I was super excited when I got my hands on this at the library. The title popped up as recommended all over my book apps and emails. Fans of Harry Potter, V.E. Schwab, and Lev Grossman’s Magician’s trilogy were into it, so I had high expectations. Unfortunately, that particular well of mysteries set at magic schools is pretty much full to the brim.
Twin sisters Ivy and Tabitha Gamble are estranged. Their sisterly bond was torn apart by a dying mother, a grieving father and the magical abilities that Tabitha has and Ivy does not. While Ivy has a front row seat to their mother’s decline, Tabitha rarely comes home from her magical boarding school.
Dealing with the emotional strain separately creates a divide that renders them virtual strangers in adulthood. Both have forged their own paths: Ivy is a private detective and Tabitha is a teacher at a high school for the magically gifted (Mages). When Ivy is asked to help solve the mysterious death of a fellow teacher at Tabitha’s school, she is hesitant. Having spent her childhood and adolescence feeling less than her sister, Ivy is uncomfortable around Mages. Ultimately, her desire to solve a real murder case as well as the chance to relieve herself of the pain and anger associated with her sister spurs her to take the job.
Part murder mystery and part magical world, I wasn’t completely satisfied with either here. The magic of Gailey’s world isn’t super fleshed out and is tossed into the action intermittently as if to remind the reader that it’s a school for magic. More emphasis is placed on how “normal” the high school experience is with magical abilities just adding a little extra pizzaz to adolescent shenanigans. The murder mystery is even more puzzling. The who, what, why and where are palatable but there is little time spent on dealing with the perpetrator even when their actions are revealed to be egregious.
I found the relationship between the sisters to be the most interesting part of the book. Magic and murder aside, the complexity of their relationship is what drove the plot forward.
While I wouldn’t call it totally derivative, it’s not difficult to see the parallels between Gailey’s novel and the pile of other young magician sagas already out there; tough shoes to fill and big expectations already set for world building. It does play out like a possible series of books are in the works and that may help to flesh out some of the characters and beef up the world building a bit. I will definitely read a second book when and if it appears, but I am a little bit disappointed in this one.