Cover Image: Venom & Vow

Venom & Vow

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Member Reviews

Give me all the fantasy enemies to lovers T4T books. This book is really good and has interesting plot, characters, and worldbuilding.

Val is bigender and has awesome skills of transformation. She can become a fae or a courtesan. But when you change faces so much, it’s hard to remember who you are. His journey to find who she really is and what that means is really sweet. Also she is really good with knives and I love a good knife wife.

Cade is unassuming and means to stay that way. Though he sometimes masquerades as his brother Patrick, they are both trying to find a way to end the war. Cade’s path to acceptance of his role, his power, and his confidence is action packed and fun.

I loved these two characters. They are both excellent fighters which makes for fun fight scenes. They’re both clever and that makes for a fun rivalry and a good team. 

The world building is so good. With every side of the war having their own mystical animals to support them, a mystical changing castle, and monasteries that are for trans people to learn gender affirming skills, every point of this book is exciting. This is a really fun fantasy book.
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Thank you, NetGalley and Macmillan 
The two main characters are my favorite parts of the book. The secret identifies where interesting and really entertaining to watch unfold. Their romance had me giggling at parts, especially the training scene. So adorable! I was also so excited to see the mix of gender identities and sexualities presented. 
However, the beginning of the book is pretty confusing. I found it hard to understand the magic and how the world functioned. Definitely could have used some more explanation but overall I enjoyed it.
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This story was beautiful. The representation of cultures and gender was amazing. 

Some pacing issues but overall I adored this book.
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Actual rating: 2.5 stars // I spent this whole book begging for it to let me rate it higher, but it just never came through. I wish it had, because there was a lot to like here. 

I have read several books by McLemore before, and they were in a more contemporary/magical realism genre where it's not really required to explain the world or the magic; the whole point is that you're not supposed to know what is real, and what isn't. However, this book is a high fantasy, and the same approach just doesn't work. I don't know why the two kingdoms were at war in the first place, anything about their structure, or how the court and its machinations work. The magic system is so soft it's a puddle of melted butter, including some random orbs that I truly do not understand, and the whole thing is built on a ridiculous misunderstanding between the two main characters. I went back to the beginning after I finished just to check if I had missed something, but I don't think I did. The book honestly just felt incredibly short for the genre, and all the missing content was the worldbuilding. It also switched incredibly fast between the two POV characters, sometimes a chapter would be literally half a page, and often it was a page or two. This created a somewhat whiplash reading experience. I will say that this book has two authors, and I'm not sure how they split up the writing duties, but I didn't notice any annoying difference in style or voice. 

On the bright side, I was here for the characters and the diversity they represented and their cute relationship.

Cade is a trans boy who was accepted by some of his family, but has chosen to hide his identity from many people because this world is not without prejudice and, in fact, would have preferred that he was a girl. The representation was lovely and clearly written from experience, and gave the characters access to some forms of transition and acceptance. I thought it was cool that Cade was naturally quite tall and strong, able to keep up with and beat cis guys in fights and battles. He is also disabled, having to use a cane after he experienced a knee injury, but said cane is magic with an owl familiar that helps him in fights.

On top of the misunderstanding about who created the plot conflict, the second lead is bigender and sometimes appears in the guise of noble lady Valencia, others as the boy assassin Gael and Cade doesn't realize she is the same person at first. He ends up in several fights or scenes with Cade but I really felt that the whole thing was discovered and resolved too quickly, though it did lead to some nice conversations and moments of understanding between the two characters. She is also disabled and uses a cane, though the reason appears to be something more akin to severe scoliosis/a lifelong back injury.

The romance is very YA and not super deep, but it made sense with what we knew about the characters. They grew in some ways throughout the book, but honestly kind of remained static and it felt like we didn't have time to see them learn anything. This could have been a great book if the authors took more time to really build the world and understand the genre they were writing in. Especially after The Mirror Season I thought that the character work would be stronger.
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Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC for my honest review! I almost always judge a book by the first line and this one DELIVERED. I’ve never read a fantasy book quite like this one, with such great representation. The story was fast paced and we all love enemies to lovers. My only criticism is that I would have loved for the story to be longer, to dive deeper into each of the characters’ histories and the magic of each of the lands.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Feiwel and Friends for the eARC of this book. I found out about this book back in September when I did an author highlight on Anna-Marie McLemore for Hispanic and Latine heritage month, and have been looking forward to it since. The premise of the book is impeccable and I went in with (possibly excessively) high expectations. I have to admit, I was actually greatly disappointed for the first 30-40%. It was good, but it felt like they were trying to do way too much in one book. After finishing it, I still do think that this may have been better split into 2 books.

We are thrown into this fantasy world with little to no context, and expected to float. I will admit I was sinking. Every time I started to grasp at one element of the world and history leading to the moment the book started, a new element was thrown at me. I couldn't connect with either character as I was still trying to figure out how this fantasy world worked. But, as the characters' stories became more entangled, the more I could focus on them over the mechanics. At about 40% I was finally hooked.

The last 60% of the book was lovely and saved this from being a 3 star review. A lot of the elements still felt rushed, but Val and Cade were so intriguing that I was able to look past it.

The representation of gender in this book brought me so much joy as a genderqueer person, and is truly what got me through the first third of the book. The recognition of sameness that Cade and Val found in each other, which drew them together, was what saved the book for me. Also the whole sparring turning into kissing scene may be a new favorite trope of mine (Willow the TV series and upcoming novel Gwen and Art are Not in Love both have helped me figure this out.

Tl;Dr: I wanted this to be a 5 star, and had it been split into two books or one longer book, I think it could have gotten there. That aside, I had a blast reading the second half and am so glad this sort of representation exists.
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Valencia, dama to Eliana's princess, can turn into whoever she needs to be--a skill that comes in handy as she spies for her kingdom. When she's caught by the enemy prince while presenting as Gael--the one identity other than Valencia that doesn't really feel like a disguise--the two rulers of the warring kingdoms finally meet. Suddenly, Valencia is at the Adare court, juggling both identities-- Valencia and Gael--plus a few disguises, while the enemy prince hides secrets of his own.

The world of Venom and Vow is so lush that I found myself awestruck on more than one occasion, especially when it came to the animals that protected the kingdoms. The characters were beautifully written, complex in ways that strengthened and softened them, and I kept just wanting more--in a good way.

I really, really loved Venom & Vow, and I know this book is going to stick with me for a really long time.
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I loved everything about this book: the characters, the story, the writing, the world, and the representation. It was perfect and I adored every single second I spent reading it. I wish I could go back and read it for the first time again.
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Okay, I have so much to say about this book! Firstly, the amount of representation in this book is so wonderful. I love the growing representation in the fantasy genre. I think it is so important, and the authors of this book did a phenomenal job doing this. Secondly, the world building in this book is one of the best I have read in a while. I think there was a lot of thought put into building this world and the descriptions of the world felt effortless, and whimsical. Normally I find reading fantasy books quite info heavy at the beginning because of all of the world building, but I didn't find that the case with this book. The enemies to lovers trope was absolutely *chefs kiss* and the story telling was amazing. I loved every second of it. It has redeemed YA fantasy for me!
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This could've been a lot longer and I would've loved it all that much more. I love the ideas in this book, and it has so much potential, but overall, I felt like a lot of plotlines were rushed, so it didn't have as much impact as it could've had.

I will say that the representation in this book is INCREDIBLE. It's this perfect balance where the characters (particularly the protagonists) are not just diverse for the sake of being diverse - they each have distinct characterizations that include but are not exclusive to their gender identity or disability, however these aspects still inform their motives and are relevant to the main plot without feeling forced/oppressive. I loved this representation of diversity in a fantasy setting, especially for how complex it was. No characters are explicitly bigoted which is SUCH a relief, but even though they are accepting, our protagonists still feel uncertain and alone because no one around them is "like them" and they don't know how people would react.

Otherwise, though, I just wanted more. I went into this book expecting a deep, expansive, maybe even dark fantasy - it is so much lighter than I anticipated. Which is a great thing actually! We need more lighthearted (for the most part) fantasy. But the book just felt unfocused, especially in terms of an antagonist. I think it would've been fascinating to play with the idea of the "antagonist" being old ideals and tradition, and it seems like this was the intention, but there were too many side antagonists that distracted from this. I couldn't tell if I was supposed to care about these subplots and their conflicts because they all came up too fast. Not to mention almost all the characters seem to love jumping to conclusions, and many of them love not directly challenging these conclusions. They'll be accusing each other of things they didn't do, and then they just stand there NOT REFUTING them!! There were so many fascinating dynamics and side character conflicts that were left unresolved/not fully explored, and it left me... not really caring that much about any character individually.

This is an incredible premise that takes an inventive spin on the classic "enemies to lovers on two opposing sides" fantasy. I would say read it for the representation alone - that, and it's a relatively quick read.
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Wow! What a page turner! Our transgender prince  has such an emotional transformation, This is a book to inspire owning your own power and you are at the edge of your seat trying to figure out what happens next!
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Venom & Vow is a fast paced YA high fantasy novel with an enemies-to-lovers romance sub-plot. 

Two rival neighboring countries are dealing with all their adult leaders being under a sleeping spell in a forest. Our two main characters, Cade (who is transgender) and Valencia (who is bi-gender), both know each other as someone other than who they are- Cade as his prince brother and Valencia as Gael, a boy assassin whom Cade has sworn to protect. 

I love how much the book centers around identity and watching two characters that are in different places in figuring out how to show who they are to the world. I also appreciate the disability rep and seeing how both characters navigate it in their everyday life.

Venom & Vow is an extremely fast paced book and I felt myself struggling to keep up with who was who at the beginning of the novel- mainly because so many different names were being thrown at me all at once. I do believe the book could benefit from ~100 more pages to enhance some of the storylines. Also, the part that I thought was going to be the main climax of the book ended up happening about 2/3 of the way through the book. With that being said, I did fall in love with some of the characters and I’d love to read another book in this world.

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s Publishing for a digital ARC of this book.
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I'm a bit unsure about how I felt about this book. I loved the queer and Latinx representation that is a classic with Anna-Marie McLemore, but I felt that some of her classic well-defined characterizations were missing. Cade felt so well written, I could clearly see all of his motivations, whether it be pretending to be his brother, or fighting an assassin, it felt true to himself and the character he was. Valencia/Gael didn't feel the same to me. Frankly, they just seemed stupid to me, they missed any social or physical cue, they did;t think things through, and they practically ruined everything for everyone. I enjoyed the plot and how it developed, but a little less Val and a little more of anyone else would make this book amazing.
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I loved Anna-Marie McLemore’s Self-Made Boys; it was one of my best reads of 2022. Therefore, Venom and Vow was one of my most anticipated reads of 2023. And then … I didn’t like it. I tried, I really did. I wanted to push myself forward, but I just couldn’t get into the story. So, in the end, I decided to DNF at 29%. I’m so sorry, and of course, I will read Anna-Marie’s next book because I loved their Great Gatsby remix so much. This one just wasn’t for me.
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I really liked the parts of this book that focused on Val & Cade's relationship, as well as the parts that took place at the monastery. But in general, I thought all the relationships needed to be better developed, and that there needed to be a lot more world building. This definitely read like a good author's first attempt at high fantasy.
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This book is an enemies-to-lovers Fantasy with non-binary, trans, and disabled rep.As a person that have not lived these experiences, I was really excited to see how the author handled these topics. I think Anna and Elliott did a great job. This book really made me contemplate how my privilege as an able-bodied cis-woman and gave me perspective in the daily struggles of others. 
I really loved the premise, and I would say it’s definitely geared for teens rather than young adults. The magical kingdoms and animals were really intriguing and wish more of that lore was included.
Thy only problem that I had with this book occurred in the bringing. Many of the characters were introduced in a rapid succession and I found myself confused as to who was who. 
If you are looking for a great teen fantasy with unique magic and LGBTQ+ representation, then this book will fill your checks!
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A fun fantasy with great queer representation that is just a little too confusing - there's a lot of deception, assuming different identities, and some difficulty following what is happening and when. The difficulty in trying to piece everything together detracted from what is otherwise an enjoyable read. A motivated reader might be able to power through and be rewarded with a sweet romance, but there will be some who don't make it that far.
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Thanks to Macmillan and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I really, really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately I just couldn't. The concept is fantastic; I loved the idea of two countries with Mexico and Ireland -inspired roots. The main two characters were so captivating, I read a lot of trans stories and this one was just right up my alley. 

On paper this seemed like the perfect book for me, but the pacing of the book was just off. It was very fast, so fast to the point where it felt like the authors had taken whole chunks of the story out. I was confused half the time about who was who and what was what, I didn't really have much time to focus on the story itself. The fight scenes were also sorta confusing, it felt like I was reading instructions on how to dance without any pictures or videos (I don' t know if that makes sense so bear with me). Also the Ondina stuff made no sense. 

Was it a horrible book? No, the concept was still great, and I loved the scenes in the monastery. Maybe these are all just issues that will be fleshed out before the book is published. But, still, it was a lot of issues.
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I enjoyed this book. The plot was well paced and the character development was done well. I would recommend this book to others and look forward to reading more from this author.
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DNF’d at 25%

I could not keep going with this book. The representation was a big draw for me to check out and read this book, but everything else was so flat or not explained at all.
I don't know how much these authors actually communicated with one another while planning this story. The history between the countries of Eliana and Adare felt so muddy. We're told they have been at war for a long time, or in conflict for many, many years, since our main character's grandparets or before. However, it is not eluded to or explained at all to the reader as to why this conflict is occurring. How did it start? Why is it still going on? What conflicts or irreconcilable differences do these countries have with one another? We never learn, at least not within the span I was reading it, which I feel like I should have learned something within the first quarter of the book, but I didn't. 
The confusion of the conflict is apparently so trivial that the queen of Adare was able to implement multiple public works projects, some of them including Eliana. She implemented an aqueduct for the citizens of both Adare and Eliana with the help of Eliana. Why are these countries working together in the middle of a years/decades long conflict? How can they put aside their (unexplained) differences for such a big project that benefits both countries, and then still be at war after? Why was this not enough to end the war? Did this help with relations before the summit where everyone's parents were put to sleep?

Also, ALL of the older officials of both nations were at this summit on the boarder of the countries? No one was left behind in case this was a trap from either side? How does either country explain both sets of officials/rulers being put to sleep? Do they think the other country completely sabotaged themselves? Nobody gives their opinion/explanation of anything, so I was just left wondering and theorizing myself. I can understand how people could rationalize it to continue the fight, people are prideful and stubborn, it could happen. But nobody even questions it in the narrative up to this point.

It wasn't just the worldbuilding that left something to be desired. The characterization of our main characters also felt hollow. 

Valencia/Gael is a bigender lady in waiting/assassin from Eliana. Their characterization around their gender identity felt well done for what it was. They and female, and have not told anyone about it. They hope for their father to wake up from the enchantment so they can let him know, and it seems they don't want anyone to know before they can tell him. Even their best friend, the princess of Eliana, does not know. However, all other aspects of their personality are left to their internal narration. Their sass, quips, and recklessness are all told to us either from their head, or from off-page actions we're told of later. They exist as a summary of a person, but we are supposed to be experiencing their story as it happens, not after the fact as they tell us in their head. 
What I consider the most egregious example of this is in their relationship with the princess of Eliana, their best friend, Bryna. We don't get to hear anything of their history or friendship dynamic during this crucial establishing period of the story. 
A great place we could have seen their dynamic in action but was squandered was after Bryna accepts an invitation to the Adare court. We read about Valencia/Gale's thoughts on this, how the time a suitor put on a play to win Bryna's affections, only for the basin holding the fake ocean broke and all the carpets in the hall needed to be replaced, is a better idea than walking into the court of their enemies. Then, all she says to Bryna is "So you're really going?" We don't get anything from that.
Additionally, we learn from Valencia/Gael that Adare is a nation of immigrants, and that some of those immigrants are from Eliana. That's pretty much it, V/G doesn't give any opinion nor insight on this. Does she care? Why would these people move to a country they've been at war with for so long? It's not that this situation is unbelievable, but it's hard to understand why V/G doesn't think of these people as traitors, or why we don't gain any insight on this occurrence, or if it happens in the reverse direction. 

Our other POV is that of Cade, the transgender prince of Adare. Unlike V/G, we don't know who knows Cade is trans. We know he went away to an abbey and joined a religious (?) order of monks. This seems to be where his transition happened. He makes mention of them when he meets Gael of how he and the other monks swore to keep the secret of others like them. Why does being trans need to be kept secret in this world when there's supposedly an abbey full of trans people that's potentially supported by the royal/ruling family? I'm assuming his mother, the sleeping queen, knew if he was sent away. And probably his brother, Patrick, too, considering he's pretending to be him on the battlefield. Cade is supposed to be the next in line to the throne, but abdicated so Patrick could rule. Does his transition have something to do with this? What was his reason? And if he abdicated, why does he pretend to be Patrick sometimes? No one around him mentions it. Also, we don't know who knows his and Patrick's arrangement. Their physician knows because she tries to make sure they have the same scars/appearance, but who else knows? Their general, Lowell, who spends time with Cade pretending to be Patrick, and Cade and Patrick together? No clue. Cade's friends in the army? No idea. I'm not sure why they came up with this arrangement, why it needed to happen, how Cade benefits if he doesn't have the power to actually do anything and is still in the position of pretending to rule. It really seems like the worst situation he could be in for what he seems to want. 

If all of that wasn't enough, the timelines are so confusing. It starts with Valencia traveling from the Eliana castle, across the boarder to a forest in Adare near a battlefield. Then she gets into a disguise as Gael to infiltrate Adare's army. Cade meets him while dressed as Patrick, rides back to the Adare castle to tell him not to fight this battle. The next day (maybe?) the battle is done, and Gael has been captured and found out to not be from Adare. This happened almost immediately after he got into disguise, so he's been captured for the entire battle. After Cade (as Patrick) takes him as his ward, they return to the palace of Eliana and broker the invitation to the Adare court. Then, he goes back to Adare and gets healed from the battle. Gael becomes Valencia again, and doesn't like that Bryna agreed to go to Adare. Then, next thing we know, Patrick and Cade are trying to figure out how to decorate for the visiting Elianan envoy, and then THEY JUST SHOW UP. While they're decorating. How much time is passing? How far away are these castles from each other? Why are they so close to the battlefields? Time and space feels like it doesn't exist in this world.

All of this together made it so I could not enjoy reading even the small amount of what I was able to get through.
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