Review: Human Enough by E.S. Yu // a lovely and diverse vampire romance

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

44594522._sy475_

When Noah Lau joined the Vampire Hunters Association, seeking justice for his parents’ deaths, he didn’t anticipate ending up imprisoned in the house of the vampire he was supposed to kill—and he definitely didn’t anticipate falling for that vampire’s lover.

Six months later, Noah’s life has gotten significantly more complicated. On top of being autistic in a world that doesn’t try to understand him, he still hunts vampires for a living…while dating a vampire himself. Awkward. Yet Jordan Cross is sweet and kind, and after braving their inner demons and Jordan’s vicious partner together, Noah wouldn’t trade him for the world.

But when one of Jordan’s vampire friends goes missing and Noah’s new boss at the VHA becomes suspicious about some of his recent cases, what starts off as a routine paperwork check soon leads Noah to a sinister conspiracy. As he investigates, he and Jordan get sucked into a deadly web of intrigue that will test the limits of their relationship—and possibly break them. After all, in a world where vampires feed on humans and humans fear vampires, can a vampire and a vampire hunter truly find a happy ending together?

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★

I really loved this book and I’m not finding anything I didn’t like about it, which is rare. I’m normally not even one to love vampire stories but this sounded so good and I was not disappointed in the least.

Noah is a vampire hunter who gets trapped in an old vampire’s house, and there he meets the vampire’s partner (although he’s a victim of his abuse too), also a vampire who’s been turned unwillingly.

The story takes place both in the past and in the present and while at first I was scared this was going to feel a bit disruptive of the action in both timelines, I didn’t find that was the case at all. If anything it just made me more eager to keep reading. It was also a nice way to both see Noah and Jordan’s relationship develop and see them as an established couple, and they were so cute as both.

I think this book’s strength is the focus on representation, especially Noah’s autism and Jordan’s discovery of being ace. Noah’s internal monologue often makes it clear what’s it like for an autistic person to live their daily lives and as far as I know from having read ownvoices reviews the rep is good and accurate. Jordan, being a vampire, was born in the 1920s and has been kept almost seclusive by his abusive ex partner, so while he’s known forever about his homosexuality, he still has some issues being open about it because of the mentality back then. This is not something that impacts the relationship with Noah though, and it’s clear that Jordan grows more comfortable once he gets access to the internet and is able to be more open. He also finds out about asexuality when Noah talks about the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum and he realizes that’s also a part of his identity, and that was one of my favorite scenes in the book.

There’s also a kind of investigation plotline that I thought was well written, perhaps it didn’t keep me on my toes and was even a little bit predictable but I found that it perfectly fit the tone of the book.

There’s really nothing I can complain about and I would 100% recommend this book to whoever is looking for a fun, sweet and diverse vampire story.

Rep: autistic pansexual Chinese-American MC, gay grey-ace vampire LI

TWs: emotionally abusive relationship, ableism, violence, death, grief, captivity

So, You Want To Get Into MO DAO ZU SHI (MDZS)/The Untamed…

Hello and welcome back to an episode of Silvia Gets Everyone Into Her Latest Obsessions.

First of all, an introduction, because I don’t want to assume that everyone who finds this post has even heard of this. Or maybe they have but they’re still as confused as I was when I saw my friends on twitter get into it.

So, what is MDZS?

Mo Dao Zu Shi is the title of a Chinese novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, and it translates to “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”, and it’s also the title of some of its adaptations (except for the live action, which I’m going to talk about later).

Here’s the synopsis from goodreads:

As the grandmaster who founded the Demonic Sect, Wei WuXian roamed the world in his wanton ways, hated by millions for the chaos he created. In the end, he was backstabbed by his dearest shidi and killed by powerful clans that combined to overpower him. He incarnates into the body of a lunatic who was abandoned by his clan and is later, unwillingly, taken away by a famous cultivator among the clans—Lan WangJi, his archenemy. This marks the start of a thrilling yet hilarious journey of attacking monsters, solving mysteries, and raising children. From the mutual flirtation along the way, Wei WuXian slowly realizes that Lan WangJi, a seemingly haughty and indifferent poker-face, holds more feelings for Wei WuXian than he is letting on.

I would say this description is not 100% spot-on, but it does mention a lot of its strong points.

Before we talk about the different adaptations, I’m going to tell you…

Why I love this series so much

(in bunny-points)

🐇 canon gay happy ending

🐰 non-linear storyline taking place over many (20) years

🐇 so many different plotlines and they all come together beautifully by the end (while realistically leaving a few things unsolved or bitter-sweetly solved)

🐰 music magic!!

🐇 great cast of characters

🐰 beautiful relationships & found families

🐇 fascinating world and magic

🐰 bunnies!!

🐇 it’s dark but it’s balanced by a lot of funny and cute moments

🐰 good balance of shallow + deep villains

🐇 strictly-followed typical villain arc but SUBVERTED

🐰 zombies and ghosts (psst, they’re not all bad!)

🐇 blurred line between right and wrong, does the end justify the means, etc

🐰 adopting children along the way

🐇 lots of beautiful heartbreak

🐰 investigating a mystery while falling in love

🐇 oblivious bisexual main character

🐰 …and so much more!

If everything I mentioned above sounds like something you’d also like, read on to learn about the different adaptations!

The basics

There are a few rules I feel are best to follow if you want to get into this fandom and enjoy each adaptation at its fullest, but of course this is just my experience with it and you should do what you feel like. In any case, here’s my general advice:

Start with something visual, doesn’t matter if it’s the comic or the animated version or both. I’d advice against starting with the novel because there are a lot of characters and you’ll be able to better tell them apart if you remember how they look (also, the different sects/clans are color-coded, which is nice).

• You can probably binge all the available comic chapters in a couple of hours or less before you start the novel, and to be honest you should. However, I don’t think it matters how far you’ve reached into the animated version, but by now it’s pretty far and you will be spoiled for a lot of things that happen in the novel if you watch the full two seasons. This is up to you, my personal advice would be to either stop watching at a point you feel right for you, or stop after episode 15 (where the first season —and a huge flashback— ends).

• If you’re planning to read the novel, absolutely leave the live action for last. It is an adaptation I absolutely adore and it is in some aspects an improvement from the novel, but it does get pretty canon divergent. So if you don’t want to get confused about some plot points, read the novel first, and preferably finish watching the animated version too, so that the canon plot gets solidified in your head before you get to enjoy the more canon-divergent version.

Again, this is just based on my experience and how I got to enjoy this series of adaptations, but if you’re like, “You know, I really only care about the live action”, then go for it and watch it first! And it won’t come in the way of your enjoyment of the novel if you end up wanting to read it anyway.

flower divider

The novel

33310533

The novel is the original version written by MXTX and it’s unfortunately not yet officially translated in English (although, as you can imagine, there are fan translations on the internet). You might be able to purchase it if you can read Chinese, but I’m not sure if that’s possible because I heard of issues with censorship due to the M/M content. I know the author has had to write many different versions to appease Chinese censorship before but I’m quite honestly lost as to where it stands now and can’t find the information I want. But chances are, if you can read Chinese you can find this information better than I can (and if you do or you know about it already, please let me know!).

Anyway, the novel is very long and very beautiful. If you want to know more about it you can DM me on twitter @ verelaurent and I’ll try to answer your questions.

The manhua

41832344._sx318_

The manhua (Chinese manga) is structured like a webtoon and there are currently around 80 chapters, as far as I know. It’s also not yet officially translated in English, but of course there are fan translations.

I think as far as I know this is the second-closest adaptation that follows the novel, only second to the audio drama (which is the only adaptation the author herself has any supervision on, afaik, but I’m not covering it in this post because I haven’t listened to it -but I know it’s beautifully acted from snippets I’ve heard online).

Explanation time: the novel has many flashbacks (I told you, non-linear storyline), alternated with chapters in the present. The past timeline follows Wei Wuxian’s life before his death, and the present chapters follow him after his resurrection (this is not a spoiler since it tells you in the literal prologue of any adaptation, and it’s also in the synopsis!) Because some things work differently in different formats, the flashbacks don’t always interrupt the present story at the same time throughout all adaptations, but the manhua is more or less closer to the novel in this regard.

Here’s some fun screencaps from it:

manhua 1
Wei Wuxian getting flustered
manhua 2
drunk!Lan Wangji

The donghua | watch here!

one_of_the_official_posters_for_mo_dao_zu_shi_by_tencent

The donghua (Chinese anime) is one of two adaptations you can consume legally because it’s been officially translated!

It currently has two seasons (or, one 23-episodes-long season) and it will be a while before the next one comes out, but now is a good point to start it. Since it’s literally on YouTube, you really have no excuse not to start watching it (…unless you don’t want to, but then why did you get so far into this post? eheh), and if you don’t like it you can always close the tab and no harm done!

I think this adaptation is very well done, it keeps things a little more superficial compared to the novel or the live action, but that’s to be expected. It changes some things slightly, too, but less than the live action does. And the animation itself is so good, you can clearly see how much thought the creators put into each scene.

The live action | watch here!

qorz5c

The live action is called Chén Qíng Lìng – The Untamed (usually people in the fandom just refer to it as cql), and sees Xiao Zhan as Wei Wuxian and Wang Yibo as Lan Wangji. The fandom loves them both and with good reason. I think they did their roles perfectly and truly became their characters and did them justice. Especially Yibo, who had the difficult task of portraying Lan Wangji, did such a masterful job (and keep in mind this was his first time acting!). The other actors were all amazing as well, and I love them all so much. I now see their faces when I reread the book or read fanfiction!

I like to see this adaptation as its own canon divergent universe. It did some things I preferred compared to the novel, especially how it gives more space to a few characters that in the novel have a smaller role, especially the female characters. Then there are things that I personally didn’t care about but I can sort of understand why they changed (especially in the past timeline, giving more scenes to the Wen clan, the yin iron…), and then there’s stuff I’m neutral about (the present plotline and what they did with the investigation plot).

There’s also the fact that because of Chinese censorship they had to formally no-homo the main relationship, but if you know me a bit you should at least trust me, lover of making things GAY, when I tell you that they did everything they could to convey how much the two main characters deeply love each other. Especially if you’ve read the novel, you’ll be able to tell exactly what’s going through their minds (especially Lan Wangji) at any given scene. I truly appreciate them giving them some of the most romantic, cheesy scenes I’ve ever seen in any live action ever (and, minor spoiler alert, they might not be able to show them as a couple, but the word “soulmate” might or might not have canonically used, so…)

I could honestly wax poetics about this adaptation for hours, but I promised myself this post wouldn’t be a review so I’m keeping this short(ish).

flower divider

The warnings

I would love to give y’all a full trigger warning list, but the fact is the novel is very very long and I wasn’t taking notes when I read it, so my list is going to be lacking. And as always, you should never count on only one person to spot all the triggers in any given work anyway.

This is a very dark story that sees major character deaths (although the most important one you know from the start, and you know he gets resurrected), grief, war, and so much more. If this was a western novel we’d label it Adult, and if you don’t normally read dark, adult fantasy, I would recommend you procede with caution.

A most definitely not complete list of content warnings (note: not all warnings may apply to all the adaptations, and not all warnings apply to the main characters/relationships and have the same importance throughout the story):

(highlight the paragraph to read): multiple major character deaths, loss of parents, grief, effects of trauma, self-sacrificing for others in more than one way, eye horror, betrayal, gore, walking corpses, monsters etc, war, mention of incest, murder, mention of torture, portrayal of work/death camp-like setting, mention of rape, mentions of extreme poverty and homelessness, dubious consent, child death, presumed child death, corporal punishment, mutilation, dismemberment, explicit sex scenes, alcohol consumption, mention of parental abuse.

Another no-context warning from the bottom of my heart: if you read the novel and you finish it, you will see there are extra chapters. They’re mostly good to very good, but don’t read the one that’s called Incense Burner (you will thank me).

The disclaimer

Like every piece of fiction, this is not perfect. If I were to review it like I do other books or shows, I would give it five stars because my ratings tend to focus more on my emotional response than anything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its flaws. But the fact is that this story has consumed my time and thoughts for more than a month, thanks to the different adaptations (and fanfiction), so much that I’ve been in a reading slump ever since and I don’t even care about forcing myself to get back to reading until I get it out of my system.

It’s a fantasy story set in a world and a culture I knew nothing about (and still can’t claim to understand beyond what MDZS showed me), but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the page although the novel is 113 chapters long (and something that would probably be around 1k+ pages of a print book), and I honestly can’t say that many of the books I read were able to do the same.

Also, all my friends who have spontaneously (after seeing me talk about it all day on twitter…….) started to watch/read it are now in hell and can’t stop talking and thinking about it, so I guess it’s one of those things that once you start you kind of get obsessed with. I take no responsibility for your book slumps, y’all.

flower separator

I hope this post was useful to those of you who have been wanting to get in on this fandom because I know it can be hard to understand where to start with. And if you didn’t know about it before, I really hope I have piqued your interest! If you need more information / links just shoot me a DM on twitter @ verelaurent (please mention you came from this post if I don’t know you, so I know why you’re writing me).

 Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

ARC Review: Work For It by Talia Hibbert // the author’s first M/M romance doesn’t disappoint, and nobody is surprised

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

47236949._sy475_

“He’s burning me down to the bone. They’ll find the scar of him on my remains.”

In this village, I’m an outcast: Griffin Everett, the scowling giant who prefers plants to people. Then I meet Keynes, a stranger from the city who’s everything I’m not: sharp-tongued, sophisticated, beautiful. Free. For a few precious moments in a dark alleyway, he’s also mine, hot and sweet under the stars… until he crushes me like dirt beneath his designer boot.

When the prettiest man I’ve ever hated shows up at my job the next day, I’m not sure if I want to strangle him or drag him into bed. Actually—I think I want both. But Keynes isn’t here for the likes of me: he makes that painfully clear. With everyone else at work, he’s all gorgeous, glittering charm—but when I get too close, he turns vicious.

And yet, I can’t stay away. Because there’s something about this ice king that sets me on fire, a secret vulnerability that makes my chest ache. I’ll do whatever it takes to sneak past his walls and see the real man again.

The last thing I expect is for that man to ruin me.

Work for It is 80,000 words of hot, angst-filled, M/M romance featuring a cynical city boy, a gruff, soft-hearted farmer, and a guaranteed happy-ever-after. No cheating, no cliff-hangers, just love. (Eventually.)

Release date: September 3rd

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★

Talia Hibbert quickly became one of my go-to romance authors for M/F romance last year, so I was very curious to see her write her first M/M romance. I had this feeling of calm about it that only comes with trusting an author without fear that your expectations will be disappointed, and in fact they weren’t.

The first thing that I noticed is how unique each main character is. Talia Hibbert doesn’t shy away from taking some risks in her choice of characters either, which here was especially evident in Griffin, a queer gentle giant that most people would at first glance describe as, frankly, a little ugly. Seeing how not only Olu’s first impression of him changes, but also how Griffin eventually finds himself good looking, was one of the highlights of the novel for me (among so, so many).

I’m so impressed by how many things were packed into this book. There’s class difference (handled, in my opinion, so well), small village culture, various aspects of mental health, friendship and family, and of course the romance itself, which I loved and I don’t really want to spoil for anyone. Despite some of these themes being a little on the heavy side, this is mostly a light-hearted and steamy romance that can be read very quickly.

As it happened with the other two novels I read from the author, the “drama moment” was a little overdramatic for my tastes, but even if there was miscommunication it was very understandable and not too frustrating, because you could see where the characters were coming from. It was by the end very satisfying and it reminded me that I need to read the first two books in this series (whose characters make cameos here — but the book stands perfectly on its own too).

TWs (taken from the author’s review): depression, anxiety, references to past sexual trauma and forced outing, references to a parent who died by suicide

ARC Mini-Review: The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin & Noah Hayes // F/F basketball comic? F/F basketball comic!

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

42201523

When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

From Carly Usdin (Heavy Vinyl) and artist Noah Hayes (Wet Hot American Summer, Goldie Vance) comes an ensemble comedy series that understands that it’s the person you are off the court that matters most.

Release date: September 3rd

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★✩

This was a nice comic about a newly formed and diverse basketball team with a cute developing f/f romance. I really like the art and it made the story easy and relaxing to follow. There’s also not a lot of basketball talk and the focus is more on the characters and friendships, at least so far, which I personally really liked (confession: I kind of…don’t like basketball lmao).

If I have the chance I’m going to read the next volume whenever it comes out and if you like light-hearted queer comics that display a variety of genders, races and sexualities (and if you like sport comics) this is definitely something you need to check out!

ARC Review: The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore // or: sometimes a family can be an assassin, her girlfriend, an annoying magical nerd and three dead camels

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

43263188

Second in K. A. Doore’s high fantasy adventure series the Chronicles of Ghadid, a determined assassin travels to the heart of the Empire in pursuit of a powerful mark, for fans of Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas, and S. A. Chakraborty

Thana has a huge reputation to live up to as daughter of the Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. Opportunity to prove herself arrives when Thana accepts her first contract on Heru, a dangerous foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a person’s soul under his control.

She may be in over her head, especially when Heru is targeted by a rival sorcerer who sends hordes of the undead to attack them both. When Heru flees, Thana has no choice than to pursue him across the sands to the Empire that intends to capture Ghadid inside its iron grip.

A stranger in a strange city, Thana’s only ally is Mo, a healer who may be too noble for her own good. Meanwhile, otherworldly and political dangers lurk around every corner, and even more sinister plans are uncovered which could lead to worldwide devastation. Can Thana rise to the challenge—even if it means facing off against an ancient evil?

Release date: November 12th

Add on Goodreads

review new

 

★★★.75✩

This book is the second in The Chronicles of Ghadid series and while it follows different main characters than The Perfect Assassin, you shouldn’t jump directly into this one if you haven’t read that first, because you will miss important information and context that makes this world so interesting.

And speaking of the world, after reading TPA I knew I loved it, but this second book solidified my appreciation for it (and it made me realize that it’s perfectly possible to get attached to a fictional city, and oh how I am attached to Ghadid).

While TPA was more focused on the city, giving a cozy introductions to the world and its rules, The Impossible Contract expands our horizon and shows us what’s beyond Ghadid, bringing us to the sands below and to the Empire’s capital. I loved seeing the different rules and customs, I loved the different stakes that this book’s characters faced, and the fact that magic played a much bigger role than in book one. It’s also simultaneously rather darker than TPA and funnier, and a little more hopeful. Also, camels. 🐪

TIC follows Thana, Amastan’s cousin, who has a contract to kill Heru, the Empress’s en-marabi (sort of a necromancer) and a man whose work many people consider blasphemous. When she doesn’t succeed on her first try, she finds that there’s so much more going on, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined. Also it doesn’t hurt that her healer is really cute. What follows is a rather action-packed adventure among zombies, guuls, sand, magic, sand, and more sand. And have I mentioned camels? 🐪

Thana, Mo and Heru are one of the best and most fun travelling trio I’ve ever met in fiction. Heru is exactly the type of character I can’t help falling in love with, with his deadpan, accidental humor. He’s a first class nerd, a Ravenclaw who does everything he does for the sake of expanding the horizons of knowledge. Someone please keep him away from camels.

Thana is a wonderful MC. She wants to prove herself not just as the daughter of a famous assassin, she wants to built her own name and to do so she ends up having to cross the desert with unlikely allies. My heart ached for and with her more than once, and I just wanted her to get her happy ending.

Mo is the other side of the nerd coin, she and Heru have very different principles but rely on similar strengths. Usually it’s the MC that has to see their beliefs challenged during their character arc, but here Mo takes on that role and it works so well. I love her (and so does Thana).

I’m sure I could say much more (and come up with more camel jokes), but I’ll finish by saying that this was such a joyful experience for me, and this series is so much fun to read and to talk about with my friends who’ve also read it. Even though I’ve already read the ARC I think I will listen to the audiobook when it comes out because that’s how I read TPA and it was so nice.

So, if you’re looking for a well-crafted world, a cute f/f romance set in a scary desert, well-rounded characters and an adventure that’s above all fun, definitely get your hands on this book. And don’t forget to read The Perfect Assassinfirst for soft gay ace assassins and murder mysteries.

TWs: blood, gore, blood magic, violence, slavery, vomiting, injury, magical healing, animal deaths, eye horror, minor character deaths, zombies, mind control

ARC Review: The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

42369064

Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

Release date: September 17th

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★

What an utterly delightful story, and what a gift to the world is Katie O’Neill!

The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion-prequel to The Tea Dragon Society and it follows Rinn (they/them), who is an aspiring cook, and a Dragon (not a small tea dragon!) who’s been asleep for too long. We also see a young Erik and Hesekiel in their bounty hunters days and they’re just as cute as you might imagine if you’ve read TTDS. There’s also a side character who uses Sign Language and the whole village has learned SL because of her and it’s like, no big deal to them and it was so endearing to see.

As always the author has created a rich and inclusive world that radiates the positivity we so desperately need sometimes with escapism nowadays. This is both great for a younger audience and for everyone else who’s just looking to read a wonderful diverse story and look at seriously cute art. I can’t recommend it enough!

Review: Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

39863312

I’m willingly not sharing the official summary of this book because I found it super misleading.

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★.5✩

This book’s biggest flaw was the way it was marketed.

First things first, I loved this book. I think it might have been a 5 stars under slightly different circumstances, and if I can ever bring myself to read it again I think I will be able to give this the 5 stars it probably deserves.

Before we get into what it did right and why I liked it, let me once again do the job that the publisher* failed to do and clarify that, first of all, that blurb is totally misleading. Prince is not the protagonist of this book and he’s frankly not even that important. Fairies in this book are just a clever excuse to explore humanity, or better said, some very fucked up and ugly sides of humanity. And that brings me to my second point, which you should keep in mind before even thinking about reading this book: this is fucking dark. It’s ugly, it’s triggering, it’s maddening, and if you manage to read enough of it it has one of the most satisfying character developments and conclusion of any book I’ve ever read.

To put this on Netgalley without a single trigger warning, and especially to set it as “Read Now”, was a huge mistake and a huge disfavor to both readers and the book itself. I’m sorry if I come off as harsh but I’m not just here to review the book, if the publisher really cares about feedback I hope they will take this into consideration for the next books they put up for review.

* (hi, publisher person that will read this when I send my review through Netgalley! please don’t take this review as your cue to never approve me for your books ever, again, thank you)

This is initially a story about the codependency between two foster siblings, Josh and Ksenia. Their relationship gets about as unhealthy as you can imagine, and because for the first good chunk of the book we only get to see things through Ksenia’s eyes, our reading experience can get incredibly frustrating. If you’re someone who while reading needs to be told at any given moment, “This is wrong, btw,” then you should stay away from this book. You know it’s so, so wrong, but the book *shows* you that it is instead of telling you, because character perspective matters and that’s the whole fucking point.

As the story progresses and the codependency slides pretty heavily into abuse, you get a different, healthier POV. And thank god, because reading Lexi’s POV chapters are like emerging to finally take a breath after being held under water by Ksenia and Josh. And still it’s a while before things can get better, because they need to get worse first.

What truly struck me about this book were two things: the writing, which is absolutely stunning and it completely captured me from page one, and the fact that Ksenia is given all the compassion, all the redemption, all the healing and forgiveness we usually bestow upon male characters. And I don’t know if she’s a female character, other reviewers have said she’s possibly genderqueer, although this isn’t explicit in the text, but she’s a character I feel was missing in YA, or maybe I just haven’t encountered one like her yet.

The leading theme in this book is how abuse will affect the mind and affections of a victim. How a victim is left alone, ignored, blamed even, and is left so vulnerable to the slightest hint of what they think is love. They think, this is the best I can ever hope for. This is better than it was before, so it must mean it’s all I’m worth. And sometimes things really are good, but sometimes they’re really fucking not, and Ksenia was unlucky enough to first read the definition of love from the dictionary of Josh, except Josh is a victim too and his definition of love is all wrong, too. This book does an amazing job at never victim-blaming anyone but also at showing the effects of your first, your second, your life-long abuse, because those things can’t be ignored when we talk about abuse and especially when we talk about surviving it.

Ksenia isn’t magically saved by her love for Lexi, or by Lexi’s love for her, but she’s given the tools to dig herself out of eighteen years of wrong, and that’s the most powerful message you can send readers.

There are so many other things I loved about this book. Everyone is queer (Ksenia is possibly genderqueer and attracted to multiple genders, Josh is fat, pansexual and gender non conforming, Lexi is Black and discovers her multiple-gender-attraction throughout the novel), the writing, as I said before, is absolutely beautiful and atmospheric. The faeries are seriously creepy as fuck and I loved (hated) them. The conclusion was the best one I could hope for. But seriously, the best thing of all is everything I talked about for most of my review.

Now more than ever I encourage you to read the trigger warnings and know that it’s okay if you think you can’t handle them; these aren’t things that are just mentioned in passing, they are very real in the novel and it WILL get super uncomfortable even if this stuff isn’t usually a trigger to you. But if you think you can, give this book a try because it’s so, so worth it.

Trigger Warnings: incest, codependency, abuse, sexual assault and rape, death on page, violence, body horror, parental neglect.