Book reviews

Crooks & Straights – Masha du Toit

You know that feeling you have on Christmas morning when you have a pile of presents before you, filled with potential? You’re excited to open them but also a bit trepidatious because maybe the promising shapes belie the contents. Maybe they’re going to be disappointments and you have to smile and be grateful all the while wishing that the shimmering paper had been filled with something else.


I came to Crooks & Straights with that Christmas morning feeling. I read the description on Amazon and thought, “Wow, I’ve got to get my hands on that”. Here it is:


Gia’s brother Nico is different from other boys. And being different can be dangerous in Gia’s world. Cape Town is no longer the haven for magical refugees that it once was. The Purists want to get rid of all magic and the newspapers are full of dreadful stories about the Belle Gente, the magical terrorists.


None of this concerns Gia, until the Special Branch— police who investigate the illegal use of magic— come knocking at her door, looking for Nico. When Gia turns to her parents for help, she finds only more secrets. Then she realises that she was the one who put her brother in danger.


I am delighted to report that Crooks & Straights was not in any way a disappointment. As I turned the pages, it really felt like I was unwrapping a beautiful and thoughtful gift.


There are so many surprises and hidden bits of magic along the way. I won’t spoil them, but here are a few of the things I liked best about this book.

  1. Masha isn’t only a writer but an artist too. She has scattered the book with her own illustrations.
  2. Politics plays a big part in this story. Politics between the magical and unmagical but also in an allegorical way. There are issues of cultural sensitivity that are common in South African fiction, but in this case the cultures in question are things like trolls and fairies.
  3. Magic is normailsed in this world in a way that makes me think of embroidery. Masha has done an amazing job of stitching it on to everyday life in such a way that it feels totally familiar and natural.
  4. There is a very South African flavour to the world that Masha has created. You get an idea of what it’s like to live here – the diversity of language (magical creatures have different names in different languages) and culture, the socio-economic divides.
  5. Subtle world building that’s the perfect recipe for a book hangover.


Luckily, Crooks and Straights is the first part in a duology and, as I’m late to the party here, the other book, Wolf Logic, is already out 🙂


Disclaimer: I was given a digital copy of this book as a gift from the author.



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