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Cover Image: Queen of Humboldt

Queen of Humboldt

Pub Date:

Review by

Órla S, Educator

My Recommendation

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Aj Smith
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about 1 hour ago
Queen of Humboldt by Tagan Shepard
Queen of Humboldt
by Tagan Shepard (Goodreads Author)
Wonderful. Spectacularly good. Might just restart this book right away even though I only finished it the other day. Tweeted the author with my effusive praise and was over the moon to discover that there will be a sequel, it is being written right now and my favourite supporting character has a large role to play in it!

...need I really say more?

I am, however, going to write a more detailed review because I'm utterly smitten with this book. I've loved Tagan Shepard's work from the start but she's getting better and better. Also, what a range! Romance (Bird on a Wire is one of the most incredible books I've read recently), space-opera/sci-fi with Across the Dark Horizon and now this action-packed awesomeness. The characters in "Queen of Humboldt" are very well crafted and even when they are not necessarily at their best, they are still very sympathetic. From a few paragraphs into the prologue I was 100% rooting for both Marisol and Sabrina professionally and romantically. Sabrina has other ideas though, she might find Marisol physically attractive but as a State's Attorney, and then Governor with a reputation built on being tough on crime, Marisol Soltero seedy nightclub owner and the titular 'Queen of Humboldt' is someone she wants to put away, not take to her bed.

Some of the early chapters of the book are split between Marisol as she is now, running her entertainment empire and enjoying her pick of women and heart-breaking flashbacks to her childhood. Kind of a well-worked 'origin story' I suppose. The ones about her toy bunny made me cry and want to give Marisol a big hug. While her interactions with Ruby, a sex-worker who tried to look after her, provide a strong statement about how our society treats violence against women; why victims don't always go to the police, why victims freeze (the "why didn't you fight back?" narrative). I don't want to give you the impression that this is a very grim or polemical book, it's not, despite some of the dark subject matter (which has just become even more relevant with the news of a planned kidnap attempt on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer!) As well as the two leads we also meet the utterly fascinating and captivating Dominique, the character I was so glad to hear featured heavily in the sequel. "Dominique Levy sat on a low stool in front of a vanity, a tube of bright-red lipstick hovering halfway to her lips. She had the elegant poise of a classic movie star paired with the confidence of an older woman who knew herself." I mean, forgive my crassness but, holy fucking shit that's hot!

I don't want to discuss the plot for fear I give away anything and temper your surprise and enjoyment - there are a few cracking twists! I would and indeed will be, highly recommending this book to anyone and everyone. Apart from all that I have already outlined Shepard is a master craftswoman with the written word: "There was a moment of quiet anticipation. A heartbeat when the whole world stopped and Marisol thought her prayers might be answered". Her ability to capture emotions and reel the reader into her world is part what makes Tagan Shepard's books so beautiful to read.

If my rambling review hasn't convinced you, maybe this will: even though I got a free review copy I loved this book so much that I pre-ordered my own from Bella Books. Just because I wanted to have bought it - it's that good!

PS in an age where an awareness of the importance of both representation of minorities in fiction and of white privilege, I want to draw attention to Tagan Shepard's thoughtful author's note:

"I encourage everyone who reads this book to also read Own Voices stories by LGBTQ Latinx authors. My personal recommendations are Lex Files by Celeste Castro and Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore."

This, on top of being a book that deals thoughtfully and thought-provokingly with issues of poverty, domestic abuse, violence against women, homelessness and human trafficking without becoming preachy or taking away from the enjoyment of the thriller or romance angles of the plot makes "Queen of Humboldt" a truly remarkable piece of work.

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