Book Review: “Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians” by Laurel Beckley

Blurb & Info

(via Goodreads)

As an assistant editor at the prestigious Hanhat Publishers, Evie Southiel is entrusted with fine-tuning the manuscripts of the company’s most important authors. Her skills as a book witch allow her to manipulate the stories she reviews and bring them to life.

When her girlfriend steals the secret manuscript of Hanhat’s best-selling author and leaks it to the press, Evie is exiled to become a journey carrier with the Pack-Horse Librarians in the eastern mountains.

Timid city mouse Evie doesn’t know the first thing about surviving in the wilderness, riding a horse, or dealing with the rugged mountain folk and coal miners surrounding the town of Hevis. She does know books, though, and she’s determined to do the best job she can. But that goal is jeopardized when her horse gets spooked on her first solo run, sending her tumbling out of the saddle and into a mysterious woman’s life.

Publication Date: August 17, 2020

Publisher: NineStar Press

Pages: 98

This novella was originally published in 2019 as The Book Woman, but the title was changed upon re-publication due to Beckley’s discovery that a book with the same title and a semi-similar premise had been published in 2018.

Review

Surprise! I ended up running out of steam on my NaNoWriMo project and started reading again. I wanted to squeeze in some non-romance books before December hits, so here we are with Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians.

This novella is one of the most casually diverse books I have ever read. Evie, the main character, is a woman of color who is attracted to women, and Beckley just carries on from there. All of the families portrayed in the novella are headed by adults who are either part of a polycule or else are a queer couple. A prominent supporting character is nonbinary, and another is transgender. All of this is totally accepted, and nobody bats an eye at non-cishet identities.

Instead, most of the characters are concerned with ensuring that there’s enough food for their children’s next meal. Evie Southiel is not a rich city girl, but she’s a city girl who has never needed to worry about fulfilling her basic needs the way most of the other characters do. When Evie leaves her urban home for Hevis, she is entering a totally different world dominated by rural poverty. Beckley continually returns to this motif of how little the people living in and around Hevis have, and how they don’t receive as much education. Evie, in her own way, is trying to improve this, but Beckley’s chosen form of a novella means that the scope of the book is too small for any significant change.

Evie’s story is not, however, about leading revolutions or changing the nature of the world. It’s about finding happiness in small things, even in the face of adversity. Beckley says in the acknowledgements at the end of the book that she was in “a fairly dark place and needed to write something with a happy ending.” That really shines through.

Evie hits some very low points during the course of her story, and where some authors would have things get even worse for her, Beckley is always careful to keep the light at the end of the tunnel shining brightly. This isn’t to say that hardship is glossed over, or that the trials and tribulations faced by the characters are insignificant, but rather that there is this unwavering, rock-hard core of optimism and goodness that the reader unearths, over and over, through the course of the book. Considering how grim and uncertain the real world is at present, I was grateful to feel able to pour myself into Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians and trust Beckley to steer a course that wouldn’t betray me.

My only real complaint is that the ending of the novella feels too abrupt. In just a few paragraphs, everything is resolved, and the events of the ending are told to the reader rather than shown. Other than that, however, I really enjoyed my reading experience; it was heartwarming, it was comforting, and it had just enough unpleasantness to ensure that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sugary sweetness of the overall narrative.

⭐⭐⭐/5 stars


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