This book’s a bit out of the ordinary for me, being more fantasy and action than pure romance, but its so fantastic I definitely had to review it. A note that this one’s content and trigger warnings are a little harder and more intense than my usual fare.
Content and trigger warnings: Attempted rape described on the page, telepathic intrusion, physical assault, murder, auctioning off of people’s first sexual experience, trauma, near death experiences, death of secondary character, description of traumatic event involving a gun, MC and SC’s dealing with traumatic experiences. The overall feel and intensity of violence is that of a Western, but with more described violence against women. The main character has distinct flashback experiences and disassociative like episodes due to trauma.
Ok, so this book is not your average bear, either for this review site or in general. But oh my god, its such a beautiful breath of fresh air, both in fantasy, world building and in amazing survivor works. The core crew of this book is survivors of assault in one way or another and watching them band together and fight their way to freedom was cathartic and gorgeous.
The rough plot is this: in this particular universe, the equivalent of the ‘Wild West’ was settled by two groups of people, fairbloods and dustbloods. Dustbloods have in some way traded away their shadow in the past and have a legacy of being defined in this way. In this universe, sometimes girls who are part of families who are deeply poor are sold to brothels and become known as Good Luck Girls. They are kept by these houses until around 16 and then become sex workers, with their first sexual experience being auctioned off to local wealthy individuals in town.
Good Luck Girls are tattooed with a magical tattoo that blooms as they move towards puberty, which they are unable to cover without immense pain over time. When the tattoo reaches maturation, that’s when their first night is auctioned off.
I will not lie, the first quarter of this book is pretty massively trigger filled for survivors of sexual assault. It gets better, but its part of why I want to definitely stress the warning.
Aster and her sister Clementine were sold to the Good Luck House several years ago. Aster’s already moved to working as a ‘Sunset Girl’, the term used for a person whose services are being sold by the house. Clementine is just about to go through her first night, after being auctioned off to a local big shot. A series of events which I won’t spoil for you (but can provide via DM if you are concerned about triggers) has them and several other Good Luck Girls on the run from the house, chasing the possibility of freedom.
Along the way, they meet up with the lovely and enterprising Zee, who works as a guide through the area known as the Scar and helps them find their way to the best possibility they have for freedom. There’s bank robberies, discussions about vengeance, learning about each other along the way and tons of revelations about life, each other and trust.
Mostly what I love about the book though is the camaraderie between the whole crew, how they stick together and the real and intense look at how survivors can band together to help each other out. Its inspiring, lovely and real. There’s a lot in here about healing as well and learning how to deal with the parts of trauma that stick with you.
So if you’re looking for a book that makes you want to cheer as people try to have healthy relationships in the wake of trauma and learn how to cope, as well as be one heck of a thrilling ride straight to the end, I’d highly recommend this book.
I give it 4 stars, not because of problems with the writing but because some of the setting bits could have used some more fleshing out and there were times the fantasy bits felt thin in places. I still don’t entirely understand what dustblood means and it felt like something that disappeared as the book went on. Also, though there is some discussion of how one secondary character is from an indigenous culture, I felt the backgrounds of some of the other characters were a bit more sketched than laid out. More time in the world might help and I hope we get to see more in this setting.
Until next time,
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and it was so utterly magical. Books are amazing y’all.