It has a number of things I love:
- It's a bisexual-positive setting, with three different characters presented as attracted to multiple genders and it's neither controversial nor salacious to anyone else in the setting.
- There's an asexual background character who likewise exists without anyone thinking that asexuality is weird or bad.
- One of the protagonists is enby and once again this is presented as a fact no more noteworthy than being male or female.
- Polyamory is not quite so widespread: two characters wrestle with attraction without ever considering that polyamory is an option. But there's a background triad from one of the nations and again, their relationship is portrayed as reasonable and open, not scandal-worthy.
- There's the suggestion that one of the background characters might be trans (two women are described as having children together, but it's not explicit whether this is via magic or natural).
In any case, you get the idea: this is a queer-positive book which does not feel the need to deal with prejudice. "This is the way things are and everyone is fine with it." This approach is delightful and rare and I enjoyed it immensely.
- Vivid, beautiful imagery in describing the magic
- Characters involved in an arranged marriage who react in a mature, responsible way
- Nuanced portrayal of a difficult, problematic relationship
On the downside:
- The book has some awkward infodumps, some of which are made worse by not even containing significant information (eg: several pages about different types of magic in chapter 1, some of which never come up again, and the list is not even exhaustive: other types of magic are introduced later, including a plot-critical form in the last quarter of the book.)
- The characters would benefit from more depth and development; one has the impression of characters who are much more complex and lively in the author's head than they are in what the author has managed to capture on the page.
- The writing sometimes sparkles -- there's a beautiful play-fight between the two female protags where they're just adorable -- but more often it feels stilted or overly simplistic.
- Contains many typos and editing artifacts, some of which are just weird ("98 nfo" after the end of a paragraph?) and misgenders the enby protag once, which is very understandable but did make me sad.
I enjoyed the book enough to finish it, which is a pretty high bar to clear in my case. There are lots of excellent, fun ideas in the story. I hope the author continues to refine feir craft and produces more books; there's a lot of potential here and I look forward to seeing more.
I agonized a lot over what to rate this on Amazon, and it's still hard to even quantify it here. I feel like the book is TRYING SO HARD, and catering to so many things I adore, but ultimately the author does not have the maturity of talent to capture feir vision. So it's like "A++ for effort, C- for execution". I guess 6.5? If you are thinking about picking it up, read the preview and if you're happy with it the rest is of the same level of quality. The book blurb is kind of a mess and the book itself is better than that.
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