Review: The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novoa


On Mar León de la Rosa’s sixteenth birthday, they are confronted by el Diablo, who demands payment for a wicked bargain made by Mar’s father using their magical ability to control fire and ice. However, Mar’s magic is not enough to reverse the deal, and el Diablo wants the souls of Mar’s father and the entire crew of their ship.

Despite being rescued by the only remaining pirate crew in the Caribbean, el Diablo gives Mar an ultimatum: give up their soul to save their father by the harvest moon or never see him again. Mar refuses to make a deal, and their magic is no match for el Diablo. Nevertheless, Mar finds unexpected allies in Bas, a haughty and attractive pirate, and Dami, a gender-fluid demonio with ambiguous motives.

For the first time, Mar has the courage to use their magic. It could be their only shot at redemption, or it could lead to their demise.


Gabe Cole Novoa’s book, The Wicked Bargain, is a fantastic young adult novel that blends magical realism with historical fiction. Set in the Caribbean, the book features a diverse cast of queer characters and centers around a transmasculine nonbinary protagonist. The story is filled with pirates, magic, and demons, making for an exciting and engaging read. It contains a lot of elements that I personally enjoy in a fantasy genre book, including a thrilling sense of suspense, exciting action scenes, magic, a slow-burning romance, and relatable teen angst.

One aspect of the book that particularly resonated with me was the author’s mention of the pre-colonial acceptance of gender fluidity and homosexuality in Latin American cultures. This served as a poignant reminder of the impact of colonization on traditional beliefs and practices, and highlighted the importance of reclaiming and celebrating these aspects of history and culture.

Mar was a captivating character who grappled with their gender identity, and I found myself deeply empathizing with their struggles. It was heartbreaking to read their innermost thoughts about feeling excluded and their ongoing quest to fit in, including their desire to inhabit a body that felt right to them. Bas was a character that I found myself drawn to in the book. Though he could be naive at times, his unwavering optimism was a beacon of hope for Mar during some of the darker moments in their life. Similarly, Dami was an excellent addition to the story, with their mysterious motives and sarcastic humor providing much-needed comic relief.

The author’s well-conceived structure and characters in the book were thoughtfully developed, resulting in a superbly executed plot. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I couldn’t help but feel that the world-building aspect could have been further developed. As someone with an interest in history, I was able to deduce that the story took place in Latin America and the Caribbean during the Spanish colonization of the 1800s, but the author provided only limited details regarding the setting.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, the author addresses the underrepresentation of Latin American pirates in modern media, explaining how their story aims to bring attention to this overlooked history. Therefore I really wished that the book had included more historical context to strengthen the plot and better illustrate the significance of the characters’ experiences.

While I was intrigued by the presence of Latin American mythology and magic in the book, and I would have enjoyed learning more about these elements as an outsider. I understood that El Diablo was not meant to represent Satan, however, a more thorough explanation of his origins and significance to the Latin American culture and mythology would have been a welcome addition to the story.

In my opinion, The Wicked Bargain is a fantastic book that addresses topics that needs more representation in literature in order to educate society. Although I would have appreciated more detailed world-building and explanations throughout the story, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book and found myself deeply invested in the characters and their journeys.


The Book Cover

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