Kate Pentecost’s debut novel, Elysium Girls, successfully blends dystopian, steampunk, and fantasy genres all into one flashy, high concept western that follows a rough and tumble gang of witches and an otherworldly daemon magician during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma.
I must say that the first reason I was drawn to this book was the cover, with its giant, mechanical horse with fire bellowing from its belly and a cowgirl riding it like a pro (like hello, what is going on here!?). But while I came for the cover, I stayed for the story.
The story centers on the small town of Elysium, Oklahoma. Elysium, however, isn’t any normal small town. 10 years earlier, a massive dust storm swept over Oklahoma, destroying cities and towns and created a massive, barren desert. All except for Elysium remained.
And then the dust soldiers came— messengers from the sisters Life and Death. The sisters wanted to play a game, a game that would last 10 years. This game would test to see if humans could truly work together, or if their differences would truly be the death of them all.
Enter Sal Wilkerson, an orphan and social outcast, who is given the chance to become the successor to Mother Morevna, the town’s leader and a powerful witch. Sal has had visions of rain ever since she was a little girl, and even though the townspeople do not believe her in capabilities, Sal knows that she is a witch and is born to lead. However, after letting in Asa Skander, a daemon disguised as a traveling magician, into the walls of Elysium, Sal’s chance for recognition quickly begins to unravel, as well as the town’s chance of winning the game.
This book was unlike anything I’ve read in regards to the setting, and it left me craving for more western genre YA.
There are many things this book does well. The high stakes are made known right away, with each chapter of the book marking down the days till judgment day. The setting is distinct and clear. I could envision the Mad Max-esque desert, with old cars and tractors, and dog sized grasshoppers, and taste and smell the dust that clung to everything in Elysium. The mysterious nature of Sal’s visions, Asa’s mission, and the screaming girl locked up in the church, kept me turning the pages to figure out all the secrets. Pentecost blended so many elements from different genres, that I found myself never bored.
With that said, the genre blending came at a price. At times I would get a sense of whiplash as Pentecost would introduce another new element or a different trope. Sometimes certain plot points felt rushed over in order to get to the next thing that would catch your eye. For example, the metal horses seem like a big deal by looking at the cover or reading the blurb. However these horses only come into play twice in the whole book. It made them feel gimmicky. The same thing would happen with new characters that were introduced– especially for the desert witch gang. Pentecost created these interesting characters that I wanted to get to know right away, but then the story would blaze on past them and I wouldn’t get to know more except for bits and pieces.
Also, the POV switched from first person with Sal to third person with any other characters quite frequently. The page breaks helped mitigate confusion, but it was hard to go from being so close to Sal to being ripped out and placed with a side character. The only other person I didn’t mind switching to was Asa, because Asa is a cinnamon roll.
Simply put, there was too much to cover in this story, so things felt rushed.
Yet, at the end of the day, I had a blast reading Elysium Girls. So, anyone who loves any of the genres mentioned, or really just wants something fresh and high concept to read, this book is for you!