I don’t think I’ve read a true reverse harem book before, so “Hidden Magic” was a first for me. Set in a small town, Willow has always considered herself to be a freak, having to grow up too fast because of a mother who talks to herself and swears she’s a witch and their family is cursed. Willow is desperate to have some kind of normal life as she starts college at the local school, but Willow finds out very quickly that nothing will ever be “normal” for her. “Hidden Magic” is an incredibly fast read (maybe too fast?) and just as one question gets answered, a new and devastating mystery takes its place.
Wizards outside of the standard of epic fantasy is hard to pull off. Or at least I think so; wizards just feel a bit sillier in a modern setting then say, mages or witches. But Lewis brings these wizards of fable, with their flowing robes and magical staffs, out of that traditional fantasy environment and into an urban setting. And not just any urban setting, but New York’s Central Park! The author is very aware of these tropes though and crafts an adventure that is rather tongue-in-cheek so if you were worried that actual wizards in New York was going to be a bit ridiculous, don’t worry, that’s by design!
I don’t even know where to really begin with this book because… Oh my lord, THIS BOOK! Be forewarned, this review won’t contain purposeful spoilers, but since it’s the last book in a trilogy, if you haven’t read the first two books then 1. You should go do that—immediately. And 2. This review may spoil some things from those books just because that’s the nature of this particular beast. I don’t usually fangirl in my book reviews, but when it comes to Hackett’s books, it’s really hard for me not to. Her stories are magical and full of adventure and twists and turns, her characters are endearing and complex, she gives you just enough sweetness before punching you in the gut, but then makes it up to you with fun character banter. “Ventus” pays off on all of the set up from the previous two books but with some of my favorite character arcs and redemptions of the whole series.
“Black Girl Unlimited” is the ‘based on a true story’ life of the author herself, with a fantasy-magical realism overlay to everything, especially the traumatic parts. This book is devastating, but not in a bad way, but more in the way of a gifted girl, hating how she looks because she is a dark skinned black girl, believing she is an ugly beast because she isn’t lighter and doesn’t have ‘good hair’, kind of way. It’s heartbreaking to see how she views herself, not to mention watching her family’s struggle with racism, and Echo’s parents being drunks and addicted to cocaine. That’s not to say the book isn’t laced with hope, because it is! But the story is primarily focused on the young Echo and her struggle to survive in a world that has been stacked against her. There are some very heavy topics here alongside the systematic racism Echo faces, such as: drug abuse, sexual assault, and the rape of minors. All of these topics fit with the world Echo lives in, so they aren’t there just for shock value, but if those are sensitive topics for you, be forewarned. This book also happens to be my first foray into magical realism, so it’s very possible that I just don’t “get” certain things, but to me, the magic was more a metaphor then actually, well, magical.
“Riot Baby” isn’t really about Ella and her magical “Thing”, nor is it about, as the synopsis suggests, the revolution for racial equality in this barely alternate and vaguely more futuristic version of America. I say that because the events that define Kev—the actual Riot Baby—like the LA riot of 1992, and the police brutality aimed primarily at Black communities is all very real, and in Ella and Kev’s world, only taken to a slightly bigger level by the futuristic technology and weaponry the police use to terrorize these communities. This book is really about the anger felt with structural racism and brutality shown through the lens of an intimate family view of those who suffer under such conditions. Ella, her mom, and brother Kev are all just trying to live, but that becomes almost impossible with how America treats its Black citizens. This book is written in such a beautiful, raw, and angry tone which demands readers to confront systematic racial injustice head on. This novella evokes so many emotions and is crafted in really a magnificent way—Onyebuchi is a masterful writer! But story wise? I had a really hard time connecting.
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