By Kim Chance
Magic always leaves a mark.
When the ghost of a 200-year-old witch attacks her on the road, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. But even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to buy into all that “hocus pocus nonsense”—until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother.
After the library archives and even Google come up empty, Lainey gives in and consults a psychic. There she discovers that, like her mother, she’s a Keeper: a witch with the exclusive ability to unlock and wield the Grimoire, a dangerous spell book. But the Grimoire is missing, stolen years ago by a malevolent warlock known as the Master. Now that Lainey’s true heritage has been uncovered, she’s the Master’s only hope in opening the Grimoire, where a powerful spell is locked inside—a spell that would allow him to siphon away the world’s magic. In an effort to force her hand, the Master kidnaps Lainey’s uncle and offers a trade: the spell for his life.
With the help of her comic-book-loving, adventure-hungry best friend and an enigmatic but admittedly handsome street fighter, Lainey must leave behind her life of books and studying to prepare for the biggest test of all. She must steal back the book…before her uncle and the entire supernatural race pay the Master’s price. (via kimchance.com)
So, this is sort of a follow-up review to the one I wrote way back in 2016 when I was a beta for this novel. Now as a part of Kim’s street team, I was generously given an ARC by Netgalley and Flux Books in exchange for an honest review. As I am reading this for the second time, and since gaining experience as a freelance editor, I will likely be more critical than the average first-timer. With that in mind…
Characters: All of the characters felt authentic and I could easily relate them to people I’d met in my own life.
I saw the most of myself in Lainey, who prides herself on having everything totally figured out, is extremely dedicated to her studies, and won’t hesitate to call people out when they try to bullshit her. Sometimes, though, she can be a little bit too set in her ways. Thankfully, she has Maggie to mellow her out.
Maggie is the classic best friend character. She’s always optimistic and obsessed with the heroes from her favorite comic books. Her fun-loving, slightly over-the-top personality is a great counterbalance to Lainey’s fact-driven, down-to-earth mindset. I do wish we got a little more insight as to how they met and why the two of them are such good friends in the first place. Even though story-wise they work well as foils for one another, they don’t seem to have much in common. There was a lot of time when Lainey was still grasping at straws for a normal life and I wish some of that had been used to show their bond. It was easy to understand that they cared a lot about each other, but I wanted to know more about the reason behind that connection separate from the plot.
Then there’s Ty, the mysterious, attractive bad boy. He is also, as you might have guessed, the love interest. Though the initial introduction of the character is very much in line with the tropes of YA love interests, throughout the book, Ty is given some depth and a backstory to set him apart. There is a twist at the end that particularly turns the trope on its head, and I applaud the author for that. I’m curious how it will play out in subsequent books.
Finally, we have Josephine, whose story arc plays a large part in this book skirting the line between traditional “Chosen One” stories ala Harry Potter and uncharted territory. I don’t want to say too much in order to stay away from spoilers, but there were times when I found myself more interested in Josephine than Lainey. She had roots deeply set in the magical history of the world and was on a different journey than the classic self-discovery. She also gave readers a glimpse into a unique time period that I hope we get another chance to explore in the future.
World-Building: I do have some questions about the magic system used in this book, which I will address later. For the most part, though, all the elements necessary to the readers’ comprehension of the story were explained concisely and not before they were needed to propel the plot forward.
Twists and Turns: As a first-time reader, I remember loving the way everything gradually unfolded. The moment you thought everything that could be revealed had been, something else would throw a wrench in the works. It made for a very exciting read.
Dialogue and Pop Culture References: I will be the first to admit that dialogue isn’t my strong point as a writer right now, though I am working hard to improve. I could definitely tell, though, that some of the speech was modeled after the cadence of the author. Expressions like “holy crapkittens” and “good gravy” are things that I’ve often heard the author say via social media, and being able to recognize them had the tendency to take me out of the story in the same way that the pop-culture references did. Now, if you are a big fan of comic books or the TV show Supernatural, you will likely find a lot of the references very entertaining and possibly funny. But for someone like me who has an appreciation for those medias but does not watch or engage in a lot of fan activities revolving around them, they were hit or miss. The first few were entertaining enough and gave Maggie some character. After a while though, they got a bit stale for me because I couldn’t relate.
Villain Motivation: Basically, the Master wants to be all powerful. That in itself is not a bad motivation, but it lacked a reason. The only explanation we get is that (MINOR SPOILER) he used to be a member of the magical government, but grew tired of their beliefs and struck out on his own. I think the author missed an opportunity to give him some real depth here. One of my favorite villains is Rumpelstiltskin from the show Once Upon a Time. He, too, wants to be all powerful, but the writers go a step further by explaining that the reason he is so attached to his dark power is because he injured himself in the front lines of a war so that he could come home to raise his son and would not leave him fatherless the way he had been. But people called Rumple a coward for that and he lost every ounce of respect they once had for him. The power was the only way he felt he could regain those things, even if that devotion was born of fear. I wish the author had taken the time to incorporate something like that in order to make the villain a more well-rounded person. The fact that he had most of his henchmen do his dirty work did not help matters either. I think the author meant to make the Master menacing because he had so much control over the Supernatural race. Instead, his lack of response until the climax made me think that he was not only power hungry, but unwilling to work for what he wanted. Rumpelstiltskin did all of his misdeeds himself. Even though his reputation was heinous, he had taken the time and initiative to earn it. The Master, however, did not.
Bait and Switch Personalities: Two characters in particular, Lainey, and one that I cannot reveal for fear of having to dive into a plot twist, did not have consistent characterization throughout the novel. In the opening chapters, Lainey is introduced as a level-headed, fact-oriented, logic-driven character, even going so far as to quote definitions of SAT words in an effort to distract or calm herself during a stressful situation. Yet when her life is turned upside down, she lets her emotions rule. While I appreciate the fact that the author took her emotional growth as a character into account during the course of this novel, I thought, at times, it went a little too far. It was not properly balanced out with the logical side of her personality. For example, I am a pretty rational person and when I get upset by something, the first thing I try to do is break said thing down into smaller, more manageable pieces so that I can look for a logical explanation. Knowing the reason behind someone’s thoughts or actions always makes them less scary to me.
Now, obviously, I am not Lainey, but based on the personality that we are given within the first few pages, I kind of expected logic to be in the driver’s seat and her emotional journey to be a secondary development once she realized that sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. In this case the opposite seemed to be true. There were many times when Lainey would be doing something irrational to cope with her emotions and small hints of logic would creep into her mind. In reality, I would think the logical side would have been louder, but her emotional impulses would have propelled her forward in spite of the risk involved.
I don’t want to say too much about the second character as far as a bait and switch goes, but I will say that as much as I enjoyed the plot twist for its uniqueness, it punched a hole in my understanding of the magic system.
Magic: I had several questions about the magic system in this book. There will be SPOILERS in this section so that I can properly explain myself, so if you haven’t read the book, SKIP THIS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
- What is a Praetorian? If it is literally branded into Ty’s DNA for him to protect Lainey with his life, how is it possible for him to betray her? Unless he was actually a Scavenger posing as a Praetorian (which I don’t think is possible because, if I remember correctly, they look kind of werewolf-ish) or if he is the Master’s son. We learn that his father taught him how to fight, but I think the Master is too power-hungry to have a family. This seems like a large case of the author breaking her own rules. Perhaps it will be explained in the future books, but based on the way he exited, I don’t see that happening. He’s become an antagonist and Lainey would be nuts to trust him again. (Though, if I know the YA genre, she probably will).
- Limits: I understand that the DuCarmonts are super powerful, but even if Lainey is going to start her formal training in the next book, it would have been nice to see her try something and fail, not for lack of control, but lack of ability. After all, if DuCarmonts can perform any spell imaginable, then who’s to say they can’t imitate powers of other Supernaturals? By giving clear limits, the suspense would’ve been heightened that much more.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars. Recommended for those who enjoy Chosen One, witch, and supernatural stories with a twist.