After the traumas of spring, life is meant to go on as normal. Except now, Maeve and her friends are filled with burdening magic, stressed by separations and worries of the future, and suspicious of new activity from the extremist conservative group, Children of Brigid.
I read the first book in this series, All Our Hidden Gifts, last year and was blown away by it. This sequel was one of my most anticipated books of 2022, but for some unknown reason, I struggled to start reading it. A few times since getting it from the library, I’d picked it up only to put it back down after a chapter, or even a few paragraphs. Something wasn’t clicking. I realized that I didn’t remember the previous book despite loving it so much. Part of me considered rereading All Our Hidden Gifts. Part of me wondered if maybe I should just leave the first book as a decent standalone and not move forward. A couple days ago, I gave the book one final try – only to get immediately hooked and pulled into the new story. Maybe the early chapters were too adolescent angst for me, or maybe my brain just wasn’t ready. I don’t know. But once I got there? This was every bit as good as the first book!
Obviously, I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers for the first book, which I don’t want to do. But the general crux in this book is twofold. First, there really is a lot of angst (in real life) about the end of school, and in changes in relationships as people move into new parts of their lives. Despite all the magic stuff going on, The Gifts That Bind Us treats this source of worry, frustration, and fear in an open and real way. Those issues don’t get lost in the background. There’s a great moment when one of the characters says, “You always think that when really dangerous stuff starts happening, you’ll just start acting really heroically. But it’s never like that. The world could be burning and you would still be just…worrying about your own crap.” I feel like that does a good job of summing up the juxtaposition of real world and crazy magic happenings.
Second, there’s an air of the mystery novel, a magical who-can-you-trust as a bunch of new and potentially suspicious characters are introduced. There’s the unexpected out-of-town family visitor, the hip new guidance counselor who may also have magic in her, the trans rock star taking one of them under her wing, and the political pundit last relevant in the 80s. Not to mention the friends’ old arch-nemesis, a religious zealot, who has taken an inexplicable turn toward undoing his former wrongs. There’s another really excellent line here: “It strikes me that a witch, a minor god, and a former zealot all living together for two weeks is a reality show I would pay to watch.” Me too, Maeve. Me too.
Just like in the last book, there is a lot of emphasis on gender politics (both identity and rights), abortion, sexuality, and morality as the Children of Brigid stir up evangelical hatred. “I sit there, wondering how the whole world got so obsessed with teenage girls and who we let inside us,” Maeve says, because it really is a peculiar obsession when you get to thinking about it. A lot of what the extremists obsess over feels pointless and mean-spirited, tbh. And when you think about it, who wants to worship a god who hates people for X, Y, or Z anyway? What kind of hateful god deserves worship? Yet, conversations like the following are so common these days that they aren’t even surprising anymore:
“Oh, I see what this is,” he says finally. “You think I hate gay people.”
“You’re saying you don’t hate gay people?” I let out a dry, hollow laugh.
“No,” he says. “God does.”
That’s where I’m going to leave this: with the absolute disgust that is evangelical extremists. Once again, this book (and series) does an amazing job of blending politics, religion, magic, and individual stress. I can’t wait for the next volume!