Queen of Teeth - by Hailey Piper
This debut novel (I know – right? Hard to believe but there it is) from Hailey Piper hits the ground running, with a blast of Sci-fi world-building that sets the background and motivations for the MCs to navigate. The main character Yaya deals with a new love interest (Doc), her changing mutant body, and a personality (Magenta) that is a living being inside her vagina.
Now I think I’m preaching to the converted here. It is highly likely that the people who pick up Hailey’s QOT already know the basics of the book (a vagina monster). Hailey uses the book to explore themes that have (possibly – I’m guessing here) had an influence on her own life – ownership of one’s own body, the fight to protect and justify one’s own body. Body identity. Society’s reactions to the (what it regards as) strange, how it does not allow diversity, the fight against individualism, the eradication of “otherness”. All core Trans and LGTBQ themes. A woman’s right to police her own body, the ridiculousness of men having any degree of control of a woman’s body and its requirements.
So how did it read?
I was on the fence on this one for a long time – and that’s entirely my bad – when I first heard about QOT, I knew it was a vagina monster, body horror-type story. Now, it is and it isn’t. “Body horror” conveys the idea of something going dramatically wrong in your body, out of your control, which is inherently bad (or it was, previous to reading QOT, in my mind). Hailey tips that idea right around, and introduces the idea of something happening in your body that isn’t under your control – but which isn’t necessarily bad and which, furthermore, can be accepted, embraced, even (although that should come as no surprise) loved. That’s also a core element of being female or male or Trans – our bodies change to evolve into something other than what they were when just a child. My problem had been to expect a “body horror” story where the change was inherently bad and unwanted – a fight to reassert control over one’s “self”, and whilst there are elements of that story in QOT, that’s not actually the story that is presented here, nor the message Hailey has carefully crafted.
As I said – my bad.
To begin with, this reads more Sci-Fi than any other Piper book to date – the explanation for the genetic mutation that leads to a split self/personality growing as a part of one body is given ample and thorough airplay in the opening chapters of the book. The change in Yaya’s vagina is swift and nicely documented – though Magenta’s emergence is very quick – we go from teeth forming, to tentacles that can wrap around a lover’s body within a couple of chapters. It’s a race to get to the point – Magenta’s personality and right to live.
This is a book of two halves for me – I pretty much agree with Beard here, that I wanted to see Yaya’s story more, but the book was actually Magenta’s story – and I get that – the parallels are obvious – something emerging from the shell of what was and embracing its power can be likened to Trans people coming out – and it changed (for me) from a “body horror” to a more “cosmic horror” feel. All good, of course, unexpected, to be sure, but very readable, Hailey writes her characters well, and I also appreciated the romance running through as an underlying theme.
Queen of Teeth has been nominated for the Stoker’s this year, and from my standpoint, I can see why – this has very real and very strong parallel themes that relate to trans rights, women’s rights, and the fight against a male-dominated institution that wants to “control the female”. The writing is lush, the flow perfect, even reading as a man and understanding the themes captain subtext is shouting – it’s uncomfortable, but it should be. It has to be. Change was never brought about by whimpers. You have to thrust issues into people’s faces to bring about a better tomorrow. And Hailey does so adroitly.
I’m giving this 4 out of 5 ⭐ ‘s, I think I will probably read this differently in the future after getting through this upcoming year, personal demons tainted the book a little for me (undeservedly so – the themes here remain strong – I just couldn’t NOT relate/compare Magenta’s emerging personality from my own mother’s transformation – and that is nothing to do with Hailey or her book, but personal life experience and the demon of Alzheimer's). I can totally understand the love the horror community has heaped on the book. I'll come back again, once this stage of our lives has passed. I'll probably be the better for it.
Good luck in the Stoker’s, Hailey 🤜🤛
You can buy Queen Of Teeth, by clicking on the Amazon link nearest to you:
You can visit Hailey's website, HERE.
You can find Hailey on Twitter, HERE.
You can find Hailey on Instagram, HERE.
You can find Hailey on TikTok, HERE.