I like books with a bite. Right off the bat, What We Devour by Linsey Miller is all teeth, with its sharpest canines sinking into the same topics found in classic works like Émile Zola’s Germinal. The key to the classics—the quality classics at least—is class, class politics that is. And What We Devour is the appetizer of a full-course meal in anti-capitalist class politics. If this is the future of young adult fantasies, then the next generation is in for a real treat.
Lorena Adler is a dualwright, meaning she is one of only a few who hold the power of the banished gods, the Noble and the Vile. While she’s content to spend her days as an undertaker in a small town, that all changes when the vilewright crown prince arrives to arrest her best friend’s father. Lorena strikes a deal with him, only to uncover a much more nefarious plot: unjust inequalities within her country’s class structures. Oh, and also, an evil that threatens to destroy her world as she knows it.
The fact that Lorena is asexual is just the cherry on top of a sundae served in the first course of an elaborate meal. I call What We Devour the first course because there are so many ingredients Linsey Miller can continue to play with, I can’t imagine she’s not already well underway on the second book in this series. But back to Lorena.
I grew up in a time where it was more common to hear a spiky underwater sea critter labeled asexual than a human person. When I first described myself as asexual in college, it felt like I could finally explain something that seemed unexplainable. Now, I’m happy to replace the photos of spikey sea creatures adorning my ace shrine in favor of fanart of Lorena, because she is impeccable as ace representation.
For many years, there was barely any overt asexual representation in media, which is why there are still so many misconceptions about asexuality. Most people still cannot fathom the fact that ace people can be in relationships and even have sex while still identifying as ace. While Lorena is here to clear this up for everyone, her sexuality is the sous chef in the kitchen that is her character. And that’s how it should be.
More than that, Lorena is a compelling, fully-fledged protagonist I couldn’t help but root for. She’s very vocal about the injustices she sees in her society and makes choices to help those in the bottom class despite the fact that she has to go against people she knows and loves. Throughout her story, she comes to terms with who she is and stands by her beliefs, even when that means eating the rich becomes less of a quirky idea and more of a save-the-world strategy.
I will say Lorena could have spent more time with some of the more interesting characters rather than some of the flattest, but I understand this choice was made to make the above clear. Sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If this had been the case, it might have spoiled our appetite for the platter of rich people Linsey Miller serves up as an hors d’oeuvre.
If you don’t have time to read the Communist Manifesto, What We Devour will do just fine. Especially because there’s interesting world-building and magic in What We Devour that’s unlike any I’ve seen before—two aspects I do find lacking in the Communist Manifesto. How power affects class structures and how the powerful use their power to keep the working class in line are conversations that translate well from the world in the story to the real world we live in.
My biggest problem with What We Devour is that the second book isn’t already published. In this first book, there were too many cooks in the kitchen who thought they were cooks but were actually just people standing in Lorena’s kitchen. Now that they’re [redacted], I’m ready to see the real cooks whip up a feast to end all feasts.
I tip my toque to you, Linsey Miller. Let the record show, I’m ready to devour the second installment in this apocalyptic fantasy series.
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