Bingo 14: Snake
Quick notice: because Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments is new acquisition at my local library, it had a shorter checkout period with no renewal so I had to give it back before getting to write about it; I may not be as totally sure of certain details as a result.
The snake theme actually works on more than one level here because there is indeed a hospital and mysterious affliction that is affecting school boys in the magical community, and Ropa gets hired to investigate. She starts out all excited because she’s got a line on an internship through Sir Callendar to work on her magical education, and now she’s got this new job which hopefully will pay better than her previous gigs. Too bad for Ropa that the internship is unpaid and her investigation into the mysterious sickness that starts spreading gets brought under the scope of the internship (meaning no payday).
There’s also some betrayals of trust, so snake in the grass, and even a sort of snake oil salesman with the guy Ropa has to find who uses sketchy magic to basically do planes of existence tourism.
I didn’t enjoy the first book as much as I thought because Ropa’s character was kind of one dimensional and she still is, although I think giving her the love for audio books (and the magical version of this involves a literal ‘earworm’, yuck but also kinda cool) and knowledge in general makes her a little more likeable for me. The side characters though do get some development. Priya gets some more page time and we get to know a little bit (ok more hints than anything) about Sir Callendar; turns out he and Ropa have had a common acquaintance for a long time and she at least didn’t know it. We also get a little more about her friend who introduced her to the library and world of formal magic whose name I can’t remember, and his ambitions to prove himself to his dad. This involves the literal Library of The Dead and making a book of someone’s life; this turns out to be more of a horror section, although in a way the concept is kind of horrific, so why not the actual implementation of it?
The other thing that kind of made this second part of the series better for me was the strong sense of a sort of “Harry Potter world done better”. There are 4 magic schools, and we get to see one. Priya and Ropa sort of sneak in and almost immediately get caught by the defense system which involves the gardens; Sir Callendar is sort of a Dumbledore figure but he’s way more interesting. He’ll actually tell Ropa why he is doing something sometimes, and she even gets a ‘well done’ although she doesn’t feel that way. There’s even a Malfoy of sorts, who turns out to be in all likelihood less redeemable but who knows.
The sort of bad guys behind it all, the mysterious ‘Monks of the Mist’ don’t get a lot of explanation, but the big thing Ropa does figure out about them is both so dumb and obvious it’s easy to miss, and on that same level, quite clever. There’s a big sense of some major catastrophe that the grownups know something about is coming, but we’ll probably have to wait until the next book for that.
For all that the characters get up to though, it doesn’t feel like much really happens, and I’m not sure why. There’s a lot of Ropa spinning her wheels and trying to figure things out with help from her pals, and there’s clearly a plot, but it still oddly feels like not much really goes on. Maybe it’s because the title doesn’t seem to be the main part of the story; the search for what’s wrong with Max and eventually a classmate or few isn’t really a priority for a lot of the story.