(I got an ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
2.5 stars. Some parts I really enjoyed, but some others were really problematic for me.
All in all, the plot itself is quite a “mundane” one—in that it could be a contemporary novel, without any need for magic in it. For years, David had a mistress, who bore him two children, then vanished from the surface of Earth. Twelve years later, he learns that she’s just died, and he takes custody of his children… without his wife and three other children knowing. On top of all, the kids born out of wedlock were abused by their stepfather. Instant recipe for drama. Just add water.
Now, because sorcery isn’t necessary to such a plot, doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. On the contrary. It lent an interesting spin to this story, because the “destruction” magic theme ran parallel to the destructive path on which the Vandergraff family was set, and opened up a can of questions. What would destroy them: their own nature as wizards and witches, or just their human nature, period? Would things have been the same without magic, would they have gone through the same pitfalls?
The author’s take on magic was one I found intriguing. Wizards/witches’ powers are attuned to seasons, with mages born in summer having the most “positive” magic, spring/autumn being more balanced, and winter mages having to contend with sorcery that always ends up destroying. The latter, as a theme, was bound to get my attention, because it’s something I find fascinating, and along the story, indeed, it appeared to fit my own belief system, so to speak. Winter mages are “doomed”, in that magic amounts to creating consequences, without any control on the causes… and the causes their spells give birth to are of the destructive kind. For instance, a spell meant for someone to “get money” could very well result in “character inherits a lot of money due to spouse dying” (and not by merely winning the lottery, or winning at the races, etc.). On the other hand, destruction-related powers aren’t bad per se: a skilled sorcerer could just as well use them to operate on people and destroy tumors, thus saving lives. I really liked that the magic system in this novel took such things into account, and didn’t only go with “destruction = bad”.
Another thing I liked was that no character was completely black or white. David cheated on his wife and chickened out on too many things (including telling her before picking up Xavier and Evangeline at the orphanage), but he also managed to display some bravery when it came to his family’s safety. Amanda was rightfully outraged, but also had secrets of her own, which didn’t exactly make her a saint. Jude and Emmy are their own shades of fucked-up, Xavier harbours knowledge that could destroy him (while still wanting to protect his sister), Evangeline can’t decide whether she loves her mother, or thinks she “deserved” what happened to her… And so on.
However, a couple of major problems (major for me, at least) prevented me from fully enjoying this novel. First of all, wizards are supposed to be rare (0.001% of the population?), but they keep attracting each other like there’s no tomorrow. This ended up in a cluster of mages gathered in the same place; even friends were wizards/witches. At some point, it became rather unbelievable—and I don’t mean in a general sense: I mean within the context and “rules” of the story.
Second, there were a lot of double standards, and I think I’d have liked to see them challenged some more. David does it, but only weakly. Mostly Amanda annoyed me in that regard, with her holier-than-thou attitude and her tendency to conveniently ignore what she had done, while giving guilt-trips to others. It’s part of the imperfect nature of this character, sure, but almost nobody called her on her bullshit. All right, David cheated on her and had two kids in her back, which is totally crass. But in the early days of their marriage, Amanda was the one who
I’m aware this is very subjective on my part, but is cheating so much worse than removing someone’s choice, deciding for them, destroying parts of who they were? Of course, it fits perfectly within the scope of destruction magic. I just wish someone, anyone, would have smacked Amanda on the back of the head and told her to look at her own mistakes some more, instead of acting like Perfect Wife And Mother. Double-standards applied to magic as well: most of the “non-practitioners” in the story apparently spent years saying that their magic would have bad consequences and they’d better not practice… but they easily break their “vow”, while constantly blaming others who do the same. (At this point, you can tell that double standards in general annoy the hell out of me. Personal pet peeve here.)
Third, the abuse the kids suffered from: it may be in a second book, but it’s an important matter that I felt wasn’t addressed enough in this first novel. There’s Xavier and Evangeline, of course, but also Samantha,
The Vandergraffs sure are a dysfunctional family, but this was pushing things too far for a beginning, in my opinion. It looked as if the abuse was a side note, something that just happened, something about which even the victims didn’t care about; while I’m not for victim-mentality, nor for revelling in piles of angst, it nevertheless bothered me.
Fourth: the ending. I felt the same way as I felt with Twilight, i.e. cheated out of a “big finale”. I didn’t really get how Emmy went from what Jude did to “must do [that big thing that is going to be the climax of the story]“, and I definitely would have wanted to see how her that part went—not learning from her afterwards that this and that happened, and that another character saved the day. It was definitely weird and a little bit jarring. So much was already going on within the Vandergraff family, after all.
I think I would be interested in reading the next book, though, even though I didn’t give this one a stellar rating. There’s a lot of potential here when it comes to magic, as well as to redefined dynamics within the family.