September 13, 2023

REVIEW Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston (Sir Callie #1) by Esme Symes-Smith

Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston (Sir Callie #1) by Esme Symes-Smith
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: November 8, 2022
Format: Audiobook (Borrowed from Library)
Publisher: Labyrinth Road

First of all, I want to note how much I appreciated the author's note at the beginning of the story with trigger warnings and what they hope readers take away from the book. This was one of those cases where I agree with the author’s note coming before the actual story, as it is quite helpful for giving readers an idea of what they are about to read and allowing them to make a choice for themselves.  

In Esme Symes-Smith’s first book, Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston, readers are reminded that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sadly, the same can be said for monsters. Callie, the nonbinary hero and main character of the story, has always known they didn’t fit into the mold of being a girl. They also didn’t fit the mold of being a boy. After years of looking up to their father, the King’s Champion, and dreaming of becoming a knight, the chance finally comes when their father is summoned back to the city to train the young crown prince before his trial. Things are much more challenging than they anticipated, however, as the people of Helston are very resistant to the idea of anything ‘different’ and have no intentions of letting them try for knighthood. Thankfully, Callie meets some friends along the way, and together they team up to save the city and challenge the restrictive gender norms they’ve been living under. 

The worldbuilding in this book is superb. If you’ve read Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series, there are a lot of similarities. There’s loads of typical fantasy things like dragons, witches, and magic. There’s also a bit of Callie’s world reflecting our own - the roles that each gender is assigned are clear, and mimic the gender binary that we are most used to. Girls should be delicate and practice magic only for small things, and males should only become knights and not go anywhere near magic (or have the ability to practice it). If you don’t fit into those molds, you are essentially an outcast for life as far as the people of Helston are concerned.  

While Callie is undoubtedly the main character of the book, all of the children in the story have to face adults and other people in positions of authority who should have protected them but don’t (or at least not as much as they should). As I believe Neal says in the book, “Not all battles are fought with swords. Not all enemies want you dead.” The Lord Chancellor in particular is a jerk, and I really enjoyed the scene where someone finally stood up to him towards the end of the book. On the other side of the spectrum are the children’s allies. I appreciated getting to see the efforts that characters like Callie’s father, Neal (Callie’s pseudo-stepfather?), and the Queen made to protect their children. However, there were times that they didn’t protect them in the name of maintaining the status quo or just due to a lack of understanding and knowledge, and I sympathized with the kids so much in those moments. The author doesn’t shy away from many of the challenges that the LGBTQ community experiences, and I think it's so important that young children get to see that (especially in books like this). As Callie tells Willow after he breaks down from all of the pressures being placed upon him, “It's ok to have complicated feelings about complicated things”. 

Overall, Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston was an amazing read, and I’m so happy I was introduced to it via Tamora Pierce’s blurb (anything she recommends is always great). Dani Martineck did an excellent job bringing Callie’s perspective to life with their performance in the audiobook narration of the story. If you’re looking for a humorous heartwarming read that is LGBTQ positive and kid friendly, this would be a great choice. I’m excited to read more about the adventures of Callie and their friends with the next installment in the series, Sir Callie and the Dragon’s Roost, which is set to be released in November 2023. 

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Child Abuse (Physical, Emotional, Psychological), Misgendering, Deadnaming, Death of a Sibling, Gaslighting, Implied Suicide of a Parent, Grief, Anxiety, Trauma

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