Running Close to the Wind Review: The Most I’ve Ever Laughed Reading a Book

By Steph Kingston on

About Steph Kingston

Geekly's own International Woman of Mystery.


This is your summer book. Stop what you’re doing right now, get this book, and get some sort of fruit-based beverage to drink while reading it.

I don’t think I have ever read a book like Running Close to the Wind. I don’t know if I ever will again. This is possibly the most unique reading experience I’ve ever had. Author Alexandra Rowland has absolutely outdone themselves in every possible way; I cannot remember when I last had so much pure fun reading. I’ve agonized a bit over how to write this review because so much of that delight came from surprise and I don’t want to raise people’s expectations too much. I actually almost finished the review before I realized I hadn’t really talked about what the book was about, because I was so spellbound by what a romp it was. So for you top paragraph readers: Running Close to the Wind is about queer pirates trading in international secrets and also guarding a cake (it’s a really great, important cake). Luckily, this is not the kind of book where all the funny bits are in the trailer–they would not fit. It is truly a raucous ride the whole way through and I could not in one review contain the effervescent batshittery that makes up this book.

Let’s start with our protagonist, Avra Helvaçi, a self described “unpicky slut” blessed with magical luck (more on that later) who spends a significant amount of time in this book writhing saucily on top of a wardrobe. Avra is probably one of the most ridiculous characters I have ever 

In Running Close to the Wind Rowland has asked themself “What’s the horniest feral possum thing someone could do?”

read, with almost every line he says being the most insane yet hilarious thing he could say in that moment. He is so unabashedly horny that bashfulness and Avra have never even been in the same hemisphere. Fellow reviewer and No Page Unturned host Christina Ladd once said in her The Discord of Gods review “Sanderson likely asks himself ‘what’s the coolest thing someone could do?’ with regard to his action sequences. Lyons seems to have instead asked herself ‘what’s the coolest thing someone could feel?’” Well, in Running Close to the Wind Rowland has asked themself “What’s the horniest feral possum thing someone could do?” And truly it speaks to Rowland’s skill as a writer that Avra does not get tiring to the reader after 50 pages. There is an extremely fine line between “hilarious trash boy” and “irritating man child” and Rowland does a delicate pirate’s jig on top of that line. I genuinely found myself excited to see what shenanigans Avra was going to get up to this time. Rounding out the book are an additional cast of characters who are unique, rounded and frankly horny enough to compliment an over-the-top character like Avra without getting lost. 

Running Close to the Wind is set in the same world as last year’s (also delightfully horny though tonally much more serious) A Taste of Gold and Iron, which I greatly enjoyed. It’s not a sequel, although some events from that book are referenced. One of my only critiques of that book was that the worldbuilding was a little flat, it felt just like a reskinned Europe. Rowland has busted this world wide open: no-holds-barred sea serpent orgies have a major effect on the economy and Rowland makes it work! Running Close to the Wind adds layers on layers of detail to this world from the aforementioned serpent orgies, to pirate cake competitions, and the politics of telling your home nation’s god to fuck off via embroidery. It’s fantastic, lush, at times adorable, and feels much more lived in.

Rowland continues to be an excellent writer of light magic systems. A Taste of Gold and Iron’s “touch tasting” was a delightful detail and they have continued that trend here. Avra happens to be incredibly, magically (although he would argue against this) lucky. It makes for a delightful kind of foreshadowing at times because when things happen, whether good or bad it leaves you wondering how Avra’s luck is going to play into it. Plot threads that make no sense tie together in the end, in a way that does not feel deus ex machina-esque, but a genuine series of happenstance events. It’s a cause of wonder and hilarity. The other magic of this book I was particularly drawn to because it’s not actual magic but something we can find in our own world: bioluminescence. I won’t get too into it for spoiler reasons but I loved that bioluminescence, which is one of the most magical things I’ve experienced, plays a grounded part in this world of magic.

Running Close to the Wind comes out June 11th, 2024 and should absolutely be your summer read. It’s light, it’s surprisingly sweet, it’s so dang fun I cannot recommend it more.

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