Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet might be over four hundred years old but the Bard’s tragedy remains a constant source of inspiration for writers across all genres and art forms. From the classic musical West Side Story and the sci-fi teen drama Star-Crossed, to Chloe Gong’s YA fantasy These Violent Delights and Linda Green’s mother centred In Little Stars, the fascination we have with the famous lovers and their feuding families refuses to dwindle. Later this summer we’ll be treated to a subversive ‘untelling’ in Natasha Solomon’s Fair Rosaline, but first we have Olivie Blake’s One For My Enemy – and it might just be my favourite Romeo and Juliet retelling in book form to date.
An urban fantasy set in New York City, Blake’s story centres on the vicious power plays and intricate romantic entanglements between two warring witch families. On one side of the conflict are the Antonovas – seven beautiful and magically gifted sisters helmed by the unforgiving Baba Yaga, a woman who clawed her way to power and has raised her daughters to be just as shrewd and strong. Their adversaries are the Fedorovs – Koschei the Deathless and his three unflinchingly loyal sons: golden heir Dimitri, overshadowed Roman, and sheltered youngest Lev. For twelve years the families have maintained a fraught stalemate. Until now.
Eldest daughter and Antonova successor Mayra carries her mother’s name and cunning brutality. But Mayra has a Fedorov weakness called Dimitri and though she has a heart made of steel, he remains the one person capable of cracking through her armour. When history begins to repeat itself, with youngest Antonova Sasha falling fast and hard for Lev, the feud between the two rival dynasties is carried to the brink of disaster. As siblings wrestle for power, parents struggle to keep control of their children, and lovers try not to ruin each other, the two empires begin to crumble from the inside. It’ll take sacrifices on all sides to halt the impending calamity – an inevitable tragedy that’s been years in the making.
I will always love you, I will love you until the day I die— and if you’re the one to kill me, then by all means, you should know without a trace of doubt you will not have turned me away. I will have spent the final beat of my heart loving you, just as I always have.”
Blake won herself a legion of loyal fans with The Atlas Six and its sequel The Atlas Paradox, as well as last year’s standalone Alone With You In the Ether. The author’s books are so wildly diverse but the one thing they have in common is that they’re all complex, twisty and transportive. Three words that sum up One For My Enemy too. This isn’t a straightforward retelling, mixing up characters, relationships and motives to create a story that feels wholly original but with echoes of Shakespeare’s play. Even with the modern urban setting and the fantasy twist, this is still inherently a tale of star-crossed lovers. It has not just one fated couple but two – and both are so beautifully written that you want to sink into the pages and absorb every gorgeous line of love, longing and desire. Blake’s descriptions are a chef’s kiss; you just want to read them over and over and over.
The book’s alternate Manhattan backdrop is infused with magic and mayhem but the witchy machinations actually play out quite subtly. Blake doesn’t over-elaborate or spell everything out for readers, and the story is all the better for it. It’s also peppered with sharp and perceptive dialogue – whether it’s Mayra’s blunt, carefully veiled remarks, Dimitri’s beautifully earnest declarations, or the quippy, teasing banter between Sasha and Lev. It’s difficult to pick a favourite when a book is populated with such a wonderful cast of multifaceted characters, but Lev is an utter joy from beginning to end – effortlessly charming, sincere and gallant. As is tricksy go-between Brynmor Attaway (“He was handsome, like all fae, and slippery, like all lawyers…”), whose story feels as if it’s just beginning and surely deserves his own book. But this is ultimately an ensemble novel, with two magnetic and powerful families desperately trying to hold on to the things they love most – and, for the most part, failing miserably.
One For My Enemy is a tale of ambition, sacrifice and legacy that’s high on Shakespearian level drama, betrayal, heartbreak and bittersweet insta-love (which, unusually, actually works). With forbidden romance, witchy politics and complicated family dynamics, it’s the perfect recipe for a beautiful tragedy. Another sensation from Blake.
One For My Enemy is published by Tor on 20 April 2023