Book Reviews

Book Review: The Radical Element



TITLE & AUTHOR: The Radical Element by Jessica Spotswood

SERIES: A Tyranny of Petticoats, #2

GENRE: YA/Historical Fiction/Short Stories/Anthology

PUBLISHED : March 13th 2018, by Candlewick Press

MY RATING: 3.5/5



I was introduced to Jessica Spotswood through her first anthology project A Tyranny of Petticoats, which featured 15 stories about badass women. I don’t remember much of it, but I know I gave it a 3/5 rating because the stories were good and fantastical, but nothing special or memorable for me. I decided to give this one a go since I’m into anthologies lately, and to see if these are better than the first collection. I wasn’t disappointed, but neither was I thrilled.

The stories range from early 19th to late 20th century, all set in USA, and each one featuring a girl or a woman who makes a radical change in her life, be it for her personal gain or the greater good. Each of these women is trodden down by misogyny, racism, religious bigotry, or simply her parents’ strict and cultural views, but each one wins, or gets what she wants in a certain way.

These stories are equally good as in the first collection, but unfortunately (for me) there’s much, much less magical and supernatural in this one – almost none.


The Stories

Daughter of the Book (1838, Savannah, Georgia) – Dahlia Adler

An interesting story about the challenges Jewish women faced in their closed community, not allowed to learn and do as much as men. 4/5


You’re a stranger here (1844, Nauvoo, Illinois) – Mackenzi Lee

A portray of the terrible ordeal Mormons went through around the time their leader, Joseph Smith, was murdered, and how difficult it was to preserve their belief and persevere through constant persecution. 3/5


The Magician (1858, Colorado River, New Mexico Territory) – Erin Bowman

A young orphan girl cheats in cards and poses as a boy to get a better pay, trying to collect enough money to go search for her family. 3.5/5


Lady Firebrand (1863, Charleston, South Carolina) – Megan Shepherd

This one was my favorite. Rose, a rich white girl in a wheelchair, and Pauline, her African American friend posing as a maid travel to south in the middle of the Civil War, where they become Union spies, duping the Confederates by destroying their weapon supplies. 5/5


Step right up (1905, Tulsa, Indian Territory) – Jessica Spotswood

This one is about a girl who dreams of becoming a tightrope walker and joining the circus, while coping with her abusive stepfather and indifferent mother. 4/5


Glamour (1923, Los Angeles, California) – Anna-Marie McLemore

During the golden age of Hollywood, a Latina girl tries her best to change herself, her roots, and her skin so she can fit in with the American belles and become a star. 3/5


Better for all the world (1927, Washington, D.C.) – Marieke Nijkamp

This one is about mental illness, at the time still not researched enough, and even feared of, which drove the people and the state to commit some horrible and unforgiving acts like convicting a girl to sterilization so she can’t spread the illness by reproduction. 3/5


When the moonlight isn’t enough (1943, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts) – Dhonielle Clayton

African American family of three persists for 200 years by preserving and drinking moonlight. They spend several years in one place, then run away in fear of people uncovering their secret. They plan to do so again, as WW2 is raging over the Atlantic, but their daughter is tired of running and being 16 for two consecutive centuries. 4/5


The belle of the ball (1952, Brooklyn, New York) – Sarvenaz Tash

The 1950s in USA weren’t known as a place equal for men and women, which Rosemary feels on her own skin as she struggles to become a comedy script writer against the conservative and bigoted mind of her family and elders. 3/5


Land of the sweet, home of the brave (1955, Oakland, California) – Stacey Lee

A Japanese girl competes at a talent show where the main prize is to have your image featured on the sugar packaging, and she beats some racial prejudice ass along the way. 4/5


The birth of Susi go-go (1972, Queens, New York) – Meg Medina

An interesting story of Susana, a Cuban refugee, struggling between her religious and prejudiced parents’ approval and the desire to fit in with an entirely different culture.  4/5


Take me with U (1984, Boston, Massachusetts) – Sara Farizan

Sohelia was sent by her parents from Iran to her cousins’ home in Boston to escape the war. She copes with her longing and loss by making friends and joining a punk band against the wishes of her prejudiced aunt. 3.5/5


While these stories were diverse regarding the characters (which was the point of this anthology), this one didn’t feel as particularly diverse with settings and the stories as was the first collection. Because of that I was bored while reading a few entries, they simply lacked something. Nevertheless, I still plan to read Spotswood’s next collection, Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft, because I prefer supernatural stories, and that one seems more suitable for me.

Did you read any collections by Jessica Spotswood? What did you think? I haven’t read her novels, so I can’t comment on that, but I’d like to hear a comparison of Toil & Trouble to A Tyranny of Petticoats series if anyone has read both (or all three). Happy reading and nice start of the week everyone! 🙂


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13 thoughts on “Book Review: The Radical Element

  1. Great review! I love how diverse this collection is, but I’m like you – I like my stories with a touch of magic. The only ones that sounds exciting to me are When the moonlight isn’t enough and Glamour ( I just adore Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing). I’m super excited for Toil & Trouble to come out though, I love reading stories about witches and magic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Yes – the diversity is its only quality unfortunately, the previous collection had more magic if I remember correctly :/ I liked the moonlight story too, and those two are the only ones with magic I think, except Glamour is more magical realism. Ahh me too, I didn’t get the ARC so I’ll wait until the book comes out 🙂


  2. I love the idea of anthologies, but it seems like every one I read is just… not great. Some of these stories sound interesting though, especially the one with the family drinking moonlight! I’m curious to read your review of that other anthology of hers — stories of witchcraft sound awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol this comment ended up in spam, this is the second time this happened, and I don’t even know unless I manually check that folder, sorry! :/

      Yes, I love the idea too and that’s why I alway get stung haha, it’s always a mixed selection/quality, and some writers here just don’t know to write a short story, even though they write great novels! Yes the one with the moonlight is one of two I actually liked, but it feels unfinished. :/ Ah I didn’t get the ARC for Toil & Trouble so that’s going to take a while 😀 But I can suggest good anthologies by Ellen Datlow, she did a bunch of them as editor and I’ve read two – both great. If you like Victorian period then check out Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells! (There is a Frankensteinish story in there too) 🙂 All her anthologies are adult btw, which appeals more to me.


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