As an assistant editor at the prestigious Hanhat Publishers, Evie Southiel is entrusted with fine-tuning the manuscripts of the company’s most important authors. Her skills as a book witch allow her to manipulate the stories she reviews and bring them to life.
When her girlfriend steals the secret manuscript of Hanhat’s best-selling author and leaks it to the press, Evie is exiled to become a journey carrier with the Pack-Horse Librarians in the eastern mountains.
Timid city mouse Evie doesn’t know the first thing about surviving in the wilderness, riding a horse, or dealing with the rugged mountain folk and coal miners surrounding the town of Hevis. She does know books, though, and she’s determined to do the best job she can. But that goal is jeopardized when her horse gets spooked on her first solo run, sending her tumbling out of the saddle and into a mysterious woman’s life.
Take the recent trend of historical novels about the Kentucky horse-back librarians, only make it fantasy. This novella ticked a lot of the boxes for things I love in books: nerdy librarians who understand the importance of children’s books; a diverse, all queer cast; snooty cats; horses; adorable children; and a really sweet love story. If you like any of those things you’ll probably enjoy this novella at least a little.
The prose flows easily and Evie is a very relatable heroine; I was definitely wincing in sympathy after her long days on horseback. There is also a genuine sense of community in the remote towns Evie visits as a librarian, and it’s nice to read a story full of people of colour and queer people working together to create safe and happy spaces.
However, the flip-side is that this book tries to do far too much for a novella, and I really wish it had been longer. There were a lot of characters introduced (particularly in the first half of the book), and we didn’t really get to know any of them enough to warrant trying to keep track of all the various names. I also wish the magic system had been more explored – the fact that Evie can manipulate books was a big draw for me, but limited time is spent on this aspect of the story in favour of the broader story, including the development of a romance. (I won’t say too much about the romance for fear of spoiling it, but there are some fantasy elements there, as well).
This book is definitely worth a read, provided you temper your expectations for the shorter format and accept the limitations of the genre.
Note: I received an ARC from NineStar Press, an amazing LGBTQ+ focused small press that I wasn’t aware of before receiving a copy of this book. I’d highly recommend checking them out.