A+ #BookReview: Ivy, Angelica, Bay by C.L. Polk

A+ #BookReview: Ivy, Angelica, Bay by C.L. PolkIvy, Angelica, Bay by C.L. Polk
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Hugo Packet
Formats available: ebook, emagazine
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy
Pages: 51
Published by Tor Books on January 17, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

When Hurston Hill is threatened by a suspiciously powerful urban development firm, Miss l'Abielle steps up to protect her community with the help of a mysterious orphaned girl in this charming follow up to "St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid," featured on LeVar Burton Reads.

My Review:

This was intended to be my review of Ivy, Angelica, Bay as the next in my series of Hugo nominee reviews. And it will be.

Howsomever, when I looked at the author’s website I discovered something marvelous. That this novelette is the follow-up to St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid, a short story that was published in February 2020 at Reactor Magazine, formerly known as Tor.com. Even better, the short story was read, in full, by Levar Burton on his podcast, Levar Burton Reads. (Which I highly recommend, not just this story but the whole beautiful thing!)

I loved Ivy, Angelica, Bay. I needed something short to listen to at the end of a long week. And thereby hangs the proverbial tale, so this review ended up being a bit of both.

Both of these stories are about the price of magic, which is really about that combination of being careful what you wish for because you might get it, the way that the magic ring always comes with a curse, and that having a thing may not be so pleasurable as wanting it – referring back to last Friday’s book just a bit.

St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid is the setup for Ivy, Angelica, Bay. The young, unnamed, first-person narrator of St. Valentine may be the adult in Ivy, or may be one of her many predecessors as the magical – and magically adopted – Miss l’Abielle. That we don’t know – although we don’t really need to – in Ivy does make me curious about how the magic at the end of that first story worked out – but that’s just my curiosity bump itching.

The story in St. Valentine is a coming of age and into power story. It’s also a bit of a story about selfishness – as coming of age stories are wont to be. But it also foreshadows both the narrator’s desire to keep what is hers – no matter the cost and no matter how benevolent she might be in that keeping – and the way that the magical power in these stories is maintained and passed on.

You don’t have to read or listen to St. Valentine in order to get stuck right into Ivy, but I’m glad I found it because listening to it was marvelous and it made the story I’d just finished that much deeper.

In Ivy, Angelica, Bay we get a story that reminds me a LOT of two of Leslye Penelope’s recent books, The Monsters We Defy and Daughter of the Merciful Deep, in that both are centered around protecting black communities from, let’s call it economic encroachment although that’s not all of what’s happening. The Monsters We Defy hits more of the same notes as Ivy, as both stories feature young black women as magical practitioners who protect their communities but also assist individuals who are willing to pay both a magical and a mundane price for that assistance. And that all too often the magical price is much too high.

But there’s also more than a bit of T. Kingfisher’s forthcoming A Sorceress Comes to Call in Ivy – as that turns out to be exactly what happens in both cases. The surprise is that in Ivy, there’s more than a bit of, of all surprising stories, The Velveteen Rabbit.

Escape Rating A+: Consider that rating for the overall experience as well as for all the parts that are combined into this whole. At this point I’ve read four of the six nominees for this year’s Best Novelette and I’m at the “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” point for selection and I still have two to go.

What makes these stories work, but particular for Ivy, Angelica, Bay because it has a bit more time and heft to it – also that St. Valentine has done a bit of its setup for it – is the way that it combines its elements and then tells its story through its protagonist, the current Miss l’Abielle, so that even though we don’t know her name  we still feel the horns – and thorns – of all of her dilemmas.

She is charged with protecting her community – but that charge has just fallen on her shoulders fully at the death of her mother. She’s spent too much of her magical energy in recent weeks and months keeping her mother on this side of death’s door – and now the price of that keeping has come due. Maybe even past due.

And she’s a bit desperate and a lot heartsore and easily gulled by a likely story – to the point where she nearly brings about the downfall of all she holds dear. A catastrophe that is made all that much clearer to the reader as she dives into what has gone wrong and we see who will pay that price – and is already paying – if she falls. Because the community will fall with her.

Her salvation – and theirs – comes in the most unlikely form. Which is where that Velveteen Rabbit hops into the story in a way that is surprising, delightful and perfect. And still requires a price to be paid – but one that the Misses l’Abielle and their community can bear more than well enough to continue the fight for another day.

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