After six works of adult fiction, Kathe Koja turned her talents to YA and published seven novels for young readers, then in 2010 fused the best of both worlds, dazzling grown-ups with a daring literary adventure, Under the Poppy [Kindle], a gay love story set in a brothel in Brussels in the 1870s. Exploring the lives of prostitutes and puppeteers she earned comparisons with Angela Carter and praise like this:
Library Journal: "Despite all the trappings of puppets, sex shows, stabbings, and drawing-room treachery, this is a love story about how, sometimes despite themselves, Rupert, Istvan, and their friends have created a family. . . . she creates an atmospheric tale for those who like their historical fiction on the dark and lurid side. Those readers who enjoyed Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin or Sarah Water’s Fingersmith will find similar themes."
Publishers Weekly: "A page turner with riveting language and close attention to sensory detail. Set in late 19th-century Brussels, the story follows the adventures of puppeteer Istvan and brothel owner Rupert who bond as friends and lovers."
Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Koja can pack a lot Dickensian humor into a sentence . . . [she] takes a page from Victorian lit in her writerliness, and she reveals human nature like someone slipped her the manual."
Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing: "This book made me drunk. Koja’s language is at its poetic best, and the epic drama had me digging my nails into my palms. It’s like a Tom Waits hurdy-gurdy loser’s lament come to life, as sinister as a dark circus."
Last week, to too little fanfare, she published the sequel The Mercury Waltz. Having chosen the earlier book for Thebes' queer lit poll, Tom Cardamone says of Istvan & Rupert's continuing story, "If Dickens had a penchant for opium and sodomy he might have given us a world as rich as The Mercury Waltz, but only Kathe Koja could wholly deliver these goods. This beguiling, complex, urban tale of rueful economies, of how the puppet strings of love and lust are forever entangled, is simply inimitable."