Wench | ARC Review

Published: January 19th 2021

Cover of Wench by Maxine Kaplan

Pages: 384

Format: eBook (ARC)

Tags: Young Adult, Fantasy, Action/Adventure, LGBTQIA

| A Synopsis from the Publisher |

Tanya has worked at her tavern since she was able to see over the bar. She broke up her first fight at 11. By the time she was a teenager she knew everything about the place, and she could run it with her eyes closed. She’d never let anyone—whether it be a drunkard or a captain of the queen’s guard—take advantage of her. But when her guardian dies, she might lose it all: the bar, her home, her purpose in life. So she heads out on a quest to petition the queen to keep the tavern in her name—dodging unscrupulous guards, a band of thieves, and a powerful, enchanted feather that seems drawn to her. Fast-paced, magical, and unapologetically feminist, Wench is epic fantasy like you’ve never seen it before.

| Book Review |

I received a complimentary copy of this book from ABRAMS Kids & Amulet Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Describing This Book in Adjectives: plot-driven, slow-pace, static characters

This book was a struggle to get through. I really did not enjoy reading it, even though it ticks so many of my boxes (fantasy, magic, strong female lead). I didn’t like any of the characters, the ending is…a major let down, and the author didn’t seem like they could make up their mind about what they wanted this story to be.

Tanya is an orphan and is looking forward to a life where she’ll eventually be the sole owner of the tavern where she works. Unfortunately that day comes sooner than she expected when her caretaker, the tavern owner, dies. Also unfortunately, the tavern is seized by the Queen’s corpsmen and they only way for her to get her tavern back is to follow them to the Queen and make her case of ownership. But this quest gets sidetracked almost immediately by…MAGIC!

The magic of this story is…weird. I mean, it’s a mish-mash of a variety of magics under the name of Aetherical Manipulation. There are “magicians” who can manipulate the aether and produce things, but it seems really anyone can manipulate the aether if they try hard enough. There’s a magic quill that Tanya soon comes in possession of and this knocks town a tumbling block story change into the direction of quest for power to make things “as they should be.”

I could go on, but then I’d just end up telling the whole story and you’re not here for that, you’re here for the review. I’ll just say that along the way we meet character after new character and they are like tiny blips in the story, though the author treats them like we’ve known them ages and totally understand their motivations and emotions. Plus, Tanya acts as though she has known these characters forever and gets attached but we never see how that could possibly be because she’s there one minute and gone the next without any time for character development.

The characters are very cliched. It’s like the author was trying to make her book as feminist as possible, but could only work from template “feminist” characters. Tanya is strong, but foolhardy, fights for what she wants, but she’s also…a bit annoying. She doesn’t come off as likeable, like the author probably intended. She seems very whiny at times and she doesn’t appear to grow at all throughout the course of the book. She just keeps making the same choices over and over, with each new situation. Jana is also annoying. She is supposed to be the “badass, warrior girl,” but she just comes off as flat, unfeeling, and really unlikeable. Like Tanya, she doesn’t appear to grow at all either. The rest of the characters aren’t really worth mentioning because they are all as equally flat and uninteresting.

The story itself is probably the biggest let down. I was expecting a totally cool, action-oriented adventure, and I got that, BUT. It’s all over the place. It’s like the author couldn’t make up her mind what she wanted the story to be, so it has everything, unfiltered. First it’s a take-back-what’s-mine story, then it’s a rule-the-world-with-power story, then it’s a fight-the-evil-magic-users story, and throughout the later half of the novel there’s a minor love story thrown in for good measure. All of this just ends up being a novel that travels with whiplash-like twists and turns but reads with starts and stutters. It’s really sluggish for most of the time, despite the constant scene changes, new characters popping up, and new quests being started. I really struggled to keep reading because I had absolutely no interest after getting through the first 50 pages. I really wanted to quit it after just the first third, but I soldiered on because I received this as an advanced reader copy. Without that duty, I would have DNF-ed it almost right away.

The romance line is just thrown in there out of nowhere. I mean, Tanya “feels” things for characters at the beginning, but the author chooses to just move on and so I thought, “Okay, no romance, which is fine because not every YA needs romance. This could actually be the ONE refreshing thing about this book.” But no, all of a sudden, the author throws in not one but two potential romances for our main character in the last 1/3rd of the book, out of nowhere. And an addition side-character-romance for good measure. It’s like she had a checklist and down at the bottom saw she’d written “Add a romance” and she was like, “Oh yeah, Tanya needs to fall for someone,” and she spun a wheel and it landed on a character and she was like, “Cool, but I think there needs to be a love-triangle. That’s what YA readers love, right?” So she spun it again and chose another one. I will say that it was nice seeing a potentially bisexual character in Tanya, but really this decision seemed entirely accidental and not really deeply considered. It didn’t go anywhere and the characters are so flat that it just felt like they were paper-cut outs being pushed together, while the author says, “Now kiss.” It just didn’t work at all. It also felt really second-thought and unearned.

Last, the writing is… not good. It’s very juvenile at times, very tell instead of show. The author, through Tanya, feels the need to walk the reader through every “discovery” with lots of exposition and not enough just showing us the world. Tanya reads like a petulant child most of the time instead of the teenager (?) she’s supposed to be. Most of the characters are written without any depth. You see them exactly as what they are right from the get-go and nothing changes as the book progresses. Even the action scenes are just…not very interesting. I was continually frustrated by the lack of depth to the story.

Ultimately, I didn’t hate the book, but I really didn’t enjoy reading it and I would have put it down, personally. I won’t not recommend it, but I think it would have to be a really special circumstance for me to suggest this to a reader. There are so many better adventure-fantasy books out there, with better written feminist agendas.

Read Alikes:

| My Rating |

Ok, But Not My Cup of Tea

There might be readers out there who will actually enjoy this book. I’m just not one of them. The story was several good ideas that could have – should have – been pared down to a more flowing storyline. The characters were a good start, but they were not built upon and didn’t come across as genuine, which is disappointing, since the author clearly wants us (the reader) to love them and root for them. It’s also disappointing that the romance is so mishandled. It has no place in the story, not just because it’s shoved in as an afterthought, but because the characters just aren’t developed enough for it to make sense.

Overall, I could recommend this to readers of fantasy, who like magic in their stories, who are looking for something a little unconventional. This book has a lot of feminist tropes and lots of fantasy tropes, and it tries very hard to be a representation for everybody. There are definitely readers out there who will get something out of it. It just wasn’t for me.

3 thoughts on “Wench | ARC Review

  1. What a shame! I’ve never heard of it but its always a let-down when you think a book will be good and it turns out to be a bit of a flop. I hope your next read is more enjoyable for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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