This year’s Pride Reads series continues with Hemlock and Sage by Tali Inlow, a journey of magic, mystery, and self-discovery set in the Indigenous-centered Coyote & Crow universe.
For those interested in an entertaining adventure with a Native American queer protagonist, Hemlock and Sage by Tali Inlow is worth checking out. Set in a unique world inspired by Native American culture, the story follows Niya, a young woman pining after her best friend Tusika. The two girls are from different classes, but bonded from birth to undergo a coming-of-age ritual called the Adanadi ceremony together. As each girl chooses their path, the potential of one, both, or neither of them to develop a special magical ability causes both excitement and anxiety.
Niya’s world is thrown for a loop when a stranger named Inola comes into their village of Makasing. Inola seeks help from Tusika’s mother, as a man named Gishkiy has lured several people without abilities, including Inola’s sister, into his influence with promises of bestowing abilities on them. Inola believes that Gishkiy’s past is connected to Tusika’s mother, and that Gishkiy’s experimentation with abilities will cause harm to his members. Niya’s inclination to help Inola puts her at odds with both Tusika and her mother. Soon, Niya and Inola are forced to work on their own to investigate Gishkiy and discover the truth about Tusika’s family.
Hemlock and Sage is the first novel based in the world of Coyote & Crow, a crowdfunded RPG that centers on an alternate version of the Americas that was never colonized. Native American culture has thrived and evolved into a world with developed technology that is still rooted in Native American traditions. Though the universe has an extensive guidebook explaining the rules of this world, readers can still enjoy Hemlock and Sage without knowing every single facet of Coyote & Crow’s universe.
The aspects of the world presented in Hemlock and Sage are intriguing and great care has been taken to show what a non-colonized version of the Americas would look like. The Adanadi ceremony that is a catalyst for the plot is particularly interesting, as both Niya and Tusika must pick the path of an animal as they progress into adulthood. The special abilities shown are fun, and there is much potential for more abilities to exist in the world beyond the novel’s scope.
Niya is an engaging protagonist, whose struggles in both figuring out her future and pining for her best friend are relatable. Tusika is a hard-to-like character, but it’s still easy to see the bond between her and Niya and why Niya is drawn to her. Inola is also an engaging character, and the developing friendship between her and Niya is well-developed. The supporting cast of Niya’s friends and family are overall enjoyable in their brief appearances. Though it takes a while for Gishkiy to appear, he is a compelling antagonist with understandable motives.
Niya and Inola’s adventure is enjoyable from start to finish. Niya’s character arc of self-discovery is compelling, and her emotional bonds with both Tusika and Inola drive much of the narrative. While the novel doesn’t feature much in the way of romance, Niya’s love for Tusika is a central facet of the story. By the novel’s conclusion, the revelations driven by Niya’s bond with Tusika provide a sort of catharsis and tie the journey together well. Despite much of the ending being satisfactory, there are still some open-ended threads at the novel’s conclusion.
All in all, Hemlock and Sage by Tali Inlow is an exciting read. Though Coyote & Crow’s world is expansive, readers will be able to follow the story without full knowledge of the world. Niya’s story is compelling, and hopefully, readers will someday be able to see a continuation of her story and further exploration of such a fictional world.
Hemlock and Sage has been published by Coyote & Crow, LLC, and is available now.
Author: Jessica Wolff
Jessica Wolff is a graduate of Drexel University with a BS in Film/Video. She has a passion for entertainment and representation in entertainment. She currently resides outside of Washington, DC.
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