Blanca & Roja: Review

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Name me one person who doesn’t like a good fairytale retelling. Not only is Blanca & Roja a retelling of the sisters Snow White and Rose Red, but its done through the lens of Latina sisters in a surreal, magical world with the most beautifully poetic writing. Anna-Marie McLemore’s name may sound familiar from Wild Beauty and When the Moon was Ours, and this book is no exception to her collection of lovely standalone novels. Read on for my full review! Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions below are my own.

Goodreads Summary

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

My review

Blanca & Roja is advertised as a Snow White meets Swan Lake retelling and it certainly has elements of both fairy tales, but if the book is viewed purely as a fairytale retelling, then you are ignoring much of its charm as a story simply about the bonds of sisterhood. The surrealist magic of the book- folklore intertwined with a contemporary small-town setting, could remind readers of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle or All The Crooked Saints. There is magic woven throughout the book, from the mystery surrounding the del Cisne sisters and the encounters with nahuale. I had to Wikipedia this- “In Mesoamerican folk religion, a nagual or nahual is a human being who has the power to transform either spiritually or physically into an animal form.” Not only is gender fluidity an important theme to this book, so is spirituality, and I just wish I had better understood was a nahuale was before going into this book because in retrospect, it would have added a lot more impact to how I connected with one of the main characters, Yearling!

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Before I start gushing about the diversity of the characters, I must disclaim that I am a straight, Asian American woman. Okay, now that we got that out of the way… I adored the LGBTQ representation in this book! It was treated so delicately- though it was an integral part to two of our main characters’ stories and development, it was nuanced and subtle, and their relationship developed as any romantic relationship might, without the “but is she…?” or “what if…?”s that literary LGBTQ relationships so easily get mired in. I personally thought that the fluidity of gender identity was handled really well and with sensitivity- and I can only hope that Blanca & Roja was read several times by sensitivity readers to ensure that it stands up to the expectations of LGBTQ community.

However, the plot was incredibly slow-moving and there was no sense of time or space. Each chapter felt fragmented from one another, as though they were written separately and then jammed together. Some events seemed to happen suddenly while others seemingly dragged on forever (has it only been an hour? or perhaps a week?). There was no clear sense of world-building- though McLemore’s poetic storytelling really shone with the magic and folklore of the world, she did little to ground the reader within it. Because I felt so disconnected from the world and the plot moved too slowly for my liking, I felt that the chapters dragged in the middle and focused perhaps too much the development of romantic relationships.

Blanca & Roja was a lovely standalone novel and was three hours of my life well-spent immersed in McLemore’s wonderful prose. Thought the plot left a lot to be desired in my eyes, the tear-jerking moments between the sisters Blanca and Roja, and friends Yearling and Page, more than made up for those lapses.

I rate Blanca & Roja 4/5 stars!

Blanca & Roja releases on October 9, 2018 and you can pre-order it now!

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