ARC received from author in exchange for an honest review
Cover Art by Luisa Preißler.
The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow by Rachel Aaron
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Crystal Calamity (Book 1)
Genre: Fantasy, historical fantasy, alternate history
Published: 1st June 2022 (self-published)
The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow was another effortless winner from Rachel Aaron, brimming with imagination, wonderful characters and captivating magic.
This was not one of those books which I would have picked up on my own, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was written by Rachel Aaron. Set in 1876 Montana, it was a fantasy reimagining of a gold rush amidst the Great Sioux War. I’ve never been fond or keen on Wild West settings but in the hands of one of my favourite authors it undoubtedly fascinated me pretty darn quickly.
Even from the very first chapter, I was deeply intrigued by the creepy, yet strangely wonderful subterranean world of the crystal mines of Medicine Rock. The titular main character, Mary, was introduced and her voice instantly established being a half white, half Lakota woman who’s an outcast in both societies. In these times, being a woman was already tough enough, but Mary was also rejected by virtue of her skin colour. That she led a harsh and cruel life was apparent from her thoughts and mannerisms. However, as she could hear the songs of the crystals, that made her an invaluable guide for men desperate to seek the most valuable substance in the world, the crystals itself.
Meanwhile, I was desperate to uncover the secrets or mysteries behind these singing crystals, which also have incredible powers that could be harnessed into technology. The story which unfolded was predominantly geared towards a discovery that lay very deep into the caves with Mary playing a pivotal role with her ability to hear the crystals. And I was riveted to every turn of the page when the quest for the deep caves ensued.
I’ve always credited Aaron’s ability to be effortlessly engaging in whatever she writes, and this book was no different. Whether it’s about a dragon who’s too nice, or a thief who could charm prison doors to open up for him, she had always been able to craft stories that I eagerly devoured. Stories of characters that I could relate to or at least empathise with by giving them clear motivations which are consistent with their actions. I sympathise greatly with Mary’s plight and it’s so inspiring to see that regardless of what she’s been through, her compassion and kindness still shone through when people were in need to help. There were three other characters with POV chapters – Josie, Rel and to a lesser extent, Lucas – each of them distinct in their voices which reflect who they were as a result of their backstories. Josie was very much a Rachel Aaron female character – smart, vivacious and has a strength of character that could get her through the toughest odds. Out of the three, Rel was probably the hardest to actually like but also the most compelling of the lot which was all I could say about this character. Lucas had a less major role in the story so far but I hoped to see more of him – a cavalry officer with a checkered past who’s not given to the same prejudices of his fellow white brethren.
The magic in this historical fantasy was utterly captivating. Marrying the beauty of crystals with that of songs and music was brilliant and awe-inspiring. There were some scenes in here which seriously made my heart swell and eyes tear up from imagining the sheer beauty and joy present at those moment when crystal song and light came together in a crescendo of magic. Even the weirdness of the caves themselves – with a wandering entity of absolute darkness, tunnels that shift, holes that can appear out of nowhere to trap one’s feet, and much more – was just so fascinating to read.
The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow was a fun read that still has its serious and dark moments. Far from being depressing or grimdark, the story struck a good balance of light-hearted entertainment with high-stakes tension, while leaving tantalising trails of possible revelations to come. It’s been a while since I’ve read a new book from Aaron (the last one was a favourite from the DFZ trilogy), who’s well-known to publish at least one, if not two books a year. The pandemic has affected everyone in all possible ways, so I’m glad to see that she’s back with a new series that’s really different from her previous works, but yet maintained that approachable and welcoming style of hers which I love so much.
Needless to say, I’m excited to read more in The Crystal Calamity series. Knowing Aaron’s writing style after reading all of her works, The Last Stand of Mary Good Crow was just the tip of the iceberg and the scope of the larger story is only going to become more incredible.
Thanks to Rachel Aaron and Fantasy Book Critic as the host and initiator, Novel Notions was able to take part in this review blog tour. Do check out the other great reviews for this wonderful book, and an excellent interview with the author.