Trigger warnings: The Siren has mentions sexual assault, domestic abuse, and drug addiction. This review briefly discusses it.
The second novel by The Lion’s Den author Katherine St. John is an exciting thriller set on an idyllic Caribbean island, where a film crew sets up to shoot a promising hit called The Siren. In the weeks preceding a devastating storm, three women grapple with their pasts, uncover disturbing secrets, and attempt to find justice in an industry that is designed to protect powerful men.
The novel describes the events that take place behind the scenes of the film. It follows Taylor, a movie executive who was fired from her old job under mysterious circumstances and is hired to work on The Siren as a producer.
There is also Stella Rivers, a former Hollywood sweetheart who has struggled with addiction to pills and alcohol for years while at the center of a string of very public scandals. She took an offer for a role in The Siren in hopes of reviving her career. Stella’s assistant is Felicity, a young woman whom the actress depends on for everything, and who harbors dark secrets of her own. The film is paid for by actor Cole Power, Stella’s ex-husband, who also owns the island, while his son Jackson serves as the director.
The Siren plays out like a soap opera set in a tropical paradise. The book is interspersed with snippets of tabloid articles, Instagram posts, and interviews that shed light on the public personas of the characters. The point of view switches between Taylor, Stella, and Felicity as their stories intertwine and they are forced to reckon with a common enemy. In the same vein as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, another novel that glimpses into the ugly side of Hollywood, the narrative switches between the past and present to build up to the moment where a certain protagonist’s intentions are finally revealed.
The overarching theme in this novel is vengeance. Felicity is the eponymous ‘siren’ of the novel. In Hollywood lingo, a siren is the equivalant of a femme fatale. In Greek mythology, it is a mythical female creature who lures men to their deaths. This is a more accurate character description, something you will find out over the course of the story. Felicity is the central character, and early on, her chapters build up the potential for a satisfying revenge fantasy. The other characters have no idea where Felicity came from, or why she seems familiar to them. This setup is deliciously enticing and kept me hooked right from the beginning.
You will be drawn in by the pure escapism that comes from reading about the antics of unlikeable rich people, but it will become clear early on that this is not the whole story. This book touches on real topics very relevant to the world of Hollywood: the #MeToo movement, sexual misconduct, and abuses of power. Without giving too much away, all three women have stories about their lives being derailed by powerful men, and how difficult it is to speak up when the person who victimized you holds all the cards.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
All three of the main characters have different careers and backgrounds. They have not been treated the same way in the film industry. Having been in the spotlight since a young age, Stella is now in her forties and her career is failing. Her marriage to Cole was abusive, and she is trying to forget and make amends all the while battling her addiction.
Taylor has spent her career playing at being ‘one of the guys’ to be taken seriously as a producer, dealing with her fair share of casual misogyny and male egos along the way. Then there is Felicity, who just seems enviably beautiful and actress-y to the people around her, although she claims she has no desire to be one. Not only do these three women live different lives, the author shows a bit of a generational divide between how the women view what is socially acceptable behavior when it comes to gender dynamics, sexual harassment, and public image. St. John has worked in the film industry, which also makes it interesting to consider how her own experiences with Hollywood might have inspired the way she writes these women.
St. John doesn’t shy away from exploring the ugly parts of fame. Cole and Stella are both deeply troubled individuals, both having hit fame at a young age. Their histories of partying and poor decisions have left them desperate to protect their image above everything else. Predictably, the price of fame is higher for Stella, an aging actress, than it is for her ex-husband. The narrative also touches on how money and privilege safeguard men like Cole from answering for their behavior, allowing them to get away with things like sexual assault and domestic violence for decades.
While I have not read The Lion’s Den, St. John’s debut novel about a Mediterranean holiday aboard a yacht that goes horribly wrong, she is quite adept at taking a glamorous destination and turning it into a waking nightmare.
For all the gripping drama, there are some things that fall short in The Siren. For instance, the first few chapters are quite slow and you’re not sure what direction the story is taking. Some of the twists were fairly predictable, and towards the end, the “villain” felt more like a caricature than a person. It takes time for the tension to build, but when the storm hits the island, the plot speeds up, and I found myself devouring the last hundred pages in one sitting. The novel has some triggering and dark themes, though a lot of the incidents are stated by characters rather than being described in detail.
Overall, I did enjoy this novel. The Siren introduces you to certain familiar Hollywood types, but it also makes you empathize with some of them. It’s a pulpy, page-turning summer read you will love, especially if you’re into books that have murder, scandal, revenge, and a ton of Hollywood drama. And who wouldn’t be into that?
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