Like Neil Gaiman on insane carnival crack, Delilah S. Dawson’s debut, Wicked As They Come, took me by surprise the moment I picked it up. Skirting theLike Neil Gaiman on insane carnival crack, Delilah S. Dawson’s debut, Wicked As They Come, took me by surprise the moment I picked it up. Skirting the boundaries of fantasy and paranormal, and playing coy with both, Wicked defies genre classification. It was so charming, and refreshingly good that I actually groaned when I hit the last page. Dawson has knit a story whose strength lies in a genuine voice, quirky characters, and notable world-building.
The tale of Letitia Paisley who accidentally steals a locket from an estate sale only to be transported to the alternate world of Sang and into the arms of Bludman and carnivallero Criminy Stain, is not your ordinary Dorothy leaving Kansas story.
Dawson’s plan from the beginning is to gently invite conflict after conflict into the mix: Letitia’s ability to “glance” the future which makes her both admired and feared, a scorned lover from Criminy’s past out for revenge, and the brutality of the Copper’s against the Bludmen all set the stage for an epic adventure-one that will cause Letitia to question her own path trapped between two realities, and will thrust her into Criminy’s arms, her only ally in a strange but vicious world.
Criminy Stain is by far my favorite character whose devilish and cajoling manner sometimes betrays his seriousness. He is formidably lethal as a Bludman, but his patience, joviality, inner steel, and magic are his main strengths. As is his ability to assess and defuse dangerous situations, stare down Coppers, and skillfully protect the carnivalleros and Letitia all the while trying to court her, had me jumping up and down in his corner shouting “Go Criminy!”
His patience spelling the locket, and waiting countless years for it to return to him is swooningly romantic but is also his greatest vulnerability, and despite him being a Bludman, makes him more human in the eyes of a reader. And the desperate plight of the Bludman being hunted by the nefarious Jonah Goodwill and his gang of crooked Coopers provides a lethal conflict that keeps the pages turning and Criminy and Leticia on their toes as they dash from one end of Sang to another to face him down.
The chemistry between Criminy and Leticia is lively, sweet, and their playful dialog does a great job of framing their attraction. I get the sense that Dawson is an incurable romantic at heart, because Wicked as They Come is deeply romantic with the gentle push and pull of a real relationship-not a construct. It simply was not enough for me. I ended up reading the arc THREE times.
If you were to twist the funhouse mirror just so, you might be able to glimpse Dawson’s alt-Victorian world in its reflection and beyond…an alternate reality just as breathtaking as Stormhold, Tortall, The Weird, Middle Earth, or Oz. Rich in culture, Sang is a vibrant tapestry of such lush viciousness where blud-thirsty animals roam the countryside ready to tear out the throats of any “Pinky” who dare show skin…and where the coin of the realm is Blud, magic and might. Wicked as they Come is an amazing find, brimming with danger, incredible adventure that spans many genres and , and I cannot wait to read more of this lush, off-kilter world.