Rust in the Root: An Alternate History to Savor

Lynn:Rust in the Root We keep mentioning the Covid period reading struggles but they remain a difficult issue for us both. As a life-long fantasy reader, I’ve struggled especially to find fantasies that hold my attention. Somehow they all seem the same, including the covers which all seem to have shadowy girls holding swords. In Justine Ireland’s newest, Rust in the Root (Harper/B+B, 2022), I found a fantasy that is extremely clever and unusual with a compelling plot and satisfying conclusion.

So what stands out? First and foremost is the skillful writing, intricate plot, and exquisite world-building. This is an alternate history in a reimagined 1937 America that is dependent on the magical workings based on the force called “the Dynamism.” The ruling classes believe in industry and technology based on the art of Mechomancy while a suppressed group of mostly Black Americans are practitioners of the Mystic arts. Ireland has seamlessly woven many of the events of the history of our own world into this one, creating a world that feels utterly plausible, each careful detail supporting the whole.

The main character called the Peregrine, is a young Floramancer who has come to New York with a dream of becoming a great baker. But her dream has run aground on the prejudice and repression of the city and, down to her last penny, she applies to the Bureau of the Arcane where a corps of Black practitioners ply their trade for the country. The Bureau is deeply engaged in a desperate battle against the Blights that have sprung up around the country – strange mysterious manifestations that poison the land and kill all living things. FDR has promised to repair the Blights and move the country forward and the Peregrine finds herself quickly recruited and sent into a nearby Blight to train and test her. Mentored by the powerful Skylark, the Peregrine discovers a surprising number of powers within her she knew nothing of. Soon they join a team of top mages and their trainees being sent to tackle the Great Blight of Ohio where previous teams of mages have disappeared.

The richly varied band of characters are well developed and instantly intriguing and their fates add intensity to the plot. Ireland never loses track of a detail or a thread yet pulls imaginative surprise after surprise into the story. Terrific dialogue, some welcome humor, and a completely satisfying resolution make this a memorable winner for me.

Ireland is at the top of her game here and this is a book to make readers cheer—even readers suffering their own sort of reading blight. Huzzah!!!