Mental health representation is incredibly important to me; I write it into my stories because I didn’t see enough of it growing up, and when books do it right, I sing their praises because it is such a relief not to feel like a monster for once. So when I say that Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming is one of the best representations of anxiety and self-doubt I’ve ever seen, you know I mean it.
First, the basics. Ronoah Genoveffa Elizzi-denna Pilanovani is plagued with anxiety and on the run from a string of failures that just prove the voices in his head right. Stranded in a country where he only half-understands the language, through some mixture of luck and fate, he falls into the orbit of the strange and enthralling Reilin. Reilin is a stranger and a traveler, headed towards the famous Pilgrim State – and for some reason or another, he’s willing to take Ronoah with him.
What follows is part travelogue, part katabasis/underworld journey. Ronoah’s anxiety is challenged at every turn, not always compassionately but always honestly, and Reilin is equal parts friend and opponent, teasing him just enough to keep him on his toes while never crossing the line. It’s a masterful balance, and only making it better is the absolutely mind-blowing worldbuilding laid behind it. Heretic is set in the same universe as Avi Silver’s Two Dark Moons, and the world of Shale is just as resonant. Ronoah’s culture of silence and godly closeness, Chiropole’s caste system and storytelling travelers, and even the deadly, extinct(?) shalledra all ring with a truth that’s hard to find in fantasy novels.
Finally, the part that really makes me buzz with happiness: in addition to being some of the best canon fantasy anxiety rep I’ve ever seen, Ronoah is demisexual. It hasn’t come up explicitly in the book yet, but this is only Book One of the series, and Sienna Tristen has made it clear on several panels to do with asexual representation that Ronoah is, in fact, ace rep. (I am VERY EXCITED for Book Two, for so, so many reasons. So many. SO MANY.)
In short, Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming: Book One: Theory is a gorgeous, heartbreaking, breathtaking read. I can’t get enough of Ronoah or Reilin, or any of the bizarre, resonant secondary cast.