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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

SPFBO 9 Finalist review: A Rival Most Vial by R.K. Ashwick


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By day, R.K. Ashwick herds cats in the animation industry. By night, she writes, bakes, and herds her literal cat around her living room. She lives with her husband (and said cat) in California.

If you like fancy coats and silly ramblings, you can find R.K. on Tiktok and Instagram.

A Rival Most Vial links: AmazonGoodreads


A warm, tender story of a stuffy master potioneer and a brash and charismatic new neighbor who opens a competitive store directly across the street. Tempers fly, misunderstandings are exacerbated l, and they’re content to never speak to each other again - until they’re forced to work together.

This is a cozy romantasy that’s highlighted with themes of found family, perseverance, and a few chapters of adventure. Overall it’s a low-key, feel-good story that’s engaging and well-paced. The two leads are well-characterized and there were some sneaky-good lines that have stuck with me (“But I want that stupid farmer” 😆).

While there are several supporting characters — mostly local business owners — only one of them is given a true arc. I wish the side characters got a little more face time as they felt a bit thin by book’s end.

Still, this is an easy rec for someone looking to curl up and grin. A well-deserved SPFBO9 finalist.



Bubbling over with charm, wit, and love, A Rival Most Vial is a delightfully cosy queer fantasy romance that will warm even the coldest of hearts.

Nothing in life brings the quiet half-elf Ambrose Beake more joy and pride than his successful potion-making business. That is, until a new potion shop opens right across the street from him, causing a heated rivalry to start brewing. And if that wasn’t awful enough, they are begrudgingly forced into a collaboration on a nearly impossible commission by the mayor. Though as they start working together, they soon start to appreciate each other’s brilliance, and their reluctant alliance might just start to bubble over into something more after all.

Now, A Rival Most Vial was a bit of a tale of two halves for me. For the first 50%, I was having a fine enough time, but truly nothing was particularly standing out to me. The world building felt a bit flimsy, the characters and their relationships felt somewhat shallow, and the rivalry plotline very quickly got tiresome to me.

However, I thought the second half improved on everything in every single way imaginable, and it almost felt like I’d consumed some magic potion that had suddenly made me fall in love with the story. Honestly, as soon as Ambrose and Eli started to work together, I just got completely enchanted by the irresistible charm of these characters, and it really was smooth sailing from there.

I am very much in a cozy mood at the moment, so I really enjoyed how quiet and chill the plot of A Rival Most Vial was. That is not to say that there are no stakes, but as we are essentially following the NPCs in this world, the stakes are just a lot more personal and intimate than in your regular epic fantasy adventures, and I loved that. The interpersonal drama, the confusing heightened emotions, the scary budding romance, the interesting potion brewing lore, and the delightful found family vibes; I just ate it all up.

There’s also a surprisingly emotional undercurrent to this story, which comes more to the forefront in the second half of the book as we dive deeper into these characters’ pasts. Whether it was Ambrose’s traumatic and lonely upbringing or Eli’s struggle to find his true calling in life, I really enjoyed seeing them slowly start to heal and grow together.
And not only do they find support and comfort in each other, but they also have a wonderful group of oddball friends who will stop at nothing to keep them safe, giving this story only more heart than it already had.

Even though this book stands perfectly on its own and wrapped up in an utterly satisfying and heartwarming way, I would honestly sell my soul to Rosemund Street in the future and see what everyone in this delightfully chaotic found family is up to next. If you are looking for a very cute and cozy rivals-to-reluctant allies-to-lovers queer fantasy romance, then you have to check out A Rival Most Vial!


I'm not really into cozy books. I prefer my reads to be light on romance and I lean more towards the dark and existential. And yet, I can’t help but admire the lightness of writing, the skillful scene-setting, and the whimsical atmosphere created by K.R. Ashwick in A Rival Most Vial is fun. This book is simply fun. 

It takes a look into the lives of street merchants, highlighting their friendships, struggles, and mischievous escapades. The plot is simple. Two men, one grumpy and the other one outgoing start off as competitors but eventually develop a deep friendship, and later, romance.  There are no surprises here; it's evident from the beginning how things will develop, with the twists being quite predictable. 

Logically, I should feel indifferent about it. But I can’t because it’s all very well done and written. It contains no wasted scenes or bloated descriptions. The timing is impeccable, and the pacing is just right. The found family dynamic between Ambrose and Eli and their friends is fantastic and quirky.

While this world lacks “classic” magic, there's an intriguing system of potioneering based on magical artificing. Magical ingredients are all derived from natural materials in the world, and can create magical effects when mixed well.

R.K. Ashwick's prose is engaging, easy to follow and understand, and creates a vibrant atmosphere able to draw readers into the enchanting small-scale world of Rosemond Street. The characters are well-crafted and engaging, they all have distinct personalities and quirks. The dynamic between the various shopkeepers, such as Banneker, Sherry, and Dawn, adds a touch of humor and camaraderie to the story and makes everything work.

Possible issues with the story come from the fact it's light on plot, the stakes are almost non-existent, and some readers will find it too sweet :)

Fans of queer cozy fantasy - don’t miss this one. You’ll love it. 




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