[GL Reviews #2, for Riposte. Check out all my other GL Reviews here!]
[There’s a Spoiler Discussion section at the bottom of the review; other than that, the review will be spoiler-free.]
Believe it or not, this is my first Etzoli fiction. I’ve been on Royal Road for something like three years now, and it took me all the way until 2022 to finish any of her stories! Obviously I’m going to read a whole lot more, though, because Riposte seriously made me happy every time I read it.
I’ve said this about great complete books on Royal Road before, but more than any other before it, I really have to say that Riposte does not deserve to be on this website; it’s a fully fledged young adult urban fantasy novel with a ton of thrills and would look super good on any local bookstore shelf. As of this writing, it hasn’t caught on at all with readers, and that’s a huge shame because it’s good enough that you’d have thought it would just naturally catch on. Honestly, Riposte not being popular yet is probably good material for an essay about the way that modern algorithm-based discovery systems don’t do justice to the actual discovery part of finding new stuff to love, but that’s a whole separate thing and oops I went off on a big tangent.
Riposte is Good
Anyway, this book’s real good. It’s set in near-future Portland, Oregon, starring a young teen, unwilling celebrity with a new foster father to deal with, a new mansion to live in, and a brand-new school to go. She doesn’t enjoy this new life at all, but then she ends up discovering something that changes her life—a magical collectible card game that can grant any wish. As you might expect, the game’s a lot less benevolent than it initially seems. It always is with wishes…
Basically, the story is the closest thing to an American adaptation of Madoka Magica (coincidentally my next GL review!) that I’ve read yet. It takes the essence of that series, about teens dealing with their emotional and personal problems with an urban fantasy style and coming to grips with the power and curse of wishes, and puts it into a vaguely sci-fi lens. I was really impressed by how gripping it was, even if a lot of the story beats were familiar. Yeah, there’s twists in here that you can figure out much earlier than the reveal just by paying attention, but the characters are so interesting, and the card game itself is so fun, that it’s still exciting regardless.
Being near-future sci-fi-ish stuff set in Portland, the story has a lot of discussion of technological advances and class divides. They serve as a backdrop to the story, but the story dives into them enough that it feels honestly pretty fresh for a YA novel. My biggest surprises in the story often came with how directly story dealt with poverty and wealth.
Also it’s got a really cute and moving lesbian romance subplot. I didn’t know what to expect with that going in—either it’d be some tiny portion of the story relegated to the side, or it’d be a Whole Big Thing… and luckily it was the latter. It’s a First Love kind of romance, plus one with that crunchy drama of a closeted religious girl thrown in to keep things from feeling too easy. It’s legitimately a great romance, the kind of young love that blossoms and grows over the series but still keeps tension strong.
Actually, that reminds me; it’s time for that one section that all my GL reviews do: The GL Grade!
The GL Grade
(These GL Reviews are still new, so let me again introduce “The GL Grade,” a segment where I quickly rate the story based on Couple Dynamics, Spiciness, LGBTQ+ Representation, and Shipper Potential. These don’t necessarily reflect my overall feelings on the story.)
Couple Dynamics: Wow, they’re so cute together! I don’t know what it is, but two young people who are both a little traumatized, both a little moody, coming together to make out, is one of my favorite kinds of relationships. It’s innocent yet not like pure schoolgirl stuff; it’s more like nostalgic, I guess, for two weird socially inadequate teens figuring themselves out through each other. I enjoy it.
Spiciness: Not really any spicy stuff beyond a couple makeouts that go pretty far. However, the religion part of it actually plays into this nicely and I’m glad for how the story handled it.
LGBTQ+ Representation: Outside of the main couple, there’s a little bit of transgender stuff in here and possibly asexuality, but not really anything else. The cast is pretty small though so it’s not a big deal.
Shipper Potential: Hmmm, not that I noticed. I did not find myself shipping any of the side characters at all… Well… Maybe some readers might find one specific ship and I might agree.
I have a couple nitpicks with the story, where I as an editor would have changed some of the story beats in the second half which I thought felt a little rushed. However, I can’t discuss any of that without spoilers, so time for the Spoiler Discussion in a second. But if you haven’t read it, and you’re at all interested by “Madoka Magica with Card Games in Portland by the author of Epilogue,” then I highly recommend reading it today! It’s already finished and everything!
So, like I said, the twists in Riposte didn’t really feel super shocking to me, especially the twist with Lloyd’s predicament having been a successful wish fulfilled. It felt like an emotional gut punch, in a good way, but it’s something I saw coming so far away that I was definitely more than ready for the characters to realize it too. Kinda the same with Kyla being the final opponent, but it wasn’t treated quite as shockingly; in fact, I think Noel pretty much expected it too by that point with how cruel the League had generally been.
And speaking of that final duel, it was really great. I was totally hooked, once again even if it was obvious that Noel would let Kyla win in the end. Sometimes stories don’t need to be shocking to be good!
What I was a bit disappointed by was the way a couple of the side character arcs ended up. Namely, and my biggest editor complaint, Rana losing in the tournament unceremoniously. Like, I REALLY wanted Noel and Rana to duel! It was such a cool scene in my head and I was sure it was going to happen and then it… didn’t. Rana’s character arc felt like it had a little more gas, but in the end it sort of concluded after she moved in with Noel and didn’t advance from there.
Actually, the whole tournament sort of came out of nowhere with minimal foreshadowing, to be honest, and it didn’t end up being as cool and anime as its existence implied to my anime-poisoned brain. Now, I guess this book is already about 140,000 words long, far longer than a YA novel is “supposed” to be, but in that way it actually felt a little too short, weirdly enough.
Robin, too, is a character I think was largely forgotten about near the end. After he loses the tournament, there’s this whole bit that dives into his transgender identity that as far as I recall hadn’t been brought up, only implied, before that. And I really wanted to see how he turned out except the book didn’t bring that subplot back into the story. Most of the other players didn’t show up again in the end, either. If I was publishing this story for a full novel release, which I wish I had the ability to do, that’d be my main focus for sure; the cast is small and I think the side characters all could have used a little more to them.
Noel’s good though. Great, even.
Also, with Noel and Rana living together even in the end… I love it. It’s one of those types of story setups you normally only get in fan fiction, but in a totally original work, it makes me a little giddy somehow. I don’t know, it’s just cute.
OK RIPOSTE SPOILERS OVER.
In summary: Riposte. Good book. Good card games. Good worldbuilding. Good characters but maybe some could have used a little more. I’m happy to have read it and I hope that The Last Science is everything it’s cracked up to be.