Byron Cole tows the company line. His family is at the forefront of anti-magic technology, and though young, he works as a PR rep for his family’s company, making sure everyone knows just how bad mages are and the reasons they need to be regulated, and in turn, showing the world just how great the technology Cole Industries produces is. When Byron flirts with an attractive man while stuck in a subway during a terrorist attack, Byron has no idea that Levi will save his life. An explosion happens just feet away, and Levi uses accidental magic to protect them.
Immediately arrested for using unlawful magic, Levi is forced to endure torturous testing. But Byron’s eyes are opened for the first time. Feeling compelled to help them man who saved him, Byron hatches a plan to keep Levi as safe as he can. But the more he learns, the more Byron sees just how unjust the magic registration and magic-binding is. He begins to seek out others, trying not only to save Levi’s life, but to bring down the government and his own company for their part in it.
But things are even worse than Byron realized. The more he learns, the harder he works. And the more time he spends with Levi, the closer they get. Now Byron and Levi, with the help of some friends, are risking their lives to bring the truth to light and take down the corporation. It’s the only way the world can see just how wrong they’ve been. As scared as they are, they are willing to die if it means no one ever has to endure the terrible fate again.
Wow. I’m going to start by saying that this book is….incredibly timely. This story is built in a contemporary world, where those who can use magic are forced to register and have their magic bound so that they can never use it. Mages are ridiculed and hated, beaten, can’t get jobs, are denied entrance to college, and are shunned. It’s impossible to read this book and not compare it to our current affairs. But this book ends with hope, and it is sorely needed.
I loved it. From start to finish, I was drawn into the story and utterly entranced. In Byron, Brisby gives us a truly naïve character. He’s actually ignorant, completely unaware of the truth and simply believing what he’s been told all his life. But the moment magic touches his life, saves his life, Byron’s eyes are opened. And as he begins to think about his world, he realizes just how wrong he’s been. He’s young and guileless, and the reader immediately gets the sense that because of his upbringing and the propaganda, he truly doesn’t know any better. He’s also awkward and adorable and weird, in the best possible ways, and is incredibly relatable. And the best part is that when he does realize something is wrong, he immediately tries to figure out how to fix it. First for Levi, who he feels deep down isn’t what “they” say he is, and then for the greater good. He goes above and beyond, puts his life on the line, and intends to make a real difference.
Then there’s Levi, who is also young (both MCs are in their early 20s) and who has had to live his entire life in hiding. Not physically, but he’s never used his magic, because he knew what would happen if he did. In one instant, with one act, he’s branded a terrorist and he knows he’ll be executed. He’s understandably wary when it seems Byron is offering real aid. And considering what’s been done to him, he’s understandably terrified of what is to come, and what could happen if he tries to resist. But Levi does it anyway, stands up even when he’s beyond scared, because if he doesn’t, then the horrors will be inflicted on someone else. Their chemistry together is electric, and though their romance is definitely a secondary plot, it’s perfectly placed there.
And if the two MCs aren’t compelling enough, they are joined by a host of secondary characters that flesh out the story and give the resistance momentum. Together this small band of people are determined to bring others into their cause, to shine a light on the truth, and to change the world. Add to that a plot that has twists and turns (which I’m purposefully not talking about), an action-packed climax, and an overall message of hope, and I couldn’t put the book down.
What I was really struck by was the realness in this story. The characters were wonderfully drawn, not only Byron and Levi, but their friends who take up the cause. Each and every one of them read as real people, flaws and all, and I loved that they weren’t perfect paragons of virtue, but just real people doing what they knew to be right. And I loved that the story didn’t have a perfect ending, but a real one that was filled with hope.
It may be about magic, but this was really a narrative about marginalized people. What the world will look like if you don’t stand up. And how it can change when you do. Incredibly well written, I have no trouble recommending it. On its own, it’s a fantastic story. With current affairs, it’s also a poignant one.