The Biased Bibliophile‘s Spoiler-Free Review of Venom & Vow
Publication Date: 16 May 2023
Genre: YA High Fantasy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Keep your enemy closer.
Cade McKenna is a transgender prince who’s doubling for his brother.
Valencia Palafox is a young dama attending the future queen of Eliana.
Gael Palma is the infamous boy assassin Cade has vowed to protect.
Patrick McKenna is the reluctant heir to a kingdom, and the prince Gael has vowed to destroy.
Cade doesn’t know that Gael and Valencia are the same person.
Valencia doesn’t know that every time she thinks she’s fighting Patrick, she’s fighting Cade.
And when Cade and Valencia blame each other for a devastating enchantment that takes both their families, neither of them realizes that they have far more dangerous enemies.
Cowritten by married writing team Anna-Marie and Elliott McLemore, this is a lush and powerful YA novel about owning your power and becoming who you really are – no matter the cost.
Review of Venom and Vow
When I heard that Venom & Vow by Anna-Marie and Elliott McLemore had not only Latinx representation, not only chronic pain representation, but also transgender and bigender representation, I knew I wanted to read it. In some ways, I absolutely adored this book, but in others, it was a bit disappointing.
One thing I didn’t particularly care for was the vagueness at the beginning of the novel. It’s not quite clear how the characters are related to one another. Ironically, I thought the bigender character’s identity was very clear, but Val’s relationship to Bryna and Cade’s relationship to Patrick were not. The novel would have been much improved if the characters’ roles and relationships to one another were made clear from the start.
Similarly, there were a few small details that didn’t add up. For instance, something almost happens at the end of the book, and one of the main characters basically says it’s a lose-lose situation. Essentially, there are two options and this character believes that one will result in someone being hurt emotionally, and the other will result in them being hurt physically. However, in relation to the former option, it is not clear how this character arrives at that conclusion. (Sorry for the obscurity; I don’t want to spoil anything.”)
In another situation, it’s said that this character tells another “everything,” but later they tell a third character that they didn’t tell anyone about a secret. With this issue, it seems like the authors maybe didn’t coordinate as much as they could have. There were a few instances where the different POVs felt a bit disjointed.
That being said, there were quite a few aspects of the story that I really enjoyed. My favorite feature was the chronic pain representation, which was clearly well-thought-out. Both of the main characters use a cane, and the culture of one of the Queendoms seems to be very accepting of disabilities. In fact, they even have modified dances that are designed to include people who use canes.
Likewise, there were a few quotes about chronic pain that rang true to what I’ve experienced. The authors talk about how thinking about pain makes it worse and how distracting oneself does not make the pain disappear. These details were consistent throughout the book, and felt very authentic.
Additionally, the transgender and bigender representation were phenomenal. I truly enjoyed the depth with which the protagonists’ identities were explored. Cade, who is a transgender prince, struggles with society’s expectations of wanting a queen who does not exist. Val, a bigender assassin, explores his identity throughout the novel, and she finds comfort in being able to express herself genuinely. I appreciated the conversations Cade and Val had about the latter’s identity, as they were both informative and emotional.
Finally, the plot was interesting, but felt a little underdeveloped. It seems like there were some missed opportunities when it came to political intrigue, and I would have liked to know more about the backstory of the world.
As a whole, I would recommend this book, as long as you are prepared to be a little confused toward the beginning. I think it is worth reading simply due to the complex and dynamic representation that is included.