This book is completely, necessarily, delightfully queer. It's also a nuanced take on friendship, loyalty, and balancing competing demands on one's life. But I'll admit: I was here for the queer first, and everything else second. Luckily, Johnston has figured out how to not sacrifice one in order to give us the other. Both. We get both! By which I mean: We get everything, including LGBTQIA+ representation, gracefully handled, and sensible conversations about how to wear one's hair long without getting caught by the braid in a pitched battle. (TIP: Poisoned hair spikes!)
As one might expect from Johnston's previous works (I'm thinking here of "That Inevitable Victorian Thing"), we also end up with: Well-researched historical details adapted for a less sexist, less racist, more empathetic millennial readership; an interrogation of European class struggles from the Middle Age to the Victorian Era; and nice people who you'd actually want to have a beer with and who don't force you to make stupid sacrifices like giving up your autonomy or queerness in order to be financially secure or happy. Is it a little rosy out there, past my tinted glasses? Why yes, yes it is. But it's also exactly the healing, idealistic ending I needed after a garbage couple of years in the real world. GIVE ME MY ROSE-TINTED, CLASS-INTERROGATING, QUEER-LOVING GLASSES.