes. There’s one significant catch: you can only travel to a universe where you’re already dead. Cara, one of a small cadre of travelers in the employment of Wiley Corp, is dead in all but eight. Everything about her origins that made her less likely to survive makes her a more valuable tool, but she is painfully aware that being useful is not the same as being equal. When a botched mission sends her back to face her past, she’ll have to leverage everything she’s clawed back, including the dark secret she’s hidden from everyone she knows, to make it out alive.  

Series/Standalone: Currently a standalone, but another book set in the same universe is coming out in 2024 

Genre/Sub-Genre: Science fiction 

Book Format: eBook  

Length: 327 pages  

LGBTQ+ Orientation: Bisexual 

Content Warnings: Violence (including intimate partner violence), sex work  

Well-Written/Editor Needed: Well-written 

Would I Recommend?: Yes!   

Personal thoughts: This book is simultaneously really fun and really smart, which is harder to find than you’d expect! I’ve seen reviews complaining about the slow drip of information about the world, but I actually loved how details were revealed slowly — it made it that much more impactful to have to think about new pieces of information the way that Cara would view them, rather than have them be laid out to make sense immediately to a reader who knows nothing. We don't experience the world through a voice narrating the most plot-relevant details of our setting! We experience it through what is most directly impacting our daily existence.  

Despite being very explicitly a book about the impacts of extractive capitalism, The Space Between Worlds isn't at all preachy. Johnson trusts her readers to consider the concept of a bountiful city that provides its citizens with everything they need – including a wall to keep non-citizens out – and come to the logical conclusion. The fact that Wiley City maintains its plentitude by stealing from itself in alternate universes is also no surprise. Cara, at least initially, is no revolutionary. She sees that some parts of her world are unimaginably better off than others, and she doesn't want to burn it to the ground: she wants into the part that's still livable.  

Because this is a story about parallel universes, it does spend a fair amount of time exploring the question of what makes a person them: is it our experiences, or something inherent to ourselves? Is it just luck that Cara has survived when so many of her other selves died, or does she have some drive to live that her other selves didn't? How can the same person be kind in one universe and a monster in another? Does that tell you that there's something kind and redeemable even in a monster, or that kind people are only one terrible experience away from becoming monsters themselves? I don't think that the book ever comes to a conclusion, which makes me like it more.  

The one place where I had a few quibbles with The Space Between Worlds was the romance, more because I thought the romance had such an interesting core and wanted it to get more page time and development, not because it was fundamentally flawed. The final twist explains why Dell and Cara have been misreading each other so badly (I won't spoil it!) but you're still left hanging on how mutual attraction has morphed into mutual devotion. I wanted to see more of that! That's the romance reader in me, though; I'm sure most science fiction fans would be happy with the level of romance. I definitely still enjoyed the book!