I haven't done an Art & Review in YEARS. Done a fair amount of fanart, including of Lukens' work, and done a fair amount of reviews, but for whatever reason I haven't combined them in ages.
I just HAD to draw this scene from Lukens' new book, Spell Bound, though, and I started it immediately after I finished the book so I figured it would be a great time to bring back Art & Review! No idea if I'll keep doing them, it'll depend on time, but they are fun.
Anywho. Onto the review.
Spell Bound is a standalone YA fantasy about Sun (left, they/them) and Rook (right, he/him) and, as I usually would for Lukens' main duos, I would die for both of them. Rook, forced to live cut off from the world of magic after the death of his grandmother, makes a desperate gamble to find his way back in by working for the most powerful, and feared, sorcerer of the age. When he meets Sun, the apprentice of another sorcerer in the city (while battling a cursed doll), he finds himself a little smitten with the grouchy, gender-queer apprentice. The two of them keep getting entangled as Rook falls deeper and deeper back into the world of magic, legalities be damned, until suddenly both their mentors vanish, forcing Sun and Rook to work together to find a way to get their mentors back.
If you've ever wanted a modern book full of magic where the magic isn't a secret, this is the one for you. The magic is wonderfully infused throughout the world and everyone knows about it, even if only a few can wield it. It's also for you if you love Golden-Retriever-Energy falls for Grumpy-Cat-Energy duos.
As usual with Lukens' work, the book is just cozy. The characters are comfortable in themselves, even if there are still things they're figuring out. There's multiple queer characters and not a drop of homophobia or questioning of their genders/sexualities. Sun asks Rook to use they/them pronouns and Rook does it without a second thought, and never slips up. When Rook starts to fall for Sun, he never has some crisis about Sun's gender presentation. Sun's siblings tease them, but never about their gender. It's a queer book that isn't about being queer in any way; it just trusts the reader to get it without shoving in some sort of coming out or crisis plot line.
And it's not just queer issues that the book handles incredibly well. Sun is also shown to be touch averse and suffer from anxiety, and again Rook steps up to the plate and just goes with it. He accepts Sun's limits without questioning them and actively asks Sun for consent when he does need to reach out and touch Sun for any reason, and always works to figure out the right way to help when Sun's anxiety flares up for some reason. It's never made into a thing, it just is.
Another thing I always appreciate about Lukens' work is that the teenagers actually feel like teenagers, and the adults feel like adults. Rook and Sun both heavily rely on their adult mentors and reach out to them frequently. In turn, their mentors step up to the plate to take charge when things get serious (doesn't always work, but they at least make the attempt). Their mentors still have flaws and don't always get things right, but they're there. Sun and Rook know they're teenagers and that sometimes you just need an adultier adult.
Spell Bound is one of those books I wish I had when I was a teenager, as cliche as that can sometimes sound. It would have done me a lot of good not only to see queer rep that wasn't part of the plot, just a single facet of multi-faceted characters, but also to see teenagers who had healthy relationships with adults. But I have it now as an adult and it is still oh so delightful. There aren't enough good, cozy queer fantasy books out there, not like this. It's nice to be able to just fall into a comfortable little world for the span of a single book and know that in the end it will be wrapped up and happy.