The Absinthe Underground

Peachtree. Feb. 2024. 304p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781682634929.
Gr 9 Up–In this light, sweet adventure, Sybil and Esme fall in love as they go on a mission to steal the crown jewels from a fairy queen on behalf of a mysterious nightclub owner. The girls start in Severon, an alternate 19th-century Paris, where they scrape by waiting tables (Esme) and stealing art posters (Sybil), while secretly pining for each other. Depending on their pooled resources for survival, neither is willing to risk friendship for romance. When Maeve, a powerful nightclub owner, catches the girls stealing a poster advertising her exclusive nightclub, she offers them a deal: cross into Fae and steal Queen Mab’s jewels, or she turns them in. The novel’s central interest is Esme and Sybil’s emotional awakening, full of longing and love. This mostly makes up for the way the friends go through their adventures a tad bit too easily, meeting exactly the right person with the right information at the right time. What makes marginally successful poster thieves remotely qualified for infiltrating another realm and a royal palace in just two days? However, a twist ending offers satisfaction. The world of Severon is most welcome, taking its cues from the multicultural, queer artistic milieu of the Belle Époque. Pacton’s human and Fae worlds also clearly do not depend on men—the only male character of note is Sybil’s adventurer brother who spends most of the novel locked in a dungeon.
VERDICT This is a heartwarming Sapphic love story with a gauzy heist plot for cozy-fantasy lovers and art fans.

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