Serena’s Review: “One for My Enemy”

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Book: “One for My Enemy” by Olivie Blake

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: ebook from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: In New York City where we lay our scene, two rival witch families fight to maintain control of their respective criminal ventures. On one side of the conflict are the Antonova sisters, each one beautiful, cunning, and ruthless, and their mother, the elusive supplier of premium intoxicants known only as Baba Yaga. On the other side, the influential Fedorov brothers serve their father, the crime boss known as Koschei the Deathless, whose community extortion ventures dominate the shadows of magical Manhattan.

After twelve years of tenuous coexistence, a change in one family’s interests causes a rift in the existing stalemate. When bad blood brings both families to the precipice of disaster, fate intervenes with a chance encounter, and in the aftershocks of a resurrected conflict, everyone must choose a side. As each of the siblings struggles to stake their claim, fraying loyalties threaten to rot each side from the inside out.

If, that is, the enmity between empires doesn’t destroy them first.

Review : Do you want to hear a first world reader problem with today’s booming SFF publishing industry? Way too often I find myself late to pick up a book by an author who is clearly widely popular and has been for a few years. Such is the case with Olivie Blake. Have I heard of “The Atlas Six” series? Yes. Do I even have a few eARCs of the books in that series on my Kindle now? Also, yes. Have I yet read and reviewed any of those books on the blog? Nope! Alas, there are just too many great books and great authors out there to stay on top of it all! So, instead of committing myself to a series, I thought I’d dip my toes into this author’s work by jumping on the re-release of one of her previously published books, “One for My Enemy,” a Romeo and Juliet retelling.

In the borroughs of New York City, witches and magic are closely monitored by the Council. That is, all except two shadowy and powerful witches: Baba Yaga, who creates powerful, hallucinogenic drugs, and Koschei the Deathless, who operates a shadow organization of favor-doing and debt-calling. Years ago, these two families fell into a dispute, and years later, it continues to play out on the street between the dueling families, each vying for power and control over the underground magical industry. Caught in these ebbs and flows of vengeance and retribution, the children of Baba Yaga and Koschei must decide where their loyalties truly lie and just how much they are willing to sacrifice to this ongoing war.

So, I’ll admit, I was a bit wary when I went into this book purely based on the “Romeo and Juliet” re-telling part. For one thing, I’ve read Chloe Gong’s “Romeo and Juliet”/modern gangster family duology and didn’t really love it. I’m not a “everything has to be rainbows and flowers” reader, but I also struggle to read a story where I’m being asked to become invested in two characters and their love story when I know it’s going to end in tragedy. There has to be more going on to make that feel worth my time, and in Gong’s case, there wasn’t. BUT! I’m happy to say that Blake has somehow caught magic in a bottle here and written a “Romeo and Juliet” story that both feels in-line with the original, but is also totally unique and not a total bummer of a read.

For one thing, there are no exact equivalents to Romeo and Juliet themselves. Indeed, there are two main couples in this book, and at various points throughout the story (some of it even taking place in references to past events), they all swap in and out of the roles of these two characters. There would be scenes and even lines that would directly reference the original play, but then a few pages later, a different character/couple would take on these roles. It was an interesting method that not only felt like a breath of fresh air to a classic story that has been retold countless times, but it also left me guessing as to what was going to come next. Very quickly, I came to understand that my knowledge of how “Romeo and Juliet” plays out in the actual play would give me next to zero hints as to how this story was going to go.

I also really liked the romance itself in this book. All told, there was actually a lot more romance than I has been expecting. It’s clearly an urban fantasy novel, but there were bits of it that read in a very similar manner to a romance novel. Nothing is overly explicit, but the author devotes a decent amount of page time and dialogue to the romantic dynamics and emotional aspects. This is in no way a dig, but it definitely had the rather flowery, dramatic proclamations and inner monologues that one comes to expect from romance novels. I also have to admit that one of the romances was a bit insta-lovey, but honestly, it didn’t bother me here. I think that’s because while the romance plays a big role, the story is equally (if not more!) concerned with the relationships between siblings, and most importantly, between parents and their children. Who would have expected any of that from “Romeo and Juliet??” Definitely not me!

Furthermore, I really liked the way Russian mythology and New York ganger fiction played into this. I’m honestly a bit bewildered by how Blake managed to juggle three very different types of books/genres and still come out with something that feels polished and organic. Baba Yaga and Koschei are both huge characters in Russian folklore with tons of background and fables exist to support them. Beyond that, we also had references to Ivan and other Russian fairytale characters. There were a lot of sly little Easter Eggs dropped here and there for readers who are familiar with those stories.

Overall, “One for My Enemy” was nothing like what I was expecting, and I loved it all the more for that fact. The writing could be a bit flowery and overwrought at times, but other than that quibble, I think this is a superb urban fantasy, especially those looing for a healthy dose of romance and family drama.

Rating 9: Heart-wrenching and sly, this “Romeo and Juliet” re-telling takes the original story and turns it on its head, adding in a healthy dose of Russian folklore and New York gangster fiction. A supreme work of modern fantasy fiction!

Reader’s Advisory:

“One for My Enemy” somehow seems to be on no Goodreads lists currently (how?!) but it should be on Romeo and Juliet Re-Tellings.

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