Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Tala Warnock has little use for magic – as a descendant of Maria Makiling, the legendary Filipina heroine, she negates spells, often by accident. But her family’s old ties to the country of Avalon (frozen, bespelled, and unreachable for almost 12 years) soon finds them guarding its last prince from those who would use his kingdom’s magic for insidious ends.
And with the rise of dangerous spelltech in the Royal States of America; the appearance of the firebird, Avalon’s deadliest weapon, at her doorstep; and the re-emergence of the Snow Queen, powerful but long thought dead, who wants nothing more than to take the firebird’s magic for her own – Tala’s life is about to get even more complicated….
Warnings: depiction of racist immigration policies and ICE/police brutality; homophobia and bullying; child abuse in foster care, and detention camps; fantasy violence
First thing you need to know about Wicked As You Wish is that it is a big mash-up of fairytales and folklore legends in a retelling, and has them part of history in a modern urban fantasy setting. So, magic has existed in the world and the kingdom of Avalon is one of the sources of the glyphs that power magic aside from those born with innate abilities. Avalon itself is a mix from Arthurian legends to Russian ones, and it is currently frozen under enchantment resulting from the breach that the kingdom of Beira, ruled by the Snow Queen, conducted more than a decade ago, leaving its prince, Alex, to be under witness protection, basically. The story starts with him arriving in Invernio, Tala’s town, to be under the protection of her extended family, who were part of Avalon’s regiment, and then skips ahead to a year later, when the prophecy concerning him and Tala is set in motion.
Part of the story takes place in the Royal States of America (yep, you heard that right) where a despot king has implemented racist policies (sounds like someone we know) against refugees, particularly magical ones and especially those from Avalon, and the attitude towards harnessing magic is capitalistic, which drives most of the political issues in the book. Chupeco also makes frequent comments on the brutality committed by ICE, but also about how American greed has acerbated the tension between the old enemies Avalon and Beira, and how it has shifted its relationship to a kingdom led by a tyrant for magical gains. Tala and her family have to face down ICE when trying to evacuate from the town, and fighting both the Snow Queen’s army and an anti-magic ICE is a challenge they have to undergo.
Rest of the book is Tala and Alex and the Order of the Bandersnatch team led by Zoe, trying to reach Maidenkeep, the royal stronghold of Avalon, to hope to undo the curse that has it frozen. This part feels a bit divorced from the first part, because it is more of an adventure quest, with Tala not warrior-trained like the Order team, but her spellbreaking abilities that come with her being Makiling are quite a benefit in some situations and a liability in another. There’s a lot of prophecy swirling around, with each character having something for them, and obviously a lot of them don’t get fulfilled in this book, but it was quite interesting to see the ones that did. There’s an interesting set of characters who are young warriors with magical weapons called segen, some descended from notable fairytale characters and legends, like the reaper boy descended from Nottingham (yes, that one), or the Locksley who doesn’t really appear in the book, but is a part of some romantic entanglements. We have a NB character who is adopted and able to wield the segen of their father’s line, a Jewish girl who starts a girl fight club, a shifter who is comedic relief primarily due to misunderstanding modern phrases and sayings, and a half-Japanese boy wielding some epic swords but also a chaotic disaster.
“Your hair isn’t long enough.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, I, uh… how did you get down from the tower?”
The girl raised an eyebrow at him. “Hidden staircase round the back.”
The book, as a whole, is engaging and entertaining, while also making modern issues stand out in its plot; it also takes care to build up a world where magic has been a part of history, so it alters historical events and folds them into magic-fueled events, too. Avalon itself acts like the shining city on the hill, known for taking in refugees from everywhere and being multi-cultural, while being the leader of magical tech in the world, but it also has had its problems in the past. The initial look into Tala’s town showed what a world with minimal magic tech would look like, but it also doesn’t paint a rosy picture. However, I must also say, that initially it felt like all this was coming at you very fast – there’s a lot to absorb from the world, even magic-wise, and then there were these little nuggets of details thrown in constantly to include the various fairytales, and, well, it basically became overwhelming for a while until we get to Avalon, where the chaos settles down a bit for us to actually enjoy their story. Oh, and I loved the running joke about everyone being surprised by the firebird’s appearace, much to its annoyance!
“Is that the firebird?” Ken asked. “Looks round enough to roll up like a hedgehog, doesn’t it?” The firebird bared its beak at him, as if daring him to try.
I wished we got to also see more interactions between Tala and the Order – they were a close unit, with a lot of camaraderie between them and they are pretty friendly to Tala and Alex, but I could also feel like these two were distinct from them; in Alex’s case I could understand the distance because he was keeping so much from them. Alex’s and Tala’s distance was also something that didn’t feel fully realized, because we didn’t even see them together much as best friends (remember that one year jump at the start?), forget them being on the run and then keeping secrets from each other causing tension. There were also parts of the ending that impressed me with the twists it provided, but some other parts confused me so much (I didn’t get the whole ‘we couldn’t reach the Nine Maidens before’ thing) and well, Alex being Alex, there’s a lot going on there that hasn’t even been unpacked, so looks like we have to look to book 2 to hopefully provide some answers. Still, an exciting first book, with a lot of details to make a retelling fan gush with joy.
Is it diverse? Filipina main character (Ownvoices), along with large cast of Filipina warrior family members; Gay character who is a prince; Japanese character; Chinese enby character with two gay dads; Jewish character; Latino character; Black character; secondary queer characters
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Sourcebooks Fire, via Edelweiss.
Other books by the author
Releases on March 3, 2020
3 thoughts on “ARC Review: Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco”
I was supposed to read this over the weekend. Fantastic review ❤️ now I am eager to get to this
I hope you enjoy it too!
Great review! Haha, love your side-commentary! This sounds like a pretty fun read. *Throws on TBR mountain*