by Brittany N. Williams
Series: Forge & Fracture Saga #1
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: April 25, 2023
Genres: Young Adult, Romance
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A stunning YA fantasy debut, perfect for fans of Holly Black and Justina Ireland, about a Black girl (and sword expert) fighting a Fae uprising in Shakespearean London
Sixteen-year-old Joan Sands is a gifted craftswoman who creates and upkeeps the stage blades for William Shakespeare’s acting company, The King’s Men. Joan’s skill with her blades comes from a magical ability to control metal—an ability gifted by her Head Orisha, Ogun. Because her whole family is Orisha-blessed, the Sands family have always kept tabs on the Fae presence in London. Usually that doesn’t involve much except noting the faint glow around a Fae’s body as they try to blend in with London society, but lately, there has been an uptick in brutal Fae attacks. After Joan wounds a powerful Fae and saves the son of a cruel Lord, she is drawn into political intrigue in the human and Fae worlds.
Swashbuckling, romantic, and full of the sights and sounds of Shakespeare’s London, this series starter delivers an unforgettable story—and a heroine unlike any other.
First off, HI, that cover?!?!?! Secondly, historical fantasy set in Shakespearean England starring Black characters? Definite 100% yes. So I’m happy to say this book was an absolute delight that mostly lived up to my (very high) expectations.
Joan and her twin brother work with The King’s Men. While James works with Shakespeare and the other actors, Joan handles the stage blades and choreographs the duels. What the rest of the company doesn’t know is that Joan is Orisha-blessed with the ability to control metal, sharpening and dulling blades at will or summoning iron from her hands. Like the ability to spot the Fae hiding in plain sight in various parts of London, it’s just a part of Joan, and she’s more worried about how she can keep her father’s jewelry store in the family than anything to do with her blessing or the Fae – until one of her mentors is arrested in front of her, urgently warning her about a broken pact and dire consequences. With the Fae becoming more bolder everyday, Joan is drawn into a dangerous world that puts everyone she knows in danger. It seems the real versions of Shakespeare’s Fae characters are much more frightening…
I loved Joan! I loved how skilled she was with a sword and how she didn’t have to hide that part of her at the theater. I especially loved seeing her interact with all of the players and crew of The King’s Men, how much of a family the company has built together. The author’s love of Shakespeare’s plays shines through in Joan and it was amusing (and sometimes frustrating) to see her reactions to various plot points of his plays. Much like some of his characters, her race and gender are hinderances to goals.
Unlike the rest of her family, even her twin brother James, she enjoys using her powers but is uneasy with her Orisha, Ogun. And it’s only through Ogun’s blessing that that magic is possible. She’s especially skilled with metalworking, able to accomplish feats that even her master goldsmith father can’t. But her father will have to leave his shop to his bumbling apprentice, so her only hope is continuing to do what she loves is to marry that oaf.
Another thing I love about Joan? She becomes an absolute mess around a pretty person! Even while she’s contemplating marrying to keep her father’s shop, she’s drawn to one of the apprentice players, Nick. It’s hard for her to imagine leaving the company behind, but also impossible to imagine being a player’s wife. Then there’s Rose, a woman who asks her and her brother for help… but is hiding secrets of her own. Joan’s bisexual, at least. And we’re left with the possible of some bisexual polyamory even!
The plot moves along briskly. Considering the heroine’s affinity for swords, naturally there’s plenty of action scenes involving swordwork. As for the world building, I loved seeing this version of Shakespearean England. As for the more fantastical elements, Joan starts the book with little knowledge about the pact or the Fae and learns on the go, much like the reader. The book ended with me still having many questions about both but since this is a series, hopefully this’ll be covered more later.
As for cons, while I loved Joan, her relationship – or lack of one – with her Orisha was frustrating. Her refusal to seek help for her problems with Ogun – to even accept that Ogun was trying to help out period – and her head-in-the-sandedness about the whole thing was exasperating. I never quite understood why this had been a problem for her before the book started and I’m not quite sure I bought the state of the relationship at the end of the book.
Overall, this was a swashbuckling journey to a world of Fae, Orisha and extremely stubborn sword-wielding girls. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book in the series!
Content notes: View Spoiler »violence (including death, dismemberment and more gore), period-typical racism (including slurs, comparisons to animals, and blackface), period-typical misogyny, references to death of children, blackmail, reference to suicide « Hide Spoiler