by H.E. Edgmon
Series: The Witch King #1
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
To save a fae kingdom, a trans witch must face his traumatic past and the royal fiancé he left behind. This debut YA fantasy will leave you spellbound.
Wyatt would give anything to forget where he came from—but a kingdom demands its king.
In Asalin, fae rule and witches like Wyatt Croft…don’t. Wyatt’s betrothal to his best friend, fae prince Emyr North, was supposed to change that. But when Wyatt lost control of his magic one devastating night, he fled to the human world.
Now a coldly distant Emyr has hunted him down. Despite transgender Wyatt’s newfound identity and troubling past, Emyr has no intention of dissolving their engagement. In fact, he claims they must marry now or risk losing the throne. Jaded, Wyatt strikes a deal with the enemy, hoping to escape Asalin forever. But as he gets to know Emyr, Wyatt realizes the boy he once loved may still exist. And as the witches face worsening conditions, he must decide once and for all what’s more important—his people or his freedom.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »arranged marriage (now against one MC’s wishes), death of parents in a fire, anxiety, deadnaming (name not on page), misgendering, panic attack, PTSD, suicidal ideation, drug use, attempted sexual assault, arson, death, parent with fatal illness, genocide, fantasy violence, parental abuse and neglect, ableism, arrest and imprisonment « Hide Spoiler
I loved this book. There’s going to be inevitable comparisons to Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys as both are written by trans authors and star magical trans characters. But besides that, they both feature excellent world-building, extremely relatable main characters, and emotionally resonant storytelling. I cried during the preliminary author’s note (that’s a record for me, even for Inkyard Press books) and my heart was sold from then on. It’s also addictively readable – I went back to pull the quotes from this review and next thing I knew it was an hour later and I was a chunk of the way through the book again!
After his magic started a fire that killed his parents, Wyatt fled the fae realm of Asalin for the human world, and now three years later he lives with his (human) best friend Briar’s family. The last thing he expects is for fae prince Emyr (aka his betrothed) to track him down, or for him to still insist they get married. Derek, his cousin, is scheming for the throne, and Emyr thinks fetching his errant fiancé back home will help, mainly to parade him around as the “normal” person who now co-ruled Asalin, and, uh, also to provide heirs. With Asalin stuck between the conservatives who want the fae to remain the same – and aren’t afraid to use violence – and Emyr and his reforms, does Wyatt still believe the only place for him is in the human world?
“Then why would you be offended by a compliment?” His irritation is growing more obvious. Good. Let him be irritated. Let it sink in properly that I am not the golden goose. I am more like an actual goose, hissing and honking and attacking small children who just want to give me bread.
I loved Wyatt. While parts of his childhood could be considered idyllic – he did have an elevated status due to his betrothal with the prince – much of it was not, and a lot of that owed to him being a witch. While witches are born from fae parents, unlike fae, they look human and have different magic than them. They’re second class citizens, mistrusted and mostly ignored at best or subject to fae harassment at worst. The human world, even with its own problems with race and LGBT people, is far safer and friendlier to him, especially Briar and her family. Even the safety of the palace and his friendship with Emyr had soured shortly before he left. Because while Emyr recognizes him as his mate, a fae bond that is supposed to connect the most genetically compatible people, Wyatt sees it as just another way in which he’s convenient but not really wanted, or at least, not for himself. And to be honest, Wyatt never considered the impact his being away would cause on Emyr and the mate bond. They’ve both changed and grown in the three years they’ve been apart, some good and some bad, and watching them both learn from and accept their past mistakes was both heart-wrenching and heart-melting.
“I began seeing the fae for what they were and doubting the life that was planned for me. Emyr and I started fighting, the childhood friendship and blooming something between us warping as I began to question my place in his future. As I started to realize he saw me the way all the fae saw me. Not for who I was, but for what he could do with me.”
Wyatt and Emyr’s relationship before he left was more a childhood friendship than anything romantic. Plus, Wyatt’s growing realization that the only reason he was accepted at all was because of that tie to Emyr caused fractures in their relationship before he left. And then to pick back up with Emyr basically forcing Wyatt back to Asalin, a place that holds deeply traumatic memories for him, and back into that relationship? Oof. What saved me from completely hating him, though, is how he generally seemed to care about Wyatt, about how he supported him once he actually understood what Wyatt needed. And, to be honest, Wyatt isn’t initially even sure what he needs, whether it’s to get himself back to the human world as quickly as possible or to see whether that spark he still feels for Emyr is worth fighting for. It’s tropey as heck, too, with the usual arrange marriage, forced proximity, just one bed, childhood friends… It’s a lot but it mixes up very well.
“Anyone else tired of listening to straight men speak?” Wade asks, shaking out his fist and looking down at his knuckles. Tessa tsks, taking his hand in hers.
Not only the main romance is decidedly gay, but the rest of the secondary characters are delightfully gay as well, from another trans character (gasp! you mean books can have more than one?!?!) to his bi (and endlessly optimistic) best friend Briar (I desperately want her “bi furious” pin), and that’s not counting Jin (a self-described “theydy” – trans nonbinary lady, very lesbian) and their girlfriend Clarke. Then there’s Wade, Clarke’s brother, who deceptively snuck on me and became my favorite side character, because he’s awesomely sarcastic. In terms for another almost-as-unwelcome-as-Emyr blast from Wyatt’s past is Wyatt’s sister, Tessa, his mirror for if he’d been born fae, been born “right.” There’s understandably a lot of anger and distrust between the two of them at first, but as Derek’s attempt to unseat Emyr advances, they find out that the other is not the person they believed they were.
The world building is a fascinating take on the fae-hidden-in-the-human-world genre. Wyatt himself makes comparisons between how the fae treat the witches with how oppressed groups are treated in the human world. There’s also the parallels between his parents refusing to let him learn anything about his magic and how he had to learn and work through his gender on his own. It’s a bit on the nose, but it’s well done and it felt organic. I’m cis, so I can’t really speak to the trans rep, but everything about Wyatt – his anger, his acceptance of himself, his humor – felt authentic and real to me. I wished there was a bit more about the magic system. The three types of fae magic are well-explained, but there’s not as much about witches. It’s a deliberate reflection of Wyatt’s lack of knowledge, though – his parents refused to let him associate with other witches, so he’s completely untrained – and he does learn more about it as the book progresses. What’s there is fascinating, though, from the descriptions of Wyatt’s aura to the magic cellphones.
“The chaotic energy of me entertaining gay thoughts right now is unmatched.”
Overall, easily one of my top five books of the year so far. This is apparently the first part of a duology and I cannot wait to see what happens next with Wyatt, Emyr, Briar, Jin and Asalin as a whole!