ARC Review: THE SCAPEGRACERS (#1) by Hannah Abigail Clarke (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: Physical ARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read a physical ARC from Erewhon Books
Content warnings: Parental death (in flashbacks), blood magic

Outcast teenage lesbian Sideways Pike performs magic at a killer party and gains a coven. What ensues is an exploration of identity, magic, and female friendship while trying to do normal teen things like go to class, have crushes, and run away from witch hunters.

The voice in this novel is powerful. There’s a bit of stream of consciousness, but Sideways has such a distinct POV and way of phrasing that feels authentic. Clarke makes this look effortless, especially as bits of witch lore and plot have to happen. The way Clarke depicts Sideways griefs and traumas don’t flinch from either the details or the underlying emotional journey. It’s so raw. And I liked the way it showed up within the narrative. What really stuck with me was how Sideways opens up to the reader as her new friends let her further and further into their circle. It’s endearing, it’s powerful, it gave a kind of joy that can only come from finding family-like friendships.

Magic within this novel implied stricter rules and more world-building, but since we’re discovering it as Sideways uses it for party tricks and later, teaching Daisy, Jing, and Yates how to cast spells, it made sense to me that it was mostly shown through the experience. The way Clarke ties it into the experience of queerness and teenhood felt powerful, especially as it relates to the trials and tribulations of leaving oneself vulnerable to let friends in. There was never a doubt that her friends would be her life line, even if Sideways herself didn’t quite know it yet.

On September 15th, join a coven of queer disasters as they discover magic and the power of friendship, told through a ferocious, fun voice all its own.

ARC Review: THE FORTRESS by S.A. Jones (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Physical ARC from Publisher

Received an ARC from the Erewhon Books, the publisher
Trigger warnings: violence, sex, abuse, child sexual assault (not shown, but mentioned), corporal punishment, acid attack

Some stories you read and you enjoy it for the story. Others you read, and you can see the author trying to process things going on the real world. In The Fortress, Jonathon Bridges pledges himself to one year of servitude to the Vaik, an all-women population living on their own land separate from the rest of society. The story follows his year and describes the litany of sins and penance.

What Jones masterfully pulls off is the kind of tale where I found it hard to critique in ways one would normally engage in a story. The prose is sharp. The world-building doesn’t quite fade into the background as immersion, but it’s there enough to contextualized everything happening to Jonathon. I found myself wishing him to get a hold of himself and nigh-yelling about how much of a piece of shit he is, but not in the way of a character in a story, but a person in real life. How he could be so complicit to so many heinous things. It seems that Jones herself is trying to understand men like Jonathon. Instead of going a revenge route—and there were so many opportunities—Jones chooses compassion. The choice of service as opposed to violence left such an impression. Did I read this book or did its thesis just happen?

A unique tale in which the path to anything resembling redemption means letting go of your ego and giving over completely to servitude.