Wrings Your Heart Out and Leaves It Glowing: The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming: Practice by Sienna Tristen

Posted 21st October 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

The Heretic's Guide to Homecoming: Book Two: Practice by Sienna Tristen
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Asexual POC MC, nonbinary MC
PoV: 3rd-person, past-tense
Published on: 22nd October 2022

"All good theory stands up to the test of practice."

Freshly-risen from the underworld of his insecurities, Ronoah Genoveffa Elizzi-denna Pilanovani is halfway through his journey to the fabled Pilgrim State. But the world this side of the Iphigene Sea is not an easy one: violence and subterfuge litter the way forward, and something meaner stalks the edges of Ronoah’s certainty, something that threatens to turn the very reason for his pilgrimage to dust.

To survive, he will have to be clever and kind in equal measure. To ask for help from the acrobats and queens-to-be and foreigners’ gods that cross his path. To confront that beguiling, bewildering companion he travels with, the one whose secrets are so vast and unforgivable. He will have to draw on every story he knows in order to make it to the Pilgrim State with his soft heart intact—and then make it home again.

Mythic and multilayered, the final installment of the Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming duology is a love letter to losing and regaining faith in the ways you move through the world.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~Passing For a Demon 101
~all is the Wish and the Wish is all
~the secret’s in your pocket
~how to fall back in love with the world

:this review contains spoilers for Book One: Theory!:

This is one of the top books of 2022, hands down. Hells, it’s one of the top books of the decade.

On every level, in every regard and aspect, it is flawless. It’s wondrous. It’s intimate and mythic, thoughtful and dazzling, intricate and wildly imaginative. It’s heartwarming and heartrending. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before and like coming home, both at once.

A portrait; a portent. A promise.

The story picks up right where Book One: Theory left off, with Ronoah and his mysterious, wonderful, impossible companion on their way to the Pilgrim State. But the being who once went by Reilin – and who uses the name Chashakva for the first chunk of this book – asks that they make a pit-stop, and Ronoah is more than happy to delay the end of their adventures by taking on a side-trip. Just a brief pause to find out how an ancient war in the area ended, since Chashakva last came this way.

watching the clouds as they polished the black opal of the sky.

It turns out to be less side-trip and much more capital-q Quest, though. Because the war, which should have been long over, is still going.

Little wishgranter, half-formed, cooing in the cradle of its god.

If Theory‘s main plotline took place in Ronoah’s inner landscape, then this part of Practice is a little more conventional, as it takes place outside of Ronoah (although he remains a vital part of it). In Theory, though he touched other lives and was touched by them, the only one who could get hurt as a result of his actions was himself; this time around, Ronoah’s words and actions will have ripple effects over an entire country and its religion – this time, he’ll be leaving his signature on history.

That’s a lot of responsibility for someone who’s just reached internal equilibrium with their clinical anxiety!

But he had also traced himself a new tributary, carved a new river of thinking by hand.

I said this storyline was more conventional, but that doesn’t actually make it conventional. Ronoah is not a warrior or a mage; there are no forces of evil to fight, no daring heists to pull off, no feats of (physical) strength to perform. In the stories that are told of these events by future generations, he will be mentioned, but not featured. Chashakva has the spotlight, always. Ronoah is not the main character of the story happening around him. Which means we’re really getting two stories: the one that Chashakva is spinning, the one that is designed to become legend, and the smaller, more intimate, more accurate human perspective.

It’s incredible.

their hopes and expectations followed him like goats over the grazing lands, but his own heart was the goatherd, always had been.

And this isn’t even the whole book! The War of Heavenly Seeds, and Ronoah and Chashakva’s work to bring it to an end, takes up maybe the first third of Practice; at most, the first half. They still have to make it to the Pilgrim State, and the journey there includes a metaphorical journey to the emotional underworld, as Ronoah reels from the implications of the truth about the Heavenly Seeds. And then there’s what happens when they actually, finally, reach the Pilgrim State at last.

What it looked like when you became a worldshaker.

It’s only appropriate, I think, that Practice is…harder than Theory was; practice is harder than theory. Practice touches on and explores darker themes than its predecessor did; there’s slavery, war, human sacrifice, and what I’m pretty happy to call clinical depression. But I don’t want to give the impression that this is a grim and miserable book, because it’s not, and that’s maybe the most impressive part of it all: the fact that this is, like Theory, a fundamentally optimistic, loving, joyful story.

Theory was a book of personal growth and self-transformation, a gentle and exquisite look at how wondrous the world is – and how we need to let go of the things holding us back from embracing it. It is probably not inaccurate to compare Ronoah to a butterfly here; Theory was his caterpillar and cocoon stage, and the end of the book saw him finally emerging from that cocoon. Wings still wet and fragile, maybe, but no longer locked inside himself.

Practice, then, is Ronoah learning how to fly. With wet and fragile wings. And not on a calm summer’s day, either.

Because the world outside the cocoon is A Lot, and Tristen wastes no time in taking all the theory of Theory and putting it into practice. Love the world and love yourself is easy to say – and do – when all is well, but what about when it’s not? What do you do when your heart is broken – how do you fall back in love with the world? How do you hold onto that love when the world is ugly and frightening and terrible?

“Being’s harder than it sounds, isn’t it,”

I would adore Practice for the magical prose, wonderful characters, and Tristen’s incredible imagination alone, but I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see an optimistic story go there. Because most don’t. I don’t know how many warm-soft-optimistic stories have failed to stick the landing for me because they just didn’t acknowledge that some parts of the world/life are hard, are terrible, and how are we supposed to stay warm-soft-optimistic then? But Tristen doesn’t back away from that question, from that reality, and the result is a magnum opus I want to hug to my heart and weep over.

(In a good way! Joyful tears, I promise!!!)

The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming: Book Two: Practice is about stories, about truth and lies and the thin line between them, about the cost of each. It’s about games and trickery and friendship, manipulation and mistakes, gods and monsters and faith and the loss of it – and how to find it again, maybe. It’s fire-dancing and jade beads and cloves, it’s empathy so intense it becomes synaesthesia, it’s falling apart and putting yourself back together better and stronger than you were before. It’s intense and true and heartwringing, it’s an embrace that promises you’re not alone, it’s a mirror and an outstretched hand and magic. Tristen wields language like they invented it, effortlessly imbuing the smallest of details with beauty and meaning that transforms them into something mythic. This is a book – and a writer! – that gently scrapes the calluses from your heart to leave you aching and raw and overflowing with the sheer gorgeous wonder of being alive, and there are no words – there is no review – that can do justice to that.

It makes my heart shy to meet you.

It turns out that Practice leaves me just as breathless, speechless, deliriously and wonderfully helpless as Theory – if not more so.

Practice starts (releases) tomorrow. You’ll be missing out on a peerless masterpiece if you don’t read it for yourself.

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