Soulstar by CL Polk
Robin Thorpe’s days of hiding are at an end when Grace Hensley knocks on her door, and asks for advice. Together, they free the witches trapped inside asylums, and Robin begins to work on creating a freer, just Aeland for all instead of just the elite and favored. But when her friend and colleague is murdered, Robin finds herself the figurehead—and she must step up to lead, at last.
*insert crying emoji* Tears of happiness are streaming down my face. I probably cried once almost every ten pages, that’s how fucking powerful this book is. The perfect ending to the Kingston Cycle (although hopefully there may be a spinoff?).
I don’t even know how to review this. There is so, so much that builds upon the previous two books, and so much else that is hard to sum up.
While I feel that the editing at times (particularly the beginning) was really haphazard, with far more errors than there should have been (know that I say this with all the love in my heart because you’re awesome and CL Polk is amazing, but Tor, you did them dirty with this last one), I ended up putting aside my annoyance because Robin is amazing and there was just so much spoken from the heart in this one. Of a Black woman always needing to be strong, of repatriation for injustice and state-sanctioned slavery, of moving on and moving ahead to dismantle the system and rebuild something new, free and function. Of different cultures working together and truly seeing each other, instead of the oppressed culture having to hide and assimilate into the oppressing culture.
I loved, loved, loved the way family and clan bound together, and I wanted a little more of those dynamics, but there was already so much going on in this book that a lot of that was pushed to the wayside a little bit.
And I also really liked how the witches’ recovery was portrayed. These were people who were stolen from their homes, shoved into a basement, experimented upon and forced into hard labor (and breeding programs!!!!), and then are suddenly freed with an “oops, my bad, enjoy life now!” I liked that Robin explored their reintegration into society in a very realistic way—and how some of the enslaved witches rejected returning to their families (particularly those who had been born into slavery and did not know their families or felt awkward in them) and returned instead to the family they had created while enslaved.
There is a lot of politicking in this one, with lots of grassroots movements that reminded me so much of Stacey Abrams’ bringing the vote to the people of Georgia, and it was all really, really exciting?? I dunno, the parallels were there and I just felt all of the themes were handled really well, while also giving the characters space to breath and heal and make mistakes and grow/become established.
Finally, the themes of repatriation and reintegration hits on the macro and micro scale. As Robin is working with Grace to bring about a new world (often at odds with what the king and the Established Government wants—because, quite frankly, they are the ones who profited off the status quo), she is also recovering her relationship with her spouse, who was stolen from her the day after they married and locked away in an asylum for twenty years.
Zelind is a fascinating character, and I loved kher representation as a nonbinary person of color in this book (this trilogy is just so queer and I love it). I also loved how Robin and Zelind’s relationship was portrayed—they love each other, but they have been apart for twenty years. Robin has carved out her place and has learned to lean on literally no one—she is the wall upon which everyone else rests, and she stands firm and upright and tireless (or does she)—and Zelind has created community and family and connections within the asylum. Their conversations and integration from two individuals torn apart into a cohesive partnership was very real, very hard and yet, so hopeful.
Welp, I just wrote far more than I was expecting.
This was definitely a fantastic ending to the series—and this trilogy really, truly is something that touches onto what is happening now in America. Each book has tapped into a different vein of injustice and has really hit deep, and this one continues and wraps up everything so, so well. And, of course, I love how Polk always takes their themes and extends them at every level—socially, interpersonally, and personally, from the macro to the micro to everything in between.
Finally, check out these covers.