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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

SPFBO Finalist: Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & David Stewart)

Official Author Website
Order Ruthless Magic over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: USA Today bestselling author Megan Crewe lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son. She's been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer. Her YA novels include the paranormal GIVE UP THE GHOST, post-apocalyptic the Fallen World series, the sci fi Earth & Sky trilogy, the contemporary fantasy A MORTAL SONG, the supernatural thriller BEAST, and the urban fantasy Conspiracy of Magic series.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages' Exam.

Disadvantaged by her parents' low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic.

Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth.

Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win?

The first in a new series by USA Today bestselling author Megan Crewe, Ruthless Magic combines the magic of Harry Potter with the ferocity of The Hunger Games alongside a poignant romance. Fans of Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, look no further for your next urban fantasy fix. 

CLASSIFICATION: A YA urban fantasy.

FORMAT: Ruthless Magic was self-published by the author in 2018 as a first book in  Conspiracy of Magic series. It's available in an e-book, paperback, and hardcover format. 

The book counts 352 pages and is divided into 38 numbered chapters. The cover art was done by Rebecca Kemp. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Lukasz): I rarely read YA fiction, especially when it features romance. And yet I enjoyed Ruthless Magic. Crewe draws inspiration from Hunger Games, but she does everything right.

Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses magically gifted teenagers. Some will succeed and enter the Confederation while unlucky or less-talented ones will lose magic. Anyone who doesn’t qualify in the initial stage of cutting the chaff from the wheat can enter a brutal Mages’ Exam. 

The story focuses on teenagers who had to (or decided to) try themselves in the exam. It alternates between two viewpoints.  

Rocío Lopez, a gifted magician, comes from a poor family. It turns out Confederation picks Champions not only because of their talent but also because of their social standing.  

Finn Lockwood comes from an influential and wealthy family. He makes up for his mediocre magical abilities with natural charisma, charm, and good-naturedness. 

Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn become allies, and more. Painfully cliche? Probably. The execution, though, thrills and entertains. 

Crewe’s characters are instantly likable and relatable. Their struggles with terrifying magical challenges felt exciting. I appreciate the twisted creativity behind the tests they undergo. Clear storytelling allows to see each situation easily, with all the details and emotional load.

YA characters often display insecurity and experience self-loathing. Rocio has a crush on Finn but she considers herself inferior to him. Despite her talent and magical skills, she still sees herself as a ghetto-trash girl. There’s no way a guy like Finn would care for her. 

In the meantime, Finn cares for her,  looks for her attention and deals with his own insecurities. As naïve as it sounds, it felt endearing. I liked them both and followed their chapters with pleasure. That said, I think Rocio‘ and Finn’s voices weren’t distinct enough. They narrated the events in a very similar way. If the chapters didn’t start with a narrator name, I would probably have to guess at times. 

Secondary characters remained underdeveloped. A pity, as I would gladly learn more about Prisha, Desmond or Lacey. A protagonist needs an antagonist. We get one. Callum is as wicked as they come - violent, calculating, utterly flat and boring.

The story develops at a breakneck pace, with short pauses for food and development of characters’ feelings toward each other. I dislike romance in books, but this one made me feel good. Crewe knows what she’s doing and even when the story becomes dark and unsettling, she smuggles hope to the events. I needed uplifting, clever story with solid character development and intriguing plot, and she delivered.

I enjoyed Ruthless Magic and I encourage you to try it. It has flaws, but it entertained me, made me feel good and engaged in the story. I even missed two metro stops while reading it, and if it’s not the best endorsement a book can get from a reader, I don’t know what else would it be.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (David): Though I did finish Ruthless Magic, I was not very impressed with it, particularly versus some of the entries in this contest. I would not likely have let it even make the semis. The story and writing are competent, but this is one of the most unoriginal books I've ever read. Almost every plot line and even some sub plots are taken whole cloth from Harry Potter or the Hunger Games or Ender's Game, among other works. I would not say that there is plagiarism at work, but at some point borrowing crosses the border from homage into theft. I liked Rocio well enough, but she was about the only redeeming quality to the whole book. The shortened "'chantment" aggressively annoyed me every time it was used, and I found some of the character descriptions to be uncomfortable from a potentially racial standpoint. Maybe this book works for some, but I think it's average at best. 

CONCLUSION: The overall light tone makes it a quick and entertaining read. It’s not perfect (especially plot and conflict-wise), but I found the experience pleasurable. 

SPFBO Final Score - 5/10


Immanuel R. said...

I was about to read this book but after reading your review I might postpone it for now since I read a similar concept story. I thought Ruthless magic had an appealing approach: a YA novel, teenagers with magic powers and romance.

Thank you for this review, both Lucas and David, it was nice to know your opinion.


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