Book review · novel

An Unkindness of Magicians, by Kat Howard

unkindness of magicians

In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney—a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn’t want to help the system, she wants to destroy it.

Sydney comes from the House of Shadows, which controls the magic with the help of sacrifices from magicians.
(from Simon and Schuster)

An Unkindness of Magicians works on the premise that magic has a cost, and as usual powerful people will do everything to pay as little as possible and take advantage of weaker people. In this standalone novel, a secret magical society is made out of different Houses and one of them lead the others. This one is decided once every dozens of years during a magical competition. Here, another competition has begun earlier than usual and the story follows a number of protagonists.

There are more than five point of views, and I think the author fails to flesh them out well: I never had any strong feeling regarding any of them. Two of them are in some kind of romantic relationship starting suddenly at the very beginning and I never felt anything real between them. Some pieces of dialogues were fun, but otherwise I’m left disappointed to have felt so disengaged from the stakes, both the personal ones and the bigger ones.
Though I liked that there were so many women as protagonists, each with their own agencies, their own things moving them forward. It balances well the fact that one of the characters is an horrible young man killing young women for his gain.

Some bad stuff are happening, some mysteries, some cool magic, and an interesting world… But a lot was left unexplained, stayed vague or didn’t make sense. I did like the mixture of magic and technology, the way some characters are trying to change things in their society and are finding allies, but nothing ever made my heart pound or made me feel concern about the characters or what was happening. Characters who die are ones that had never appeared before, so it was unmoving, and nothing ever felt dangerous. The magic duels and the general aesthetic of the novel are gorgeous and would have worked better in a graphic novel, I think. I would also have loved to see more of the houses, one of them gets to be a little bit more on the spotlight on the second half and I loved getting to know her (house who talk and everything?? Yes!) better.

It’s too bad because I feel this had everything to become a favourite novel, I did like reading it, loved the inclusive message and characters allying together. But I’m still left disappointed because I expected more. I’m not giving up on this author because her two other books still appeal to me a lot.

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