Review: “Rust in the Root” by Justina Ireland

Release Date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Genre: YA, Historical Fantasy


It is 1937, and Laura Ann Langston lives in an America divided–between those who work the mystical arts and those who do not. Ever since the Great Rust, a catastrophic event that blighted the arcane force called the Dynamism and threw America into disarray, the country has been rebuilding for a better future. And everyone knows the future is industry and technology–otherwise known as Mechomancy–not the traditional mystical arts.

Laura disagrees. A talented young queer mage from Pennsylvania, Laura hopped a portal to New York City on her seventeenth birthday with hopes of earning her mage’s license and becoming something more than a rootworker.

But four months later, she’s got little to show for it other than an empty pocket and broken dreams. With nowhere else to turn, Laura applies for a job with the Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps, a branch of the US government dedicated to repairing the Dynamism so that Mechomancy can thrive. There she meets the Skylark, a powerful mage with a mysterious past, who reluctantly takes Laura on as an apprentice.

As they’re sent off on their first mission together into the heart of the country’s oldest and most mysterious Blight, they discover the work of mages not encountered since the darkest period in America’s past, when Black mages were killed for their power–work that could threaten Laura’s and the Skylark’s lives, and everything they’ve worked for.

My Thoughts

As with the Dread Nation series, racism forms the basis of the horror Laura faces. In this version of the world, slavery wasn’t just about cotton. It was also about necromancy. Slaveholders used the souls of Black folks to power their magical machines. After slavery is declared unconstitu­tional, necromancy dies out, but, true to form, it returns with a vengeance with the Klan. Even the way magic is categorized is racist. Rootwork is a way of doing a little bit of everything, from creation to destruction, from healing to harming, from seeing the possibilities to manipulating them. Dynamism, as the US government calls it, allows for specialties. Each mage can do one kind of magic, and it’s strictly regulated. Laura enters the Conservation Corps as a Floramancer, having to hide her other abilities.

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