Title: The Return of the Sorceress
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publication Date: 30 June 2021
Yalxi has fallen very far indeed. Once the Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers, she has been betrayed, imprisoned, and nearly murdered by her former lover, Xellah. Managing a desperate escape, she has only a single spirit housed in a pearl ring, and her own cunning and determination to get out of the city. Assuming she manages even that much, will Yalxi seek justice … or revenge?
Moreno-Garcia has been on my To Read list for a long time. I have Gods of Jade and Shadow sitting on my tablet, just waiting, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Mexican Gothic. I was in the mood for something quick, though, so when I came across a copy of The Return of the Sorceress on netgalley, I snatched it up.
First, it was a delight to read a fantasy tale set in a non-European culture; most notably, one based on the Aztecs, a people who have been historically villainized in literature outside of Mexico. Such tales are few and far between, and I am always on the look out for them.
Second, The Return of the Sorceress is — on the surface — a straight-forward tale of revenge. But there is much more going on. Is this justifiable revenge? How far is Yalxi willing to go? And, while she may be the protagonist of this tale, is she necessarily the hero? Yalxi is a complicated character: strong-willed, ambitious, ruthless though not cruel. Usually. There are incidents in her past that she would prefer to forget, but gathering the power and allies necessary to take on Xellah means facing those memories.
I also love the magical system developed by Moreno-Garcia. Magic is blood-based; something must be sacrificed for power and, as a result, sorcerers age quickly and prematurely. Whenever possible, they add magical jewels to their arsenal, which augment their blood-based spells, holding off their own physical collapse and death for just a bit longer. Many of these jewels are also home to nahual, spirits which will assist a sorcerer in exchange for blood (preferably human, but animal blood works, too).
Such is the case with Yalxi’s pearl ring. The nahual who inhabits it assumes the form of many different animals over the course of the story, always white; and his comments are biting, acerbic, and spot on. He points out Yalxi’s faults not out of cruelty, but because he wants her to do and be better. Yalxi may be the protagonist, but their relationship lies at the heart of the tale.
Overall, The Return of the Sorceress is a quick, engaging, and highly entertaining read. This is the sort of fictional universe that I would love to return to again and again. Highly recommended to Moreno-Garcia’s fans, as well as fans of Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard, The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark, and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]