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We're happy to welcome back [personal profile] owlmoose to Lady Business to share a guest review about The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal, a story set in the Spiritwalker universe, and jointly told by Kate Elliott (writer) and Julie Dillon (artist), who recently won a Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist.

For years as she grew out of innocent childhood and into budding womanhood, Beatrice Hassi Barahal had imagined a kiss. In a secret journal she wrote about her heartfelt longings and intimate adventures.

Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, the journal did not remain secret.

You can read it now. And you won’t be the only one who did. (source)

One of my favorite things about Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy (which I co-reviewed with Renay) was the strength of the friendship between the protagonist, Cat Barahal, and her cousin Beatrice. I loved how their relationship both drove the plot and provided the emotional core of the series. Along with the fantastic world building, Cat's relationship with Bee is my strongest driver to recommend these books to people. When I discovered that Elliott had written a short story from Bee's perspective, and that it had been published as a chapbook illustrated by Julie Dillon, I jumped at the chance to read it, and I was not disappointed.

The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassai Barahal touches on many of the events of the three Spiritwalker books, in Bee's own words and illustrated by her sketches. The journal reveals a number of details about goings-on that Cat never saw: Bee's true feelings about Andavai and his relationship with Cat, a surprising deal she tried to strike with Camjiata, the real reason she married Caonabo. Getting her point of view on events, when the books are so strongly from Cat's perspective, provides a more complete picture of what was really going on. But fun as those details are, there are two even better reasons to read this story: the interactions between Bee and Cat, and the gorgeous illustrations.

Because this isn't just a story, it's a conversation. Cat got her hands on Bee's diary before we did, and it's filled with her commentary: snarky, serious, heartfelt. We see her impatience with Bee's romantic nature and her thirst for action. And most importantly, we see her banter with her cousin. Despite Bee's choice to write the diary in the third person, she is not a neutral observer here. She and Cat go back and forth in the comments, in ways both revealing and laugh-out-loud funny. We are left with no doubt as to how much these two love each other, and just how important their relationship is to them both.

The art is wonderful, bringing the characters to life, along with scenes from the book and several illustrations based on Bee's prophetic dreams. They also reinforce a truth about the books that may be sadly lost on some readers because of whitewashed cover art: these characters, overwhelmingly, are not white. Bee, Cat, Andavai, Camjiata, every major character and most of the minor ones, are of African descent. There is one white person depicted in this story (Brennan, one of the radicals, with whom Bee has a brief affair); there are, in fact, more trolls in the illustrations than there are white people. It serves as a powerful reminder that Kate Elliott chose to build a very different fantasy world than the ones we're used to seeing.

In short, this is a delightful and welcome addition to the Spiritwalker universe, and if Elliott wanted to write a dozen more illustrated stories, I would gladly buy them all.

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