One thing about me: if Amber D. Lewis recommends a book, I'm going to want to read it. Since she's the author of one of my favorite series, the Fire and Starlight Saga (buy all the books here and use code FANGIRL10 for a discount!), it goes without saying that I trust her opinion implicitly.
When I saw a TikTok she posted about A Rival Most Vial by R. K. Ashwick, I couldn't request an ARC fast enough. Thankfully, my request was granted because I don't know how I've gone on this long without this story.
A Rival Most Vial is a dual POV cozy fantasy novel about two rival potion shop owners: Ambrose, a half-elf, and Eli, precocious human man. Ambrose's store, the Griffin's Claw, is a staple on Rosemond Street, and the destination for all of your potion needs in the Scar. Well, that is until Eli Valenz opens Eli's Elixers across the street, totally wrecking Ambrose's plans for his shop's upcoming 200 year anniversary. Ambrose has meticulously planned out the coming months' sales, invited the shop's previous owner and veteran brewmaster to the festivities, and has a very strict budget required to complete all of his wish list of updates around the shop before the anniversary. Eli's lower prices, flashy marketing, and fast (read: dangerous!) turnaround quickly steals Ambrose's customers, and, in turn, all of his plans for his party. The two, of course, fall into mutual dislike quickly, as they're polar opposites: Ambrose is straight laced and by the book while Eli is the epitome of golden retriever energy.
And of course, we love an enemies to lovers moment around here.
One of my favorite parts of A Rival Most Vial was the way R. K. Ashwick created such a diverse cast of characters in a found family I'd kill to be a part of. There's Dawn, Ambrose's mohawked elf bestie and the best wandmaker around, Sherry, the human mother hen who doubles as Rosemond Street's weaponsmith, Banneker, the elf who analyzes dreams and cards and is a master artificer, and Grim, the nonbinary orc and expert jeweler. The Rosemond Street crew are fiercely loyal to and protective of one another, even when it's hard. They don't shy away from hard conversations and honesty, even when it feels like a white lie might be easier. I also really appreciated the fact that some of the characters' jobs aren't what you'd assume: for example, you have Sherry, the sweet Mama Bear, who bakes cookies, always has a cup of tea and a supportive ear for the Rosemond Street crew...and has a whole-ass forge where she makes the most badass weapons in the Scar. Then there's Grim the orc (which I picture to look like a Lord of the Rings orc, of course), who makes the most beautiful, intricate jewelry. R. K. Ashwick expertly challenges stereotypes in the most subtle way and I freaking loved every second of it.
There is also so much mental health representation that I was either grinning ear-to-ear or full on weepy most of the time I was reading this book. R. K. Ashwick offers such an excellent depiction of anxiety and depression that is so relatable--so many of us know what it feels like when anxiety and depression lie to you, and forces you to self-isolate from people you love because you're too in your own head to believe that they could truly love you. A Rival Most Vial also offers a beautiful example of how to be a friend to someone with anxiety; it displays the absolute FACT that patience, love, and understanding will always be preferable to pressure and anger. Hand in hand with that is a model of caring for others, when they don't care for themselves, and doing so even when they don't know you're there and don't reciprocate. You care for others because you love them, not for what they may do for you later. Then, there's the inspiration that is the bravery of stepping out of your comfort zone, talking yourself through knowing that your anxiety is a liar, and breaking curses that are learned or generational.
There's also one scene in particular that perfectly outlines consent and communication in a relationship and was just *chef's kiss*. Oh, and you know here at the Incoherent Fangirl we love an up-front content warning, which R. K. Ashwick has graciously listed on her website here (but please note--there may be spoilers).
I literally cannot say enough good things about this book. It was so warm and cozy, and as cheesy as this may sound, truly felt like a hug in book form. Agh, I just can't get over it. Bravo, R. K. Ashwick, and many thanks to Amber D. Lewis for this recommendation--this is a book I won't soon forget.
A Rival Most Vial by R. K. Ashwick releases in March 2023, and while I don't see it listed for preorder, you can bet that I'll remind you to order this book once it's out--just keep an ear out to the podcast! For now, check out R.K.'s website here!
Love and low necklines on tunics,