The Wicked Remain by Laura Pohl (Grimrose Girls #2)

At Grimrose Académie, the fairy-tale deaths continue. And unless the curse is broken, one of the girls could be next.

Nani, Yuki, Ella, and Rory have discovered the truth about the curse that's left a trail of dead bodies at Grimrose. But the four still know nothing of its origins, or how to stop the cycle of doomed fates.

And each girl harbors her own secret. One is learning why she was brought to the school. One struggles to keep her new and deadly power under control. One knows exactly how much time she has left.

And one, trying to escape her dark destiny, will come even closer to fulfilling it.

Can the girls change their own stories and break the curse? Or must one of them die to end it forever?

TITLE: The Wicked Remain
AUTHOR: Laura Pohl
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks
YEAR: 2022
LENGTH: 480 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Mystery

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Main Character(s), Trans Secondary Character(s), Ace/Aro Main Character(s).

*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book. 

THE WICKED REMAIN concludes the Grimrose Girls duology as they try to break the curse once and for all, to stop the cycle of girls bent and broken to fit tales which deny them happy endings, and usually take their lives. 

The worldbuilding focuses primarily on details of the curse, the castle, and the relationships between the characters. This would be a hard book to get into if you’re not at least passingly familiar with a few key stories (Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and probably Sleeping Beauty), and there are a few more that would help (Swan Lake, Rapunzel). It doesn’t pause to explain their plots and only occasionally spells out their relevance. This is probably a good decision, given how steeped in them many people are through cultural osmosis even if they’ve never read them and never seen any of the film adaptations. I think this book halting to explain them would have been more irritating than helpful, but I’m noting it since anyone who’s managed to avoid every Disney Princess’s story will have a rough time here. I know there were minor characters whose stories I didn’t recognize or don’t know, but at least for them my lack of recognition didn’t matter much.

I’m torn about the way that one of the secondary characters is handled. She’s a trans girl whose story involves her (implicitly cis, definitely female) cousin being jealous of her and trying to take over her life (including trying to steal her girlfriend). Because of the way the stories overlap, and characters with their own narrative can fill different roles in other characters’ narratives, she also is implied to be the Beast to her girlfriend’s Beauty. It has room to have such an interesting narrative about monstrosity, transphobia, and jealousy… and then just leaves it there. The cousin is jealous because… I don’t know, the curse makes her jealous to fit Swan Lake’s narrative. There’s no real reason stated, she just is. There’s a line about how the cis(?) cousin thinks she can be a better girl/girlfriend than her trans cousin, which stands out to me as unmistakable transphobia, but it’s not named in the way that the other narratives usually have their issues and abuses stated explicitly by the end. It’s possible this gets more attention in the published version than in the ARC I read, but it’s similarly understated in the first book so I’m not anticipating this particular change. For anyone concerned I'll note that while I can't think of a reason other than transphobia to motivate the cousin, there's no deadnaming or misgendering, just a very weird insistence that she'd be better at her trans cousin's life than she is.

This wraps up a bunch of stuff left hanging from the first book, while also having a full storyline of its own. I don’t recall anything it both introduced and resolved, but it’s the last book in the duology so that’s not an issue. The ending wraps up things very well, with suitable conclusions for the main characters and the school as a whole. The ensemble of point-of-view characters is largely unchanged from the first book and their voices are consistent. This does a good job of relaying important information from the last book in a way that quickly refreshes returning readers and might even enable new readers to jump in knowing only the basic premise. It is the conclusion of a duology, however, so as usual I recommend starting with the first book before reading this one.

Yuki and Ella feel like the main two in the group of protagonists, but Nani and Rory get a larger presence than I remember them having in GRIMROSE GIRLS. The pacing is good, the number of main characters is large enough to feel like a full group and to provide a steady supply of answers and developments along the way. In particular, Nani’s storyline with her father get some answers I wasn’t expecting but were very welcome, and I’m very happy for Rory. The central mystery of the curse gets a satisfying answer and a number of suitably dramatic moments, and I like how it all turns out.

CW for cursing, sexual content, ableist language (brief), fatphobia (brief), transphobia, grief, child abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, confinement, panic attacks, medical content, blood (graphic), violence (graphic), cannibalism, self harm (brief), suicide attempt, murder (backstory), suicide, child death, death.

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