Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Adam R. Watson
Length: 5 hours, 17 minutes
For five years, Veier has been imprisoned, both physically and mentally, by magic in his ursine form to protect a depraved, power hungry king. When the kingdom is invaded and the king killed, Veier’s mind is once again his own, but the rage, trauma, fear, and gaps in his memory combine to repress his humanity and keep him trapped in a vicious cycle of violent attack, marking him as too dangerous to live. When Elrid, the invading kingdom’s High Mage, realizes Veier is an Ursinai, a bear shifter, and not a bear, he resolves to help Veier regain his humanity and his freedom. Determined to return to his family, Veier must not only fight against his violent hair-trigger response to perceived threats, but also discover who he is and what he truly wants.
Magic Runs Deep is a solid, light fantasy story that focuses on the barriers Veier’s PTSD create, which hinder his ability to trust and not fear constant attack, and how the eventual trust and reliance Veier has in Elrid helps him regain control, but also acts as a crutch. Told from Veier’s POV, the interactions and dynamic between Elrid and Veier are very engaging, particularly because Elrid could have easily been a one-dimensional savior character—kind, compassionate, and never putting a foot wrong, making him very dull and potentially causing Veier’s distrust and anger towards him to be less understandable and more irritating. Despite his kind and patient nature, at first Elrid is remarkably clueless about the effects Veier’s imprisonment have on him mentally (effects that are substantial and incredibly dangerous). Having been physically abused by the previous king, as well as some of Elrid’s people, Veier is never really given the opportunity to feel safe; he is supposed to let down his guard and rage-infused protectiveness, which at this point are instinctive, as soon as he is “freed.”
While Elrid’s desire to help Veier comes from a good place, as a scholar at heart, he sees his time with Veier as an opportunity to learn more about a reclusive culture, so once Veier is in his human shape, he expects Veier to want to converse with him and accept his lack of freedom with equanimity. Elrid’s shortsightedness causes him to be unintentionally dismissive of everything Veier has been through. For example, it doesn’t dawn on him until it is pointed out (angrily by Veier, of course) how his casual use of magic against Veier or being locked up in a room can seem like another form of imprisonment to a traumatized person. Between Veier’s extreme hostility and Elrid’s obliviousness, the two have a rocky relationship at the start, but as Veier comes to trust in Elrid’s inherent goodness, they form a friendship that serves to help anchor Veier in his humanity and gain control over his instinctive need to protect himself.
There is just enough worldbuilding to create a good structure for the story and make the Ursinai a dynamic and interesting culture without overwhelming the reader with lore. My main quibble is a magical plot point that is poorly done and irritating. It’s used more than once as a plot device, and to me it came across as ill thought out. Additionally, the ending felt a bit rushed in regards Veier’s sudden ability to no longer let fear guide his actions, giving him the true freedom he has sought the entire story and culminating in the romance between him and Elrid. With all the emphasis on Veier’s need to master himself in order to truly be free, the “payoff” just falls a bit flat for me. However, it is still nice to see Veier finally free of his captivity, and able to fully explore his wants and future.
While the story is enjoyable, I think the narration makes it even more so. Adam R. Watson does an excellent job, not only with all the character voices, but with the nuances and emotionality inherent in many of the scenes, as well. Veier is rightfully angry and is so often wrapped up in rage that a narrator could easily make him sound one dimensional, “Hulk smash” all the time. However, as the story is more an about Veier’s struggle to counter the behavior born from his trauma, the times when he is uncertain, insecure, and vulnerable are even more important to convey than his anger, and Watson does this so well. Moreover, his ever patient, refined, and calm voice for Elrid is spot on, and his excellent pacing and obvious understanding of the story makes even the somewhat rushed ending, from a journey of healing and friendship into sudden romance, feel more organic and emotionally moving than I think it would have had I read it. The only issue I had with the audio is that it could have used a bit more post-production work; there are enough mouth and breath sounds in places to pull me out of some emotional moments, and I am always irritated by that. However, Magic Runs Deep is a good story, made more engaging and enjoyable by Adam R. Watson’s performance. So, if you are looking for an interesting story with a little fantasy, compelling characters, and that manages to be examine trauma without being angsty, I recommend this audiobook wholeheartedly.