Author: Kat Howard
Rating: 4 Stars
Review By: Shana
Imagine a world where magic is everywhere but most people don’t see it. Feels fairly typical, doesn’t it? Like any of a host of fictional landscapes where the fantastic and the mundane are side-by-side, but only those with special powers are fully aware. Such stories are usually largely bright and cheery, and often driven forward by non-adult characters. And should the tale stray into darkness, the conflict is often resolved by the triumph of good (think Harry Potter and its predecessors). The darkness is there and important, but not typically overwhelming. You get some excellently crafted stories that skew a bit older and a bit more serious, like Lev Grossman's “The Magicians” (which I am embarrassed to admit I have yet to finish), with magic as a costly thing, requiring serious study and perseverance, and plots that cannot neatly resolve into good versus evil.
Kat Howard's “An Unkindness of Magicians” takes place in a world where the fantastic and mundane are side-by-side, but also intertwined at certain points. Those who are not part of the magical world are largely unaware. And those within the world are movers and shakers in both realms, where house affiliation and individual power are just another way to measure influence and strength. And the magic in this world can be both wonderful and terrible, and there is always a price to pay.
The main character of the story is Sydney, who shows up on the scene in New York just as the magical world is about to undergo a Turning. Turnings typically take place about every generation and during the Turning the power structure and hierarchy are in flux. Houses choose champions, challengers make their moves, and new houses can be born. Through this magical and political intrigue, we are introduced to the world and slowly uncover the workings of magic. And what makes the magic in this book stand out is that it is suffused with suffering and cruelty, and the costs for using the magic are not equally meted out.
There are times the dialog feels stilted, and I think the book could have used more length to explore certain characters and the world's workings more fully. It does not feel set up for other entries, so I'm sorry to see that my questions won't be answered and a fuller history of the world (not to mention its future) is forthcoming. But an interesting book where the magic takes place in an urban setting, the players are adults, and the consequences both bloody and sobering.
My love of reading was sparked in 3rd grade by the promise of personal pan pizzas via the BOOK IT! Program. Hmmmm... any chance that someone might give adults free food for reading? Asking for a friend...