There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Delilah S. Dawson—aka Lila Bowen, aka Ava Lovelace—but it’s a damn shame if you haven’t. I first encountered her a little over two years ago when she did a guest blog for John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” series for her then new book Servants of the Storm. She wrote about how writing a character like Dovey, one strong enough to stand up for herself and refuse to accept violence, manipulation, and abuse, was a means of catharsis for the terrible things that happened to Dawson at a young woman. Not only did the book sound like exactly the kind of fantasy story I’d always wanted, but Dawson herself was the kind of author, kind of woman I knew I needed to get to know better. Within days I’d followed her on Twitter and consumed Servants of the Storm and added everything else she’d written to my To Read pile.
Outside producing some of the best underappreciated books of the last few years, she also teaches writing classes and workshops, blogs thoughtfully about the craft of writing, and speaks out on topics like grief, depression, and sexual assault. Her stories are all over the subgenre map in the best way possible while remaining solidly in the realm of SFF. Dawson writes with bite, passion, and all the intensity of a geek bubbling with excitement over some obscure piece of fandom. She inspires me to be a better writer and to tell my own stories without worrying about what publishers or booksellers might scoff at.
I am absolutely delighted to introduce you to your new author obsession. The TL;DR version is go buy Servants of the Storm and Wake of Vultures immediately and thank me later, but don’t stop there. Delilah S. Dawson has a ton of great stories just waiting for you to pick up.
Teens With Guns
Frankly I’m shocked the CW hasn’t picked up the rights to Hit or its sequel Strike. The series is right up their alley, what with the dystopian future, disappointing parents, and a pack of underachieving teenagers rebelling against corrupt adults. Valor National Bank secretly added a line of fine print to all their credit card contracts that more or less allows them complete ownership over everyone and everything. Those with debt can either pay it off or be executed by other debtors pressed into service. One of those newly minted assassins Patsy, and things get tricky for her when she starts to recognize the names on her list and gets all heart-eyed over Wyatt, the last name on her hit list. Dawson doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter or intense imagery in her YA, and that’s to her credit. I work with teenagers all day every day and too much of the fiction aimed at them is way too coddling. Hit is violent and intense, but only the faint of heart will find it overwhelming.
Servants of the Storm is, if you haven’t already guessed by now, my all-time favorite book by Dawson. At the time it was the first book I can remember reading in ages with a biracial girl as the lead, and as a biracial girl, I deeply related to Dovey. Some of Dawson’s other work plays hard and fast with romance, but here she takes the love triangle trope all too common in YA fiction and shatters it. Dovey doesn’t let the two boys vying for her attention to cloud her judgement, boss her around, or fuel her motivation. She takes on her parents, demons, and ghosts with a determination worth admiring, but Dawson never lets her become a superhero either. Dovey is, after all, a teenager, and Dawson makes sure we see her weaker, frightened side to remind us how human she really is (or is she???).
Western? Check. Magic and mythology? Check. Cracking good story? Check. Diverse characters? Check check check! In Wake of Vultures, Nettie Lonesome is a half-Black, half-Native American, trans, genderqueer teenager who escapes from her enslavement on a white-owned farm to become first a cowboy, then a federal marshal, and finally the Chosen One. She is full of piss and vinegar and ready to fight for what she believes is right even if she doesn’t think she’ll win. She floats in the confusing, undefinable state of being both and neither at the same time. She is Black and Native yet at home with neither culture, female except when she feels more comfortable as male, a slave until she becomes a warrior, fearful and cowering until she learns to cut with a knife as much as with her words. She plays no stereotype and rejects all efforts to force them on her. She undergoes some frightening experiences and comes out the other side a new person. Nettie is fire and ice and a punch to the face and I think I’m in love. The sequel, A Conspiracy of Ravens, releases October 11.
Wicked as They Come is the first full-length book in the Blud series, but there are nearly a dozen novels and short stories published that take place in the fantastical realm of Sang. There, the population is comprised of humans (“Pinkies”) and vampires (“Bludmen”). A nurse named Tish gets pulled into the world through a charmed necklace and finds herself in the middle of a political rivalry between the sinister Mayor of Manchester and the bloodsucking handsome devil named Criminy Stain. Part steampunk with a circus twist and part paranormal romance, Tish and Criminy flirt nearly as much as they fight magical elements. And, like all of Dawson’s stories, there’s quite a bit of depth to the story, like when Tish explores a budding new relationship after barely escaping an abusive one. There’s a great short story called “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys” in the anthology Three Slices—which also includes stories by Kevin Hearne and Chuck Wendig—that makes a great entry point to Dawson’s take on carniepunk, but Wicked as They Come really lets you explore the world.
Lumberfox is the first in a “geekrotica” trilogy written under the nom de plume Ava Lovelace (the third not due out until she’s wrapped on her contract work). This ebook novelette is a fun, sexy little number. Tara and Ryon are unexpectedly brought together by a blizzard turning their southern city into “Hothlanta.” Geek puns add pleasant kick to the spicier elements and bring a unique twist to an old genre. Erotica tends to take itself way too seriously yet is also often mocked and disregarded by non-fans. Partly because it’s a genre written, generally speaking, for women and by women, but also because the main thrust of the plot comes from all that thrusting (all puns intended). With Lumberfox, Dawson leavens all the heady erotic elements—and my goodness is the story erotic—with sparky humor and makes erotica fun to read again.
In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…
Remember that scene in Maz’s cantina where the woman in the black and white outfit, Bazine Netal, alerted the First Order to the presence of the Resistance and BB-8? The novella Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon tells her story, and although it isn’t directly related to the events of The Force Awakens, I’ll gladly take any opportunity to explore this new version of Lucas’ universe. Bazine is a merc hired to acquire a suitcase from an out-of-commission stormtrooper and things go awry from the get-go. It’s spy caper in science fiction disguise with just enough action to keep it going and a great twist at the end. In Dawson’s hand, a throwaway character becomes interestingly complex and her story deserves a longer tale. If Disney decides to go full Expanded Universe again with books and other worldbuilding stories, I’d love to see Dawson get the chance to craft a full-length novel with Bazine at the center.
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.