Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland


Who knew that an asexual romance could be so... well, sexy? I bought BEYOND THE BLACK DOOR impulsively years ago because of the Bluebeard vibes the summary was giving off and because I'd heard tell that it was a villain romance. But then I fell into the sinkhole that is my never-ending to-read list and somehow never got around to picking this up until now, which was MY MISTAKE, because this book was everything I love in the fantasy genre.

Kamai, the heroine, is something called a soulwalker. She has the ability to walk into people's souls while they're asleep and potentially see their true selves and find out their secrets. However, the one soul she can't see is her own, and no matter which soul she's visiting, she's followed around by a mysterious black door that her mother tells her she should never open. But not why. So obviously, she wonders what the heck is behind there and eventually opens the door.

I think anyone who loves Rosamund Hodge is going to love this book because it has the same sort of narrative style. Plot-wise, it reminded me a lot of Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, because there's a lot of political intrigue and it has a sort of Ancient Mediterranean setting. And the villain love interest did NOT disappoint, BEE TEE DUBS. He's like a cross between Jareth from Labyrinth and Julian from the Forbidden Game trilogy: the perfect blend of hot, arrogant, and dangerous, in other words.

But there were so many other things I loved about this book too. As someone who probably falls on the ace spectrum herself, I REALLY appreciated this rep. Kamai is a bit more acey than me, but so many of her feelings reflected my own and I wish so hard that this book had been around when I was a teenager because I feel like it would have helped me figure out some of my own confusions. There's this great on-page discussion of sexuality, and I feel like the heroine's angst over it makes sense because her mother is a courtesan and she's grown up in a house of courtesans, and no one has ever sat her down and explained this sort of stuff to her, so it makes sense why she'd have some internalized acephobia.

There's also a trans character and he is the BEST. He reminds me a lot of Luisa from Encanto because he's a strong and sweet character, and his struggle is less about his identity and more about being what he wants to be and living up to his own expectations. For most of the book he does use female pronouns, by choice, because outing himself will cause problems, but transphobia isn't built into the world for the most part (and neither is other bigotry, really), and the author even came up with a term for it called soul-crossed, which is part of this sexuality chart explained with moons.

I could honestly see this as a movie, you know. It has the perfect blend of action, magic, mystery, and romance. Kamai was a great character but so were all the people around her, and it was lovely to see so many strong female characters. I can't wait to read more from this author. I'm so happy.

5 out of 5 stars

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