Calamity Leek is a young woman who knows how the world works. All men are demons and she and her chosen sisters will bring the first wave of war against the demonmales and the sun. But when Calamity’s sister Truly dies after trying to look over their protective wall, the sisters’ world begins to unravel.
In concept, this book felt a bit out there. The official logline I got was this: “Books tell you what to believe. Books explain the world around you. What if a book had been written to explain a world constructed only for you? What if that world suddenly fell apart?” When I started reading, I thought I had stumbled onto a very strange, inventive novel. I was right, but not in the way I thought. The First Book of Calamity Leek is a breath of fresh air in a world filled with the same stories retold.
The execution of the story (which I am going to try and not spoil, because Lichtarowicz is great at letting it unfold slowly) needed to be incredibly well done to work, and it did. Pieces fall into place, and as Calamity writes, you pick up the tidbits that she is blind to. The book is written by Calamity, from her own point of view of events. She was a treasured daughter and niece, and knew everything about the way their world works; Aunty even made sure that Calamity disseminated information to her other sisters. Calamity’s confidence in her unique place is almost unsettling.
The First Book of Calamity Leek is written in Calamity’s vernacular. This aspect of the novel, while providing more character insight and depth, did not quite work for me. Though set in North Wales, Calamity’s voice sounded almost Southern (American Southern), and it’s weird cadences turned me off of the book at first. [I should note here that I strongly dislike most dialectic-narrative books. They are choppy and I always have a hard time adjusting to the voice, so it’s not really an indictment on Lichtarowicz but more of my own distaste for the style.] Once I got used to it, however, I could not get enough of Calamity Leek and her sisters, or even of crazy Aunty who watches over them.
There were a few points that I felt did drag the novel down, though. I could not at all tell you what age Calamity Leek or her same-age sisters were. When I began the book, I would have said 8-10, based on the context and the naivete. But later in the book, other hints suggested she is in her teens. I felt the voice was really too young for a teen, and while I can understand an exact age not being given in this concept, Lichtarowicz could have narrowed it down for her readers better. The dialect not sounding location-appropriate (North Wales), also bugged me. There are a few things that might explain it in the book, but I didn’t feel any of that was enough.
Despite its flaws, The First Book of Calamity Leek is an inventive, unique debut novel that will either enrapture you or push you away. I can easily see this as being one that divides readers; however, if you give it a chance and keep reading, Calamity and her confidence will get you in the end.
Available now on Kindle. Buy The First Book of Calamity Leek.