For book lovers, readers who enjoy banter and fun dialogues and who prefer their fantasy set in a quasi-quotidian world.
I’m not sure why, but I don’t usually read a lot of fantasy. I used to, when I was younger, and I enjoy movies and series about it, but these days I don’t seem to have the patience for some of the world building, complicated names, and tonnes and tonnes of characters that seem to be the usual fare in many of these stories. When I saw this book and read what it was about, something made me check the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon, and I enjoyed what I read. And yes, I was right. I did enjoy the book.
Although I love a good story and an ingenious plot, I’m a characters’ reader first and foremost. And that was what attracted me to this book. We have a female character, Lily Singer, a librarian, bookish and studious, shy, socially awkward, conservatively dressed (a pencil skirt, a blouse, and heels are her uniform), and a wizard (yes, not a witch). And a male character, Sebastian Blackwell, a charmer, full of social graces, always looking for a shortcut rather than hard work, casual and untidy, and always able to get on the good side of people. Well, most people. Ah, and a witch (yes, a witch). Although in classical literature men used to represent the intellect while women were nature, the intellectually superior woman paired with a man who is more into faith or instinct rather than brain is not unusual these days (from the X-files to Harry Potter, and even the Simpsons), and here it works well. The two characters like each other (so far not in a romantic way, although all is possible and I haven’t read the rest of the novels in the series), and drive each other insane (opposites attract), but their abilities complement each other and they make a good team. Where Lily studies spells, books, and ancient knowledge, Sebastian can get help from fae and mundane alike (mundane are non-magical beings, although Sebastian has no powers of his own. That’s what distinguishes wizards from witches, who have to channel other beings’ powers). Their interaction is fun, light, and humorous, and their backgrounds are more similar than they realise. They are comfortable with each other but not to the point of revealing all their secrets to the other. And there is plenty of room to further develop their relationship in future books.
The book is divided into a couple of stories or episodes. The first is one is a full case that gives the reader a good sense of who the characters are and what their relationship is like. It’s a ghost story, a case that Sebastian has been booked to solve but he needs Lily’s assistance. This story, although, written in the third person, is told from Lily’s point of view, and it has all the elements ghost story novels would love. A haunted house, the ghost of a man trapped by a scorned woman, spells… There is an interlude, again in the third person, from Sebastian’s point of view, that introduces what will be the next case, which is quite a personal one for Sebastian, as somebody has stolen a family heirloom, a magical object that alters time. Sebastian’s point of view helps us understand the young man better, and gives us insight into some of his actions that Lily lacks. Lily has to come to the rescue once again, in a case that introduces complex elements and concepts, including a time loop, and discusses in more detail elements of world building and the powers peculiar to objects, wizards, and witches in this world.
Both stories are quick paced and interesting, and although the cover (that I think is superb) perhaps seems geared towards a younger audience, the book touches on issues such as drinking, terminal illnesses, and its take on magic is more philosophical and scientific than would be expected in books for a younger audience. There are delightful characters (a fae that loves mouldy pizza, for example), there are things that make one’s mind boggle (the time loop), and the information about this alternative world is interspersed with the story, without slowing down the action or requiring pages and pages of explanation. The glossary at the end (the book ends at around 92% in e-book format, and the rest is the glossary, about the author, and a sample of the next book in the series) clarifies further some of the aspects of the story and some of the terms used, but there is enough explanation in the text itself to understand the plot without needing to go backwards and forwards to check the terms/
A couple of quotes from the text:
Criminals were sadly predictable, especially those with so little self-respect as to wear their pants around their knees.
Though probably only thirty or forty, her wrinkled skin, sunken face, and stringy hair made her look more like fifty. (Sorry, this one I highlighted because I’m 52, so I worried that’s how women in their 20s think of us…)
As I haven’t read Harry Potter, I can’t comment on similarities and differences, but there is a conversation between Sebastian and Lily about the nature of magic (including mention of the books with the boy with the scar) and here is what Lily says:
But unlike in stories, magic is part of nature, it doesn’t defy it. The only reason mundanes call what wizards do “magic” is because it’s science they don’t understand yet.
The book is set in the South of the USA (the library where Lily works is in Atlanta, Georgia) and the location and language add to the charm. I don’t want to enter into a lot of detail to avoid spoilers, but let’s say that I’d love to have access to some of the spells and magical objects Lily uses (oh, book lovers; you have no idea what she can do with books!).
In summary, this is a fun read, two stories in one book, set up in a recognisable world, with some added ‘magic’ and magical creatures, familiar but not quite as we know them, whose main characters become our friends and are people we’d like to spend more time with. Recommended to readers who like fantasy but prefer to engage with the characters rather than to read detailed descriptions and a lot of world-building, and who are looking for fun dialogues and quick-paced stories. Ah, and if you love cats, you’ll adore Sir Edgar Allan Kipling.
I was sent an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.