Venom & Vow
Anna-Marie McLemore and Elliot McLemore
Feiwel & Friends
Published May 16, 2023
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About Venom & Vow
Keep your enemy closer.
Cade McKenna is a transgender prince who’s doubling for his brother.
Valencia Palafox is a young dama attending the future queen of Eliana.
Gael Palma is the infamous boy assassin Cade has vowed to protect.
Patrick McKenna is the reluctant heir to a kingdom, and the prince Gael has vowed to destroy.
Cade doesn’t know that Gael and Valencia are the same person.
Valencia doesn’t know that every time she thinks she’s fighting Patrick, she’s fighting Cade.
And when Cade and Valencia blame each other for a devastating enchantment that takes both their families, neither of them realizes that they have far more dangerous enemies.
Cowritten by married writing team Anna-Marie and Elliott McLemore, this is a lush and powerful YA novel about owning your power and becoming who you really are – no matter the cost.
I’ve really wanted to read books by Anna-Marie McLemore for a long time, but so far only managed to read a short story by them in SERENDIPITY: TEN ROMANTIC TROPES TRANSFORMED. I loved the short story, and when I saw this book up for grabs as a review copy from MacMillan, I knew I wanted to read it.
To be honest, I had kind of a mixed experience with this book.
First, I loved the characters. Cade is a transgender prince who should be next in line to rule, but has complicated feelings about that. Instead, he impersonates his brother, Patrick, when Patrick needs things taken care of.
Valencia serves as a dama to her princess, but also as an assassin as Gael, a boy with an affinity for knives. Valencia wrestles with questions about whether her identity as both male and female is something her people will accept. Gael also makes some powerful enemies, which could be bad if those enemies connect his identity to Valencia’s.
The story world is definitely rich with magic and interesting elements that seem both inspired by Latine culture and Scottish culture. Super cool. The Eliane people are protected by Quetzals and other magical creatures that emerge from their tapestries. Sea monsters guard the Adare.
While the story world has some rich elements, I felt like there were also some confusing aspects. We know there’s been a curse, which removed both kingdom’s leaders and a few others. Descriptions of that night are choppy, which makes sense at first, because it’s a memory from years ago and both Cade and Valencia were not close enough to make out all the details.
As the story progresses, though, there were times information kind of got dropped into a scene and it felt like it was something we were already supposed to know, but yet was new information.
The progression of events from scene to scene felt choppy, too. At one point, a scene ends in the middle of a battle, with one character appearing to be the victor. The next scene opens with the apparent victor lying dead, but we never learn how they were overpowered or what happened. Stuff like that.
I did really enjoy the relationships between the characters and getting to see the representation of both Cade and Valencia/Gael. Both have chronic pain as well as queer identities.
Content Notes for Venom & Vow
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Cade is a transgender prince with chronic pain. He uses a staff for support and as a weapon. Valencia/Gael is bigender and also has chronic pain. Valencia and her people are Latine-coded.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Some brief profanity in Spanish used pretty infrequently.
Kissing between boy and girl or boy and boy. In one scene maybe the characters go to bed together? It’s written kind of subtly, and then mentions someone waking and their partner being already gone.
Magical creatures appear and help the members of the kingdoms they support.
Situations of peril. Battle violence.
Characters consume drinks that contain alcohol and also, for the first time, caffeine. The caffeinated drinks make them feel mentally sharper but also jittery, so it’s presented much like drinking alcohol would be.
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