Shades of Rust and Ruin / A.G. Howard / Book Review

Halloween stole her mother and father. Halloween stole her sister. She won't let Halloween steal her uncle, too.

Phoenix Loring might be battling survivor's guilt, but she's certain of one thing: her family is under a Halloween curse. She and her uncle might be next, if they're not careful. The Halloween season has always been difficult for Nix, but when she loses her ability to see color in the weeks leading up to the holiday, she knows her depression is worse than ever. Unable to find solace in the cyberpunk world of goblins and faeries in the graphic novel she's been writing since her sister died, Nix is at her wits end.

But then Nix sees something that couldn't possibly exist: one of her creations come to life. When her uncle goes missing shortly afterward, Nix knows the Halloween curse has come back once again--but this time, she'll stop it. Hot on her uncle's trail, Nix discovers there's more to her curse--and to her artwork--than she ever imagined. Plunged into a grisly Goblin King's maze, she'll have to find her uncle before the clock strikes midnight, leaving Halloween night--and the safe human realm--behind. 


The biggest problem here is that I wanted to like this book so much more than I ultimately did. A.G. Howard's Splintered trilogy is one of my favorites. The story did pick up and get into something of a groove by the end, but it took too long to get there for my tastes. 


  • Build Up: One thing that I did like about this book is that it doesn't immediately fall into the realm of the fae. A lot of portal fantasies or fantasies dealing with the faerie world spend the majority of the book in, you know, the world of faerie. This book takes its time, building up relationships and characters in the real world before sending them down the rabbit hole, so to speak. I appreciate the time spent on setting up stakes and setting up a true dichotomy that didn't just depend on the reader's experience.
  • Astoria: Location, location, location: something that helps this book stand out is its unique setting. A goblin book set in the Pacific Northwest? Yes, please. Not only is this book set in the PNW, it's also set very specifically in Astoria--Astoria, of Goonies fame. Goonies references abound, and the famously scenic Cannon Beach becomes a prime setting to be twisted as the faerie influence creeps in. Haystack Rock, seabirds, and goblin residences all intermingle, making this an absolutely unique read. 
  • Pieces Fall: There's a lot of groundwork here, all kinds of niggling pieces laid out and scattered throughout the opening pages. The build-up is immense, so when everything comes together, the horrifying picture it creates is all the more impressive. Good storytelling weaves a hundred threads into a vicious tapestry, and A.G. Howard does that here. 


  • Too Much Backstory: The first chapter opens with a lot. A lot of these little bits of backstory are necessary for later revelations, but the first chapter was a slog. That was very disappointing because one of the things I adore about A.G. Howard is the vividness of her writing and worldbuilding. This open felt very  heavy-handed. It wasn't terrible by any means, but it wasn't what I had hoped for in a new A.G. Howard piece. 
  • Colorless: I find it very hard, when reading a new book by one of my favorite authors, not to compare the new piece to my past favorites. That was definitely a major problem here. Building on the too-much-backstory negative, the opening pages of this book just felt so colorless compared to other A.G. Howard work. It's the comparison trap, and it isn't fair. This book can and should stand on its own. But it still impacted my experience.
  • Unknown Mythology: The biggest problem I had in enjoying this book is that the mythology that it dives into--that is, the world and rules it subverts--are unique to Nix and her own personal dreamscape. This book has the hallmarks of a retelling, and it even utilizes Christina Rosetti's "Goblin Market"--one of my favorite poems. But unlike a retelling, it didn't primarily rely on familiar material that the author twists and transforms. The material mostly at play here was Nix's own imaginary landscape, her world of cyberpunk goblins for which she writes graphic novels. Therefore, although subversions happened, they were subversions that were more striking to Nix, to whom the material was intimately familiar. To the outsider (i.e. to every reader), these subtle changes were interesting... but not very interesting. It was hard to care about this fantasy realm when it wasn't already familiar, already dear. 



Fans of Victor LaValle's The Changeling will love this close marriage of faerie and reality. Anyone who enjoyed the twisted magic of Stephanie Garber's Caraval will enjoy this new world of subverted expectations. 


Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Date: September 6, 2022
Series: Shades of Rust and Ruin
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


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