REVIEW: Venom & Vow by Anna-Marie McLemore and Elliot McLemore

I have long been a fan of Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing. Their work is haunting and lyrical, language as beautiful as the stories are impactful. In a bit of a change from their previous work, Venom & Vow is cowritten with their husband, Elliot McLemore. Venom & Vow is queer, incisive and full of murky morality. Deception is core to characters and plot – taking queer gender expression as a means to deceive as well as explore identity.

Cover of Venom & VowNot all is well in the world of Venom & Vow. Cade McKenna is a transgender prince, pretending to be his brother in public. Patrick McKenna is the unwilling heir to the throne, desperate to escape his duties. Valencia Palafox is a lady-in-waiting attending the future queen of Eliana – an enemy country. Gael Palma is an infamous assassin. Sounds like a lot of characters, but it breaks down to two – a transgender prince and a bigender assassin/lady. For the most part, the story progresses along expected paths. Patrick and Valencia meet in the heavily codified world of princes and crowns, while Cade and Gael meet under less expected circumstances. What Cade doesn’t know is that Gael and Valencia are indeed one person – and Cade stands in for Patrick in public. As the reader gets drawn into this world, cracks start to form in the world’s veneer. Gael has vowed to kill Patrick, come hell or high water, while Valencia plays at diplomacy – drawing in a political dimension and looking at how individuals can affect the fate of a society.

In some ways, Venom & Vow is less polished than McLemore’s previous work. The language isn’t quite as poetic – which makes sense, as this will automatically have a different voice as a co-authored novel. It is still beautifully written, but more utilitarian in tone. I’ve found much of their previous writing full of single sentences that stood out. Venom & Vow is more of a work to be taken as a whole. It is well paced and I found the narrative tension to work very well. I did struggle a bit to get into it, but once I was stuck in, I loved spending time with Cade, Valencia, Gael and Patrick.

And the tension and building relationship between the two main characters was a joy to read. Due to their positions and queer identities, they met as different people a few times, and all moments between them show their connection that goes beyond how they present. Queer identity is core to this rogue-and-royalty novel. Playing with identity along with deception works well in Venom & Vow, though I would have liked a bit more substance to the story itself. It’s a solid story, but one to read for characters more than plot.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.