Release Date: September 5, 2020
Publisher: Neon Hemlock Press
“When General Aaliyah returns triumphant to the city of Titus, she expects to find the people prospering under the rule of her Queen, the stone mage Odessa. Instead, she finds a troubling imbalance in both the citizens’ wellbeing and Odessa’s rule. Aaliyah must rely on all of her allies, old and new, to do right by the city that made her.”
Five or so years ago, orphans Aaliyah and her adoptive sister and eventual lover Odessa dragged themselves out of the grime and gutters to topple the cruel king of Titus. Now, after years abroad defeating enemies and consolidating power, Aaliyah returns to the capital a general…only to find her sister queen abusing her role. Love and loyalty have distracted Aaliyah from seeing the truth about her sister’s hunger for power, and love and loyalty will drive her to make right her sister’s wrongs. Mercy, an old flame who is now the leader of the local mafia, and two of Aaliyah’s closest military confidants stand by Aaliyah’s side.
I came to Stone and Steel for the f/f melodrama and stayed for the treatise on revolutions. (Although the two refer to themselves as sisters and they were raised together, their relationship is more complex than that. To me the word “sister” here is closer to “sistah” rather than familial ties.) It’s clear from the get-go that Odessa is a terrible queen, and the more we learn about her childhood and fraught sexual relationship with Aaliyah the more obvious it becomes. Yet it’s also clear why Aaliyah believed Odessa could rule fairly, if not especially compassionately. Aaliyah is used to protecting others and putting their needs ahead of hers. Odessa exploits that to her benefit, then turns it against her sister when she becomes inconvenient. For the people of Titus, another revolution so soon after the first isn’t ideal but it can hardly make things worse.
Eboni Dunbar weaves in an intriguing magic system that kicks the story up a notch. While Aaliyah lacks magic of her own, her allies and enemies wield their powers in brutally effective ways. As much as I wish I could spend endless pages in this world and with these characters, the length is absolutely perfect. Everything, from the pacing to the worldbuilding to the characters to the narrative structure was exactly as it ought to be.
This short, tense novella packs a lot of punch in its few pages. Broken hearts and new loves, fractured families and deep friendships, battles and beatings, resistance and revolution, Stone and Steel has it all.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.