By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Wicked As You Wish
By Rin Chupeco
Sourcebooks Fire, 2020
For 12 years, the magical Kingdom of Avalon has been encased in ice—ever since the Snow Queen waged her war. Former citizens are now refugees scattered across a world devoid of magic. And Crown Prince Alexei, the sole survivor of the Avalonian royal family, has since been in hiding—constantly on the move to stay safe.
One of the few people who know Alex’s true identity is his friend Tala Warnock. As a descendent of Maria Makiling on her Filipina mother’s side, Tala negates spells and has little use for magic. But with her family’s ties to Avalon, they’ve been charged with guarding Alex. They’re all stuck in a small town in Arizona so boring, magic doesn’t even work there. But as new laws are passed and the Snow Queen re-emerges, things begin to get complicated—especially with the appearance of the firebird, Avalon’s most powerful weapon.
In order to make things right, Alex must return to Avalon. So he and Tala team up with a ragtag group of new friends and the teens make their way back to the kingdom and prepare for a showdown that might just change everything.
“Wicked” is a modern-day fairy tale. Readers will recognize references to Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, and nods to classics like “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” However, Chupeco turns the stories on their heads in ways you wouldn’t have expected. I also appreciated that Chupeco included references from other parts of the world. The desire for happily ever after is universal.
Chupeco’s characters are also a diverse group—not just where they come from but also their sexual orientations, gender identities, and pronouns. Their differences are not a big deal and they accept each other as they are. This serves as a good reminder to readers that just because we’re different from each other, doesn’t mean we have to be against each other.
The Iron Will of Genie Lo
By F.C. Yee
Harry N. Abrams, 2020
After she saved the world from demons, Genie Lo becomes the Heaven-appointed Guardian of California. As prestigious as being responsible for the wellbeing of all the yaoguai and spirits on Earth may sound, it mainly means she has to listen to their grievances (i.e. whining) on the regular. It also means just one more item for Genie to juggle in her life. Supernatural beings don’t care about minor human concerns like the ambitions of a college-bound high school student. So, of course Genie’s weekend college visit with her best friend Yunie is interrupted by a cosmos-threatening force in an alternate dimension.
While Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, and Genie’s boyfriend, Quentin Sun Wukong (the Monkey King), are there to help, the Jade Emperor should really be the one handling the crisis. The only problem is he’s gone missing. Genie, who’s been fed up with his negligence since she discovered she’s the reincarnation of a dear companion of the Monkey King, seizes the opportunity to shake up the status quo in Heaven.
Yee returns in this second installment of his Genie Lo series with the same humor and wit readers enjoyed in his debut. Genie is strong and smart and easily angered, but she also has a strong sense of justice. Most of what Genie does is for the people she loves. And while she doesn’t always think before she acts—especially when she’s standing up for what she believes is right—and that can get her in trouble, this is also what makes her so relatable. Genie’s not the perfect heroine and that’s okay.
In addition, Yee does a great job of humanizing the gods and goddesses, from boba-loving older gods to younger deities who resemble college frat boys. I love the idea of celestial beings acting like the rest of us, acting as petty and ridiculous as mere humans, and appreciated how Yee balanced this behavior with their godly acts while trying to save the world.
The Wolf of Oren-yaro
By K.S. Villoso
Some may refer to her as “Beloved Queen,” but Queen Talyien is anything but. She’s more widely known as the Bitch Queen, a she-wolf of the Oren-yaro clan, after she killed a man and her husband disappeared the night before they were meant to be crowned. Her marriage to Rayyel, arranged when they were children, was supposed to be a symbol of peace—two rival clans coming together following the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore the nation apart.
But his disappearance leaves the kingdom fractured, seemingly beyond repair, and Talyien’s people doubting her ability to rule.
Years later, Rayyel sends her an invitation to meet, and Talyien accepts in the hopes of reconciling—not to get back together, but for the sake of their 7-year-old son. An assassination attempt kills those dreams and Talyien is stranded in a city where she knows no one and is unsure of who she can trust.
With elements pulled from Filipino culture and mythology, “Wolf of Oren-yaro” is a story filled with politics, lies, secrets, and betrayal. Talyien is strong and will do what she believes is best for her people—people who don’t even really like her. And while being unliked may bother her slightly, she does her best to not let it get to her. It’s one of the qualities that makes Talyien likable as a character. She has more important things to do, such as taking care of her son and repairing her kingdom.
Villoso does a great job of world building, introducing the different clans and nations in this universe and the power dynamics among them. While this is a fantasy story, it is pretty light on fantastical elements. There are references to mages, dark arts, and dragons, but not much in terms of action. I would’ve liked to see more and I’m hoping Villoso will include more in future installations.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.