What a cool, demonic sapphic noir! C.L. Polk always knows how to write the most intriguing worlds and yet keep them accessible to the casual speculative reader.
First off, I must say that the Tordotcom publishing house has become unstoppable with their cover design and title choices recently. This cover + this title? It was screaming to be read.
Helena Brandt is a magical woman living in Chicago in the mid-1900s. In this alternate-yet-similar America, magic and demons are all too real. And there are "good" magic users and "bad" magic users.
Ten guesses as to what side Helena's been labeled... Yep, you were right: a "bad" magic user, or warlock in this world.
Helena made one life-altering decision nearly 10 years ago, and the Brotherhood of good magicians cast her out for her sins. Ever since that fateful day, Helena's turned to a life of magical detective work and crime photography.
But life isn't all roses and daisies for a female detective in 1940s Chicago. Especially for a queer one who doesn't stay in her lane. With enemies closing in, the law a constant threat, and an internal clock ticking ominously down to a very final end, the LAST thing Helena needs is to encounter the worst case of her detective career.
She'd walk away from that job in a hot minute, but her boss offers her a deal that she just can't refuse...
And now it's up to Helena to catch a killer before the deadly trap closes around her.
Even Though I Knew the End was C.L. Polk at their finest. Complicated concepts done simply with accessible character development and dialogue. A fantastical world with the codes and dark sides of our real-world reality. And some very intriguing twists that feel simple and predictable...until they're not.
I recommend this novella to anyone who enjoys historical noir, queer stories, demonic thrillers, and perfectly packaged short fiction. This was a fun ride!
GILD - Raven Kennedy
Intriguing concept. This entire first book felt like it could have easily been a condensed prologue instead of a drawn-out novel…. But I am seeing the glimmer of a cool plot here for the later books in the series.
Disclaimer: This is a reaction review. If you are interested in the book's plot, please see the book description!
As someone with a pulse and access to the online book community over the past few years, I'd heard of this book. It's hard to be in this community and somehow avoid seeing the Plated Prisoner series somewhere. For a while there, it felt like it have the ubiquitous staying power of Sarah J Maas—it was everywhere!
I went from interest, to zero interest, to extreme interest over the years. Fantasy romance with a lot of TikTok hype? I don't know... It's about King Midas and involves toxic relationship vibes and trigger warnings? Absolutely zero interest. But wait, it's actually got [soft spoiler] in there and involves some strong character redirections? Okay, never mind, sign me up.
It's been a journey. So I finally sat down and picked it up!
Gild is one of those books that I feel like I will never read again. Let me explain. Similarly to Maas' Throne of Glass novel (as in, the actual first book in the series and not the series itself), there are some introductory books out there that exist as barely-there prologues that are necessary evils for "first books" and then are immediately improved upon with later books in the series. Sometimes SO dramatically improved, that when you pick up the series later for a reread you don't even bother with that dull first book. (While I reread Throne of Glass as a series every year, I never actually go back to book one, I skip right to book 3 and onward.)
This was a similar reading experience. Gild had a really cool hook: Auren, a woman with literal gold skin/body parts, is kept in a gilded cage by King Midas. It's a toxic, well-worn love between Midas and Auren involving her pining for him and excusing his toxicity and Midas keeping her as his ultimate prize and allowing Auren just enough affection that she stays docile. As the Midas mythos goes, this was a very unique place to start. And it had enough world building to really intrigue me as a reader.
But then... this novel stalled out for me in a major way.
Auren's situation is the definition of two-dimensionally flat. She's essentially an enslaved sexual object in this scenario, and she both acknowledges that fact and simultaneously thinks she's more than that. And for the entirety of this novel--
MILD SPOILERS, STOP HERE IF VAGUE SPOILERS BOTHER YOU
—every single interaction between Auren and any male character was stripped down to this. She's lusted upon, constantly threatened with sexual assault, and then occasionally treated nicely for the purposes of showing the reader why Auren hasn't completely revolted in her cage by now. This dichotomy of an abusive relationship between Auren vs. Everyone was seemingly endless and, after a point, useless as a plot device.
And, problematic reliance on sexual assault as a plot device and lack of conversations around enslaved sex workers aside, this led to an extremely uninteresting and depressing narrative. I kept questioning why people enjoyed this series if this was all there was. Regardless of your opinions on dark topics in your fiction, this wasn't a well-told story!
But I kept going, because I'd been softly spoiled for some of the later elements in the books and I wondered if this series would follow another of Maas' books, A Court of Thorns and Roses, with its unique bait-and-switch structure to that series.
Let's just say that things got much more interesting in the last 10% of this story. So interesting, in fact, that I downloaded the second book IMMEDIATELY and thought to myself, "here we go, finally" and got to reading. More POVs, a new character has arrived, and the chess board has changed... I'm ready for the real plot. Let's go!
NOTE: Not recommended for sensitive readers. Trigger warnings for sexual assault, graphic sexual situations with murky consent, toxic relationships, emotionally abusive relationships, death, internalized mental health struggles.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.