Reluctant Heroes and Hoodies: My Wings of Ebony Review

Once in a blue moon, the Netgalley gods smile graciously upon me. Which is why today I'm able to review one of my most anticipated books of 2021! The second I saw it being compared to Angie Thomas's books and the Hunger Games, I knew I had to see what all the fuss was about.

So let's dive right in and see if this upcoming release lives up to the hype ...

Book Title: Wings of Ebony
Author: J. Elle
Publisher/Year: Denene Millner Books/Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Number of Pages (According to Goodreads): 368
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book description (from Goodreads):

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry—and with evil sinking its claws into humans and gods alike, she'll have to unearth the magic of her true identity to save both her worlds.

Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games.

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue's taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

The fantasy trope where the protagonist discovers they’re a descendant of a magical being and has to learn to use their powers is pretty well-trodden ground. But Wings of Ebony puts a really nuanced spin on it for two reasons:

  1. The protagonist Definitely Did Not Ask For This, Thanks
  2. The true origins of her birthright are a little more complicated than they might seem ...

Meet Your New Favorite Badass YA Hero

I loved getting to know Rue as a hero — it can be really hard to pull off the reluctant hero trope without making them seem whiny or apathetic, but Rue is a total badass and cares deeply about helping people. Even if she kind of hates the people who gave her powers (not to spoil anything, but uh ... her instincts aren’t exactly wrong on that front).

In fact, I was drawn so effectively into Rue's story that her darkest moment literally had me bawling my eyes out! So def bring tissues 😭On a lighter/more trivial note, a random thing I loved about Rue is the hoodie she wears throughout the story and the way it's used to characterize her. Iconic!

Plot, Meet Theme

The themes of community, ancestry, and combating racism are woven beautifully into the plot, and definitely gave me food for thought. While there are some overt racists in the story (who get soundly thrashed), there’s also discussion of how even well-meaning people in a position of privilege can help perpetuate oppression.

The story itself is fast-paced for a fantasy novel, so if you’ve been on the lookout for a quick fantasy read, definitely check this one out! The twists kept me devouring the pages, and though I found the worldbuilding for Ghizon a little underdeveloped, I was definitely immersed just from caring about the characters so much.

Trigger and Content Warnings for Wings of Ebony

Wings of Ebony might not be for you if you're sensitive to mentions/depictions of violence involving blood, gun violence, death (including death of a parent), racism and racial slurs, drugs, and kidnapping/abduction.

Final Thoughts

Even though I would have liked to see more of the fantasy world, I truly adored the conflict, themes, and characters in this book. Besides, I'm sure I'll learn more about the setting in the upcoming sequel—which can't come fast enough!

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the e-ARC of this book! Wings of Ebony comes out on January 26th, and for every copy preordered, the publisher will donate one copy to Project LIT—an organization dedicated to increasing access to diverse books and promoting a love of reading. What's more, the entire first printing will be signed by the author! So if this book sounds like something you'd like, there are a TON of reasons to go ahead and swipe your copy now :D

Barnes and Noble | | Amazon | Goodreads

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