**I received an ARC from the #bookishwish tag on Twitter (thank you, Mary @ knoxdiver!). These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**
Book: Beyond the Ruby Veil (Beyond the Ruby Veil #1) by Mara Fitzgerald
Release Date: October 13, 2020
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Rep: lesbian protagonist, gay main character, wlw main character
CW: blood, violence, gore, magic using self-harm, full list here
Summary: A dark, queer YA fantasy that’s perfect for fans of the Three Dark Crowns series and Wicked Saints. After Emanuela Ragno kills the one person in Occhia who can create water, she must find a way to save her city from dying of thirst.
Emanuela Ragno always gets what she wants. With her daring mind and socialite schemes, she refuses to be the demure young lady everyone wants her to be. In her most ambitious move yet, she’s about to marry Alessandro Morandi, her childhood best friend and the heir to the wealthiest house in Occhia. Emanuela doesn’t care that she and her groom are both gay, because she doesn’t want a love match. She wants power, and through Ale, she’ll have it all.
But Emanuela has a secret that could shatter her plans. In the city of Occhia, the only source of water is the watercrea, a mysterious being who uses magic to make water from blood. When their first bruise-like omen appears on their skin, all Occhians must surrender themselves to the watercrea to be drained of life. Everyone throughout history has given themselves up for the greater good. Everyone except Emanuela. She’s kept the tiny omen on her hip out of sight for years.
When the watercrea exposes Emanuela during her wedding ceremony and takes her to be sacrificed, Emanuela fights back…and kills her. Now Occhia has no one to make their water and no idea how to get more. In a race against time, Emanuela and Ale must travel through the mysterious, blood-red veil that surrounds their city to uncover the secrets of the watercrea’s magic and find a way to save their people-no matter what it takes.
SONG OF THE DAY
“Oh No!” by Marina and the Diamonds
I have something I believe in, too. I believe in myself. I believe that I can change things no one else has ever been able to change, and do things no one else has ever been able to do. I don’t care if people love me, or if they think what I do is good. But rest assured, they’re going to know I was here.
Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of this book, but I read “chaotic lesbian and her gay best friend” and knew I wanted in. And boy, was this a wild ride; in fact, I bumped up my rating a day or so later because I couldn’t stop thinking about this book! Beyond the Ruby Veil features an unlikable female protagonist who will do whatever it takes to save her city.
Emanuela has been dreaming of her wedding day her entire life, but not for reasons that may come to mind. No, she’s betrothed to her (gay) childhood best friend, Alessandro, and when they finally get married, she will have the power she’s been dreaming of for so long. However, Emanuela has a secret: she’s hidden an omen, a bruise that marks her for death, for years, and the watercrea, the being who makes the city’s water from blood, sees through her lies immediately and brings her into the tower to be drained.
The author called this her “love letter to the unlikable female protagonist,” and Emanuela is the very epitome of that. She’s brash and selfish and self-centered. She doesn’t care about other people’s feelings and will do whatever she wants, when she wants. Despite him being her best friend, she’s constantly rude to Ale. She’s also extremely bloodthirsty and morally gray.
And I kinda loved it?
Don’t get me wrong, it takes some getting used to, but from the start, Emanuela demands your attention. It’s a little startling, at first, being in her head, but you fall into her way of thinking quickly. And by “way of thinking,” I mean her overall demeanor, thinking she is the only one competent enough to do anything. She thinks that she can accomplish anything based on her sheer will, that she is always right because she just is, and that she is the exception to any and every rule.
Having said that, I can definitely see a lot of people not liking this protagonist, and this book as a consequence. However, I found her very well-written, to the point that I related to her, despite the literal bloodthirstiness and whatnot. While she is rude to Ale a lot, it read more like her lashing out at the person closest to her, often him. She does obviously care about him in her own way. She is also incredibly ambitious, so much so that she would do anything for power.
I want the kind of magic that belongs to me, and only me.
I want more.
But I don’t know how to get more.
Anyways, Emanuela is a little chaos lesbian, and Ale is a tall helpless gay, to put them in terms of tropes, and I love them and their friendship. Ale is the reassuring presence at her side, although he is extremely anxious and hates being in the spotlight, whereas Emanuela thrives in it. Here’s an example of what I mean when I said she loves him in her own way: whenever people make fun of him, she retaliates. She also listens to his meanderings about the novels he reads, and in turn, he responds to every thought in her lengthy letters. It may seem like Emanuela just uses Ale for his position as heir to the most powerful family, but really, she loves him and he loves her.
The plot was incredibly fast-paced. After Emanuela is caught, she refuses to die in the tower, as is her duty, so she breaks out, breaking all tradition. The story grows more and more wild from there, but the gist is that she and Ale must find a new water source to save their city. I can’t say anything more because of spoilers, but know that it is a truly wild ride. I was so engrossed in this book that I finished it in one sitting.
Also, there is a LOT of blood in this book; some of the magic requires self-harm in order to obtain that blood, and there is some graphic eye gore towards the end, so please read the content warnings. I was a little unsettled by it all honestly, but it added to the atmosphere of the book and Emanuela’s (and another character’s) characterizations.
There is a f/f enemies-to-lovers romance hinted at, and I believe that the author said on Twitter that it would come to more fruition in the second book. I don’t want to spoil you on who the other person is, but I will say that I loved their dynamic. Honestly, at some point, they were fighting just to fight because they’re both extremely stubborn and they both refuse to be the one to lose. Frankly, it was ridiculous in a hilarious way, and I loved the sheer spite of it all.
This was a standout debut from Fitzgerald, who wrote an unlikable female protagonist who will stay in your head for ages. It features a morally gray, chaotic lesbian and her helpless gay best friend trying to save their city, no matter what it takes. There’s also a promised f/f enemies-to-lovers ship that you’ll love. Beyond the Ruby Veil demands your attention and doesn’t let it go; trust me, it is not to be missed.
About the Author: Mara Fitzgerald writes YA fantasy about unlikable female characters who ruin everything. She is a biologist by day and spends entirely too much time looking at insects under a microscope. She was born in the same state as Disney World and now lives in the same state as Dollywood, which is just as good. BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL is her first novel.