Venom & Vow

Feiwel & Friends. Jun. 2023. 336p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250822239.
Gr 9 Up–Magic, myth, and identity (both mistaken and real) weave through the vibrant tapestry of this collaboration. On the night that a powerful curse befell their two kingdoms and swept their elders into an enchanted sleep, Cade and Val were each convinced they saw the other casting the spell. The aftermath of the curse exacerbated the ongoing war between their nations and forced them to assume the leadership roles of their parents. Cade, a transgender man, often steps in as a body double for his brother, Prince Patrick. Val also lives a double life: as Valencia, the young Queen Bryn’s lady in waiting, and as Gael, a boy assassin and spy. When Prince Patrick and Queen Bryn agree to meet and discuss peace, Cade and Val are thrust together and immediately feel attraction and suspicion. Much flirty fighting and banter ensue, making this a perfect choice for readers who prefer a heavy dose of romance with their fantasy. The kingdoms of Eliana and Adare are also beautifully described with poetic imagery and language steeped in Irish Gaelic and Aztec culture, respectively. Both protagonists face authentic challenges while exploring their gender identities; however, the fantasy world here is mostly refreshingly accepting, including an abbey where Cade and Val meet other transmasculine folks and learn to be their most authentic selves. The characters also experience chronic pain due to disability, which often impacts them but never holds them back.
VERDICT Some uneven pacing and awkward time jumps mar the second half of the book, but the authentic representation and romance make this a great choice for fans of A.R. Capetta and Aiden Thomas.

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