Debut author Pentecost mixes base notes of dystopia with steampunk and mythic fantasy in Depression-era Oklahoma.
On April 14, 1935, Black Sunday, 6-year-old Sal Wilkerson and her fellow townspeople come face to face with the Dust Soldiers, minions of the goddesses Life and Death, who present a terrifying challenge: They have been unwittingly thrust into the Game and given 10 years to establish an equitable and harmonious society or face annihilation. The community galvanizes behind the enigmatic bruja, Mother Morevna. As the end of the decade nears, Mother Morevna names Sal her Successor, taking her on as an apprentice in the magical arts. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger with unexplained knowledge of the Game arrives at the gates of Elysium. Sal must use her skills to discover the truth and reveal secrets hidden by her mentor, the stranger, and the marginalized victims who fight for survival beyond Elysium’s walls in order to win the Game. In this matriarchal society where young women are gifted with magical ability, race becomes a major source of conflict. Though the book tackles themes of intersectional feminism and what it means to build a more just world, big reveals and climactic moments often feel perfunctory and rushed, leading at times to awkward pacing. Sal is white; her best friend is black; the supporting cast includes Mexican American and Native characters; and there is a same-sex romance.
A not-always-successful genre-bender that is sure to find a niche. (Fantasy. 14-18)