Rating: 5 out of 5
Hailey Piper’s horror/science fiction novel Queen of Teeth takes several concepts and images that I have always found irredeemably cheesy and silly, and turns them into something exciting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and profound.
Yaya is a chimera–when she was in the womb, she “absorbed” her twin, leaving her with two sets of DNA in different parts of her body. In this case it was caused by the escape of the manufactured INZ9-00 virus. The AlphaBeta Pharmaceutical company now owns half the intellectual property rights to the chimeras, and they’re required to come in for regular checkups. During those checkups, sometimes they’re injected with things they don’t really know much about. After Yaya’s one-night stand with Doc, a woman she met at a club, she discovers she has teeth growing in her vagina (“vagina dentata”). When tentacles join the teeth, she realizes this is more than just the usual chimeric oddity. But when she fails to show up for her latest mandated ABP checkup, she ends up having to go on the run.
Yaya’s story takes place in an alternate timeline where Nancy Reagan became president in ’88, the police have been militarized, and a number of other changes have made the present a bit on the bleak side. The chimeras are forced to turn to ABP for their medical care, but ABP doesn’t care about their health except as it affects their own experiments and data collection. They could easily be the epitome of the faceless corporation, except that Piper puts faces to it, a move that makes it all the more insidious. It’s all the scarier to see otherwise normal people following the dictates of a three-person Board.
The body horror is amazing. I’ve always found vagina dentata to be too silly to find horrifying as a concept, but Piper makes them… disturbing, and oddly transformative. There are other images and types of body horror in here that I’ve also found ridiculous before, but again Piper turns them into something worth reading about. Yaya’s changes are fascinating, and both tragic and beautiful. There are no easy answers here, just fear, tragedy, and love.
The pacing is great, starting from a drunken one-night stand and building up to a city-wide threat. There’s a great deal of body horror, blood, bone, and terror. One detail I love is that there are no 100 percent good guys among the “normal” people in this book. There are no real good guys at all, come to think of it. There’s a great theme of bodily autonomy running through here, and where violations of that autonomy can lead.
I love this book as much as everything else I’ve read by Hailey Piper, and this just fortifies my desire to read everything she writes.
Content note: sex (f/f/vagina monster), body horror, menstruation, gynecological exam, bodily autonomy violations, death and gore.
It’s a zygote-eat-zygote world.