Olivia’s clients have dwindled, turning to newcomer Stoner Halbert for business and putting her own in jeopardy. She’s devoted everything into building up a name for herself in the gender-imbalanced public affairs industry, so the loss takes a heavy toll on her generally calm demeanor. Despondent and nightly haunted by dreams of a black panther, she ignores her career, her best friend Lily, and the persistent advice of her mother to turn back to her ‘empath’ roots. After a week of depression, a woman named Elsa approaches her as the embodiment of the panther in her dreams. She tells Olivia that she possesses secret powers, that she’s a guardian of Olivia, destined to protect and strengthen her against the demon Stoner Halbert. Olivia isn’t quick to accept Elsa’s aid, however; she’s seen her mother suppress her past with alcohol and neglect. Elsa helps her realize that her extraordinary powers outweigh her inhibitions, though, and that Olivia has great potential.
As Olivia climbs higher up social and political strata, she feels the pressure of being far more capable than her career allows, as Elsa implies. After all, her powers transcend elections; often Woman King dabbles with Biblical elements and casually mentions mythical creatures. Stoner Halbert is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Olivia is concerned. With these new revelations and friends, along with the realization that they too possess magical strengths, she fortifies herself for an inevitable confrontation between her past and present.
In addition to its own fantastical world, Woman King makes full use of San Francisco as a backdrop for Olivia’s journey. The city’s ubiquitous fog, diverse culture, and environmentally conscious atmosphere tie into the novel’s emphasis on the supernatural in unexpected ways. Woman King puts the witty, femme-power elements reminiscent of Charmed at a contemporary tempo, with, of course, the addition of myth and lore. Although the plot buildup is slightly awkward at points (a tattoo in an ‘old language’ is the mark of a fairy), readers familiar with the area will appreciate constant references to the Bay Area, as well as creatively conjured world of the Council who quietly works within human affairs to keep a balance of justice.
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