The Wicked Bargain

Random. Feb. 2023. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593378014.
Gr 9 Up–For 16 years, Mar’s life on the ocean has been pretty much perfect, as long as they keep their fire and ice magia under control. Mar’s beloved Papá, Captain de la Rosa, leads the extremely successful crew of La Catalina until the night of Mar’s 16th birthday, when el Diablo shows up to collect on an old bargain, resulting in the destruction of La Catalina and the disappearance of Mar’s father. Pulled from the ocean by the annoyingly attractive Bas onto Captain de la Rosa’s greatest rival’s ship La Ana, Mar learns that el Diablo will accept only one thing in exchange for Mar’s father—Mar’s own soul. With the help of Bas (son of la Pirata Vega, captain of La Ana) and a genderfluid demonio named Dami, Mar rejects this binary decision but can only save Papá and themself if they can find the bravery to unleash the full strength of their magia. No stranger to rejecting binaries, Mar is transmasculine and uses they/them pronouns; Mar’s struggles with body dysmorphia despite the acceptance and acknowledgment of their gender identity will be resonant or illuminative, depending on readers’ perspectives. Set against a backdrop of early 19th-century Spanish control in the Caribbean, Spanish phrases are woven throughout.
VERDICT This novel sets the standard for inclusive, swashbuckling romance; it’s adventurous, fun, and highly recommended.

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