Tanya has worked at her tavern since she was able to see over the bar. She broke up her first fight at 11. By the time she was a teenager she knew everything about the place, and she could run it with her eyes closed. She’d never let anyone—whether it be a drunkard or a captain of the queen’s guard—take advantage of her. But when her guardian dies, she might lose it all: the bar, her home, her purpose in life. So she heads out on a quest to petition the queen to keep the tavern in her name—dodging unscrupulous guards, a band of thieves, and a powerful, enchanted feather that seems drawn to her. Fast-paced, magical, and unapologetically feminist, Wench is epic fantasy like you’ve never seen it before.
Content warning: Some magic in the book involves self-harm.
The premise of WENCH is utterly delightful. Fantasy readers will recognize the frequent passing role of the tavern wench who never has her own story. She's usually there to entertain, to serve, to make a few quips, and to break up bar fights. Maxine Kaplan gives the overlooked stock character a story of her own, full of ambition, dreams, heartache, and more. Tanya is an engaging character with a specific aim for her life, and she is extremely aware of others' limited views of her. In her journey, she finds power she never expected, new friendships, and hard choices that test what she truly wants for herself.
Tanya's character development is top notch. She begins only able to rely on herself, mistrustful of others, and with a huge chip on her shoulder. It takes her a long time to lower her guard, to put trust in potential friends, and to figure out that a future with just yourself may seem more secure but is also infinitely more lonely.
The side characters aren't as well rounded or developed as Tanya, but are still enjoyable, particularly Jana and Greer. Those looking for romance will find a little in WENCH, but there isn't a strong thread of it. This book is truly where the wench gets to shine and tell her story, not having to share any spotlight.
Overall, WENCH is a fun romp filled with adventure after adventure. It brings to life a character that is rarely, if ever, given her own narrative and presents a complex young woman who wants to be in control of her own destiny.