Review: Queens of Noise by Leigh Harlen

Do you find yourself losing hope? Falling into apathy and ennui? I recommend trying Queens of Noise, by Leigh Harlen. This story of queer were-beasts, witches, punk rock and romance cleared up my despair before I finished the first chapter. That may sound ridiculous, but this delightful slip of a novella gave me just the right mix of community and gumption triumphing over meanness and division.

The story opens on Mixi, leader of a pack of were-coyotes otherwise known as punk rock band, Mangy Rats, on her way to a battle of the bands at their favorite local venue. We rapidly meet the rest of the pack/band, and learn that The Mechanical Anatomy is shutting down, having been purchased to be turned into a fancy theater. It looks like the Mangy Rats will have to team up with their rivals, a werewolf goth band, to save the local indie music scene from encroaching gentrification. It’s a punchy, fun plot that keeps the punk ethos front and center.

While the main plot kept me turning pages, the real heart of the story is the relationships. The Mangy Rats are more than a band – they are a family, and Mixi takes care of them like, keeping them safe and providing a listening ear and good advice. If you love found family, there’s plenty for you to here. But if you prefer your relationships to be of the romantic variety, you will not be disappointed, either. I won’t spoil it for you, beyond saying that the romance is handled very nicely, with a pleasing blend of obliviousness and self-awareness in equal measure.

Because almost the entire cast is queer (one major character might be straight and cisgendered, but it remains unconfirmed), nobody is left as the sole representative of their sexuality or gender. We have multiple non-binary characters, multiple lesbians, and multiple trans characters (that we know of). This lets each of them be individuals, rather than having to carry the weight of an entire identity. I’m not surprised that Harlen has created the punk queer community that these characters (not to mention readers) deserve, but I still thoroughly appreciated their efforts.

As I’ve said, Queens of Noise is a hopeful book. Not because it posits a world without manipulation and cruelty, but because it shows us characters who fight back without letting it harden their hearts. Mixi knows perfectly well that society can be heartless and that success is not guaranteed, yet she still tries to save the people and places that are important to her. She loves despite the fear of getting hurt. That’s the kind of hope that really feeds me, and I think it will feed you, too.