[The Last Magician] Lisa Maxwell

I love the ouroboros element on the cover.

Find the Magician. And stop him before he destroys our future.*

The Lost Magician starts with a connection, though they don’t know it yet. Esta is a thief who uses her old magic to manipulate time, slowing it down and even jumping to the past and present. Dolph is the leader of a gang of Mageus who use their powers to protect those who cannot. And Harte is trying to blend in as a Sundren magician, hiding his Mageus powers in plain sight in a time when having old magic marked you as a target for the Order of Ortus Aurea in their climb to power. Their stories are connected by the Ars Arcana–a book that was thought to be lost. A book that is said to hold the secret to magic itself. A book that they all want.

Lisa Maxwell has created a story full of fascinating characters, a vivid setting, and an interesting plot. At 512 pages, it may seem a little long, but it kept me fascinated the entire time. As the story progressed and the twists began to show themselves, I seemed to read it faster, hurtling toward an end that made me angry–because it was over and I wanted to read more! While I initially thought The Last Magician was a stand-alone novel, it turns out that it’s the first part of a duology. I’m so glad I get to spend more time with the people and places of Maxwell’s Mageus society, even though I’m not happy about having to wait. I will just have to practice my patience.

The bulk of The Last Magician is set in the world of 1900s Manhattan, in the city before it became soaring skyscrapers and cacophonous noise at all hours of the day and night. The Manhattan of The Last Magician is full of the clip-clop of horse drawn carriages through cobblestone streets, the sickly-sweet smell of opium nests, and the thrill of living in a city that looks toward the future. The city has elements of hope and fear as the Sundren and Mageus live together, sometimes unknowingly. For the Mageus, having the old magic means that you have an affinity: power that allows you to manipulate time, know someone’s thoughts, or kill someone without touching. Naturally, the Sundren fear this, because people often fear what they don’t understand. The old magic is palpable in the air, with a warmth and a hum that is so different than Esta’s Manhattan.

In present-day Manhattan, the old magic–the magic that Esta and the rest of the Professor’s Mageus crew have–is nearly dead. The one thing that connects the two times, other than the magic flowing through their veins, is the Brink. The Brink, to those without magic, is nothing. To those with magic, it is terrifying. If they get too close to the Brink, it seems to pull at the magic in them, desiring to take it from them. To get close is to feel like you are losing part of yourself. To pass through means the loss of your mind and certain death. The Mageus have been trapped on the island ever since the Brink was created by the Order. And in 1902, more and more Mageus flock to Manhattan and the promise that they will not be persecuted there like they have been in their old countries, only to find that they are trapped there by the Brink.

A view of the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Brink is located.

Maybe it was because the Order of Ortus Aurea and all they’d done so long ago seemed more like myth than reality. The stories had been so monstrous, but in actuality, the Order itself had always been little more than a shadow haunting the periphery of Esta’s vision, the boogyman in her unopened closet.* 

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[Ava’s Demon: Chapters 1-18] Michelle Czajkowski’s ongoing online series

Talk about an awesome cover page.

Ava’s Demon is an incredibly beautiful series that exists online for free, for which I am extremely grateful. The artwork is stunning and the story is engaging, and I heartily recommend this for readers who like graphic novels and readers who like dystopian, fantasy, and science fiction stories. You can find the ongoing series here. The author seems to be halfway through (my rough estimate) chapter nineteen. It’s updated regularly on Thursdays AND –my favorite piece of information–it’s FINISHED. The only thing the author-illustrator needs to do is draw it! I find that so incredible.

Ava’s Demon starts out simply enough. Ava, one of the main characters of this story, has a demon that has been with her for her whole life. The demon has been whispering horrible things in Ava’s ear since she was a child, so Ava is not a happy person. Not at all. She goes through her days feeling unloved and forgotten, but wishing that she wasn’t. When an attack hits her school and Ava manages to escape, the demon isn’t very happy. But when they crash land on a planet and Ava is injured in the crash, it seems the demon is finally going to get her wish.

At the eleventh hour, the demon reveals that Ava doesn’t have to die and can start her life over–if she enters into a pact with the demon. Of course, demons tend to lie. Ava does survive, but not in the way that she was led to believe. Ava’s Demon then progresses into a story that blends fantasy elements with that of a science fiction world. It becomes about so much more than demons and their humans.

As the story is ongoing, it’s a little difficult to review the plot since it’s just a small snapshot of the larger story. It definitely has dystopian elements to it where things aren’t always what they seem and there’s a organization–or a person (yet to be determined)–who controls a lot of planets. So far there’s only been a couple of places in the comic, but it seems like interplanetary travel may be used to show different elements of the world that Czajkowski has created. There’s hints about another force that destroys planets that hasn’t been fully revealed, as well as characters with pasts. Ultimately, everything Czajkowski is doing is making me extremely interested in the story. It’s being given to the reader slowly, but gives us tantalizing tastes of the larger picture. I’m so excited to keep reading it.

I chose a few panels that I thought illustrated moments of the plot but weren’t particularly spoilery of the larger story. All credit goes to the artist, Michelle Czajkowski, and panels are linked to their respective pages on the Ava’s Demon site. 

A person who takes over the world and has an organization full of followers.

A world where being human is seen as a disadvantage…

But are they blind? Not all believe in Titan…

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[Now I Rise: The Conqueror’s Saga II] Kiersten White

This review contains some minor spoilers for the first novel in The Conqueror’s Saga. This review is also long because I loved this book so much.

One of my minor complaints about And I Darken (the first in the series) was that it got a little long purely because there’s a lot of unfamiliar names, places, and events that I had to first get through in order to get to the story. That was not the case with the second novel. Now I Rise benefits from the world building that was done in the first novel and further expands on locations that had smaller parts in the first novel. It balances character growth with action, creating a thrilling story that had me questioning characters’ motives. It is a a great continuation of a series that is set in a historical context that is real, yet also genderbends a historical figure. It made me more excited about a series that I already loved.

Lada and Radu burst back onto the scene shortly after where And I Darken left them. Radu remains in the Ottoman Empire, and Lada is trying to regain what she believes is rightfully hers: Wallachia. They’ve taken different paths that are still connected to each other, but Radu uses gilded words and Lada uses cold steel. Mehmed remains, but Now I Rise quickly becomes about Lada and Radu. Mehmed takes on a role in the background but occasionally comes back to interact with our main characters. And even when he’s not physically there, both Radu and Lada often think about him. Sometimes he still affects how they act, but gradually that changes.

Shortly into the novel Radu is sent to Constantinople to act as a spy for Mehmed. Although he has quite a bit of worries about going there, he follows Mehmed’s orders because he loves him. In the first novel, Radu learns how to use his skills to further Mehmed and through close proximity, himself. He is very charismatic, and it was interesting to read how he grew into it in And I Darken. This novel finds Radu questioning much of what he believes and who he believes in. Radu is semi-stranded in Constantinople for months. At first, he eagerly awaits a war that he knows is coming, playing his role as defector to the Christians as he secretly plots to bring Constantinople down. The longer he stays in Constantinople, however,  the more he questions the motives of Mehmed and what he’s doing.

He had imagined Constantinople, had wanted it for Mehmed. It had been simple and straightforward. But now he knew the true cost of things, the murky horrors of the distance between wanting something and getting it.*

Radu is becoming a part of Constantinople and being accepted by people there, but he knows that he ultimately will betray them. It begins to wear on him. Reading this expanded his character in a new direction that was so raw I was heartbroken for him. While this series does tend to focus more on Lada as the female Vlad, I feel that Radu has the greater emotional response in Now I Rise.

Radu had seen what it took to be great, and he never again wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.*

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[Goodbye Days] Jeff Zentner

Goodbye Days immerses us in tragedy. There’s no warning, much like how the tragedy unfolded.  Carter is at the final funeral of his three best friends after a horrific car crash claimed them all, contemplating carpet patterns in an effort to put-off the impending wave of grief. He’s numb and worried about how many people blame him, because he certainly does. When Mar’s phone was found, he was replying to Carter’s message. So yes, Carver believes that he “wrote his friends out of existence.”

In The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner introduced how tragedy can come at any moment and how coming to terms with it–if you even can–is something that you can only do yourself. Of course, the people around you suffering from the same tragedy can help you, but ultimately, we all internalize tragedy and how we deal with it differently. This is constant in Goodbye Days. It’s in the moments of forgetting right when Carver gets up, in the moments when he’s doing something mundane–just living–and it comes crashing down on him that his three friends will never be able to complete that comic they were drawing, never participate in another joke, never write another song. Grief and forgetting comes in waves, and the guilt for forgetting is crippling.

Gradually, the grief becomes manageable, but it never leaves. I felt that Zentner was able to convey that perfectly with his writing as he illustrated the different forms that grief takes after a tragedy. Like The Serpent King, it felt real. Contemporary novels tend to deal with real problems that teens go through (the ones that aren’t only about romance, at least), but sometimes there’s an element of it being contrived that keeps me from truly enjoying it. Zentner’s work is not that way. His characters would have no trouble walking off of the pages and onto the streets. They’re that realistic. They breathe. You ache and cheer with them. It’s absolutely incredible and a treat to meet his new characters.

This book is unique in the sense that it has both living and deceased characters. Through Carter’s own words and memories we’re introduced to Sauce Crew: Eli, Blake, and Mars. As he remembers them we’re shown just how amazing they were to the people around them and what their loved ones lost when they died. And that’s where the name of the novel comes in.

“Goodbye days” are a way to say goodbye to the one you’ve lost. For an entire day, you do the things that remind you of them or what they liked doing. Whenever we lose someone, we wish that we could have just one more moment with them. These goodbye days are a way to remember them as you try to let them go. Everyone holds a different part of their loved one–you may know that your friend loved dancing, but didn’t know that they were a secret enka fan. In a goodbye day, everyone comes together and shares those things so you have a complete picture of the one you lost. And then you say goodbye.

Goodbye Days is a beautiful novel that has many heart wrenching moments of the reality of death and how suddenly it can come. It’s even more tragic when people the lives of young people are cut short. It’s a novel with a message, but not one that takes over the narrative. Texting while driving is something that occurs every day, though it shouldn’t happen at all. When it’s a habit to have a phone in our hand, we don’t always think of the consequences of our actions. Carver constantly goes back to that text. Where are you guys? Text me back. It follows him throughout the novel. It’s there in therapy, where he tries to reinforce his guilt instead of forgiving himself for a mistake and it’s there in the threat of a criminal investigation. Zentner shows just how tragic the consequences can be. And there’s no taking it back.

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[Dreamwielder] Garrett Calcaterra

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I'm pretty interested in getting into this one. We'll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

Dreamwielder started in the middle of the action, set in a world that had already been conquered and one where magic is outlawed. I love that that it started in the middle, because we’re thrown into a world that is dealing with the aftermath of this–dealing with the aftermath of wars, usurpations, and failed rebellions–but that is not the entire focus of the novel. We meet Makarria, a girl who has strange power in her dreams, as one of the people trying to eke out a life with her family. Far from the Emperor’s realm, Makarria believes that life is only about the small farmstead by the sea. Forbidden to dream by her parents, Makarria does her best to obey. When her dreams create something that put her on the Emperor’s map, she flees and begins to understand that her life is not as simple as she had thought. With a well-written cast of characters, Dreamwielder surpassed my expectations of what sort of fantasy novel this was.

I was really impressed with the characters in this. Divided between several characters of different backgrounds, Garrett Calcaterra blended each of their stories and lives into a cohesive narrative that I loved. It was a little slow at first because of the world-building, but as the world and characters built, I eventually couldn’t wait to see what Calcaterra came up with next. The cast was diverse in age, so that meant that their experiences were all different. I wasn’t treated to a book with characters that were so similar they may as well have been one. One of them was a prince who was a hostage–my particular favorite because he had no magic in this world of magic. I liked reading how he coped with having a sister who had visions and dealt with being a protector who had no powers other than his own fighting talent. On the opposite side of that was Makarria, a girl who had lost her family and was slowly discovering just what her talents could do. All of the characters were strong, and I appreciated that the female characters didn’t wait around to be rescued. I liked that they surprised the male characters with their actions.

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[The Raven King: The Raven Cycle IV] Maggie Stiefvater 

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This is it. The final book of The Raven CycleThe Raven King finishes what was started in The Raven Boys. Finally on the last legs of their quest, Gansey hurtles toward Glendower as Blue tries desperately to think of a way to free him from the future that she knows is coming sooner rather than later. Darker things have come to Henrietta and the raven boys and Blue struggle to find a way to stop them before it’s too late. Everything they’ve known–about themselves, about Glendower and Cabeswater–will be tested.

As a conclusion to the series, The Raven King satisfied most of what I wanted from it. But not all. What I appreciated about the first three novels–namely the family dynamic, the psychics of Fox Way, the enigma of Cabeswater–was overshadowed in The Raven King by the growing relationship between Gansey and Blue, Adam learning how to best be a conduit for Cabeswater, and Ronan’s growing prowess as a dreamer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all of those parts. But I missed all of the other parts that made the novel whole. I thought they were brushed aside in this novel to make way for the bigger parts, and I could really sense their loss. There was something missing from The Raven King because these pieces were lighter than they were in the first three novels. Some of these things were completely dropped from the narration, as if they had served their purpose and didn’t need to be mentioned ever again. What happened to the psychics? What happened to Noah? What happened to Gwenllian? These are just a few things that felt forgotten. There were so many loose ends.

My favorite characters in this were Ronan and Adam. Their arcs were really fascinating. Adam’s growth in particular was really well done. From being afraid of his father to being able to extend a hand to his family even after they had basically disowned him (although he should have disowned them ages ago in the first place because of how horrible they were to him), he became so much stronger. Out of all of the characters, I think he changed the most. But only marginally more than Ronan. Ronan’s growth was different than Adam’s. As he became more adept with his dreaming, I think that he also became more happy with himself. He found the things that he loved and that came out in how he interacted with the other characters. He was still surly at times, but there were more moments where I was able to see why he fit in with the other raven boys and with Blue. Blue and Ronan were able to come to an understanding and their growing Sis/Bro-mance made me laugh a lot. They’re so similar, even though I think they’d both hate being compared to one another. I loved that both Adam and Ronan were connected to Cabeswater in unique ways.

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[Blue Lily, Lily Blue: The Raven Cycle III] Maggie Stiefvater

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What I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that it directly paralleled The Dream Thieves. Where Ronan was sleeping and dreaming up fantastical things to bring back into waking reality in The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue has a focus on not waking the sleepers. Blue is a little bit worried that her mother hasn’t resurfaced since she disappeared. Her disappearance has Blue distracted as she and the raven boys continue to search for Glendower. As they hurtle toward the end of their quest, they discover that there are things underground that they don’t want to wake. To do so could have dire consequences.

Things get a little bit darker in this book as it’s leading directly into the finale. Blue Lily, Lily Blue works really hard at setting up events that will continue in the next book, and it succeeded at keeping my interest. Perhaps rather obviously, there’s a slightly heavier focus on Blue and her side-quest to find her mother, who as we know disappeared at the end of The Dream Thieves. It’s been months, and Blue wrestles with her feelings of betrayal and worry over her mother’s decision to vanish over her growing feelings for Gansey as they continue to search for Glendower. (Can I just pause here for a moment to say that Stiefvater is driving me insane with how she teases her readers about an eventual–I’m assuming–Gansey/Blue relationship/kiss? It’s written so well). There’s always been consequences that are revealed after the fact in The Raven Cycle, such as the death of Ronan’s father over his dream creations or how scrying can be dangerous, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue has consequences listed upfront to avoid. Bad things did happen in The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily definitely continued that trend.

Something I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that all of the adventurers are revealed to have abilities. We already knew that Ronan could dream, Adam could connect with Cabeswater, and Blue was an amplifier, but Gansey had always seemed left out. To have an ability of a sort revealed to them made him fit in more. It also pushed a lot of the pieces together. I feel like I really have a good grasp on who Gansey is and why he is on a quest to find Glendower now. These abilities only drive the group together more and further cements their friendships with each other. As a result, I love them even more. Obviously I’ve loved (and will love) many characters that authors have created. I don’t think that there’s ever been a set of characters that I love (almost) equally. I’m glad that there are little between novellas that I can read once I’m done with the complete books.

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