Book Review: City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Chronicles of Amicae
Publisher: Tor (November 20, 2018)
Length: 393 pages
Five hundred years ago, a magical weapon was created in the form of an infestation that ate magic, but it quickly got out of hand and became impossible to control. This power burrowed itself into amulets and would grow and devour everything in its path if not contained. Only individuals with talent and specialized training, called Sweepers, can defuse and dispose of these magical ticking time bombs.
Enter Laura, an apprentice Sweeper who works with her boss Clae to rid the city of these dangerous threats. The problem though, is that the local politicians have been deceiving their people into believing that infestations aren’t really a problem anymore. As a result, Clae’s office is severely underfunded, and no one takes the profession as seriously as they should. All it will take is one mistake—or one act of malice—for a massive infestation to level the entire city.
This wasn’t a terrible book, but it very clearly could have been improved. For one thing, it’s always unfortunate when a publisher description oversells the story. When I read “bomb squad that defuses magic weapons”, I immediately pictured elite armored special teams and lots of suspense and excitement. Too bad this book had none of these things. I was expecting something more akin to a fast-paced thriller, but instead what I got was a somewhat dry and meandering plot that seemed to lack even a main conflict for the first half of the novel. As a result, the early part of the story felt like it had no direction, a problem also exacerbated by too much info-dumping. While the world-building may have been able to capture the reader’s imagination (at least initially), having no immediate hook meant that any interest I had in the plot rapidly faded.
The other problem I had was with the characters. It’s one thing to be progressive and proud to work in a profession not conventionally held by women, but Laura goes through life with an air of superiority I didn’t much care for. Often, she had this attitude of dismissal or contempt for subjects that she doesn’t understand or things that don’t interest her, which drove me crazy. And God forbid we ever forget she’s bucking gender norms and society’s expectations of her, because she never fails to remind us every chance she gets. Then there was Clae, her boss and head Sweeper. He’s tactless, brusque, and incredibly antagonistic towards everyone, reminding me of a more annoying and less lovable version of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes. In fact, I feel like that was exactly what the author was trying for, attempting to channel BBC’s 21st-century portrayal of the famous literary detective, except Clae comes across just plain unlikeable, and Laura is no Martin Freeman’s Watson to pull off the part in this double act.
There were a few things I did enjoy. One was the world-building. It wasn’t as well developed as I would have liked, but I was intrigued by the notion of magical amulets that held infestations that could grow into monsters capable of destroying cities. I also loved the concept of Sweepers. In truth, taken individually, all the ideas in this book are great, but as a whole, they feel like pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit together quite right. Perhaps if the plot been clearer and more cogent, the world-building might have reached its full potential.
Overall, I think it was a combination of a vague synopsis and disorganized storytelling that made City of Broken Magic a miss for me. It’s a shame because I really wanted to like this one, as there were many ideas in here that I liked. Sadly, they were unable to carry the plot, which struggled to get off the ground, or make me overcome my initial distaste for the characters. Since this is Mirah Bolender’s debut, I chalk most of these up to new-author problems, and if this is to become a series, hopefully the next book will have many of the issues ironed out.