Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: "Ruthless Magic" by Megan Crewe

If The Hunger Games hooked up with Lev Grossman's The Magicians, the baby might somehow resemble Megan Crewe's newest book, Ruthless Magic. While the setting isn't quite as dystopian as the former, and there isn't the type of quest featured in the latter, this book shares elements of both without feeling like a retread of either.

In a society not too far into the future, there are people with magical abilities and there are those without, known as Dulls. The North American Confederation of Mages oversees the use of magic, and each year they decide which 16-year-olds will be chosen to become a part of the magic world, and which ones will be "dampened," essentially having their magical powers lessened so that they'll only be able to use one particular skill for professional purposes.

The Confederation is particular, though—they want to be able to control magic, so they only like to choose descendants of magical families rather than let "new magic" people in or those who came from less exclusive pedigrees. Those rejected by the Confederation have one course of appeal—they can stand for the Mages' Exam, a mysterious, brutal challenge that no one talks about—if they remember it, or survive.

Finn Lockwood is part of a prominent magical family, but his skills have always been lacking, much to his chagrin. Although it is his legacy to be accepted into the world of magic, he wants to be able to use his magic to make a difference; he doesn't want to be saddled with some low-level job. Declaring he'll stand for the Exam gives him the chance to succeed or fail on his own, and he's willing to take the risk.

Rocío Lopez grew up poor, the daughter of Dampened parents. She's spent all of her free time learning about magic and enhancing her skills, and she knows she's more talented than most. She should be a shoo-in for a place in the Confederation, but she is rejected because of her background, so she has no choice but to stand for the Exam, despite the risks that her family is all too sadly familiar with.

Everyone who believes themselves worthy of a place in the Confederation comes to Rikers Island to stand for the Mage's Exam. It will be unlike anything they've ever faced before—a test of will, intelligence, magical skill, and courage, and it will show them (and the Examiners) just how far they're willing to go in order to succeed. Although they have different reasons for wanting to succeed, Rocío and Finn become allies—and possibly more—and vow to protect one another, as well as others in their group, although when magic is involved, whom can you really trust?

I found this to be a really engaging, creative, and quick read. Ever since the Harry Potter series I've been completely fascinated by magic and those who have the skills, and love the dynamics among fledgling and skilled magicians with different abilities. I was really pleased Crewe decided to shift the narration of the book only between Finn and Rocío; I was afraid she'd alternate it among others as well and I thought that might get more confusing.

I've never read anything Crewe has written before, but I was really dazzled by her storytelling and her world-building (even if the world was our own). She has created some engaging characters with real emotions and real struggles, and even gave us those to root against. There's some great action in here, some brutal magical challenges, and the pace flowed really nicely.

Obviously, when I say the words "magic" or "fantasy," there are some who roll their eyes or immediately say, "This one's not for me." You know who you are. But if you're looking for something new, Ruthless Magic may be an interesting book to try. I'll be waiting for the next one in the series. (Apparently if you join Crewe's website, you get a free prequel to the book, so that's where I'm heading next!)

NetGalley and Spells & Stars Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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