Walking the Labyrinth

Walking the Labyrinth - Lisa Goldstein

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

2.5 stars, between "OK" and "I liked it." I very much enjoyed the magical/illusion aspects in this book: the concept of the Labyrinth, questioning people and their motives, "taking a new turn" when you learn something new, and how just about anything could be turned into a lesson—often not the most obvious one. The Order, done partly through the journal of one of its earliest members, had one of those late Victorian flavours that I tend to like. Secret societies, people trying to get a glimpse of mysteries through communing with spirits... And power, the "Gift" passed from parents to children in the Allalie family, something that could be used for good (for instance, whether it was on purpose or not, Dodd did stop drinking after that night in the prologue), but also for less than shiny endeavours.

The writing itself was fairly good, and managed to evoke vivid imagery of the magic shows in the 1920s and 1930s (or at least, what I'd expect magic shows to be like). The antics, relationships, tensions and weirdness of Molly's family were easy to grasp, and definitely interesting.

What prevented me from enjoying this story more were the characters first and foremost. While the premise was intriguing and fascinating, I couldn't connect with any of them. The Allalies were too shrouded in mystery and half-lies to feel like actual people, and Molly often struck me as bumbling around without any idea of what she was doing: not in terms of investigating (after all, she wasn't a private eye or a cop, so it made sense she wouldn' have such reflexes etched in her), but as a person. Maybe it's just me, but from the beginning, her behaviour when Peter was concerned just made me feel like smacking her to put some sense into her. This made it harder to reconcile with how she evolved towards the end, going from clueless to maybe too resourceful.

There were also a few instances of characters popping out of nowhere, more as plot devices than as people: the man in England, the people from the Order... Their roles didn't feel really defined, and they would've deserved more spotlight in order to look like they had a place of their own in the story. Same goes for clues that appeared without enough groundwork having been laid beforehand. This ended for me as a strange mix of predictability (the Allalie's family name was so obvious) and "wait, what, where did that come from?" reactions. The story tended to plod, and there were moments I found myself reading in the hopes I'd get more out of it, rather than because I was genuinely involved in it fully. The journey mattered more than the ending, but I wished said journey had streamed more seamlessly, without the constant feeling of being driven by plot devices.

Overall: worth borrowing, but maybe not buying.