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Book Review: Speak Easy, by E.S. Barrison

In May, when the SCOTUS leak first dropped, before the Supreme Court actually made their appalling ruling on Roe vs Wade, Charlie Nottingham organized a #ReadForOurRights event over on TikTok. She and several other authors agreed to donate the proceeds from book sales that month to campaigns fighting to reestablish and/or protect women’s rights. I ordered several books from several authors during this event. (Something like 17, if I’m remembering right.) E.S. Barrison‘s Speak Easy was one of them.

speak easy cover

Victors, they say, write history.
Too bad the victors can’t write.

After her father passes away, Nanette hops on a caravan to the neighboring country of Rosada to join her sister. Yet Rosada is in the grip of a deep fog: magic is banished, storytelling is outlawed, and the Order reigns. With her sister grown complacent over the horrors of their new home, Nanette takes matters into her own hands to protect stories, no matter the cost.

With the help of a loud-mouthed cabby, Nanette forms a plan to reignite the storytellers in Rosada. But it’s not safe to tell stories, even in the shadows.

With tensions rising and storytellers vanishing, Nanette must decide: are stories worth her relationship with her sister?

Are stories worth risking her life?

my review

Let me start by saying how stunning I think the cover is. Now, let me move on to the content underneath it.

I have two primary and opposing feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think it’s a really timely read, being primarily focused on the suppression of truth and the rise and destructiveness of propaganda (or ‘state-sanctioned stories.’), And I acknowledge that Barrison added a lot of recognizable, real-world issues. The main character is bisexual. There’s a trans character happily living their life. There’s a diabetic struggling with the cost of his insulin (though they don’t call it that in this magical realm). There’s a government being eclipsed by religious insurgence. There’s police abuse and ongoing experiences of trauma. (Plus more I’m leaving out because it would be spoilery.) So, I think this is a book of the times.

However, I also found the storytelling very straightforward and not overly engaging. There are no red herrings, twists or turns, or unexpected events. Problems crop up and are immediately and easily mended. (I found the sister’s sudden change of attitude and miraculous save toward the end especially convenient and unbelievable!) The story is very linear. This happens, and then this happens, and then this happens. It’s simplistic in the extreme, as is the writing itself. Which is unfortunate, especially in a book about the importance of storytelling.

speak easy photoFor this reason, despite the fade to black sex scenes, I think it would be best for the younger end of young adults—those who aren’t yet looking for too much complexity in a story. I see the book labeled as intended for 18+. But I don’t think that matches the reading experience.

Overall, I’m not sad to have read the book, but it wasn’t a favorite either.

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