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Copper Magic, by Julia Mary Gibson

Review copy provided by Starscape Books.

Michigan in 1906 is a pretty easy sell for a YA fantasy setting for me, and I have a feeling it might be for several of you, too. Violet Blake is 12 years old, and her mother and little brother have left her alone with her taciturn cherry-farming father. The small town in which they live has a spiffy resort hotel that has drawn a newfangled photographer–a newfangled lady photographer–and Violet gets to be her assistant.

All this is because of–maybe because of?–a copper hand Violet finds that grants wishes. And is ancient and Indian, but that’s okay, because so is Violet. (Well. Not ancient. Just Indian.) Through her mother’s side of the family. And all the Indian/Native American characters care about nature, in a vague and unspecified way, and….

Look, this book is very readable. It’s fun to read, and there are some pretty good bits, particularly as Violet figures out that intentions don’t actually count for all that much compared to what you actually do–especially when you have no excuse for not following through with real actions. But I really felt like Gibson leaned pretty heavily on her own intentions when it came to the Native American characters in the book. They were very much a string of tropes about Caring About the Environment without a lot of real impact to that. There wasn’t a lot of depth to the old-time photography, or the ecology, or the First Nations tribe portrayed, or any of the elements that the marketing copy touted. I’m having a hard time finding a balance of how to talk about this book, because there were real consequences for Violet’s actions, and that was good, and I sat down and read it without much pause, so really there was that type of appeal. On the other hand, a bit shallow in handling of speculative and cultural elements. Fun, readable, but not amazing. Would like to see whether Gibson goes deeper with later work or whether this is what she was aiming for.

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