In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most–safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget. Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground.
I’ve been looking forward to Katherine’s next YA since it was announced! They are one of my favorite authors, and I was siked to see what their next historical fiction would bring. And a story about a magic river, an angel of death, and a city that is deeply flawed, with a girl struggling to figure out if it is worth fighting for.
I wasn’t sure about this book for awhile, and I think that is part of the beauty of it. It’s very, very steadfast in what it is. Bleak, gut-wrenching, and something that settles heavily. It places exactly what it is and doesn’t try to make anything else out of it. This made me unsure of how I was going to like where it went, where ever it went. But, I ended up really, really liking.
First off, the writing just oozes pure talent. It feels like the steel gray of an overcast sky, and it lends it so well to exactly what this book is trying to do. It’s a book that is a slow burn, one that seems to come from coals and they begin to heat and heat and heat. It’s done so, so well.
One of the biggest things for me were the pockets of love that were tucked into the corners of this book. A lot of it is about heavy things, but there are still instances that made my heart clench because of the love that was infused in them. There is a lot of pain throughout the book, but the little moments were just as important and held just as much weight. The love was still there, even amongst the fighting and the weight of everything else.
This book does have magic, but it was a lot more subtle than I thought. But, the way it was done was incredible. It makes it feel like it was just another part of the world, like it was pulled from what actually happens. And the way that the city is colorless, and the way that color regained, oh it was so brilliant. And the magic river, oh gosh, that’s another thing that feels like a punch to the chest.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to end up liking the characters, and I did end up liking them a lot more than I thought I was going to. Csilla is complicated, in what she is trying to figure out, both inside her and in her city. She’s trying to find her footing, and that is something quite dangerous. There’s this determination in her, the kind that pushes her. I loved her a whole lot. There were side characters I thought wasn’t going to like either, but also fell in love with. They were sweeter, and funnier, and a lot more than I expected.
This book was also queer! I was not expecting it to be as queer as it was, but I really really loved that it ended up being as queer as it was.
This book is also very Jewish. I can’t say more than that since I am not Jewish myself, but I felt it was important to note.
Overall, I ended up really, really liking this book. It burns in a way that is unexpected, and it is written so spectacularly. It’s so, so good.