The Fiction Fox
Review: An Unkindness of Magicians - Kat Howard
Published: Saga Press, September 2017
My Rating: 3/5 stars
“Magic, at its heart, starts with sacrifice. You have to give up something to get something, and because magic is big, with all that it allows you access to, what you give up has to be big. It has to be meaningful.”
When I first saw this book in my library, I was ecstatic. Urban fantasy, gorgeous cover and a plot that gave me vibes of the Tri-wizard tournament from Harry Potter on steroids: something I didn’t know I wanted, but now that I had it in my hands I couldn’t wait. Although it wasn’t quite thát cool, I did like this novel for what it was: an action-filled, enjoyable, albeit fairly middle-of-the-road urban fantasy.
The novel takes place in an underground society of magicians (The Unseen World) during an event called The Turning, essentially a magical tournament between Houses for power over the Unseen World. Our protagonist Sydney is the contestant for The House of Shadows, a House with as many dark secrets as that name suggests. Sydney herself however isn’t so transparent either, as she has an entire agenda of her own. An Unkindness of Magicians has a fast-paced plot that follow multiple perspectives, and wasn’t for a moment boring. This is simultaneously its biggest strength and weakness in my opinion. There’s barely a scene without action, which pulled me in from the start, but ended up wearing me out fairly quickly. Too little action can result in a bored reader, but too much can do the same, as it takes away from the grandness of the moments that should have real impact. An Unkindness of Magicians lacked that contrast for me, which made the entirety enjoyable enough, but anticlimactic in the end. Along with the fast pace of the novel go the many perspective switches. Simply stated: there were too many. Not only did it take me half of the novel to get on track with all the different names, I also felt like all of them had too little pagetime to be developed properly. Even Sydney felt like she was desperately trying to struggle her way out of the overpowered-kickass-female-protagonist-zone, but didn’t get the opportunity to do so. When it comes to the magic system and world building; I think the novel did a good job here. I always like the idea of magic that comes with a cost as it somehow balances the world out for me, and makes it more believable. (Yes, I realize it sounds ridiculous to talk about believability in the context of magic, but you get my point). The magic in this world is fueled by pain but can also be extracted from the bones or shadow of another person, making them suffer the pain in your place. Although this type of “bloodmagic” is a trope I usually enjoy, I can’t say I haven’t seen it before. Despite not being a groundbreaking new concept, it really works in the context of the novel, and that’s ultimately what counts.
An Unkindness of Magicians all in all was a three-star read for me: very enjoyable, but not as memorable or special as I might have hoped. I do have to say it gave me quite the Darkest Minds vibes, so I would recommend it to fans of that series.
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