A bagful of reviews: Warlocks, Witches and Wizards, oh my!

The magicians coverThe Magicians by Lev Grossman

What is it with misleading taglines? I wouldn’t have said this book was anything to do with “In a secret world of forbidden knowledge, power comes at a terrible price …” I mean, it does describe it, sort of, but the knowledge isn’t forbidden and power doesn’t come at a price. If you’re not a magician then sure, it’s sort of forbidden – in that no one knows about it – and if you overstep the bounds then sure, that’s a price…but yeah. No.

Anyway! I liked the book. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, but it was all the better for it. I think I was expecting drama, fireworks and big arguments. What I got was a whiny, self-obsessed and occasionally useless teenager who doesn’t really grow up much; he’s angsty, troubled, worried and self-absorbed. Events happen around him without him really doing much, although he does think a lot about them.

That all makes it sound pretty boring – it isn’t. There’s a lot of tension and the world around Quentin is really interesting; I love that there aren’t cliches, that it’s not a particular story, that I couldn’t guess what was going to happen. I loved that his childhood obsession with a magical world was brought in so well later on; I love that the ending is both final and opens the way to the next book.

None of the characters are boring; they all feel like bit parts next to Quentin, but that’s a facet of his self-absorbed-ness (is that even a word?). Alice is lovely and wonderful and terrifying; his friends are all characters in their own right, interesting and flawed. Brakebills is full of secrets and half-said moments and little pictures; Quentin doesn’t notice much but still gives us enough to catch our interest. An interesting and grown-up book (not in a lotsa-sex way, just in a not-Harry-Potter way). I’ll probably look out the next one when my reading pile goes down a bit!

Hounded coverThe Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

The first is Hounded, then Hexed – I haven’t yet picked up Hammered (damnit!) but it’s on my list.

Hexed coverThey’re based around mythology, pulled into the modern day. I’m a sucker for Irish, Norse and Celtic mythology anyway, and there’s a whole bundle of supernatural stuff built into an awesome world. The plots (so far? I have only read two) are fun and fast-paced, and I love the wide mix of supporting characters – The Morrigan’s definitely my favourite, although Oberon is a close second. If you like the Dresden Files or mythological worldbuilding brought into the modern day, give ’em a try; they’re a fun and easy read, and nicely action-packed.

Bloodmage coverBloodmage by Steven Aryan

The sequel to Battlemage, this story follows characters in Perizzi, the capital of Yerskania. The war is over, Yerskania has been liberated from the Mad King, but everyone’s on edge. The Battlemages are seen as a threat, despite winning the war. The population of the city is uncertain of the future, angry at the price of the war and their conquest as well as their liberation, and trying to find a normal life. The main storylines follow Choss, a prizefighter whose life in the underworld gets increasingly complicated; Katja, who is a spy behind-the-scenes, trying to work out whose loyalties lie with what faction; and Fray, joining the Guardians to try to discover a killer. Slowly, their stories converge as they discover the powers behind the incidents, and then they’re not just fighting for themselves – they’re fighting for the city and the fate of the world…

The supporting characters in Bloodmage are interesting. Bryne is a mixed character, scarred from previous experiences but still willing to teach. Munroe, a wannabe thief and assassin who has rather a lot of bad luck, links in to Choss’ story; she provides a lot of a comedic points in the book, particularly when her bad luck comes in to play! Goraxx is also an interesting character, and I loved the development there, along with the alien mindset. I’m not entirely sure why Talandra was brought into this one, though. It’s awesome to see more of her, and I love her as a character – but she felt like a sideline who didn’t need to be there, who didn’t really do anything for the plot. The unrest was there already. The underworld disturbance was there. The Queen of Yerskania does enough on her own that Talandra’s visit isn’t needed as an impetus to anything.

Overall, Bloodmage has a different feel to Battlemage. It’s a mystery, a thriller, a story about people just trying to do the right thing; it’s a smaller stage than Battlemage, for all that the fate of the world is still at risk. The characters feel like they have more free will; their actions and choices affect everything on the stage, whereas Battlemage was the clash of much bigger forces. We don’t see as much of the Gods, or of the political side; there are hints of the Mages, but there isn’t much of the wider world. However, it sounds like the third book will investigate some of the links!

While I did enjoy Bloodmage, I didn’t find it as enthralling as Battlemage; I’m actually quite surprised by that, as I do usually prefer mystery-thriller over action! I think, in the end, it was the characters that swung it for me. I loved Vargus and the mages; I loved the mix of politics and action. While there was action and tension in Bloodmage, I didn’t ever quite hook into the characters…however, I will also say that this was just me! Overall, I did enjoy Bloodmage – it’s an excellently written book and is definitely as good as Battlemage. Go and read both of them if you haven’t, and I am waiting eagerly for the third!

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.