Review: Sugar Skulls – Lisa Mantchev & Glenn Dallas

sugar skullsWelcome to Cyrene, a city where energy is currency and music is the lifeblood of its young citizens. Everyone lives on the grid, and the residents of the world’s largest playground are encouraged to pursue every physical and emotional pleasure imaginable.

Vee is the lead singer of the Sugar Skulls, an all-girl band that is Corporate’s newest pet project. Micah haunts the city like a ghost after an overdose of a deadly illegal street drug knocks him off the grid. When Micah and Vee forge an immediate, undeniable connection, their troubled worlds collide.

Trading concert stages for Cyrene’s rooftops and back alleys, they have to evade vicious thugs and Vee’s possessive manager as they unravel the mysteries connected to their dark pasts. And before the curtain falls, Micah and Vee will bring the city to its knees in their desperate bid for love, home, and a future together.

Rating: 3/5

This was one of those books where there were specific things I enjoyed, and very specific things I didn’t – I suppose at least that makes it easier to review!

The writing is certainly very edgy – and it very much depends on your personal tastes as to whether you’ll enjoy it or not – I got some Leah Raeder-ish vibes from this one. While at some points the prose was bordering on pretentious, I think the authors did a great job at at portraying the trippy, hazy, overly-stimulated nature of this utopia where young adults are basically kept high (and high on life) in return for supplying the city grid with energy from their peaked emotions. (Just roll with the concept, okay?!) It was definitely evocative and really incorporated the senses, as good descriptions should – you could absolutely sense the wild energy from the crowd, the emptiness after a drug come-down, the strobe-lights and sweat and fumes and who knows what else.

Wrapping the microphone cord around my hand, I really lay into the lyrics, jacking straight into the brains of the audience. The boys and girls slosh around the pit like iridescent-foamed water in a dirty fish tank. 

This may be a good point to trigger warn for copious drug use, mentions/flashbacks of sexual assault and a torture scene. Just FYI.

I did also like the relationship that developed between Vee and Micah – he doesn’t try to control her, and while he doesn’t like her going into danger, he trusts her to be capable and do what needs to be done. Also, she is just as into sexy times as he is, and pursues him much as he pursues her. There are also some funny/sweet moments between them, such as when he awkwardly suggests she goes bra shopping (after ditching everything and running away with him, Vee is somewhat lacking in the ‘lady gear/front bumper’ department.)

Onto the parts that didn’t work for me:

1. Insta-connection, man. Their eyes literally meet across a crowded club – with Vee on the stage, and Micah leaning back against the bar, seemingly unaffected by the music. This then leads to what essentially amounts to stalking, where Micah searches like half the city, while injured, to try find Vee and see her again. I mean, his only intention is to talk with her and then bugger off and continue on with his life, but still. No matter how prettily presented, this whole ‘dude tracking down girl’ trope is skeezy and problematic.

2. The general uncomfortable vibes in some sections – the sleazy band manager who wants back in Vee’s pants, Micah’s fantasising over the band poster, Vee’s horrifying backstory of sexual assault, which I thought was an unnecessary, gratuitous addition in the explanation of how she ended up in Cyrene.

Overall though, this book took me a while to get into, but I did find myself genuinely enjoying aspects of it, and I think the strength of the book really lies in its utter weirdness, and portrayal of a controlled but untethered, riotous pleasure zone, where people try to find meaning where they can.

She’s fury incarnate, a phoenix midplunge, and she douses us in lyrical kerosene, licks the match alight, and sets as all ablaze…She’s relentless, spitting verses like a bonfire spits embers, as if time itself is her enemy. She’s got the thousand-yard stare of the possessed, and each of us samples the demon inside her. 


ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.