Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
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….
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED MARCH 3RD, 2020
What’s your favorite fairy tale? Whatever your answer is, it’s probably here.
The beauty of Wicked As You Wish lies in its complexity. Right now, I suspect this will be a point of contention. I’ve seen a number of ARC reviews already that find the world-building too dizzying, too scattered. And in some ways, it can be a lot to process. Wicked As You Wish is set in an alternate Earth, where magic permeates every day life, the US is the Royal States of America, and kingdoms straight out of fairy tales exist with monumental force. It was a lot to absorb from the outset, especially since these things that strike a reader as so different are presented as normal to the cast. Because they are! That’s just the world they live in!
Anyway, Wonderland and Avalon feature heavily, while the Snow Queen lurks in the background, figures like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty fill in the gaps of history, and magic fills all the spaces in between. Not to mention the sheer richness of the world at hand. One part magic, one part real life culture, Rin Chupeco manages to blend the fantastic elements of Wicked As You Wish with Filipino family and folklore, while also nodding to other cultural touchstones through her supporting cast.
If nothing else, Wicked As You Wish is brilliantly alive, and worth the brief moments of comprehension of the unfamiliar. (And though the ARC did not have a glossary, I believe I read something somewhere about the finished copy having one, so fear not, if Tala’s family’s use of Tagalog is beyond you.)
The cast brings life just as much as the magic and culture woven in.
In the vein of a true legend, we have a large group cast, though the story centers on Tala Warnock. She’s supported in her quest to restore her best friend Alex to the Avalonian throne by a group of teens about her age. They’re the Order of the Bandersnatch (or Banders) with personal stakes in this fight, and they get along about as well as you’d think a group of teens in high pressure situations would. On one hand, they’re in it together, with common goals. On the other hand, personality conflicts abound, because that’s just how it is on group quests with teens.
But really, I had so much fun getting to know the cast. Tala is in over her head but incredibly determined to do the right thing, while Alex is loyal but equally secretive. Add in Zoe, a dedicated perfectionist and sensible leader; Ken, a playful kind of guy with all the right intentions; Loki, a soft-spoken ranger with all kinds of hidden skills; West, the comic relief who exists in a state of total sincerity; Cole, the broody loner who definitely has more going on than he’s mentioned; and Nya, a lively late addition to the gang with valuable knowledge and a hell of a lot of courage. Balancing such a large cast does seem to present its difficulties at times, but it overall makes for a fun ride!
Plus, the cast is delightfully diverse. Tala is biracial Filipino and white, Alex is gay, Loki is non-binary, Chinese-Canadian, and adopted by two dads, Ken is Japanese, and Nya is Nigerian (if I’m remembering the scene where we meet her and explore her home correctly; if I’m wrong about this, please do correct me).
“King thou may be, thy divine right to magic is no cause to be as wicked as you wish.”
Wicked As You Wish also does a wonderful job interrogating abuses of power and the lengths characters are willing to go to in order to make them right. From the cruel presence of ICE agents and the general bigotry in Invierno, to the consequences of the war between Avalon and Beira (the Snow Queen’s kingdom), to the aftermath of a past steeped in wrong choices, Rin Chupeco doesn’t shy away from the nitty-gritty of right, wrong, and the responsibility involved in facing all the consequences that come with it.
In fact, looking back, the character I disliked the most actually fits this so well. Without spoiling too much, I found him to be ungrateful for the support he was receiving. Not only that, but he was painfully secretive despite the sheer amount of trust placed in him. And yet he comes from a position of power. Even on the edges of that power, it’s still part of his character, and I suspect the use and misuse of power is going to play a major role in his character arc throughout the series. It’s masterful, making a character kind of a jerk, but playing so neatly into a major thematic element.
Really, this book is nothing less than a joyride, magic in a hundred ways.
I gave it four stars on account of the world-building sort of dunking the unsuspecting reader in headfirst with little warning. It’s a bit jarring, and takes some getting used to and back-tracking. But once I got that under my belt, everything else was outstanding. The ominous prophetic elements are so tantalizing, the magic at hand so intriguing and developed. Meanwhile, you’ve got a cast that comes more and more alive with every turn of the page, and a villain who isn’t the blanket evil that we expect in fairy tales. I have extremely high hopes for the rest of the series, and it’s such a relief (mostly because I didn’t care very much for The Bone Witch, and was nervous to try another of Rin Chupeco’s books). Also, the chapter titles were outstanding. When’s the last time you read a book with sharp, witty chapter titles?
Hopefully you’ll join me in following Tala and Co’s quest to set things right in Avalon, starting tomorrow, March 3rd! It’s nearly here, so you too can experience the joy of that story-relevant cover and the incredible pages inside!
Also, if you’ve read it, please talk to me about the firebird. Especially his final scenes. I need to discuss our friend the absolute unit with someone. 😱
CW: loss of a loved one, racism, homophobia, violence, torture, abuse (including child abuse)