From a lush, dazzlingly original new voice in young adult fantasy comes an epic clash of witches, gods and demons as the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. Elysium, Oklahoma, is a town like any other. Respectable. God-fearing. Praying for an end to the Dust Bowl. Until the day the people of Elysium are chosen by two sisters: Life and Death. And the Sisters like to gamble against each other with things like time, and space, and human lives. Elysium is to become the gameboard in a ruthless competition between the goddesses. The Dust Soldiers will return in ten years' time, and if the people of Elysium have not proved themselves worthy, all will be slain. Nearly ten years later, seventeen-year-old Sal Wilkinson is called upon to lead Elysium as it prepares for the end of the game. But then an outsider named Asa arrives at Elysium's gates with nothing more than a sharp smile and a bag of magic tricks, and they trigger a terrible accident that gets both Sal and Asa exiled into the brutal Desert of Dust and Steel. There Sal and Asa stumble upon a gang of girls headed by another exile: a young witch everyone in Elysium believes to be dead. As the apocalypse looms, they must do more than simply tip the scales in Elysium's favor -- only by reinventing the rules can they beat Life and Death at their own game in this exciting fantasy debut.
The people of Elysium sealed their walls and began to listen to Mother Morevna, a powerful witch who had the confidence to take over and lead the people. In that time, they have been collecting food and supplies for the sacrifice to be offered at the end of 10 years. While intentions started good in Elysium, with people ignoring previous racist and sexist divides, things have been devolving, and risk of desert monsters and the dust sickness has people constantly afraid for their lives.
Sal has visions where she sees rain, and when she shared them as a young girl, people scorned her, as rain never comes to the dust bowl. She was forever known as the girl who cried rain and shunned for the most part. She was bullied by the other children. However, she is soon to learn that she is a witch, and Morevna is naming her as successor.
Asa is a daemon who has always been enamored with humans. When Mother tells Life to choose him as her wildcard, she sends him to Earth with a stone that he is supposed to return to its owner as he appears human. When Asa and Sal collide, they wind up with a huge mistake that destroys the sacrifice and are exiled from the city. There, they join with a group of witches and learn more about Sal's powers and more truths about Elysium. The race to the end of the game is on, and everyone will have to decide what side of the line they will be on when the dust settles.
What I loved: The magic and dystopian collision in a Western landscape is really fascinating, and the plot is really intriguing. There are also some great twists at the end that I did not see coming, and I really enjoy when books manage to surprise me. I loved the magic, and Asa brings an interesting element of what it means to be human to the book. There are some interesting discussions about equality, fighting for it and the value of it that are interspersed throughout. The setting and the characters really come to life through the writing, and it was all well-described and fascinating.
What left me wanting more: There are some anachronisms that I assume will be changed from the ARC. As another minor thing, there seems to be a hint of a romantic relationship between Sal and Lucy which I would love to have seen developed further. However, they do have bigger problems to worry about, and so this is a smaller thing.
I would add warnings for physical abuse/bullying and sexual abuse (mentioned, not described) as well as character illness/death and cannibalism (mentioned).
Final verdict: Unique, engaging, and atmospheric, ELYSIUM GIRLS is a fantasy/dystopian that will appeal to many audiences. I've seen this described as MAD MAX meets CARAVAL, but I would say that this is so much more than just that. This is witches and cowboys and daemons (oh my!) with a fascinating and original plot!