At 13, Yani thought he had heard all his Gramma Chana’s stories and history. However, on her deathbed, she tells the family the only story she never told—of her brother, Yakov, and how his falling in love with a vampire saved them from Nazis. Eight years later, when Yani finds the means to contact the great-uncle he met at his great-grandmother’s graveside, he can’t help but want to reach out. After all, even if Yakov is a vampire, he’s still family, right? Besides, having a supernatural being in the family is cool, and Yani is excited at the prospect of learning more about this hidden world.
However, Yani is in much closer contact with that world than he knows and when he suddenly finds himself surrounded by hunters, shifters, demons, and every supernat in between (some of them friends and lovers), his connection to and the danger within that world is made painfully clear. Deeply aware of his standing as a lowly human, Yani doesn’t know why he’s included when he and his friends are asked to examine an unknown text, but wanting to support his friends and family, he tags along. In doing so, Yani is pulled into an unimaginably dangerous mystery, and in the end, Yani may be the only one who can save them.
Magnified is a unique book that attempts to combine a major historical genocide with contemporary characters and the supernatural in a compelling way that for me didn’t completely succeed. There are parts I enjoyed, concepts that have potential, and choosing to introduce the reader (via the MC) to the supernatural world through a deathbed story is well done (and hands down my favorite component). Unfortunately, the separate parts didn’t come together as a fluid, captivating whole. The narrative establishes some story elements/concepts as being integral to the story, but then makes them virtually irrelevant, creating a weird tonal discordance in the narrative that isn’t helped by the sometimes stilted prose, nor the fact that I didn’t find the main character engaging. The only character I connected with was Chana, who dies before the first chapter, which kind of exemplifies my reading experience.
Magnified is written in the third-person, limited to one character’s perspective, which is usually Yani, and so what the reader learns about the majority of the characters is limited to what Yani sees (which became hilariously ironic to me later on), but mostly a problem because Yani is kind of judgmental and prone to making snap assumptions about people (whether he’s met them or not), and his inner monologue has him swinging from put upon selfless know-it all to self-righteous, indignant know-it-all. There are glimpses of his warmer side in some scenes with his family, but they can’t compete with his more common critical thoughts, such as wondering if he’s gay because “he has no patience for women” or other judgy gems such as:
“He tried to stay away from programs touting working hand in hand with Jesus. He couldn’t uphold the values the organization was trying to promote to the children, nor could he understand it.”
“Her friend Aaron who worked at a Christian Services organization sounded like a good guy, but Yani already had doubts that their beliefs and values would align closely enough to have something in common.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not comfortable with charitable organizations that make the services they offer contingent upon people following their religion’s creeds, but not all Christian organization do that. What harmful values and beliefs are being promoted to children? What values and beliefs does Yani think Aaron must have that are so dissimilar to his? The narrative does its best to hammer home the point that at the heart of the various atrocities that humans keep perpetuating against one another, particularly genocides, is unquestioned indoctrination of an “us vs them” mindset and sweeping judgements about people. Yet Yani traffics in stereotypes like it’s his job and he’s up for promotion. It’s hard for me to not see Yani as somewhat hypocritical, and unfortunately, two of my biggest pet peeves are judgmental and hypocritical people, which kept me from connecting with the main entry person into the world.
The limited POV also hinders the story when it comes to fleshing out the other characters. Yani is a bit of a supernatural Gary Stu, except instead of his milkshake bringing all the boys to the yard to form love triangles/quadrangles with him, he serves as the glue to form THE SUPER SQUAD: Next Generation™ that the narrative is clumsily shoehorning in. I felt I didn’t get to know any members, even the love interest, outside of whatever narrative function they were serving at the time. Brandon (Yani’s roommate) and Luke (Yani’s ex) are the group’s running joke as they spend all their time snogging or shagging (when they’re not tapped for supernat exposition 101 or to randomly mention that one thing that totally won’t be crucial to the story later on). And then there’s Aaron, the Giles of this Scooby gang who, when he isn’t displaying his encyclopedic knowledge of what the story needs to know, is sharing longing looks with Yani—Yani, the team’s AVERAGE GUY™, the non-powered mortal amongst the superpowered, who spends his time bemoaning his lack of specialness but is, of course, the heart/savior of the group and more special than he knows.
Yani’s BFF, Mary, isn’t that fleshed out either. Maybe I’m just tired of the “pushy BFF” trope, there only to be a bossy foil for the more staid MC and move her specific plot beats, but in this story it just really annoyed me. Who else but the know-it-all friend will push Yani to see Aaron again while admitting that she doesn’t know what happened, but just that he’s REALLY sorry, so go make nice. I’ve always had a problem with this kind of intermediary meddling—the person doesn’t have all the facts, but since they like/are friends with whoever made the mistake and they KNOW they’re a good person whose actions can’t possibly have been that bad, they push someone to talk to/see a person they’d rather avoid. Having seen domestic/emotional abuse victims constantly manipulated into staying with their abusers like this by people who don’t know/don’t believe the abused, I hate seeing it in stories, and with that being Mary’s main purpose, I was predisposed to disliking her.
However, even though Yani rubbed me the wrong way at times, I actually like him as a central character. He’s unflappable and pretty logical (for the most part), and there’s a reason the Average Guy is a favored entry-person into the paranormal realm; they tend to be more relatable and their discomfort and ignorance usually creates tension. I also liked Yani’s teammates. Even though what personality they show are archetypal traits related to what creature they are, they still work for the budding team dynamics and may have been better developed if the story structure was cleaner. There’s almost two stories going on and the interplay between them is clunky and uneven. For example, there’s this whole “passing the torch” set up shown when the POV switches to Yakov or other older characters, but there isn’t enough groundwork done to warrant it, making it feel clumsy, unearned, and like it’s from a different story. It’s done in a “they’ll either sink or swim” type conversation, with only a cursory nod to world building and history. The way it comes across makes as much sense as taking a kid who can’t swim or ride a horse, dubbing them the next Swimming and Equestrian Olympic gold-medalist, saying there’s only one way they’ll learn, and then throwing them on the back of a wild mustang and pointing them towards the ocean.
This feeling of separate stories is amplified by the uneven incorporation of Yani’s Jewish ancestry and faith, the thematic cruelty of genocide, and the paranormal elements together. Yani’s family history is interesting and clearly meant to be extremely important to the story, yet for all its presence and page time, it isn’t. This lack of narrative importance is exemplified by Yakov and his partner Martin; their characters and history are given a lot of page time and the impression of being integral to the main plot/Yani, but once they serve their narrative function, they are sidelined. This is also seen in the caricature of a villain, who manages to say “pathetic human” way too many times during his mmwhuuuhawhawing, and from his name and how he marks Yani to him being the ultimate in genocidal loonies, the character is so on the nose it’s painful. This powerful baddy, the reason the whole world is at stake and the tie-in to the theme of the evils of genocide is handled by the story in a way that makes him seem more funny and tacked on than vital to the tale.
I really wanted to love Magnified; the blurb caught my eye and the beginning was full of potential, but by the end, it was like being given the outlines for two great stories—one a history, the other a paranormal—that were accidentally combined into one book. Given the story was originally published in 2016 and this is the second edition, I feel the missed potential even more keenly. I can’t unequivocally recommend it, but it may be worth a read for those looking for paranormal stories with a unique historical setup.