cover image Venom & Vow

Venom & Vow

Anna-Marie and Elliott McLemore. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, $19.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-82223-9

Married cowriters Anna-Marie (Lakelore) and debut author Elliott McLemore empathetically interrogate issues of self via dual-identity situations in an uplifting fantastical romance. After negotiations fail between warring kingdoms Adare and Eliana, an unknown party sends the monarchs of both realms into an enchanted sleep. Later, mishaps occur when Eliana’s Crown Princess Bryna visits Adare’s Crown Prince Patrick in a second attempt at peace, fostering further distrust. Unbeknownst to most, Patrick’s brother, Cade, is transgender and the throne’s rightful heir; however, Cade fears Adare will reject a trans king, so Patrick leads, and Cade occasionally serves as his double. As suspicions fester between the kingdoms, Bryna’s lady-in-waiting, bi-gender Valencia—also a covert male assassin—investigates Cade, who Val believes bewitched the rulers as a power play, while Cade suspects Val of the same. In truth, they share a common enemy and must overcome misgivings and bring secrets to light if they’re to save the day. Alternating chapters narrated by Cade and Val heighten the tension as the duo gradually unravel their feelings about themselves and each other. Though initially haphazard plotting and worldbuilding lack focus, things coalesce for an impactful third act, and the McLemores approach the teens’ challenges with candor and grace. The boldly drawn cast is intersectionally diverse; both protagonists use canes. Ages 13–up. (May)