Wicked As You Wish, Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks 978-1-4926-7266-1, $17.99, 400pp, hc) February 2020.
Rin Chupeco’s Wicked As You Wish is a sometimes dizzying combination of classic fairy tales and alternate history that draws heavily from the real world and somehow manages to include everything from the Snow Queen to King Arthur to Wonderland to ICE. (Here’s the unlikeliest quote to appear in a YA fantasy novel ever: ”So ICE now works for the Snow Queen. She’s succeeded in infiltrating your government.”) More than once I felt like I was holding onto the narrative for dear life, trying desperately to keep everything straight as the Cheshire Cat dropped into the plot alongside mentions of Avalon, ice wolves, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Oz (as in ”OzCorp”), the Order of the Bandersnatch (a group of badass teenagers, one of whom is named Loki) and, get ready for this one, a FIREBIRD.
I’m not gonna lie, sometimes the fun in all this got lost in trying to keep track of the plot and dozens of characters. (This book needed some maps. And some family trees.)
Tala is 17, she lives in Arizona, her father is a Scotsman and her mother is Filipina, a ton of her mother’s family live nearby, they are all warriors, some of them magical, and they are all involved in protecting the heir to the throne of Avalon. (He is in constant danger from the Snow Queen, who sort of defeated Avalon in the Wonderland Wars even though she has been missing ever since.) (But since Avalon is completely frozen and its king murdered, it certainly looks like she won.) (He also is in danger from the Royal States, which is led by King John of Portland who will read as very familiar to any teen who pays attention to the news.) FYI – America, as we know it, never happened. (Oh – and California is an independent nation run by its indigenous people! Yea!)
A large degree of the book’s plot revolves around magic – who has it, who’s allowed to wield it, and the government’s efforts to control it. The Prince of Avalon is very powerful and will become even more so if the firebird appears to him. As a firebird shows up in the opening pages of the book, readers will quickly see where things are likely headed. In the meantime, Tala gets asked out to a bonfire by a cute boy, the Bandersnatches show up at the high school to protect the prince, an ice princess shows up to kill the prince, the firebird shows up to save the prince, the cute boy saves Tala, but questions soon arise as to whether he is really a good guy, or a bad guy, or a good guy corrupted by the government’s action and the Snow Queen into bad guy things.
Then everyone has to run for a looking glass exit because ICE is banging on their door demanding that the prince be turned over to the government. (Because he was illegally smuggled into Arizona.) (Yes, we all know what Chupeco is not-so-subtly hinting at here.)
There is a part of me that loved every single thing this author did with this story. I loved that by page 20 she had name dropped not only a ton of fairytale stuff but also Frank Sinatra, Bruno Mars, and King Leopold II of Belgium, whose murderous directives in the Congo are a very real and brutal part of that country’s history. (As she points out.)
I loved not knowing who would show up next or what country’s mythology the author would pull from. I loved that a significant sword is not just referenced as Excalibur but also ”the Vorpal Sword when wielded by Alice Liddell, Kusanagino-Tsurugi by Yamato Takeru, Tizona from El Cid – the list went on and on.” The cast of characters are diverse, the references are diverse, and the world building is delightfully creative. My problem, and it’s a big one, is that there was just so much of everything in here that sometimes all that name-dropping took the place of story. Things got cute and catchy more than once, when they should have been allowed to be a lot more thoughtful.
Wicked As You Wish is the first book in the A Hundred Names for Magic series. Chupeco has a clear path forward from its ending and, based on what she has done already, the mine of story ideas to draw from is literally endless. Fairytale fans will find a lot to enjoy, but they should be ready for a wild ride, and maybe plan to take some notes along the way.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the July 2020 issue of Locus.
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