Review: Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

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I’ve been very interested in this book since I heard that it features an asexual protagonist and Native American legends, but I won’t lie: a major part of my decision to get it sooner than later was the fact that it’s illustrated. I have a weakness for pretty books and the hardcover is nicer and better quality than most special editions.

And of course, it’s also well worth a read – even if it was admittedly a poor fit for me at the time.

Ellie (or Elatsoe) is Lipan Apache and has the power to summon animal ghosts, passed through the generations from her six-great-grandmother. When her cousin dies under mysterious circumstances, she knows he was murdered and sets out to find who did it and bring the murderer to justice, along with her himbo best friend Jay and her ghost dog Kirby.

The setting is an alternate America where magic is real, in the vein of most urban fantasy. There are vampires, various kinds of shapeshifters, fae, vengeful ghosts, people with all sorts of powers. But at the same time, Ellie still has to deal with racism and the usual sorts of asshattery. (I was, at one point early on, wondering how come Native Americans are still oppressed even though they have powers, but it is explained and it does make sense.)

One thing I enjoyed was seeing a protagonist whose parents are not only alive, but also supportive. I feel like we barely ever see one in fantasy, much less the other. It’s in general a very soft, compassionate kind of book, the type that would make an excellent comfort read. The asexuality rep was very well done and doesn’t fall into any of common pitfalls like making the character a literal robot or cold and emotionless and friendless. And it has a lot to say about the power of stories, about friendship, about grief, justice.

But in the end, it just didn’t click. Mostly because of how young it feels – I’d put it towards the younger end of YA bordering on middle grade. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, to be clear, but I generally prefer adult or sometimes the older end of YA. It read fast, but I can’t deny I was not in the mood, and it felt more than a little lacking in conflict.

However, if this is not a dealbreaker for you and you find the concept interesting, I’d still recommend it.

Enjoyment: 3/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: anyone looking for an easy, uplifting read, those who want more books with a casually asexual protagonist, people in need of a comfort read, fans of ghost books, those looking for a book they can read with their children, dog people, pretty book collectors
Not recommended to: those who prefer more conflict or books aimed at an older audience

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