Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wanted to like this more than I did. Scrappy female Librarians, roaming the American Southwest, distributing books and rescuing trans/LGBT people? Sign me up!
Unfortunately, the execution fell way short of the premise.
The main problem with this book is the worldbuilding. It's so vague and undefined I couldn't figure out if the author is talking about an alternate history or a post-climate-change (or post-pandemic, I suppose) dystopia. I realize this is novella length and there's not a lot of room for backstory, but hell, just give us a few more paragraphs to determine what's going on here! I think another page could have been spared for that.
Secondly, the descriptions of the landscapes are so sketchy I couldn't get a sense of place at all, and for a Western that would seem to be a fatal flaw. I mean, this is Arizona! Land of sand and saguaros (sometimes--see below), sweeping vistas and enormous skies, heat and dust and thirst and rattlesnakes! But none of that came through in the writing, and the story suffered for it.
(And one point in particular bugged me, since I live here. The town of Sedona is mentioned, with the implication that a particular action piece is taking place fairly close to it, and the country around Sedona is not a desert. The elevation is about 4500 feet, and according to Wikipedia, "Sedona is located in the interior chaparral, semi desert grassland, Great Basin conifer woodland biomes of northern Arizona." There is no indication of this distinction at all in the writing, and this kept throwing me out of the story.)
The characters fare a little better, with the protagonist Esther in particular and her love interest Cye having nice little arcs. However, this was not enough to offset the poor worldbuilding. The author had some good ideas here, but they simply didn't pull said ideas off.
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