YA Urban Fantasy
I don’t know how to review The Uncrossing because I’m already sad that it’s not a YA mega best-seller with the same number of contracted spin-offs as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series and a cult following akin to that of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. (It came out like three seconds ago - I'm just being impatient.)
Melissa Eastlake crafts a magical world right in New York, skipping the overhyped Manhattan, which I am sick to death of reading about, for Brooklyn and the Bronx. The magicians in this book eat bodega pickles while casting spells, and I loved it, that very Neil Gaiman-like blend of realism and wonder.
The Kovrov family is one of New York’s most powerful magical dynasties, and they act like enchanted mobsters, sourcing out smaller, less powerful families' magic to propel their own seedy agenda. They emigrated from Russia, and their magic is the deep, dark stuff of fairytales.
Luke Melnyk is half-Creole half-Ukrainian, and his family's magic is more about mojo and voodoo than eternal enchantments. His sister Camille, bad-ass extraordinaire, is a crosser; she can curse anyone and anything and she's very, very good at it.
Luke is equally adept at his inversed magic: He uncrosses. People crossed with bad mojo by their enemies come to the Melnyk family’s thrift story for some of Luke's magic healing. What pays most of the Melnyks’ bills isn't small magic or the thrift store, however - it's working for the Kovrov family. They have to fulfill every one of the Kovrovs’ requests, lest they end up financially ruined.
Again, I love that blend of the real and unreal: They're forced into magical servitude because they have to pay their (surely outrageous) New York rent.
One summer, one of the Kovrov patriarchs, Alexei, "requests" that Luke work for the Kovrovs as a kind of paid apprentice. In doing so, Luke finds himself spending a lot of time with Jeremy Kovrov, the youngest of the Kovrovs and the least menacing.
Jeremy is pretty and awkward and sheltered, but never imperious, and Luke is drawn to him. What he doesn't realize is that Jeremy's been drawn to Luke since he was six - and that Jeremy is crossed with the ultimate curse. But who better to unravel his magical conundrum than Luke Melnyk?
The Kovrov Brothers
I loved both the Kovrov and Melnyk families. The Kovrov brothers are Alexei and Sergei.
“That’s what’s going on Alexei’s tombstone. ‘Here lies Alexei Kovrov. He made it weird.’”
Alexei is a naughty, heartbroken, faux-easygoing bisexual wizard, reminiscent of Cassandra Clare’s Magnus Bane.
“The only thing that goes with vodka is more vodka.”
Sergei has one of my favorite character descriptions:
“Alexei’s younger brother, Sergei, was the family battle-ax. He was tall like Alexei but leaner, his muscle more practical than aesthetic. His nose was twisted from old breaks, and his brow jutted out in a shelf over his eyes. He wore a white muscle tank, and everything below his chin was covered in black tattoos.”
Eastlake’s prose is simultaneously whimsical and revealing. I loved some key quotes that just described certain things perfectly to me.
Crappy nachos at a baseball game:
“It was sort of like eating cardboard dipped in plastic, but not in a bad way.”
Being touched by a romantic interest for the first time:
“This was one of Jeremy’s favorite ways to be touched, though he hadn’t known that about himself until Luke started touching him. It was thrilling and strange and almost unbearable to think there were secrets like that ticking away inside him, secrets only someone else could uncover.”
Jeremy is a sweet little cinnamon roll, and I loved being in his fluttery, sincere head. At one point he thinks, “Luke was very good. Jeremy adored that about him.” These sentences are so simple, the vocabulary mundane, but Eastlake’s mix of distinctive prose style and character development left these words spinning in my head for days. Luke was very good. It moved me. <3
Eastlake inverts the princess-in-distress, Rapunzel trope in this one. She doesn't just use the fairytale trope to structure her story, and she doesn't merely invert it for the sake of being "new" or "edgy." Jeremy Kovrov is under some deep cursed-until-true-love's-kiss magic, but he is unflinchingly in our modern world.
When he falls in love with a black boy, for example, this issue arises: "The [spell] is more than a century old. [W]e should acknowledge the possibility it’s not going to recognize a boy as Jeremy’s true love. Or, you know, maybe a black person.”
Whoa. That is the kind of deep, explorative urban fantasy I crave. Eastlake delves into gender roles, racial issues, and more, through the lens of the fairytale.
I talked about the less-than-perfect female representation in Fortitude Smashed, and it's something I'm going to come back to over and over again in m/m, because it drives me crazy. The Uncrossing was a very nice change of pace. This is one of the first m/m books I have ever read that has multiple well-developed women characters that are at no point degraded, insulted, or assaulted.
Let's talk about Katya and Natalya - two sisters wielding different kinds of magic. Or Camille, the crosser, with her menacing and vicious mojo. Or Helene, Luke's mom, who knows all about magic and true love. Or Marta, Sergei Kovrov's wife, who's not the least bit afraid to shout at the most powerful magicians in New York.
I loved the ladies in this book. I often feel like even the most well-intentioned writers, who actively aim to include women in their m/m stories, settle for quotas like "one lady doctor" and "one lady police chief" and call it a day. There's no real development, and they act as either obstacles or sounding boards to the male protagonists, and nothing more. The Uncrossing was not so.
I really want Melissa Eastlake to write more inside The Uncrossing world. The magic is complicated and bedazzling, and I'm so hungry for more of it. I think this has real series potential, so please please please goe buy 100 copies each so that I can enjoy a sequel.