This is a strong three stars for me. It’s really good in a lot of ways, still feels a little limited for some of the choices and a little thin because of them or what they reveal about the novel, but also succeeds to build a world I am interested in and a story I am invested in.
So the novel is almost a perfect Venn diagram of Sara Gran, The Magicians, and The Secret Place by Tana French. Ivy Gamble lives in a world where there’s magic and magic schools, and her twin sister “abandoned” her family to go off and learn magic at one of these schools and stay to teach there. This all happened at the same time that their mother was dying of cancer. This has led to some significant feelings of resentment for Ivy now.
Older now, still bitter, and now a private detective, Ivy is called to the school to help with an internal investigation for a possible murder that has happened on campus, a teacher who has died, but whose death was ruled an accidental death by the investigative organization for magic users. While there, she looks to maybe reconnect with her sister and sort of notch a murder case too.
The issues for me for this book is that while it’s hyper-focused in a lot of ways — the world of magic feels interesting and real and kept at arm’s length (as if to say, well duh every one knows more or less what they know about the world), it’s also kind of thin in other ways. There’s a love secondary plot that feels completely out of sync with the rest of the novel and also barely makes sense to the plot itself (as if to say why would something like this happen so quickly and so in spite of the the business of the book is all about). Also, there’s too much cleverness and awareness. It’s a novel that knows Harry Potter exists because they make a joke about pumpkin juice, but also do that thing where it’s like “Oh magic? You only know what’s in books, and books are wrong”.
I think that if this ends up being a series, that’s a very good thing as some of these issues might get ironed out, but it’s not entirely set up for that, so as a single book this might feel weaker as I look back on it.