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It's not the best day a young black slave has ever had when Awa is rescued from bandits by a necromancer who intends to force her to be his apprentice. He has a rather devious plan in store for her, which involves setting a curse on her just as she earns her freedom. Awa has ten years, and at the end of that time she will meet a fate more permanent than death, as her spirit will be completely obliterated.
Naturally, Awa intends to spend her time trying to find a way to remove the curse, but the world is not a kind place for a black necromancer woman, especially while the Spanish Inquisition rages through Europe. She can use the undead to help her, but it's possible the living might be even more useful, if she could trust someone long enough to make friends.
So not only is our heroine a competent black woman, she's a competent gay black woman. She's also not the only gay or bisexual character in the book, and "alternate" sexuality is never portrayed as something weird or bad. Monique and Awa are probably the strongest characters in the entire book, and what's better is they don't wind up in a romance with each other. That's right, there are two lesbians in the book, but they're allowed to decide they're not romantically suited to one another and move on. Had the premise not intrigued me in the first place, I'm pretty sure that would have been enough to convince me to pick up the book. (On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure this book passes the Frank Miller test but considering a sizable portion of the story happens in a brothel run by a gay woman who loves whores but is not interested in becoming one herself, your mileage may vary on whether that's valid or not.)
I did, however, have a few issues with the book. It's all over the place. The only thread drawing everything together is Awa herself, as the story meanders from one setting to another. It tries very hard to make our protagonist a well-rounded character, and therefore wants to show everything in great detail. We get long chapters featuring Awa as a young slave, then the story changes completely to show her under the tutelage of the necromancer, and another shift to her on the road, running from religious folks intent on killing her as a witch. Whether she's searching for a way to break her curse with a pair of ghosts in tow or living in a brothel (as a doctor of sorts, not a whore), it's presented in great detail and while the lengthy passages are interesting on their own, they don't so much feel like they fit in together so well. It felt like reading a series of stories rather than one long narration, and as a result this book took me forever to get through. A few of them could have been trimmed or cut completely and very little would have changed plot-wise. That's right, there are long sections in which nothing happens to move the plot forward.
It's also not the smoothest prose I've ever read. In the two paragraphs above, there are at least two nitpicky things I could get petty over, but since this is a review and not a critique group, suffice it to say the prose manages to get the point across but never approaches anything like beauty.