Alex Brown reviews The Fae Keeper by HE Edgmon – Locus Online
The Fairy GuardianHE Edgmon (Inkyard 978-1-33542-591-1, $18.99. 432pp, hc) June 2022.
HE Edgmon’s The Fairy Guardiansequel to last year’s excellent young adult fantasy The Witch Kingis more vicious than its predecessor, assuming that oppressed witches fight against their fae oppressors and takes it to eleven.
This second book opens a few weeks after the events of the first. Wyatt and Emyr are looking for Derek Pierce and his sister Clarke. Emyr also tries desperately – and largely fails – to keep Asalin from fracturing in the civil war. The future of the kingdom rests in the hands of a group of gay teenagers who don’t know how to establish a democracy without its citizens immediately turning it into a fascist state. Meanwhile, someone keeps trying to assassinate Emyr and her dethroned father, the Pierce family wreaks havoc in Asalin, and the other earthly faerie kingdoms stay out or get a little too involved. Not to mention the secret communities of Changelings redefining what magic looks like from the witches and dangerous creatures that have slipped through the open Faery Gate lurking in the woods.
The Fairy Guardian veers into heavy territory. Besides racism, colonialism, oppression, slavery and transphobia, the sequel also explores trauma, the sometimes blurred line between healthy and toxic relationships, and sex. The book is definitely older than YA and closer to New Adult, but regardless, Edgmon still focuses on teenage readers. It would be ridiculous to assume that no teenager has to deal with shifting friendships and relationships, consent, or state-sanctioned identity-based oppressions. Millions of teenagers across the country are going through the same things as Wyatt, Emyr and Briar, if not more and worse. Edgmon faces these challenges head-on, never shooting at them or watering things down. It’s not often that readers discover characters having detailed discussions of the various shades of queer beyond the commonly known macro-labels, unequivocally stating that it’s okay to revoke consent, or coming to understand that A marker of a good relationship is having a partner who respects your needs. Some of them have been stated very bluntly, but sometimes it is better to say something than to accumulate metaphors.
Later, we see consent extended to a societal level when our protagonists visit a Changeling village in Aotearoa and again when they cross the threshold into Faery. At the heart of this novel is a conversation about decolonization. Decolonization is not reform or the election of new leaders from the same old parties. It is an intentional dismantling of oppressive systems. Decolonization must be treated as a verb; it is the action and the intention. Edgmon is careful not to copy and paste from particular Indigenous cultures or use specific Indigenous beliefs or traditions as fantasy metaphors, but their decolonial setting and centering of Indigenous perspectives shines between the lines.
Clarke steps into her brother’s shoes as Big Bad for this novel. At every opportunity for change, she and her equally vile mother are there to push Asalin back into authoritarianism. Clarke becomes the literal personification of white supremacy and patriarchy. The more Wyatt learns about the human culture the fae adopted when they settled on Earth, the more he realizes how wrong it is to have a gender-nonconforming black person as king for the Asalin fae. The Pierces use all of his identities as marks against him to determine if he is worthy or worthy of being a leader.
In my review of The Witch KingI wrote that it ”is a story of transitions, not just of gender identity, but of sense of self, relationships, culture and community. ” The Fairy Guardian is less about transitions than choices. Emyr learns the hard way that you cannot reform a system designed to be oppressive, not if your goals are fairness and social justice; he is forced to make choices about the type of leader he wants to be and the type of society he wants to have. Wyatt and Briar’s choices are more emotional. Their relationships with each other and with Emyr are evolving into something new, and they must decide if what they are evolving into is what they want and need from them.
The Changelings and Fae on the other side of the gate have to decide if they’re willing to risk their own safety to try to make things better for everyone. The Fae of the other earthly realms must choose whether to consolidate their power by taking more from others or redistribute their power for the benefit of all. Unlike Clarke, Wade Pierce is what happens when a privileged person decides to do a job as an ally instead of just declaring themselves an ally. He is determined to do better by his witch niece. He accepts that he is not owed forgiveness, but continues to work for restitution and restorative justice no matter what.
It’s hard not to write an entire dissertation on The Fairy Guardian. This series is everything I crave in young adult fantasy. HE Edgmon is an intense and passionate writer who can create queer stories full of fire and fury. It’s a hard-hitting conclusion to a stellar duology that I’m grateful to have read.
Alex Brown is a queer black librarian and writer. They have written two books on the history of marginalized communities in Napa County, California. They write about science fiction, fantasy, and horror for adults and young adults, as well as BIPOC history and librarianship. Diversity, equity, inclusion and access are the foundation of all their work. Alex lives in Southern California with their pet rats and ever-growing piles of books.
This review and others like it in the August 2022 issue of Venue.
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