Death/Killings, Body Gore, Violence, Grief, Abuse
Latinx-Coded, Queer (Gay couple & possible Lesbian couple, Non-Binary characters)
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed a copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Netgalley, Mark Oshiro, and Tor Teen for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
I legit just finished this novel a few minutes ago and I’m trying to sit down and figure out the words to say to write this review. This happened to be the first Mark Oshiro book that I finished – I started Anger is a Gift but I set it down to finish at another time – and I don’t know what I was expecting. It completely blew my mind and I think I’m still trying to process everything that happened and what I’m feeling towards this novel.
In the acknowledgements of this novel, Oshiro tells us that this book ended up becoming a love letter to his late partner Baize White, and after I read the full acknowledgments, I could immediately see how that was so. That is what this book felt like to me, even with all of the violence and death and despair that our characters had to go through: it ended up becoming a love letter between the two main characters Xochitl and Emilia as they take their journey to Solado, to where they need to find out the truth of their lives. I also feel like it was a love letter for Xochitl, for her to finally learn about herself in a way that she never had a chance to before. It felt like a journey that she needed to take for herself, and it was great that she was able to take this journey with Emilia.
It took me a while to get through because I kept feeling really emotionally drained as I read this. Nothing is inherently wrong with that; it just made me really sad hearing all of stories that Xochitl heard and kept within her during her journey, and how much they physically caused her pain. I could almost feel her loss of self-control, and how it was slowly descending her into a state of despair. She was strong in trying to go through her journey with this much physical and emotional pain inside her, this pain that didn’t even belong to her, but it hurt to see her suffer through it. Yes, I understand that sometimes journeys need to be difficult in order to get through them, and that sometimes it ends up building character and opens the eyes up to something they needed to overcome in their lives. I get that. But that doesn’t mean that I wish it could have been done differently. This is just my emotional take on the journey, and this has nothing to do with what I think about the book or the plot itself. That was great.
This is possibly the second Latinx-coded YA fantasy novel where the sapphic romance is a slow build, with the main character feeling like their feelings are wrong? I don’t know if “wrong” is the right word, but it just felt like Xochitl kept fighting her feelings for Emilia even thought it was pretty clear that her feelings were developing into something much more than friendship. Its just something that I’ve noticed, and while I do love the outcome, it hurts me to feel like these girls have to hide their true feelings from the world. I do think that the relationship between Xochitl and Emilia did grow a lot during this journey, and the transition from distrust to partnership was one that I liked seeing a lot. I guess one would have to learn how to work together with your traveling buddy if you intend on making it to the end, right?
I think Oshiro’s writing style can be flowy at times, but in a way that I actually enjoy. I don’t usually like writing that’s too lyrical and it feels like things are being overly examined, but that’s just my personal thoughts. This story may have taken a while to get through, and it may have *seemed* like there were quite a bit of dead space, but everything came together the way that it needed to. It was an emotional journey like I mentioned before, and I’m glad with the way it turned out. The ending makes me a little sad though, but I understand it.