So I finished this book back in July and I was riding high off of it, but I procrastinated the review, so my middle-aged brain is having to strain a little on this one. Bottom line before you read any further, if you normally stay away from YA fantasy like I do, because of how samey it is (and how tragically full of first person present tense), you might want to make an exception for this one. I’m so glad I did.
This book is about Bree, a young Black woman who is headed off to college early, because she was admitted into a special program for high school students who want to be prepared for college. But Bree is also dealing with the very recent death of her mother, which hit her very hard, and she is still fresh in the throes of her grieving process as the book opens. This core of real emotion really does a lot to make Bree (and those around her by extension) feel like real, three-dimensional characters. And as the magical elements begin to trickle in, you realize pretty quickly that Deonn is doing this cool thing where she’s paralleling Bree’s magical learning experience with her grief, and I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s so well done.
Bree stumbles into a secret society, basically, where the descendants of King Arthur and his round table are still active in the world and have magical powers, which they use to fight beings from another dimension trying to invade our dimension. The secret society is chock full of white people and rich people, and Bree is the outlier (which some people have not liked, apparently, but Deonn is obviously trying to critique systems of power that favor and separate powerful people from others like Bree, so it’s well-warranted in my opinion). Bree also in tandem learns the secret history of a different type of magic that is rooted in her Black ancestors, and which intertwines and comments on the two magical systems she seems to be a part of.
But that’s just the plot. I also really liked the characters. I thought, despite the magical elements, Deonn really nailed what it’s like to be away from home for the first time making decisions on your own and thus making mistakes. Bree also tentatively forms new relationships that both flourish unexpectedly and crash and burn, or change from what they have been previously for so long in her life. There is also hints of a love triangle in here, and I will tell you that despite my usual hatred of love triangles, I didn’t even mind! Because it’s well done, first of all, and second, there’s so much else going on , it’s nowhere near the focus.
If you’ve been hesitating on this one, I say give it a shot. I’m so excited for the second book next year, and I’m going to re-read before it comes out.
[4.5 stars, rounded up after initially rounding down because I’m just so happy to finally read a YA fantasy book that is well-written and -imagined]
Read Harder Challenge 2021: Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain.
CBR BINGO: Mythic (A BINGO at last! – OLD SERIES/LIBATIONS/UNCANNON/MYTHIC/SHELFIE)