ARC Review: Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som

Apsara EngineApsara Engine by Bishakh Som
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In turns both fantastical and familiar, this graphic short story collection with South Asian roots is immersed in questions of gender, the body, and existential conformity.

The eight delightfully eerie stories in Apsara Engine are a subtle intervention into everyday reality. A woman drowns herself in a past affair, a tourist chases another guest into an unforeseen past, and a nonbinary academic researches postcolonial cartography. Imagining diverse futures and rewriting old mythologies, these comics delve into strange architectures, fetishism, and heartbreak.

Painted in rich, sepia-toned watercolors, Apsara Engine is trans illustrator Bishakh Som’s highly anticipated debut work of fiction. Showcasing a series of fraught, darkly humorous, and seemingly alien worlds—which ring all too familiar—Som captures the weight of twenty-first-century life as we hurl ourselves forward into the unknown.

Warnings: self-harm (bloodletting), body horror, mentions of transmisia, some nudity

Apsara Engine had me a bit interested from the first story, but most of the stories were too puzzling in what they wanted to portray that, overall, I came away from this book confused as to what exactly was the common thread through this anthology. The stories are too different from each other, and are too subtle in their metaphors, if there were any, to have me be sure of anything that they were trying to say. A couple of stories had some merit, like the one about the non-binary person who had a common ground of being queer and desi with a cartographer, or the one with the weird dog-with-girl-face hybrid (FMA vibes, anyone?) who wanted to have a say while her ‘mistress’ was going on and on. The others, well, frankly, left me going ‘what is even going on’, like the story about two friends catching up, and one barely giving the other room to speak, and them fighting on and off – it ended on a bizarre note. Then, there was the one about the tourist (who may have also been a queen) and her actions didn’t make sense. And the one about the Indian guy whose ex-girlfriend probably time-traveled to encounter him at a party – what was even that story about? The artwork didn’t impress me, either – while the backgrounds are done well enough, the characters themselves sometimes were disproportionate in design. Overall, it came across as lacking any direction to its stories, or visually pleasing artwork.

Is it diverse? queer women of color; trans and non-binary characters

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from The Feminist Press at CUNY, via Edelweiss.

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