Hettie and her sister are travelling to Mexico, where the demonic revolver, El Diablo, was first created in the hope they can finally destroy it an Hettie can get her life back
But the journey has complicates - crossing the magical wall into Mexico isn’t easy and despite all their efforts, local politics catches them as a General with a full army behind him is less than happy with the magical independence of Villa Del Punta. And the town itself has divisions inside - not least of which with Walker’s family
And then there’s Abbie; the Indigo child with impossible magical powers growing by the day… and she’s picked up some disturbing habits from her captivity with the Kuklos warlock which is only more worrying...
Hattie is the core of his book and her conflicts and personality are what really gives the whole story so much more depth. We’re reminded that Hattie is very young and utterly out of her depth but equally determined to keep on going for the sake of her sister. She has this really powerful sense of fatalism while still clinging to hope. After her experiences she’s almost given up on her own future. She doesn’t have any long term plans, she doesn’t even seem to consider the future - focusing only on her sister’s survival and ignoring herself almost entirely. Yet at the same time she is clinging so desperately to getting rid of the Diablo and getting her missing years back. And I don’t think it’s worry about aging or dying - but the desperate desire for a do-over, a wish that she could go back to where this story began, before the loss of her family, before the revolver, before she killed people.
On top of that she has her sister Abbie, impossibly, terrifyingly powerful, increasingly out of control with more than a few unsavoury habits and a growing sense of almost desperation.
This is the backbone of the book -and pretty necessary as the pacing has an odd moment in the middle. The journey to Mexico and Villa Del Punto has action, magic and fighting. And the end of the book has some grand reveals and a lot of powerful scenes and epicness. But the middle? It’s kind of flabby and meandering without a lot of forward movement. But it does allow a lot of exploration - especially of Hattie; her trying to fit in with the inhabitants of Villa Del Punta, her dealing with her complicated relationship with Walker, trying to look after Abbie. Facing the fact she doesn’t really trust anyone around her. And even her evolving connection with El Diablo.
It also allows for a lot of world building of magic, the relationship between Mexico and the US as well as the local politics of this world’s Mexico as well: which has some interesting twists including magical areas as a vital resource and how this world with magic has created a much more balanced tension between the US and Mexico. In fact, there’s a wall across the Mexican border built by the Mexicans to keep Americans out. I do like to see how our world would differ if magic is introduced to history; how wars and conflicts would be completely different when the power is so changed.
We also get to explore the magic system some more as well as the nature of both the demonic and the angelic.
It’s still kind of flabby in the middle since it basically involves Hattie and Abbie settling into the village, slowly winning over the people’s trust, learning about magic, learning about Walker’s past, his relationship to the sorcerer who created Diablo and, of course, his step brother who rules the town and there’s some tension there. Not a lot happens but it’s ok; it allows the characters to grow and learn especially after all the action of the last book. And the action beginning and ending the book which is full of war, and fighting and magic and guns to definitely make up for a slow middle
I like that Hettie does meet several women in Villa del Punta and generally respects them… while I’m not thrilled by Julia. A clear love interest of Walker’s we get a definite hint of jealousy from Hettie which she handles really well and we have a great point of it being hettie’s issue and not the objectionable fault of Julia. Still the ending does kind of have a sense of vindication for Hettie and demonisation of her.
We also learn a lot more about Ling’s background, his experiences as a Chinese immigrant in America, the prejudices he experiences even with his magic and rank - which this book also excellently developed into a prejudice against “Celestial” magic. He also brings his deeply terrible experiences with the magical academy which adds a lot of conflict to his job to bring Abbie in. As well as the conflict that comes from comparing this terrible fate with the terrible things Abbie may do if untrained..
We also have the introduction of Horace, a Black man who joins the group through very unexpected magical means. His back story is informed by prejudice - people resenting that he could have success leading to being cursed while he himself is charming, intelligent and well liked (perhaps a bit much of all? I suspect some possible nefarious motive). He is one of the few who seems to have earned Hettie’s uncompromising trust. We also have a brief appearance of Sophie which means an even briefer appearance of Jemma, her servant and bodyguard.
Since they loved to Mexico, naturally nearly every inhabitant of Villa Del Punta is Mexican. There are no LGBTQ characters
The ending was dramatic but also shows a distinct shift of the story. I’m curious for the next book because it has set Hettie up on an entirely different path - one that may not focus on Abbie so much and one which has an entirely different mission. I look forward to see a story which focuses more on Hettie and her own finding a path especially with her evolving relationship with El Diablo