Book Reviews

Review: Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland

Justina Ireland is an expert in interesting magical worlds. Seriously. Every one I think to myself, “what an amazing concept in a world I would absolutely not last one day in”. And Rust in the Root is no exception. I need to read about a million more stories in this world! Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


It is 1937, and Laura Ann Langston lives in an America divided—between those who work the mystical arts and those who do not. Ever since the Great Rust, a catastrophic event that blighted the arcane force called the Dynamism and threw America into disarray, the country has been rebuilding for a better future. And everyone knows the future is industry and technology—otherwise known as Mechomancy—not the traditional mystical arts.

Laura disagrees. A talented young mage from Pennsylvania, Laura hopped a portal to New York City on her seventeenth birthday with hopes of earning her mage’s license and becoming something more than a rootworker

But six months later, she’s got little to show for it other than an empty pocket and broken dreams. With nowhere else to turn, Laura applies for a job with the Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps, a branch of the US government dedicated to repairing the Dynamism so that Mechomancy can thrive. There she meets the Skylark, a powerful mage with a mysterious past, who reluctantly takes Laura on as an apprentice.

As they’re sent off on their first mission together into the heart of the country’s oldest and most mysterious Blight, they discover the work of mages not encountered since the darkest period in America’s past, when Black mages were killed for their power—work that could threaten Laura’s and the Skylark’s lives, and everything they’ve worked for.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: racism

Rust in the Root is like historical fiction meets fantasy in an explosion of color and magic. I sincerely love all of Justina’s world building premises. Immediately I fell in love with the atmosphere. The ways in which racism exists in this context combined with the magic and fledgling dreams. Ireland takes our world and weaves a spell within it to use fantasy as a lens to discuss oppression and privilege. It’s one that shimmers and glistens with magic, but also has a shadowed side of racism and prejudice. (Did I also mention there are photos which only adds to the historical fiction setting as well?)

From the beginning, Rust in the Root has this intriguing time jump where there are certain chapters which seem to be from the future. And the whole time you ask yourself, “how did they get to this and what happened”. As the book progresses, you begin to ask yourself about the reliability of narratives and the ‘truth’. As a core in Rust in the Root, Ireland asks us to question how magic can be a gift and also exploited. The ways in which magic inherently is a tool and it’s how we – as fallible humans – use it.

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In Rust in the Root there is a core of mystery and suspense. This is established not only with these time jumps, but also as the plot weaves and crumbles in front of us. Mysteries unfolding about what humans will do to each other with magic. The ways it just builds on power structures within our world, but also their possibility for change and hope. If you love the idea of unique and interesting magic systems, then you have to read Rust in the Root. It’s also a win for compelling, clever, and fabulous heroines! Find Rust in the Root on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


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