After watching her best friend and lover, Beatriz, being hung for possessing unapproved materials Esther stows away in the wagon of a bunch of travelling Librarians, aiming to put as much distance between herself and the arranged marriage she wants no part of, and maybe becoming a Librarian herself. But the Librarians have other plans, and babysitting a runaway girl wasn’t on their itinerary.
Set in a futuristic facsimile of the American West, this is a book that has a lot to say about traditional gender roles and the effect they have on people. Girls are expected to grow up meek and mild, marry the man they’re betrothed to and do as they’re told come Hell or high water. The only women who fall outside this hidebound way of life are the Librarians, who travel from town to town handing out so-called approved material and making sure the townsfolk are kept up to date with the government’s edicts.
Esther’s first thought, when she hides herself on the Librarians’ wagon, is that the lonely roads and long journeys will be the perfect way for her to bury the impure thoughts and feelings she has. It’s only with the somewhat begrudging help and support of the Librarians Bet and Leda, and their non-binary assistant, Cye, that Esther starts to realise that it’s not her that’s broken, but the society that she was brought up in.
This is an absolutely delightful book to read. The characters are so well presented that you can’t help but fall in love with them, and the pacing and rhythm of the story is damned near perfect. It keeps you so completely hooked that you don’t notice how far into the book you are until you turn that final page and realise you’ve reached the end. At least, that’s how it was for me.
This isn’t the first of Sarah Gailey’s works that I’ve read, having thoroughly enjoyed their alt-history books River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow previously, and this is something I’m going to have to correct. If you’re looking for a book with strong LGBTQ representation and enjoy a good western then I strongly urge you to pour this fantastic book into your eyes as quickly as you can. I have a feeling you won’t be disappointed.