Lambda Literary Award Winner
In this stunning debut novel, Amber Dawn subverts and transgresses the classic hero's quest adventure to create a dark post-feminist vision not for the faint of heart. Sub Rosa's reluctant heroine is known as "Little," a teenaged runaway unable to remember her real name; in her struggle to get by in the world, she stumbles upon an underground society of ghosts and magicians, missing girls and would-be johns: a place called Sub Rosa. Not long after she is initiated into this family of magical prostitutes, Little is called upon to lead Sub Rosa through a maze of feral darkness, both real and imagined--a calling burdened with grotesque enemies, strange allies, and memories from a foggy past.
Written with a kind of gasping urgency, Sub Rosa is a beautiful and gutsy allegory of our times, a fairy-tale-like fantasia imbued with a grave, unapologetic realness.
On the surface, Sub Rosa reads like a dizzying and surreal dream. But read with an understanding of Vancouver's very real history of missing women, Sub Rosa is more nightmare than fantasy.... Amber Dawn's deft and fantastical representation of prostituion offers the reader a harrowing glimpse behind the red velvet curtain and the demimondaine's eyes.
At once brutal and delicate, perverted and sweet, Sub Rosa is a marvel of subverted expectations, a transgressive fairy tale.... One of the strongest first novels I've read in a while, Sub Rosa is a Neverland for our time, a fable for city dwellers, and a strenuous but particularly gratifying read.
A masterpiece I couldn't put down ... It's touching and smart and beautifully crafted. There were many sentences that made me stop reading just to sigh at the beauty of their simple and elegant construction.
A uniquely rewarding read.... Amber Dawn keeps the proceedings at a darkly whimsical remove from the real hurts of the world. She knows we know that pain is real, that women are made chattels, that masters are cruel. She's after a larger vision that raises questions about the entire emotionally fraught edifice of our received beliefs about sex, men and women, roles and rights and abuses.
-The Globe and Mail
The lost girls of Amber Dawn's debut novel are much closer to us than Neverland ... Little leads us into the liminal, between recurring dreams and eroding nightmares, just past that alley, two blocks from where you live. Familiar and astonishing, darkly intoxicating, Sub Rosa is a Goblin Market for the 21st century.
-Hiromi Goto, author of Chorus of Mushrooms
Amber Dawn's Sub Rosa is a masterpiece of imagination. It's haunting, chilling at points and then just so sweet. Her writing is stealthy and seductive, wise and witty and clever. Lock Mary Gaitskill in a closet with Francesca Lia Block and they might emerge with a map to Sub Rosa: a glorious mystery that creeps you out and then totally enchants.
-Michelle Tea, author of Valencia and Rose of No Man's Land
Nothing is what it seems in Sub Rosa, Amber Dawn's stunning debut novel about underground sex work.... The writing is the novel's ultimate treat, a combination of sweetness and fierceness that crosses genres and defies expectations. Channeling Evelyn Lau's realism, Thomas Hardy at his most macabre, and the Brothers Grimm, Dawn's style -- part documentary and part magic realism -- makes Sub Rosa totally enthralling.
With a sharp pen, fierce intellect and ferocious take on sex, sex work and sexuality, Amber Dawn's first novel Sub Rosa is a page-turner. Some books take on humanity, others merely relay a story. Dawn's Sub Rosa does both and is explosive. With a brashness akin to Michelle Tea, Dawn explores sexuality, sensuality and subtlety. In moments protagonist Little lingers with innocent fragility, while in others she's overthrown by a sinister force that threatens to overwhelm her. Part pornography, part pulp fiction, Sub Rosa could be a darker, perhaps more twisted, compliment to Ann Bannon's famous lesbian chronicles. It's a modern-day musing on the roots of desire.
-The Coast (Halifax, NS)
Dare to meet Little, the indescribably innocent, indescribably obscene protagonist of the decade's most indescribably juicy novel. Part pulp noir, part porn, part metaphysical carnival-of-the-mind, Amber Dawn is to our generation what Lewis Carroll and Philip K. Dick were to theirs. Sub Rosa is a cult classic in the making. Read this book.
-Elizabeth Bachinsky, Governor General's Award Nominee for Home of Sudden Service (2006)
Amber Dawn writes beautifully and lays out a story laced with mystery, hope, and magic. Rarely will you find a writer who can treat such subject matter with both whimsy and clarity.
Amber Dawn's story is a sinister fairy tale, as intoxicating as any of the Glories [characters] but also an allegory for the emotional hazards of sex work.
Amber Dawn, in her debut novel, has created a transgressive allegory about the marginalized and missing women who exist, invisibly, in urban centres. She has done this with empathy and restraint, introducing a cast of characters who are ambivalent about the present owing to their fragmented recollections of the past.... Reminiscent of books like J T Leroy's Sarah and Harold's End, and the modern fairy tales of Francesca Lia Block, Sub Rosa is not only a story about the crevices of society, garnished with supernatural elements, but a contemporary parable that articulates larger issues of ostracism, self-defeat, the captivity of prostitution, and the redemptive power of memory.
This book glitters so blackly that the characters-prostitutes called 'Glories'-can literally get lost in the darkness that menaces the edge of the enchanted red-light district. A powerful fairy tale that chills and seduces, and deals with sex work as a metaphor, an occupation full of glamour and risk, illusion and desire, and escape. A triumph!
-Michelle Tea, Nylon
This novel is both whimsical and profound, the kind of book that could acquire a cult status. Anyone familiar with the sex trade will probably recognize the author's metaphorical world, and those who have never gone there can find enlightenment of a different kind in Sub Rosa.
-Gay and Lesbian Review
The magical realism of Sub Rosa remains grounded in Little's steady narration. It is recommended for any public or academic library.
-American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table
Amber Dawn takes us to a dark and magical place in her debut novel ... Sub Rosa is an enormous satisfaction, an immersion in gritty magical realism.
A remarkable debut novel about sex workers that confounds expectations ... Combine fantasy with prostitutes and I'm reminded of Fellini, actually. Or, maybe it's what might have happened to Alice if she was a little older and Wonderland was a street of bordellos.