A fun, fast read that will definitely appeal to fantasy readers

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There was so much to draw me in to first picking up this book that I’m not even sure what was my main motivation! Was is the cool, cyberpunk cover that stands out from the typical YA fantasy crowd? Was it the author, Katy Rose Poole, who has definitely proven herself as a powerhouse in YA fantasy fiction? Or was it the comparison to “Veronica Mars,” with the promise of a teenage investigator and her enemies-to-lovers romance? Any single one of these aspects would have had me racing to pick this one up. But all together? Immediately there!

This is one of those unique books where the comparison to a different popular franchise is definitely warranted. Remember that period of time a few years ago where some how every. single. YA. fantasy was somehow just like “Six of Crows?” Most of the time, publishers were clearly just trying to cash in on the popularity of a different series, regardless of how well it really paired with the book they were actually pushing. But let me say, this book not only earns its comparison to “Veronica Mars,” but it might even go a bit beyond? Let’s just say, if you’re very familiar with this popular TV series, you’re going to recognize A LOT of characters in this book, the history of our main lead, and even some of the plot points that play out throughout this book. I can lean two ways on this, frankly. I think, ultimately, that it works out fine. But there are moments were the similarities are almost so close that the book juuuuust brushes up against being some sort of alt-world fanfic of “Veronica Mars.”

But the world-building and magic system, I think, do enough to save it as an original work. While I could have used perhaps a bit more about just how exactly people learn to employ the curse-magic that is at the heart of the fantasy portions of this book, I was also pleased enough to just enjoy the creative, action-packed scenes in which this magic was used. Similarly, the world-building was interesting, if not fully realized. There were a few scenes, in particular the description of a university/library, that really stood out as fantastical and whimsical. But there were other moments where I had a hard time envisioning the type of world we were meant to be picturing, with a strange balance of old-world and modern technologies.

I really liked Marlow, for the most part. I loved that the book leaned into the “investigator” aspect of her character. She really is very much like Veronica Mars, and this is where the comparison can never be seen as a detraction, as both the original character and this “inspired by” version are incredibly likable and sympathetic. Marlow, like Veronica, is very capable, smart, and creative. But she also struggles with trusting others, and, over the course of the story, we see how isolating herself like this leads her to harm those around her as well as herself.

I will say that in the first action scene of the book where we meet Marlow, she gets into some trouble (because of course she does!) and then the description immediately goes to her tearing up and about to cry when confronted by a gangster. Now, look, I’ve gone on rants in the past about all the different kinds of strengths that can be found in heroines. I’m also all for embracing emotion and not treating it as a weakness. The problem here is that I think this description of Marlow early in the book (and then it comes up again later too with her near-crying in another scary situation) doesn’t sit naturally with the character we see throughout the rest of the book. It threw me out a little bit, ultimately, both times it came up.

I found the mystery itself to be a bit predictable, and I was able to guess the villain fairly quickly. I also struggled a bit with the romance. At times, the situation for them to “fake date” felt too forced. And then, while I appreciate that Marlow’s main arc had to do with her being forced to confront the realities of her inability to trust those around her, it was difficult to not want to shake her when she was so oblivious to the very obvious intentions and feelings of Adrius.

Rating 8: A fun, fast read that will definitely appeal to fantasy readers who are looking for a whip-smart leading lady and a slow-burn romance full of angst and drama.