Rin Chupeco’s Wicked As You Wish is a wild, romping adventure
Speaking generally, I’m not the audience for boisterous, busy, weird ensemble novels, so Wicked As You Wish shouldn’t have been the book for me. It’s like a thousand-piece puzzle: you turn over all the bits and find them packed with little details, and then the picture doesn’t come together until you’re halfway through. This is not a reading experience that typically endears me to a book.
And yet in this case, I was invested from the first page, long before I could see what it was doing. Maybe it was the book’s brightness, or the total matter-of-fact conviction with which Rin Chupeco presents the worldbuilding. Maybe it was the chapter titles, which include such gems as “In Which Government Agents are Assholes, But What Else is New” and “In Which the Firebird is an Absolute Unit”. Or maybe it’s the fact that this is the kind of book that grins at you sidelong and says, “okay, but what if ICE are double agents for an actual evil Snow Queen?” (It was all of these things. This book is extremely charming.)
But then, past the halfway point, Wicked As You Wish looked me dead in the face and told me: in a world so like our own, where everyone in power is making terrible mistakes and everyone is trying to fix them in the same flawed ways, concepts like good and evil are based at least in part on jingoistic bias. And it clicked. In with all the shiny parts, this book is very real.
Wicked As You Wish takes place in an alternate present with a blended mythology that assumes all fairy tales and fairy tale-adjacent classics (Arthurian legend, Wonderland, et al.) are based in reality. Magic is real, albeit tightly bound by law. It has all the wonder of those old stories, stuffed into all the bureaucratic capitalism of the world we know.
This worldbuilding is handled at breakneck speed to make room for the story: Tala is a Makiling, the daughter of a line of spellbreakers, training with her extended family to protect a prince. The prince, Alexei, is less in exile and more in magical witness protection. His kingdom was frozen in time at the end of a war with the Snow Queen, and he’s waiting for his eighteenth birthday to see if a firebird shows up to declare him the rightful king so he can go save Avalon.
It does. So off they go with a motley crew of elite adolescents and their familial relics to thaw an extremely magical kingdom that’s been separated from the world for twelve years.
The beauty of Wicked is in the moments when you fall in love with these characters. They’re all doing their best, juggling a world-saving quest with justified teenage feelings. The responsibility of saving and ruling a kingdom makes Alex act like an asshole, which it would probably do to most teen boys with complicated social lives. Tala feels like a burden as much as she does an asset most of the time, and doesn’t understand why her best friend is being such a dick to her and everyone else. There’s a ranger with a magical staff that turns into a toothpick when they need it to, whose dads defied aristocratic convention to be together. There’s a boy with twin swords, one that actively drives people to terrible violence, while the other will cut no living thing. One of the party is a douchey Nottingham descendant with necromancy in his bloodline and a heart of gold. (The Locksleys got rich and pretty somewhere along the way and they’re an awful lot less cool now, in my opinion. It’s a far-removed sidenote, but I’ve made my choice.)
Tucked into this glitterbomb of a story, though, are big ideas. Important ideas. This is one of the first young adult novels I’ve read that really understands the problems with idolizing royalty—or anyone in a position of political power. At its heart, Wicked As You Wish is not just a novel about teenage heroes. It’s a novel about what we do to live with ourselves. It’s about redemption, not in a single great act, but as a path one walks for the rest of one’s life. It’s about trusting complicated people, including yourself. And it’s about power: who gets it, who is burdened by it, and who is willing to use it.
These things hum in the background, harmonizing with a wild, romping adventure. This book is complex, with a great cast of chosen ones on a quest with a lot of moving parts. There’s so much to it that it took me a while to latch on securely enough to enjoy the ride, but it was well worth it. It surprised me and moved me and got me deeply invested before the end. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
And it doesn’t hurt that it is an absolute delight.
Jo O’Brien is a writer, artist, cosplayer, mythical creature, and Viking who lives in northern Colorado, wrangling a host of familiar spirits. She draws and writes about ambitious, unrepentant, sometimes vicious women in novels and for live steel horse theater. She has been a member of the Sirens community since 2011.
The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women or nonbinary authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us!