Rust in the Root
Balzer + Bray
Published September 20, 2022
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About Rust in the Root
The author of the visionary New York Times bestseller Dread Nation returns with another spellbinding historical fantasy set at the crossroads of race and power in America.
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.
I’ve been really wanting to read a book by Justina Ireland for a long time. I’d heard amazing things about DREAD NATION, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. When I got an opportunity to read RUST IN THE ROOT, I couldn’t pass it up– and I’m so glad I didn’t!
Reimagined history can be one of the coolest types of stories to read. I loved the way this book took historical figures and events and reimagined them through the lens of magic in the world. The connection between Jim Crow laws and the oppression of Black magic. The way oppression would get repackaged and repurposed. It was awful, but it fit the history.
I also loved the characters. The story is told from both Laura and the Skylark’s perspectives. The bulk of the story is from Laura’s point of view, but there are snippets of records that the Skylark would have submitted to her superiors interspersed between chapters. Usually following those snippets, we’d get a scene from the Skylark’s viewpoint. I liked getting both perspectives.
Also– the tree with “strange fruit”– I felt like that hit me right in the gut. Wow. What a powerful reference and another moment where magic and history intersected in this incredibly moving way.
On the whole, I loved the reimagined history, and I think fans of The Great Library series by Rachel Caine or THE RING AND THE CROWN by Melissa de la Cruz would love RUST IN THE ROOT. I think fans of CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi or SONG BELOW WATER by Bethany C. Morrow would love this book, too.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Major characters are Black. Laura is attracted to women. Two boys (minor characters) are in a secret romantic relationship.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.
Laura discusses how the existence of magic played a role in religion– namely that magic was responsible for resurrections in different faiths.
References to murder. Situations of peril. Some battle scenes.
Laura mentions a time as a little girl that she drank alcohol as an illustration for feeling drunk when she encounters a type of magic.
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