Title: Rust in the Root
Author: Justina Ireland
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: September 20th, 2022 (Balzer + Bray)
Synopsis: It is 1937, and Laura Ann Langston lives in an America divided – between those who work the mystical arts and those who do not. Ever since the Great Rust, a catastrophic event that blighted the arcane force called the Dynamism and threw America into disarray, the country has been rebuilding for a better future. And everyone knows the future is industry and technology – otherwise known as Mechomancy – not the traditional mystical arts.
Laura disagrees. A talented young mage from Pennsylvania, Laura hopped a portal to New York City on her seventeenth birthday with hopes of earning her mage’s license and becoming something more than a rootworker.
But six months later, she’s got little to show for it other than an empty pocket and broken dreams. With nowhere else to turn, Laura applies for a job with the Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps, a branch of the US government dedicated to repairing the Dynamism so that Mechomancy can thrive. There she meets the Skylark, a powerful mage with a mysterious past, who reluctantly takes Laura on as an apprentice.
As they’re sent off on their first mission together into the heart of the country’s oldest and most mysterious Blight, they discover the work of mages not encountered since the darkest period in America’s past, when Black mages were killed for their power – work that could threaten Laura’s and the Skylark’s lives, and everything they’ve worked for.
Thank you to the publisher, Balzer & Bray, HCC Frenzy, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Life has been hard in America ever since the Great Rust, which corrupted the arcane force known as the Dynamism, causing many areas across the country to become blighted and uninhabitable. The country is slowly rebuilding and the traditional mystical arts are giving way to the modern Mechomancy, with any kind of magic being highly regulated. Laura, a young mage from Pennsylvania, moves to New York with grand dreams of getting her license, but six months later, with no funds and no opportunities, she joins the Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps whose job it is to repair the dynamism so that Mechomancy can work unhindered again. Skylark, a powerful mage, takes her on as an apprentice and their first missing takes them straight into the country’s oldest and largest Blight. They immediately realize that this Blight is something very different and incredibly dangerous, but Laura is unaware of her own abilities and is more powerful than she thinks she is, which might be the only thing that can protect them against the rising of an old enemy.
The minute I saw that Justina Ireland had a new book this year, I added it to my TBR. After reading the Dread Nation duology, which I absolutely loved, I was excited to see what this would be about. Rust in the Root reimagines the events of the Great Depression with a magical twist. The setting and world building were extremely detailed and well thought out, and quite frankly very impressive for a standalone. The magic system was a cool concept too and all the various types of mage abilities were well described. World building is all well and good, but with this book, I found that there is such a thing as too much background information. It would have been possible to understand the story with, I felt, around half the context provided. The author delved into the history a little too much and for too long at times resulting in several chapters feeling like info dumps and also made the first handful of chapters an extremely confusing read.
Laura was a wonderful protagonist and a strong character. Her arc was excellent as she learned about and grew into her abilities as the story progressed, making her a likeable and easy character to root for. The secondary characters were interesting and had some potential, but as is typical in a standalone, there wasn’t much time to develop their arcs and they largely fell flat as a result. The group dynamic as a whole was well written and it was nice to see Laura find her place amongst the apprentices and make friends.
While I’m usually a fan of having multiple perspectives in fantasy novels, it didn’t work for me in this book for two reasons. First, the Skylark’s POVs were very few in number and only showed up maybe once for every five or six chapters from Laura’s perspective. Secondly, the shift between the POVs was also rather abrupt and more importantly, the narrative switched from first person to third person which I found extremely irritating. There were also brief excerpts throughout from what seemed to be a report by the Skylark detailing the mission they are on which I suppose was meant to be a bit of foreshadowing of some sort but I didn’t like the constant breaks in the narrative, especially because it featured into the grander scheme of things only peripherally in the end. This, along with the info dumps, caused the story to drag and I found myself skimming the pages quite a few times.
The ending neatly tied up all the loose ends, though I did feel like the final couple of chapters rushed things too much. With the level of detail in this story and so much lore and world building, this book definitely had the potential to be atleast a duology. Overall, this was an intriguing and unique read, and I’m looking forward to more books by this author!
Rust in the Root released on September 20th, 2022.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
All quotes in this review were taken from an advance reader’s edition and may differ from the final version of the book.