Pride Reads 2024: “Unworthy” by J. A. Vodvarka

Two rainbow flags stand out against the background of a bright blue sky.

An action-filled adventure with pirates, magic, and the making of legends (plus bisexuals!) 

In Unworthy, the first book in The Blacksea Odyssey by J.A. Vodvarka, a magick user with a rare gift goes missing from the order that has secretly held her prisoner. Nyssa and her best friend Athen are sent on a guild mission to bring her back. They’re warned to exercise extreme caution – the escapee can nullify the magick in others with a touch. But Nyssa is the first of her kind: an Emerald Order Adept with no magic. What has been a source of scorn for Nyssa is now her greatest strength. Their journey is dangerous, but once Nyssa has her hands on the escaped Adept, things only get worse. 

What starts as a quest to find a missing person eventually evolves into a story of discovering and reclaiming identity and agency in a world where not everything is as it seems. 

Notable for Pride Month: The main romance through this book is between two women. Vodvarka weaves queerness into her narrative effortlessly, giving us a fantasy world where the peril our main character faces has nothing to do with her sexuality. Nyssa is a badass guild fighter who also happens to be queer. 

Let’s jump into the review.

First of all, let’s talk about this cover.

An ebook cover for Unworthy: The Blacksea Odyssey by J.A. Vodvarka. In the center of the page, a woman with red hair sinks below dark waves. She seems to look back at you, terrified. In big gold letters across the top is the word UNWORTHY.
Image courtesy of J.A. Vodvarka

I am obsessed with the artwork and I will be the first to admit that I judge a book by its cover. This has bitten me in the ass a time or two. This time, I was not at all disappointed. This cover, from the image of a woman slipping under the water to the dark color palette, is the perfect fit for this book. The beauty continues inside the ebook, with gorgeous scene separators and chapter headers.

I read a lot of indie books. The rise of Amazon and its Kindle Unlimited subscription service has brought about a new age of independent authors who have found ways to get their books directly into readers’ hands without going through the traditional agent/publisher hoops. This has been a wonderful thing, introducing readers to writers whose voices would have otherwise gone unnoticed. But it can also produce a slurry of books that haven’t been edited well. 

This book, though? Definitely edited well. It reads like any traditionally published book. 

Now for my review of the book itself. I’m going to start with the few qualms I have because there are only two and they shouldn’t factor into your decision to give this book a chance. 

First, I thought that some of the slang that the characters use early in the book didn’t fit well with the environment. A few times I was thrown out of immersion by a brief bit of dialogue that felt too much like modern speech. Second, because this book is marketed as a slow-burn romance, I found myself frustrated that Nyssa and one of the characters hooked up within the first 25% of the book. But by the end of the book, I was absolutely on board, because perhaps the slow burn is describing a different relationship that is ripe for a lot of mutual longing and self-imposed limits. So, that doesn’t even count as a qualm.

Now onto the good stuff. This may be a little spoilery, so read with caution.

I did not like Nyssa at all for about half of the book, but I think her personality is a feature, not a bug. We see her go from this woman who wants to be given a place at this guild table with every fiber of her being. She believes in the Order. She believes in the Empire. Despite the abuse she suffered at the hands of the establishment, she is loyal to it. Cocky, even, in her assurance that she is on the right path. And I think this interpretation of Nyssa’s character was intentional because the first thing we read when we start the book is Quinn’s escape from the Citadel that locked her up and abused her. So I’m adding this commitment to her stubbornness to my “likes” pile, even if I took a long time to warm up to the main character. 

I loved the action scenes. I often get lost when swords start swinging but Vodvarka did a good job of mixing action with emotion and keeping me on board the whole time. 

Quinn’s characterization was Chef’s Kiss Brilliant. She was quick on her feet and scrappy, able to meet Nyssa’s energy every step of the way, which made their exchanges fun to read. Also, the fire messengers? The misunderstanding of where to deliver the message was a great way to add a “relatable” frustration to a fantasy world. 

Unworthy by J.A. Vodvarka gets a 4.5/5 stars from me. 


Be sure to check out our other Pride Reads!

Author: Ash Macaulay

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