GUESS WHAT? It’s another ARC! And another LGBTQ+ book! I really should start theming the days of the week that I review things or something, to introduce a bit of variety. But I went through a period of reading a lot of queer fiction and I haven’t got around to posting those reviews here before, so if you’re not interested in that kind of thing… well, I’m not sure why you’re still here, but you’ll just have to wait it out.
For real though, I love how much LGBTQ+ stuff I get to read thanks to NetGalley, because I find it really difficult to stumble across through other methods. The Amazon “Gay & Lesbian” category, for example, is dark and full of horrors…
First of all, I really enjoyed the concept of this: a world where magic is recognised as existing and mages are an established thing, but it’s forbidden. (In that sense, it reminded me a little bit of BBC Merlin.) This is all thrown at the reader pretty quickly, as within a chapter we’ve gone from no knowledge at all to our first encounter with a mage, Levi, who has accidentally revealed his power when, acting on impulse, he saves the lives of a bunch of people from an explosion. Especially since one of them is related to the head of the main anti-mage organisation.
I did feel like I was thrown in at the deep end a bit. The worldbuilding was relatively easy to follow, but without any background information, it was quite a fast start. I also found it a little bit hard to know why I should care about characters I had only just met, and I didn’t think it was entirely realistic that Byron should be prepared to risk his life to save Levi, even if Levi’s only crime was to save HIS life. It all happened very quickly to begin with, and that would be my main reservation about the pacing of the book.
The rest of it, though, went along at a decent speed, without rushing or dragging in any particular place. So once I’d got past the opening of it, I settled into to enjoy the story. There was a lot to enjoy — it had just the right balance of serious danger (e.g. the torture threatened to any mage who dares to use their power) with humour and affectionate banter, as well as some interesting character relationships. I particularly liked that Byron had two close female confidants, who were dating each other — it removed any possibility for romance between him and them, and allowed them their time in the limelight. Plus, since Byron knew them both independently of their relationship with each other, they weren’t defined by that either. That was quite refreshing.
It was interesting to see a world where a gay character was part of a marginalised group, but wasn’t marginalised because he was gay. Levi’s magic is instead the problem, as far as society’s concerned. It was unclear whether homophobia was actually a problem in that world at all, or whether it was so much of a secondary concern compared to magic that it didn’t merit mentioning, but it meant this secret, slowly-developing relationship could face difficulties and struggles without them being linked to the gender of the people involved. And I appreciated that.
I think this is a pretty pertinent book considering everything going on in the world. Magic might not be a problem for us right now, but the idea of a lesser class of society and treating people as subhuman just because of gifts is — and unwilling medical experiments have a long and painful history in our own world. In a time when we have to fight for diversity and equal rights to be upheld, there was something about reading a book where queer people did that but not because of their queerness.
Does that even make sense? I liked that their sexuality wasn’t the thing threatened. I don’t think it was even a big deal for any of them, although Byron hadn’t exactly articulated his out loud before. It was neither a happy clappy story where a relationship is cute and fluffy, nor a dark angsty story abou queer people suffering for love. It was, in other words, the kind of thing straight people get in fantasy: a relationship that’s threatened by magic and evil scientists, not homophobia.
All that aside, there’s plenty of drama in this, and Levi suffers a fair bit, so I’d maybe warn more sensitive readers away, particularly if you’re squeamish about medical stuff. When evil scientists get their hands on magic, it doesn’t tend to be pleasant for those involved. That said, it didn’t feel too graphic or gratuitous, and it isn’t a book that deals with excessive violence on the whole. As for the ending, well… it’s on my ‘unbury your queers’ shelf, but there were plenty of moments where I thought it wouldn’t earn that title.
Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit, because it had that balance of darkness and magic that draws me in. But I probably shouldn’t have stayed up until nearly 4am to read it, because I missed my lecture the next morning due to oversleeping. There were definitely some poor life choices on my part.