After seeing this book blowing up everywhere on BookTok, I was curious enough to try it out myself, especially after seeing that it had been acquired by Tor. In the past, recommendations from there have been hit or miss, and unfortunately, this one was a bit of a miss.
“Nature is chaos, magic is order, but they are not wholly unrelated.”
Every decade, six medeians – magicians – are picked by the secretive Alexandrian Society (yes, as in the Library of Alexandria) to compete for a chance to win a place. Former initiates have gone on to reach the heights of society, from CEOs to politicians, while some instead chose to stay and learn everything they can. While they’re competing against each other – only five will be inducted after a year – these six wildly different people must also work as a team to protect the Society. But as with most secret societies, what they have been told isn’t the entire truth. Figuring out what they haven’t been told may be just as illuminating as what they have been – if they can survive that long.
Each main character gets their own POV, which presents the first challenge. For the most part, I found all the characters interesting. Some of them are particularly stand out – heeeey Parisa – while others were obviously not the author’s favorites. The first two we’re introduced to, Nico and Libby, have just graduated from a magic university in NYC. Both adept at manipulating physical elements, they’ve been rivals from the start, and my romance brain kept waiting for it to turn into enemies-to-lovers relationship. But, alas, while there are some romantic relationships, that one is never explored. I also adored Reina and wished there had been more from her POV.
“What everyone else was seeing—illusions, perceptions, interpretations—were not an objective form of reality at all, which meant that, conversely, what Tristan could see… was.”
The introduction to the characters, and their first few days at the Society, are interesting, with a good mix of action and seeing how the characters interact. And then it starts falling apart. The world building is extremely uneven. There are magic families and magic companies but it’s not entirely clear whether “mortals” – non-magical people – are aware that magic exists. There’s bits of text which could be read either way, and while it’s a minor thing, it was disproportionately frustrating to me. Continuing with the dearth of world building, except for a few notable examples, the magic lessons are glossed over. We get the basics of what the characters can do, just enough to provide characterization. And this leads directly to my next issue.
The lion’s share of the book is focused on the characters and what they think of each other. There’s alliances and squabbles and seduction but there’s not really a ton of other plot. And don’t get me wrong, I love usually love character interactions! But it’s a ton of telling versus showing. One character’s falling for another? Better make sure another character explicitly tells us that in their POV! There’s several twists that are basically so heavily foreshadowed because of that telling that they’re ruined. There is a cliffhanger ending but, honestly, by the time I reached that point I was only mildly interested.
So, overall, this book didn’t work for me. While the characters and the beginning was strong, there wasn’t enough to make me want to keep reading.
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.