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Headley, Maria Dahvana

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1977-    ) US author who first came to notice for a memoir, The Year of Yes (2006). Most of her fiction has been fantasy, though infused with a generic adventurousness typical of twenty-first century Fantastika in general, beginning with Queen of Kings (2011), which initiates a proposed series featuring Cleopatra. In this tale her historical/fantasized Cleopatra (69-20 BCE) does not die from the asp that traditionally bit her, as she has sold her soul to remain alive; Headley's version of this female Antihero is a She figure, but far more invigorating than traditional iterations of that Icon of male dis-ease (see Feminism; Women in SF). It seems that the Cleopatra of this volume is capable of being Reincarnated, and in future volumes will manifest herself under various names. The Young Adult Magonia sequence begins with Magonia (2015), whose young protagonist, suffering a progressive congenital lung disease, is transported via a portal-like Airship to another planet where she is hugely empowered; but Magonia and Earth, though the former is rendered in fantasy language, may be about to open War upon each other. The sequel, Aerie 2016), retreats from these complexities into Planetary Romance adventures. The End of the Sentence (2014) with Kat Howard is a novella-length ghost story with Mysterious Stranger elements: the protagonist, on renting a house in rural Oregon, finds himself haunted by its original owner who has been jailed there unseen for a century (see Crime and Punishment.

Of sf interest is The Mere Wife (2018), an intensely told Equipoisal tale in which two realities (which is to say two conflicting generic understandings of the world) cohabit: the underlying structure of the tale is derived directly from Beowulf (composed circa 800) [for Beowulf and Twice-Told see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; but most of the action takes place in a world where the soldier protagonist seems to have been executed while on duty in the Middle East, but awakens somewhere in the mountains of America (almost certainly an unspecified New England) close to Herot Hall, a suburban Keep constructed as a sanitary middle-class Utopia, which has swallowed her childhood home. She is perhaps suffering from Amnesia or Memory Edit Here she gives birth to her son Gren [ie Grendel], whose father may have raped her (she cannot remember). The plot thickens and darkens with very considerable power, passing eventually into the Near Future, with both Gren and his mother committing Mysterious Stranger raid on the America which has usurped their home. Especially in its early pages, The Mere Wife is told with an effect of fluent black bluntness not dissimilar to that of the best translations of Beowulf, perhaps most obviously Seamus Heaney's 1999 version; there are also some tonal resemblances to the work of Paul Hazel. [JC]

Maria Dahvana Headley

born Estacada, Oregon: 21 June 1977





  • Magonia (New York: HarperCollins, 2015) [Magonia: hb/Craig Shields]
  • Aerie (New York: HarperCollins, 2016) [Magonia: hb/Craig Shields]

individual titles

  • The Mere Wife (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018) [hb/Miranda Meeks]

collections and stories

works as translator

  • Beowulf (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) [a new translation: hb/]

works as editor



previous versions of this entry

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