A Bitter Drink, by Azalea Forrest
As the center of trade for the four major races, Bisia is the perfect city for a Dahlseid—a young race of plant folk—like Rowan to experience whatever his heart desires, and his position as ambassador for the Dahlsia makes affording those desires easy. But when he overhears a plot of treason against his people, all of that could end.
But will it?
My people can take care of themselves, Rowan thinks. The humans will give up once they realize the Dahlsia have nothing of value. Because all humans want is gold, right?
They’ll be just fine.
Full of magic and misadventure, A Bitter Drink tangles Rowan in the vines as he’s forced to team up with a pacifist human vagabond, a deadly serious elven spy, and a cheerful dwarf with a strangely calming presence. Together, they’re determined to put a stop to the twisting heinous plot that threatens to destroy everything they love. But Rowan’s heart isn’t in it: he’s a coward and he knows it. Joining them would mean risking his life, and to challenge one’s true colors is a bitter drink indeed.
My Review (4.5 out of 5 )
A Bitter Drink is a really interesting novel by Azalea Forrest, where the author uses really uncommon characters to weave a fantastic story, which hooks you from the start to the end. It’s great that I discovered it due to SFPBO, because it has a ton of possibilities of ending in my top 10 reads of the year.
So let’s start with the first and more important element of A Bitter Drink, Rowan, a Dahlsian, a plant man who acts as ambassador in Basia’s court (the human court). He’s probably one of the most unlikely heroes you can expect in fantasy, being a pit of defects, as he’s selfish, and naive, and he has left himself to the pleasures of hedonism. Probably we can attribute him a «slight» problem with gluttony and alcoholism (see fragment below); but once he becomes the only person able to dismantle a plot to take control over Basia using ether, he will need to overcome his defects in order to keep the harmony reached between the different creatures living there. An excellent premise that Forrest nails while writing.
As I started talking about Rowan, it’s fair to give a look at the rest of the cast, because it’s a really diverse one, and all of them get to your heart, even in a short book as A Bitter Drink is. A strong dwarf lady, the human that facilitates to keep our group of unlikely heroes together, or the elven spy … all of them end being memorable by their traits and how they act in pressure situations; without forgetting that they are there just because the circumstances forced them. The villains are also well written, deserving Magda, the elven scientist, a special mention, as her insecurities and how she can be seen as socially awkward are some traits that many of us can reflect on.
Another aspect I would like to stop and comment on is how well this book is written, putting special emphasis on the descriptive passages (see example below), which feel rather vivid, something that you could precisely draw without missing a detail, but at the same time, without making the plot suffer from this kind of stops in the pace.
There are several themes treated that deserve their own dissertation, but it’s especially interesting to talk about tolerance, and how it is written using the different races in a fantasy setting. While Bisia is a fundamentally human kingdom, where the rest of the races (except centaurs) live in harmony, and with relatively small frictions, but still we can see how this can become the pillar of some problems that arise later in the novel. I wouldn’t like to end the review without also doing a small spotlight on how original is Rowan’s character, both from the physical and racial characteristics (plant man would be a good summary), but most important in the psychology and in his redemption arc.
In summary, A Bitter Drink is a really original novel, a sort of Ghibli-based fantasy, and which deserves all the praise it is deserving. A character-driven story, which I especially recommend if you want to feel hungry reading (again, food/drink descriptions are on another whole level). I will probably end reading the rest of her bibliography, because, in the field of cozy adventure fantasy, A Bitter Drink landed as a powerhouse.
Azalea Forrest is a fantasy author living with her partner, two cats, and leopard gecko in sunny Florida. Her stories focus on hope and adventure, being a better person, coping with mental illness, and doing your best. She loves getting inside a character’s head to learn who they are.
Aside from writing, she is also a photographer, editor, and gamer. Described as a “living Ghibli character”, Forrest wants to spread a little more light in the world. She is affiliated with Mathematician Records, where you can buy her books directly.