Young lovers and enemies try to save the city in this dystopian spin on Romeo and Juliet.
In a Ruined world, the Sisters of Thorn protect the lone city of Viyara with a magic wall sustained by human blood, but orphaned novice Runajo (the book’s Rosaline) hopes to restore the failing barrier via lost spells from the long-sealed Sunken Library. Ruthless and tiresomely righteous, Mahyanai Runajo magically bonds with the Juliet—the Catresou’s magically modified, martially trained, lethal young woman—and overcomes her qualms about necromancy and slavery in order to exploit the Juliet’s unwilling obedience in a claustrophobic and combative relationship. Hapless co-narrator Catresou Paris simultaneously mind-melds with the grief-stricken Mahyanai Romeo, and the duo plunges into the chaotic, colorful Lower City, seeking to avenge the Juliet’s alleged death and expose a necromancer through scary (if slapstick) misadventures. Old feuds and entrenched beliefs prove bigger obstacles than omnipresent but impermanent death—the protagonists rely on rituals even as revenants, reapers, and the reanimated clash with the remaining humans. Hodge puts secondary characters center-stage, lards the text liberally with Shakespeare quotes, and adds the undead, buckets of blood, and an impending apocalypse to create a rich, if repetitive retelling. Her worldbuilding emphasizes family over race; the Mahyanai are dark-haired and fair-skinned, while the Catresou go masked (though the Juliet is fair-skinned).
A bloody and bold tale for those who want some Romero with their Romeo, but resolution awaits a sequel. (Fantasy. 12-18)