Yeah, this was trash. Really ableist trash, which is always the fun kind! /s I came in with low expectations, but clearly NOT low enough.
**This review contains mild spoilers**
I knew this was going to be a bad book when the heroine SHOT AN ARROW at the girl bullying her because ‘she knew had really good aim so she would just miss her’, and then the book treated that as a totally normal prank that a normal person would do. Like what the fuck was that. That’s not normal, that’s unhinged. I really love unhinged women, and I think it would have been cool if Evike were not normal! But no, we can’t have nice things. Anyway, it somehow devolved from there?
Let me get the good things out of the way first. The prose was occasionally over the top and didn’t always make much sense (…what on earth does ‘drowned up to the waist’ mean), but in general, I actually really liked it. I will admit to kind of preferring prose that verges on purple, though, so ymmv, but I thought it painted a really nice picture of the setting! Also, I adored the heroine’s father? Just when I had given up on enjoying any part of this book, the heroine’s father came along and proved me wrong. He’s amazing. I love men who are wise and kind and dignified.
Uhhh what else. I guess I kind of liked Gaspar? (Sorry my keyboard can’t put the cool little accent marks on top of the a’s. American keyboards should be able to do that, this is unfair. Anyway.) I hated him at first, but then the book kept going and Evike got on my nerves more and more, until Gaspar honestly wasn’t that bad by comparison. He was kind of cute! I will admit to having a weakness for woobified softboi heroes, as terrible and embarrassing as it is.
The magic systems were…sort of interesting, I guess. Please keep in mind that I know nothing about Hungarian paganism, but in general, magic in folklore is just cooler than shown here?? Scottish witches could cause shipwrecks and turn into hares! Icelandic witches could nurse a thing made from wool and the rib of a dead man and set it loose to steal milk for them!* The witches in this book…can set things on fire and/or magically forge weapons and/or see the future sometimes. That’s it. 0/10 there should have been more taking apart dead bodies. And I think you could potentially do a lot of things with magic based on medieval Catholicism! One thing I’ve heard historians say is that the difference between a saint and a witch is where the power comes from, and tales of miracles and tales of witchcraft are sometimes fairly similar. So I think you could build a really interesting magic system based on tales of wonder-working saints! Instead it’s just ‘they set things on fire lol.’ I thought the magic system that the Yehuli characters practice was pretty cool, but it barely came into play except at the ending. (It also probably helps that the Yehuli characters were the only likeable ones, but you know. I’m more inclined to be charitable if I really like the characters.)
*These examples are from the 19th and the 17th century, I think, but my point still stands as far as magic in folklore and mythology being really cool. It’s about the neat little rituals for me, especially when the rituals are weird
Don’t even get me started on the plot. I’m not even joking when I say that the first 200 pages could have been cut. Everyone’s going on a trek across the countryside trying to find the turul, and then they don’t even find it and they go on home??? The whole quest was only in there for some cheap, half-hearted relationship development that wasn’t even compelling? Are you KIDDING me. I was so bored.
But yeah, all of that aside, I wanted to strangle Evike throughout the story. She already raised my red flags when Gaspar was introduced and she seemed to kind of hint that his missing eye was scary, but then she JUST. KEPT. GOING. Hold on, I saved some of the quotes in my reading updates on Goodreads:
But I can’t see the left half of his face without wondering morbidly what lies beneath the black patch, and how he ever summoned the strength to pluck out his own eye like a crow picking over a corpse.
You can’t stop morbidly wondering what lies beneath his eyepatch? That sounds like a you problem, but okay.
“What would you know? A wolf-girl from a tiny village, who’s never set foot outside Ezer Szem—”
“More than a pampered, one-eyed prince,” I cut in.
I know I love whenever I get into an argument with a non-disabled person and then they say, “Well, you’re disabled, so what do YOU know?” Especially when the argument had literally nothing to do with the disability and they bring it up completely out of fucking nowhere! Everyone knows that that’s the surest way to a disabled person’s heart.
(That’s actually the surest way to get a disabled person to attack you with cudgels.)
And it actually manages to get worse from there! They get high on magic juice (long story), and Gaspar makes out with Evike before coming to himself and rejecting her. While they make out, Evike asks to take off Gaspar’s eyepatch, Gaspar gives her a very clear no, and then SHE TAKES IT OFF ANYWAY. BECAUSE HE DIDN’T PHYSICALLY FIGHT HER OFF OR SOMETHING, SO THAT COUNTS AS CONSENT I GUESS. This happens again when he tells her not to kiss him near his missing eye and then she just. ignores him??? AND THEN SHE HAS THE FUCKING AUDACITY TO GET MAD AT HIM WHEN HE COMES TO HIMSELF AND REJECTS HER. Girl, you’re lucky he’s still willing to talk to you! She NEVER apologizes for this, and it’s never even hinted that that was something she shouldn’t have done! Evike also outright states that the magic has pretty much the same effect as getting really drunk, which isn’t supposed to make you kiss someone when they say no, so it’s not even like she has the weird fantasy juice as an ‘excuse’. I guess when you’re disabled, you give up the right to bodily autonomy or something??? /s
Oh, and it gets worse, because when Gaspar rejects her, she immediately takes this opportunity to throw his history with his abusive father in his face. I should probably mention here that the abuse was racially motivated, because Gaspar is mixed-race (his mother is coded as Middle Eastern), and his father hated him because of that. Like, Gaspar literally described that his father would yell slurs at him and his mother, and that his father CUT OUT HIS EYE, and then Evike decided to call him his father’s dog and make fun of him for trying to please his father?? I’m sorry, but why. Why would you EVER do that to someone you say you love. At that point, you don’t love him, you’re just attracted to him and view him as more of a thing than a person.
Anyway, yeah, this was a trainwreck if the train hit a garbage truck and then both the train and the garbage truck caught fire! I did not have fun. All that and I’m still probably going to read the author’s next novel, because I’ve never managed to come across a Juniper Tree retelling before and I love that fairy tale. I just like putting myself through pain, I guess.
So yeah, this was not a fun experience. Feel free to rec me your favorite fantasy novels with disabled main characters in the comments!