Redshirts is a fun and lighthearted send-up of all my favorite Star Trek tropes, akin to what I wish Star Trek: Lower Decks was like.

When Ensign Andrew Dahl is assigned to the Intrepid, the Universal Union’s flagship, he notices that his colleagues go out of their way to avoid the senior crew and away missions. Once he finds out just how many subordinates die during away missions, he sets out to discover exactly why – and how he and his friends can avoid becoming meat shields for their Captain and bridge crew.

The Plot

This book came out in 2012 and has had the chance to circulate in the public mind, but Scalzi goes exactly where you think he’s going. Dahl and his friends end up getting very meta as they try to avoid being victims of the Narrative that commands the life of everyone aboard the Intrepid. Characters have all sorts of crazy theories, and get brutal in their attempts to survive at the expense of others.

There are a few novels about characters who realize they’re characters in a story, and I liked the way this one played out, for the most part. Sometimes it hit things a tad too on the nose for my liking, but I loved the pastiche of a lot of Star Trek staples – the last minute solution, the character who suffers and magically recovers every episode, wacky time-travel shenanigans and dodgy science. Scalzi obviously loves the source material, which makes him able to skewer it accurately, amusingly, and without making me think he secretly disdains it.

The World

A lot of the world building in Redshirts relies on its readers knowing the source material. The world building is done lightly, and more to point out differences or flaws with Trek than to create a universe that feels its own. This works here, but only because the book is so meta (and because I’m a trekkie, so my mind filled in any missing worldbuilding details with trek details). For this reason I wouldn’t call this book a shining example of world building – if you’re looking for that, try Notorious Sorcerer for some classic fantasy world building, or Angel of the Crows for a look at how world building can be layered over a classic story.


The fun of these characters is that they’re painfully normal. Of course, a lot of Trek takes the time to focus on normal people problems, often as a B plot, but Dahl and his friends work well as stand-ins for the reader. They react as we would, if we were put in the ridiculous situations that a lot of Trek characters find themselves in.

One thing that I will ding Redshirts for is that when I sat down to write this review, I couldn’t remember what any of the characters were called. I finished the book a week and a half ago, I shouldn’t have had to look this stuff up. So maybe the characters are a little too normal. All the same, I didn’t find any of them painfully annoying to read about. I didn’t roll my eyes when any of them had dialogue or a showcasing scene. So things could definitely have been worse. But that probably knocks this rating down to a 3.5 for me.

Read Redshirts if…

  • you want a lighthearted novel that pokes fun at Star Trek
  • you want to read a well-written and unpretentious meta novel

Avoid if…

  • you think meta is stupid
  • you want serious or hardcore sci-fi where the science makes sense

Legends and Lattes

Reading for Writers: book reviews that take a look at how a book is written, and what we can learn from it.

Legends & Lattes took the twitterverse by storm and heralded, I suspect, a comeback for cosy fantasy. I, for one, am all prepared for the trend, and I think Legends & Lattes provided a wonderful kickoff.

Viv quits her job as a sword for hire and leaves her adventuring crew to start a new life in the city of Thune. She’s got a safe full of money, a good-luck macguffin and a big dream: to introduce Thune to the wonders of coffee. As she goes through the process of starting a small business and converting the citizens of Thune to coffee-drinkers, she starts to collect a new kind of crew. When rivals old and new start sniffing around Viv’s life, she has to figure out how to leave her old world behind for good, even if the high road has high consequences.

The World

We’re starting this review with world building, because I think that’s what made it stand out to so many readers in the first place.

The wider world of Legends & Lattes feels like your run-of-the-mill D&D setting. The genius isn’t in the magic systems, the patiently devised geography, the intricate politics that divide the area. The genius is in the coffee shop. Baldree took me somewhere I’d been thousands of times, then took me somewhere I’d never been. Not many books can do that.

The worldbuilding is undertaken mostly through tone. It’s a homey, comfortable novel that feels like the coffee shop of novels. If you want a good example of how tone and worldbuilding need to be cohesive, read this book. The tone is truly what helped to immerse me and make me feel like I was reading something different.

The Plot

The tag line on the front of the US cover reads, A book of high fantasy and low stakes, and that is exactly what we get. I think a lot of readers (myself included) found it refreshing to get a book with all the fantasy elements we love, but without life-or-death situations. I hope slice-of-life fantasies become more common, and between this and Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers, the bar is starting pretty high.

That being said, I didn’t love the plot. In some ways I found it a little…episodic, perhaps? Or thin on the ground? The overarching story was charming and fun, but I would have liked a little more tension overall. Not super-high stakes tension – maybe more of an emotional tension. The conflict that I thought would be the main conflict of the book was actually resolved around the mid-point, and I did like that. At the same time, I found it a bit difficult to buy in to how that particular conflict was resolved. So plot wise I’m a bit ambivalent, but I didn’t pick the book up for the plot. I picked it up for the spot-on vibes.

The Characters

The strength of the characters isn’t in their complexity, but rather in the fact that they fit well into their setting. I could see myself going to Viv’s coffee shop and buying a latte. I did have a little trouble in the beginning with distinguishing Viv and Tandri’s voices, in particular, and I wouldn’t exactly say they contain multitudes. But the character work is solid and well-rounded, and the slow-burn romance worked really well for me. I thought, just KISS ALREADY multiple times, and in the good way.

These do sort of feel like D&D campaign characters written really well, but once again: that’s the vibe of the thing.

Read Legends & Lattes if…

  • You want cozy coffee shop vibes
  • You want the D&D worldbuilding and a less intense story
  • You wish you were an orc ex-barbarian coffee shop owner

Avoid if…

  • You want all grimdark all the time
  • You want your fantasy a little more epic
  • You want a tight plot with lots of action

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

When a city gets large enough, great enough, big enough, it is born. And when it is born, one person is chosen to be the avatar of the city. But when it is New York’s time to be born, things don’t exactly go as they always have. Instead of getting one avatar, New York gets five – one for each borough. The five boroughs have to wake the primary avatar if New York isn’t going to suffer a cataclysmic stillbirth, and the city’s interdimensional cosmic enemies are working with both human and inhuman powers to end New York for good.

The Story

This came out of a short story which has been repurposed as the first chapter of the novel, and what makes it interesting structurally (to me) is the fact that the story and the characters are introduced at a different pace. There are 16 chapters in the novel, plus an epilogue, and the first six chapters introduce the city’s primary avatar and each of the boroughs’ avatars. This means that the first third of the novel is introducing us to new characters, while growing the threat against New York and heightening the need to solve these characters’ particular problem. In many ways, the plot is direct and uncomplicated (not a bad thing!), but the structure works much as the Lovecraftian Enemy – sprouting tendrils all over the city, bringing us individual stories and episodes that eventually weave together into one great monster. The result is a book that doesn’t have a lightning pace (again, not a bad thing!) and has the time to focus on characters and themes.

Thematically, it’s a book about racism and belonging, and it is so a book about New York. It’s not the glitzy whitewashed New York that we see in a lot of urban fantasy novels or tv sitcoms. It made me wish I’d been to New York, that I’d experienced the quintessential New York-ness that the avatars exude. It asks the question: what makes New York New York, and what makes a real New Yorker? The Lovecraftian monster trying to prevent a healthy birth of the city uses racism as a way to attack the avatars of the boroughs, as all but one of the avatars is a person of color, and I appreciated that it flipped the usual thematic script of black=darkness=bad, with creepy white tendrils trying to overtake and consume everything in the city.

The Worldbuilding

…is a great example of a soft magic system. The avatars of the city can fight their Enemy and invoke magic by calling on the nature of the city, and particularly their own boroughs. This brings a kind of magic to New York all of its own, highlighting the personality of different areas of the city. I appreciated that, again, as someone who’s never been to New York who usually sees one sanitized part of it. It was really cool to see New York’s different pieces expressed in different terms through magic. At the same time, the magic doesn’t work because it follows a set of rules stated in the text. It works because it follows thematic rules and it doesn’t break anything set down in the text. I always admire soft magic systems that work, because I struggle to write soft magic systems personally. Things are easier for me when there are stated rules, and I think soft magic systems have the potential to be so creative.

The Characters

Jemisin is one of those authors who can make an unlikeable character sympathetic. We don’t get a lot of info on, say, Manny, except we think he used to be quite dangerous – but we sympathize with him all the same. Aislynn is such a fucking idiot, and I think it every time I’m in her chapter – but she’s also totally real, and in fact sympathetic. Her upbringing is mixed with her choices both to show how she got to the place where she is, and to say how she continues to make choices that affect the standing of New York. It can be a risk sometimes to write multiple POV novels, because if a reader finds one viewpoint boring it’s harder to get in to the whole book – but Jemisin never makes her characters boring. that’s for sure.

I have a thriller coming in December…

…and now you can see the front cover. Hello to The Good Girls, a project I’ve been working on with Glasstown Entertainment for the past couple of years.

My agent first wrote to me about working on a YA contemporary thriller in 2018. I was in a final round of edits for We Rule the Night, having breakdowns like clockwork and running on low sleep and high caffeine. I was giving walking tours, editing WRTN, ghost writing a book for another client, and the last thing I needed was another novel-length project on my plate.

So naturally, when my agent asked if I was interested, I said yes.

I blame Glasstown entirely. They sent a few sample materials and asked for my interpretation of the novel. As soon as I saw the audition pages, I knew I had to try my hand at it. Writing them felt raw, angry, fierce. I hope we’ve given that tone to the whole book.

A special thanks to Deeba Zargarpur and Lexa Hillyer of Glasstown, Entertainment for working on this story with me. I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to try out a thriller otherwise.

The incredible artist whose work you see here is Kaethe Butcher, and Diana Sousa took that art and brought in a host of other stunning elements to make the completed cover.

We Don’t Know How to Talk About These Things

This is the brief history of my miscarriage. Please look after yourself, and don’t read it if you think it will interfere with your mental health.

It is Sunday, September 22nd, 2019. I’m 12 weeks pregnant. Things have been going fine and normal, so my husband and I are cautiously optimistic. We’ve told our families but not friends, as we have our first scan scheduled for Friday and besides, we’re a little embarrassed. We don’t know how to talk about these things. The whole family is ecstatic. Each interaction begins with, “How are you? How’s the baby?” I’m getting ready to announce it at work.

I’ve had back pain since Wednesday, so intense that I can’t sit down. I spend most of my day standing or walking, and collapse gratefully in bed at night. My mom and sister-in-law remind me that the body does change a lot during pregnancy. I wonder if my hips are already starting to shift.

It’s Tuesday evening, September 25. I have been pregnant for 13 weeks exactly. I started bleeding and having mild cramps in the morning. Light bleeding isn’t abnormal during pregnancy, my husband and a thousand internet sites remind me. But the bleeding doesn’t stay light. I start to worry, but I take two meetings anyway. “How are you?” my friends ask. I tell them I have terrible back pain. They ask what caused it and I say I don’t know. Because what else would I say? It may be those terrible thirties. Or maybe I’m having a miscarriage in your living room, haha. I don’t know how to talk about these things.

The bleeding increases and I call a colleague on the way home from my second meeting. “I may be having a medical emergency,” I say.

Of course she’s ready to cover for me. “What’s wrong?” she says.

I tell her I might be going to the hospital. I keep things vague; I’ll cry if I say the actual words I think I’m having a miscarriage.

I get home. The cats are happy to see me. The husband’s happy to see me. His face fills with worry as I tell him about the blood, and he convinces me to call Denmark’s non-emergency medical hotline. “Hi,” I say when they pick up. “I’m pregnant and I think I might be having a miscarriage.”

“You’re pregnant?”



Um, thanks? The telephone operator clearly does not know how to talk about these things.

The kind-but-misguided operator consults with my hospital. Yes, they think I’m having a miscarriage. I need to come in tomorrow morning. I verify with my colleague that she’ll cover my shift, and I go to bed. I call my mom and cry while my husband holds my hand. Chances of miscarriage this far along in pregnancy are so low. I was just getting used to this.

It’s Wednesday, September 26, 10:30 am. The Gynaecological ward is empty so I’m seen right away. Everyone is wonderfully kind. I get a pelvic exam and an ultrasound. “Do you want to see the screen?” asks my gynaecologist. I nod. She turns the screen toward me. She indicates the curve of my womb, white on gray, and points out the black blot in the middle. It looks like a long spill of ink. The placenta should be round in a healthy pregnancy, she explains. It looks as though this one has punctured and begun the process of spontaneous abortion. The fetus hasn’t developed beyond week nine.

That’s friggin great, I think. I’ve been a zombie incubator for four weeks.

I have two options: I can wait for the rest of the placenta to come out naturally, or I can have a surgical procedure. The doctor recommends the surgical procedure; it takes ten minutes, it can be done this afternoon, and going home and waiting might result in a hospital visit later for the same procedure anyway. I haven’t eaten since last night so there’s nothing to keep me from getting the operation now.

I get a bed in a mostly empty room to wait. The hospital bed is stuck in a half-sitting position and my back decides to punish me. I write back and forth with my sister, who’s obviously been talking to Mom, and I compose emails for each side of the family. I can’t do it without crying. The nurses who come in and out ask me if I’m in pain. It’s not pain they can alleviate. I make plans with my husband so that he’s here for the surgery. I brought a book, in case I had a long time in the waiting room. It’s ironic, really. A few days ago I was complaining on twitter that I had to work instead of reading. Now I have all the time to read, and I’d give almost anything to be at my desk.

The first few hours are boring. I read, I sleep. My back reminds me that it hates me so I get up and walk around a few times. A nurse gives me two pills to shove up my intimate parts and begin the process of loosening my placenta. She can do it for me, she offers, but I’m definitely in the ‘do it myself’ camp. I lie down so the pills can do their work, and I read some more. My husband arrives and I tell him of this new-fangled way of taking pills. We chat, and we read, and we chat. I finish my book. People come in from surgery. The afternoon comes; I start to think I should be soon. I haven’t eaten since 5:30 the previous day.

The cramping starts. Little spears of pain that make me scrunch up one side of my face in a way that my husband thinks is terribly cute, as sorry as he is. We talk about what to make for dinner. Maybe we’ll order out. The nurse drops by and says I’m next on the list, they’re doing a c-section now. Do I need any painkillers? Have I started to bleed? No, I say to both. Painkillers don’t always help with my cramps, and soon I’ll get the operation, so what’s the point?

I do not get the operation soon.

The cramps get worse. I progress from funny faces to sucking in my breath, squeezing my husband’s hand, trying not to cry. Soon they’re the worst cramps I’ve had since coming to Denmark. Soon they’re the worst cramps I’ve ever had in my life. I start to bleed – more blood than I’ve ever bled during a menstruation. I ring for the nurse and ask for painkillers. She gives me some with a tiny bit of water – I’m not allowed water two hours before surgery. The afternoon is closing, it’s been twenty hours since I ate. Nineteen hours since I last drank. I tell the nurse I’ve started bleeding and she says it’s normal. To let her know if it gets too heavy.

The painkillers are totally useless. My back fucking hates me. I have to stand up, I can’t take it anymore – but now I’m bleeding everywhere, and my vision dots black, and my hearing goes fuzzy, and if I don’t get back in bed I’ll faint. Three hours on I ask for more painkillers and clean clothes. She says I’m next in line, as soon as a hole opens up in surgery. I don’t have much optimism. I try to curb my annoyance by reminding myself: I’m still here because other people have it worse. Ectopic pregnancies, emergency c-sections, dangerous cysts. And then I forget to be annoyed because it hurts, it fucking hurts, and I squeeze my husband’s hand like I’m trying to break his fingers.

Around 7:30 someone new comes to see me. It’s finally time. We say final goodbyes to the baby that was not to be. I’m crying again, and I cry all the way down to the operating room where about a million nurses wait to hold my hand and wipe my eyes and give me the play-by-play as they put me on a drip and start the anesthesia.

I wake up happy.

The pain is gone and everything feels fine. After ten hours it’s a relief for my body to feel normal, and the general anesthetic is making me high. Even getting stuck in the elevator for twenty minutes when it breaks down is no big deal (Though not to my porter. My porter is furious on my behalf). I get a very Danish dinner of rye bread sandwiches and my husband takes a photo to update the family.

We talk about what we want to say. We decide that we may not know how to talk about these things, but we want to try. We want to be open about it. It hurts and it’s heartbreaking and it happens to a lot of people: more than you would think, if you haven’t spoken about it.

I’m looking forward to another baby, hopefully one I will carry to term. I’m glad I haven’t wallowed in sorrow over this, but I’ve found solace in the stories of my friends. Many have miscarried. So let’s not pretend these things don’t happen. They can be awkward, they can be hard to discuss. (You should have seen my friends’ faces: “What, not pregnant yet, har har?” “No, but I was.”) But talking about it always made it better, for me at least.

Thank you to all my friends, who showed me that I can talk to you about these things even if I don’t know how. I hope I can be that person for others.

The Winter Duke

Today the cover of The Winter Duke was revealed over on The Novl, along with the first chapter of the book. The cover is absolutely stunning and I’m so excited to share it with you all.

I worked very intensely on The Winter Duke from October 2018 to May 2019, and it was challenging and fun and I kind of forgot what the novel was about until I had the chance to read it again for copy edits. I hope you enjoy my sarcastic disaster duke, as I call her, and all the trouble she gets herself into.

If you’re a Goodreads person, you can add the book here.

Three Giveaways

Good evening from Copenhagen! My work today is fun and exciting, because there are a lot of giveaways going on for We Rule the Night! If you haven’t read about girls flying planes and kicking ass and fighting lots of things, but mostly each other, and you’d like to, you have the chance to win an advance reader copy not once, not twice, but THREE times.

Goodreads Giveaway

goodreads giveaway photo


Head over to Goodreads and enter the giveaway by February 21st to win one of ten copies! Unfortunately only eligible to those who live in the United States.

NOVL Giveaway

EDIT: This giveaway is now closed. Check out the other two!

twitter booksquad promo

If you’re the reviewing type, Little, Brown’s YA blog division, NOVL, is looking for reviewers as well. I’m not sure when the window closes, so head over now and fill out your info! (I don’t know whether this one is US only or not. Why not give it a go, my international friends?)

Newsletter Giveaway

It has come to my attention that I miiiight have an extra Advance Reader Copy or two lying around, just waiting for a loving home. Who should I give it to?

If your answer was, me, me! then you should definitely sign up for my newsletter. I’ll pick a winner by the end of February.


In other news, April is just around the corner and I’m panicking. So I hope you’re well, but I’d better get back to writing.

WE RULE THE NIGHT gets a starred review from Kirkus!

kirkus review screengrab


F&$# yeah.




Okay, this is coming in later than I intended. LIKE SO MANY OTHER THINGS IN MY LIFE. However, I’m just as excited as I was on the 18th of December, when the review went live.

You can read the review in full here.

I particularly loved this quote:

The richly textured world, painted in snow and fire, filled with disparate, diverse people who all want to win the war, is background to a powerful, slow burning story that develops Linné and Revna’s reluctant friendship, their growing understanding of the world, and their emerging identities as soldiers who may not entirely trust the country they are willing to die for.

As I was doing my research, I was struck by the number of women who showed unflinching loyalty to the USSR despite the fact that it had (or would) destroy their families or their lives. I couldn’t help thinking about my own relationship to my home country, to a United States that I love and miss but can’t trust with my life. In this day and age, a lot of people are being betrayed by the countries they call home. It doesn’t make you less of a citizen to call your country out, my loves. We can love and fight for our countries, and still criticize them for their wrongdoing. It can be both, and for as long as we’ve had the concept of nations, it has been both.

I can’t wait for We Rule the Night to be on shelves. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to forget how proud I am of the story I made. So thank you, Kirkus, for making me feel like there’s something to be proud of.

New Cover, New Name, New Excerpt

While attempting to gather my wits after a triple shift on the day job, I realized that I’d missed out on a big bit of news for the blog – I have a cover, a new name for my debut, and you can even read part of the first chapter over on NOVL.

To keep a long story short, Our Realm is the Night has been changed to We Rule the Night, and the incredible studio of Billelis has designed my cover. I love the strength of the firebird, and the ruined city behind it really brings out the dieselpunk atmosphere of We Rule the Night.

Best of all, if you want that gorgeous cover on yourself, you can preorder We Rule the Night from Amazon, Indiebound or B&N.

What do you think of my amazing cover?

We Rule The Night
The cover of my book, We Rule the Night

No, the YA Ballroom Trope Isn’t Bad

Twitter can be a magical place, full of people who expand my horizons and teach me new things about the world and my craft.

THE JEWEL by Amy Ewing - Coming this September! - See more @HarperTeen cover reveals on!
The cover of The Jewel, by Amy Ewing

It is also full of what some people might call hot takes. Personally, I think most of them are lukewarm at best.

Examples of hot takes gone wrong abound on twitter, but what got me thinking about tropes and their value was a take on the ballroom Scene that can be found in numerous YAs. I’m not going to link to the debate, but some people seem to think that the YA ballroom scene is Over.

The cover of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

People smarter than me were quick to jump in, first and foremost to say that for many marginalized identities, the ballroom scene hasn’t happened yet – or maybe it’s happened once, and is that really too much? Declaring it over ignores what some people need in terms of representation. But, like I said, smarter people than me have weighed in on that. I want to weigh in on the value of a trope, and what it can do for us.

Some tropes are damaging, like Bury Your Gays. Some tropes are irritating, like romantic problems that can be solved by simple explanation, but Plot dictates that the romantic characters fail to have a real conversation. And it’s fine to be irritated by a trope. You don’t even need a reason not to like a specific trope. But I argue that the Ballroom Scene is a good trope, objectively.


The Ballroom Scene is versatile. It can take place in any setting – historical, dystopian, high fantasy, space opera. But it’s versatile in what it can do, too. The ballroom scene fits at almost any part of a book. Your assassin can have a high stakes pursuit of her target at a ball. Your lovers can meet at a ball. You can have mistaken identity, court intrigue, an attempt on someone’s life – or all of those, all at once. People can get together or break up at a ball. And maybe that’s why the trope is used so much. There are so many ways that writers can use it.

So is the trope really over? Is it fair to declare a trope over for no other reason than you’ve read it more than you’d like? I think the Ballroom Scene has a place in YA literature – and beyond – for a long while yet.