Cover Image: Luda

Luda

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I've given this one some consideration and I just don't think it was a good fit for me as a reader. I've been a fan of Morrison's comics and graphic novels for years and expected a different outcome when I chose this book but I don't think that's on me or the author here.
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I love Grant Morrison and his writing, I’ve been a fan of his for years and have been following his comic book career. That being said this book wasn’t what I expected and it caught me off guard. While his writing is still great, in my opinion, I didn’t really enjoy this book. I couldn’t really get into it.
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It was difficult to get into this. The main character is a drag queen and it's written in first person... that personality with that writing style is too much. The fabulousness of it all overshadows the narrative. I've liked some of the author's comicbook work, but I guess when it's all words and no pictures, it's just too much.
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Source of book: NetGalley (thank you)
Relevant disclaimers: None
Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author.

Oh Jesus Christ, I have no idea how to even begin to review this book.

There’s an episode of the (now very old) Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry adaptations of Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster books, where Laurie (as Wooster) is seated at the piano, trying to teach himself “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. After failures to get past the opening lines, he turns to Fry (as Jeeves) and says something like, ‘This Irving Berlin fellow seems to have come a bit of a cropper, Jeeves. Too many words, not enough notes.”

And regardless of every other complicated thing going on with Luda I think this probably sums up its main issue for me. Too many words, not enough notes. Because there are a lot of words in this book. And, yes, there’s intentionally a lot of words in the book—the whole vibe is essentially the drag queen protagonist confiding in (or lying to?) the reader as she puts her make-up on before the mirror—but I honestly can’t tell if there was enough going on underneath them that all 135,000 of them were strictly speaking necessary. 

Again, I understand that there was a particular effect Grant Morrison was going for with the digressions and the rambling, the high concept language and the stylistic flourishes, but there’s part of me that is convinced the same thing could have been achieved with, say, 120,000 words.

In any case, Luda is part mystery, part mindfuck, part history, part confessional, part bullshit. Its narrator is Luci LaBang, an ageing drag queen whose career has been presently revived via a starring role in a meta pantomime called The Phantom of the Pantomime. When their Principle Boy (a role traditionally played by a girl) is mysteriously hospitalised, a mysterious young woman calling herself Luda turns up to audition and mysteriously proves by far the best prospect for the role. From her first introduction, there are questions surrounding Luda’s gender identity: the director assumes she’s a trans woman, Luci concludes she’s a drag queen. As it turns out, she’s sort of both and neither, and Luci ends up taking her under her wing. The dynamic between the two characters is immediately intense and complicated, with Luci half-desiring Luda, and half just wanting to be her, or at the very least to be young and beautiful herself again. Luda, meanwhile, wants to learn Luci’s secrets—less, perhaps, than to live as a woman (or a drag queen) but to, as she says, disappear inside someone. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast of the pantomime seems to falling prey to various accidents and disasters, Luda’s relationship with Luci, is growing increasingly messy and the secrets of Luda’s past may well be over-spilling into the present.

As summaries go, that barely scrapes the surface of what’s happening in this book. We learn about Luci’s past, there are lengthy (and, if I’m honest, somewhat laboured) digressions into the exact action of the pantomime itself, shades of Oedipus, Arthurian legend, and All About Eve, as well as the history of the fictional (fictionalised?) city of Gasglow where the story takes place. I should also say, this is—loosely—a speculative fiction story. While the world itself feels like a close echo of our own, there are small, de-stabilising differences and also, err, literal magic. Most specifically, the Glamour which, as well as being a metaphor, is also the force that inspires and, to some degree, drives Luci: “the original name for magic, for spells made of words and intent— was the dazzling cloak we threw over the ordinary world to make it shine and dance and live up to its potential.”

Sidenote: I’m going to use the pronoun she/her for both Luci and Luda. This is a simplification of both their identities but it’s the best I can do.

Luda is … Luda is fun, dazzling, exhausting, camp, shameless, and absolutely, categorically too much. Which is either a bug or a feature, depending on your perspective, and how many of those 135,000 words you’ve ploughed through. There’s also what read to me as a fair amount of pulling Alan Moore’s pigtails, about which your mileage may vary. To be honest, there’s a fair bit that mildly grated on me with Luda. It’s determined to prove that its cleverer than you at all costs. There’s a lot of stuff that is really just Grant Morrison being Grant Morrison. And while drag queens are not known for their (to use a tired phrase) political correctness, there were moments when I felt that Luci’s Twitter-baiting observations weren’t actually serving any purpose. By which I mean, they weren’t funny, thought-provoking, or challenging. For example, the constant fatphobia towards her director was just plain *boring*. He’s overweight, and that makes him unhealthy, we get it. More to the point, these sections stand in stark contrast to when Luci is actually doing something to deconstruct the mores she finds restrictive or hypocritical (or at the very least being witty about it all). The thing is, I am aware, that Luda is basically a book about being problematic and what that means: a book, ironically, about if it is a problem to be problematic. It’s just that’s quite a narrative tightrope to navigate; and an impossibly subjective one. 

Also (and this is the mildest of spoilers, but only mild because the context matters) I’m not sure how I feel about a book that wants to show off this hard at me hinging one of its plot twists on whether a particular character can tuck effectively. This, Luci insists, is the ‘grand mystere’ and … uh. This sounds pedantic of me, but I’m pretty sure it’s not. Like you can find a good tutorial for that trivially easily. And I think that sort of highlights one of the difficulties of books that are trying to deliberate transgress your boundaries or startle your sensibilities: sometimes they just plain don’t and then everybody is left as feeling as awkward as a wayward bollock.

Ultimately, I’m still not sure how much I enjoyed the act of reading Luda. It dazzled me (how could a book that opens with an epigraph from Idylls of the King and casually throws out lines like “Our lives are rock hard candy with one word—Irony—written in sour sugar icing all the way down to the hole in the centre of everything” not dazzle me) but it also slightly wearied me. I suspect a lot of how people will feel about Luda comes down to how much time they have for Grant Morrison: and, as someone who has a distinctly moderate amount of time for Grant Morrison I felt I was probably the audience least served by the book as it currently stands. If you love Grant Morrison you’ll find plenty of the things you love about them (arguably to excess) and if you hate them you’ll find plenty of the things you hate about them (once again, arguably to excess). 

Retrospectively, though, I have found myself thinking about the book a lot, and talking about it a lot … and my admiration for, if nothing else, its fearlessness has only grown. As I said above, Luda is a book about being problematic, but it’s also a book about (and perhaps even a celebration of) unreliability. Not just of art, history, and narrative, but of selfhood and identity. It is, after all, a story about two gender ambiguous, lying protagonists. And, look, it is not for me to sit here and try to entangle all the ways either this book’s portrayal of gender, and possibly Grant Morrison themself, run contrary to current discourse. For a start, it would take hours. But I am, honestly, increasingly troubled by what feels like a tendency, especially in the places where such discourse flourishes, to seek a universal right and wrong for something as unique and as subjective as identity. To subsume individual truth in group consensus. I read a lot of queer books this year that presented queerness in very specific ways. Ways that ultimately left me feeling alienated. I didn’t necessarily feel more spoken to by Luda, but I felt spoken to by its exultant defiance. 

I would never try to argue that Luda doesn’t have the capacity to be a hurtful book, either individually or more broadly—Luda herself, a deceptive, murderous, maybe trans woman, is just a mess of tropes that play, shall we say, complicatedly in a transphobic world—but it is also a book fully conscious of its own subjectivities. It might not be your truth; indeed it might be nobody’s truth except Grant Morrison’s. But I think we need to get better at accepting that identity—like a book—can and should contain multiple truths. Because none of this is simple.
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A tremendous feat by an artist who is not only a maestro of comics but a full-blown master of speculative fiction across multiple mediums. LUDA, the tale of the mystical, sexual and above all human bond between the members of an occultist drag theater troupe in Glasgow, should prove to any remaining comics skeptics that Grant Morrison, in any medium, is an inventive storyteller, a tremendous wit and an empath of the highest order. In a time when the queer community is under relentless and unjust attack from the pub to the corridors of power, a novel like LUDA is even more resonant and important.
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good book and really enjoyed the characters and their journey. I liked the romance.. I enjoyed how the characters grew in the book and what happened.
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Based on the description, I was eager to read this book. I really tried to enjoy this book.  However, I found it difficult to get engaged.  The writing is dense, making it hard to immerse myself in the plot.  I got about a third ofvthe way through before giving up.

Thanks to Netgalley and tge publishers for the ARC.  This is my honest review.
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I know Grant Morrison primarily as a comics writer, but was very pleased to discover the (sur)realism of his prose. Ideal for readers who are familiar with him or getting to know his work for the first time, with shades of Irvine Welsh.
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3.5 because it was a chore to read but the story and plot are brilliant.
This one is on me. I know that I find most of Morrison's writing to be overly verbose. The comic books that he's written that I love are because the artists on them manage to break up the writer's tendency to overexplain and expound with action on the panels. This novel sadly lacks those much needed breaks.  
Luci LaBang is an intriguing character that jumps from the page and continues to delight with stories and bon mots even as the plot starts taking a dark turn. The glimpses of her life before and during the height of her fame make the pressure of a younger, prettier contender forced upon her as a protege hit harder. The craziness, twists, and time jumps that take the reader through the plot add to the confusing heart of everything that's going on, which is, at times, a good thing but mostly adds to my desire for someone to cut at least 100 pages from this book. 
I realize my saying that I love the story while also saying that I majorly dislike how it's told is confusing, but maybe that could be taken as a preview of what the book has in store for readers. 

Very happy thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey Books for the confusingly intriguing read!
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Grant Morrison's first novel does not disappoint. Their writing is indulgent, beautiful, complex, and campy-- a love letter to drag, Glasgow, and the occult.
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Link: https://aiptcomics.com/2022/10/03/luda-a-novel-first-impressions/

Luda marks the debut novel from famed comic writer Grant Morrison. Their comic work has helped inform the modern perspective on superheroes and added to the mythos of just about every popular character. After a hiatus from monthly comics, fans such as myself awaited what would come next for the writer. Turns out it’s a novel whose inside cover pitch promises an intriguing mixture of drag queens and magical arts. Not my usual cup of tea, but my personal fandom of Morrison’s work enticed me to check it out.

The story is told from the first person point of view of one Luci LaBang. Luci is an aging drag star doing their best to rekindle their youthful spark in a performance of the “Phantom of the Pantomime”, one part Phantom of the Opera and one part Aladdin that’s a proven success in the drag scene. With a lead role suddenly opened due to an accident, the titular Luda enters. As young up-and-comer in the drag-scene with a devious allure, Luci becomes enthralled with Luda and her aspirations to “learn to disappear.” A mentor/mentee relationship rapidly forms between the two, and Luci begins teaching Luda the ins and outs of drag and hints at a deeper power lurking beneath it all.

We get to know the world and its colorful characters through Luci’s stream-of-consciousness thoughts that drive each page. This instantly locks into our protagonist’s view, for better and worse. Luci’s internal monologue propels the story forward and the creativity of their wandering mind speaks to a well developed character, but these verbose tangents range from wickedly witty to overstuffed word play. As a Morrison fan, I’m used to their densely detailed language but the constant barrage bogs down the reading experience. For some, these asides might hit every time, but for me they quickly became diminishing returns.

To the point I’ve read so far, Luda is fulfilling on its conceptual promise but the writing style just isn’t working for me as well. It certainly provides an absurd and unique reading experience unlike typical prose, which might be enough for readers wanting something far out there. For me though, my initial enthusiasm has diminished and I find myself struggling to go back to it.
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Grant Morrison is mainly known as a comic book writer. He has written one nonfiction book about comics (Supergods), but this is his first novel. Readers familiar with his comics writing know him to be wildly inventive, flamboyant, and prone to references to classic literature and art (as well as a deep familiarity with comic book history). These characteristics are especially prominent in his creator-owned work, as well as his writing for the former Vertigo Comics imprint. It's certainly not for everyone, but anyone who disliked that writing should definitely stay away from this novel, because it's like Morrison turned up to 11.

The narrator is Luci LaBang, an aging drag queen who has had a successful career, but whose star is fading. Then she is offered a prominent part in a pantomime production of the Aladdin tale. When one of her costars meets with a mysterious accident, an inexperienced actress named Luda shows up to audition. She is immediately taken with her, despite seeing immediately that Luda is a boy playing a girl playing a boy (it's complicated). Despite the sexual tension between them, Luci agrees to mentor Luda. This involves not only stagecraft, but also the Glamour: a mysterious combination of stagecraft, sex, drugs, and the occult. Luci refers to it often, but it's never really explained coherently.

In fact "coherent" is not something Luci's narrative is big on. It's full of wordy descriptions, digressions, and flashbacks. Even for someone who usually enjoys Morrison's writing (as I do) this book was sometimes a slog. Perhaps the most annoying thing was the frequent presentiments of disaster. They start early on, and I don't think they were fully played out by the end. Luda remains a complete enigma until about the two-thirds mark. But then the revelations come quickly, rewarding the patient reader. I wish I could say the same about the finale, which leaves far too many unanswered questions.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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I have to start by saying that this book was unique and not for everybody. This story was definitely not for me,  I never felt connected with the events, nor the characters. That being said, Luci is somebody you really want to know even if while reading the book you feel like this is something you kinda already read before.
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I, like many fans of comics legend Grant Morrison, was extremely excited to find that a novel was going to be published this year. Across the interwebs, Grant Morrison is on the top lists of writers for graphic novels of all time. It is easy to say that this carries tremendous weight. I am not into graphic novels as much as I was when I was younger but I do enjoy them from time to time. 

This being Grant's first novel, I was ready to love every bit of it. Unfortunately, that is not the case...and that is ok! This is a well written novel but I found the pacing of the story to be very slow. Too slow for my taste. I put the book down a few times and would pick up other books. I kept pushing through and by about the half way mark, things started to pick up and I thought, FINALLY! This book has some life! For me, the book peaked around this point and it started to slowly taper off back to just ok.

I am not ready to give up on Grant Morrison the novel writer. There are substance in this novel. For me it was just the story and pacing that felt a little off. I look forward to the next novel and hope that this serves as a springboard to greater stories.

I want to thank Grant Morrison, Random House Publishing Group, Ballentine, Del Rey and NetGalley for providing me with this ARC in exchange of my honest review.
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Talk about hopes dashed and a disappointing read. I don’t think I’ve been so surprised that a book I’ve been looking forward to could fall so far from even the average mark… ever? Yeah. Possibly ever. 

Grant Morrison writes a novel with a drag queen protagonist who takes on a protege and passes on her myriad secrets played against the background of rehearsals for a pantomime in Glasgow (which does have a very large drag scene in real life). Sounds absolutely spectacular, but my issue isn’t the plot: it’s everything else about this book that’s the problem. 

As I was reading this book, I got the feeling this book thinks it’s precious. Precocious even. It’s not. Told to the readers like we’re sitting there with her as if friends or confidantes by the protagonist, drag queen Luci LaBang, she is narrator, stand-in impressionist for all other characters, her own judge and jury for all actions taken during the tale she’s weaving for us, and both her own comic relief and foil. As is the tradition of novels told entirely in first person when drugs, alcohol, and crime are involved, she’s terribly narcissistic and undeniably unreliable. Yet Luci expects we will hang on to her every word, every sentence, and every god-awful tangent she runs off on. To be honest? This book is utterly exhausting. 

Why explain in one sentence what you could explain in three pages? Why stick to a simple explanation when you could spend a whole chapter in sloppy exposition? And for pete’s sake, do you have to fill every sentence with words that most readers will need to look up in the OED? 

This book is vulgar in places (which I loved), but also offensive in the wrong way in other places. I don’t know if that’s just me, being American and fond of binge-watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, but I just didn’t have the time to put up with this book and its supposed meta self-awareness and nihilistic outlook. It gets a no from me. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine for the opportunity to review this title. Owing to the 3 star or lower rating, this review will not appear on any social media or bookseller website.
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Grant Morrison's authorial voice is very present in his strange new novel, Luda. Following the story of aging drag performer, Luci LaBang, and her relationship with the ingenue Luda, the novel is wholly unique and confident in it's structure and approach to queer issues. I appreciated Morrison's nonprecious approach to identity, and wouldn't expect anything different. Still, his commitment to exploring art in a very literal sense through a drag performance of Aladdin is at times tedious and prevents the reader from connecting with the characters for long stretches of the novel. The story deals with questions of magic and the dark arts, and yet seems much more interested in the details of this staging. I recommend Luda to fans of Morrison's, but would encourage lower expectations.
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HIGHLIGHTS
~drag is magic
~beware ingénues
~all hail the manny-queen
~trust nothing
~enjoy everything

A NOTE
Here’s the thing: I fucking loved Luda…right up until the last few pages, where there suddenly is, for no fucking reason whatsoever, a flashback to a pretty graphic, very tragic animal death.

It hit me like a punch to the face, and retroactively ruined the book for me.

Until that, it was one of my favorites of the year. I was enjoying it so much, even if I wrinkled my nose occasionally at some of the cruder bits. So that one scene – gods. I wish Morrison just fucking hadn’t. It wasn’t even vaguely necessary. It came out of nowhere. And so unexpected like that, so close to the end? It felt weirdIy like some horrible betrayal.

Now: I’m going to do my best, from here on, to pretend that scene never fucking happened, and try to remember how I felt about the book before that scene, and review it thusly. But that scene is there, and if that’s something you need to know about, well, consider yourself warned.

A REVIEW
In which we pretend That Scene never happened

Luda is a shameless, phantasmagorical, hallucinogenic whirlwind of glitter and sequins, sex and theatre, drugs and maybe-magic. It’s clever, twisty, fucked-up, and mercilessly human – even as it’s simultaneously over-the-top, beyond belief, and gloriously flamboyant. It serves up equal servings of LSD, kink, shade, and glamour-queen realness.

It is so much fun.

<feather boas slung like trophies, pelts of feral plushies I’d hunted and skinned through neon-pink-and-blue jungles>

I’ll admit, it took me a moment to adjust – the beginning, the opening chapter, was confusing at first, and then briefly a little boring, as Luci gives us a pretty quick rundown of wtf panto is – which is fair, because it’s a pretty uniquely British thing, so a lot of readers might need that explanation.

Regardless, stick with it, because after that first chapter, Luda is nothing short of stunning.

<I took a step back, shot through the soul with a yearning arrow, curare-tipped and fletched with hummingbird feathers.>

The set-up goes something like this: Luci LaBang was once very famous indeed, then dropped off the map, and now is satisfyingly well-known again as the star of a groundbreaking panto/musical. She’s telling her story to the reader – the fourth wall was knocked out to make room for Luci’s ego, and perhaps her dresses – and not in the most linear fashion. She rambles, she muses, she wanders down side-tracks, she slyly reminds the reader over and over not to trust her account of events too much. And I guess it could be annoying for some readers, but honestly, I loved it. I loved the messiness of it, the untidiness, because it felt like an organic messiness. This is how real people talk – not always in a straight line, occasionally forgetting details, becoming distracted by other things, their mind making leaps of connection that might not make much sense from the outside.

I think the majority of story-tellers – at least the ones telling stories in English, I can’t speak for other literary traditions – are taught that their stories must be…must be neat. The story must go from point A to point B to point C with no deviations. Think of Chekhov’s Gun: no detail must be present that is not directly relevant to the story. I mean, think of the first-person stories you’ve read, and compare those narrators to yourself. Are your thoughts ever that tidy? That focussed? That narratively-relevant? Because mine definitely aren’t.

<In spooky stories, they never do the sensible thing. A glimpse of the Underworld’s too much of a temptation.>

Luda tosses out those conventions and sprawls in glittery glory across every page. Don’t get me wrong: Luci loves the sound of her own voice, and between that and how purple and ornate her voice actually is, I strongly suspect this is going to be a love it or hate it book, with very few readers falling in the middle. But I do think everything about Luda is designed to incite a passionate response; either you’ll love it passionately, or hate it with the power of a thousand burning suns. I can’t see any room for a middle ground.

Anyway.

The actual story Luci is telling is how the eponymous Luda came into her life and what ensued therein, and that’s about all I can say without spoilers. It’s also hard to know how to refer to Luci or Luda; Luci is AMAB but goes by the name Luci full-time, and rejects any label but queer (which is something I massively appreciate); Luda, on the other hand, has such an (allegedly) fucked-up backstory and relationship to gender that it’s hard to know if she’d identify as trans or something else. It’s probably simplest to just call her queer as well. Again we have that sense of organic messiness, the reminder that real people often don’t fit neatly into one box.

<I’m fine with making up my face; making my mind up is beyond my capabilities. … I was queer. I was a living mess of contradictions. I felt like an alien peeking through circular spaceship windows at the world and its folly. That was the best I could come up with.>

Luci spins us a tale that is fantastical and sordid, outrageous and mundane, convoluted and very simple. It’s not easy to classify as a single thing – it’s not quite fantasy, not quite horror, but too much of both to be contemporary fiction. There’s spikes of sharp humour, moments of cringe or crudeness (or both), philosophical musings and occult ramblings. It’s plenty fucked-up; Luci and the reader gradually become more and more convinced that Luda is Up To No Good, taking down her competition one by one – and unfortunately, she might well see Luci as a competitor too.

But maybe this is excused – or at least explained? – by the screwed-up backstory I alluded to? I think this is the one weakness of the book, actually, because we’re effectively lectured about this backstory; we don’t see it, we’re told it, and hard as Morrison works to make us gag on the awfulness of it, it’s so over the top that it’s unbelievable.

Then again, it’s not at all clear that we’re meant to believe it, or even take it seriously. Not only is Luci herself an unreliable narrator, the circumstances in which Luda’s backstory is revealed are…not conducive to trustworthy testimony, let’s say.

<I’m sorry I can’t be one more identical wedge in your clockwork chocolate orange!>

The only other possible critique I might have is that I’m not sure how clear the workings of the Glamour are to anyone who doesn’t have some familiarity with modern witchcraft. I do, so I got it (and absolutely adored the delicious, ridiculous, completely believable mix of chaos magic and drag and ceremony that Luci/Morrison’s put together) but is a Christian reader, for example, going to recognise what Drawing Down [insert deity of your choice here] is? I feel like some readers might need a quick overview of practical Wicca or something first. Then again, maybe magic just reads as even more mysterious and occultic without that understanding.

It doesn’t really matter – none of the (imo, very minor) flaws matter, the story hardly matters, because what you’re really here for is Luci, whose telling of the story is even more interesting than the story itself (which is saying a lot, when we’re talking backstabbing, kink parties, magic both dark and glittery, kidnapping and psychological torture, and a very unique take on a pantomime production of Aladdin). It doesn’t matter how unreliable a narrator Luci is, whether or not literally anything went down the way she tells it, because the way she tells it is just so much fun. I would happily listen to Luci talk about just about anything, and the fact that she knows it bothers me not at all.

Luda releases in the US today. Don’t miss it!
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I wanted to like Luda. 

I have watched every episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and wanted to read a book set in that world. However, the prose style is both stilted and bloated with comma’ed phrases. The book is so overlong, it feels like it faced the rack in Medieval England. Even the book acknowledges this in the first chapter.

“If you’re already asking yourself, how long can she go on and on about nothing, settle in, I’ve only just gotten started.“

I think Luda might find a fan base with occult horror fans. But, for me, it was sadly a miss. 2 stars.

Thanks to Del Rey Books and NetGalley for a digital review copy of the book.
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It is bold and daring and will have its detractors but I loved it and was left quite speechless at many moments. It is a fascinating work of queer fiction that should be praised and argued over. My only gripe is that it’s just SO much and at times it’s daunting, overwhelming and exhausting.
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I tried- this should have been right up my alley- but I got lost in the words.  So many words.  I DNF, to my great regret but I might give it another try later. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC,
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