This story is a heavily fictionalized retelling of the Holocaust in a world where magic exists, but color doesn’t. Everything in the kingdom of Magnifico is black or white. There is no color and no one knows why. No one cares, either, since there are more pressing concerns, like the public execution of the King and Queen in order for their daughter, Vivian, to inherit the crown. It’s a public spectacle and Maximilian, his friends, and most of the city are present to watch and cheer as heads roll and blood spills. But the blood is too much for Maximilian who walks away, only to run into a mysterious masked figure who happens to be none other than the missing prince, Stefan.
It’s true love for Maximilian, who falls in love with the prince, and the two of them — between picnics and long walks — begin their relationship while the world falls apart. Secret police are scouring the kingdom, finding any and everyone who is born without the ability to use magic and rounding them up, moving them via cattle cars to detention centers where chimneys belch black smoke into the air. When Maximilian’s friend, Katherine, is caught up in the madness, he knows he has to do something. Even if that something means killing the new queen and ushering in a new era of economic prosperity.
Maximilian is the epitome of an entitled white kid. He comes from a well-off family that has no need to worry or be afraid as secret police murder people in the streets — people who are unfortunate enough to not have magic, people unfortunate enough to not have enough money or respectability. While his friend hides in his basement, recovering from the murder of her parents, Maximilian is worried about whether or not the missing prince is gay, or going on a picnic with the prince, or feeling put-on because his friends are fighting and he’s stuck in the middle because picking a side is hard.
He’s also untouchable, covered in plot armor. When the Queen’s Wolves — half secret-police, half hit squad, as well as being humanoid wolves — show up at Maximilian’s door, demanding to know if he knows where the non-magical Katherine is, Maximilian threatens to burn them with fire and chases them away from his house. These wolves have been hunting down and beheading people left and right, but not Max. When face-to-face with the Queen herself, he stands up and snots off to her. Something she finds refreshing because normally people just tell her what she wants to hear. But Max, oh, he’s not just amazingly powerful, clever, and intuitive, he’s also the one the resistance comes to begging for help. He’s the one no one will kill. He’s the one the prince falls in love with at first sight. He’s the one who overhears all the important conversations, makes all the important connections, and makes all the decisions. He’s not a person, he’s walking perfection. And the end of the story … words cannot express my disdain.
Stefan is nothing and no one, lacking personality or story. He’s a prince who ran away from home because his sister got more presents than he did. He drinks wine and has magic. Those are the only facts I know about him, and the sum total of his personality. But, like everyone, he finds Maximilian irresistible, and when Maximilian tells him to do something, he does. When Maximilian suggests Stefan try to cozy up to his sister, the evil queen, so they can spy on her plans, he does. And then does nothing more beyond be present so that Maximilian has someone to fall into bed with.
As I mentioned before, there is no color in this world. Like a black and white movie, it’s just shades of dark and light … until Maximilian sleeps with Stefan and suddenly he can see color. Does this mean anything? Does it change anything? Does Maximilian have any thoughts or opinions about this brand new world he lives in? Nope. Seeing color just isn’t anything special. Or anything at all. So why is it there? What purpose does it serve? It doesn’t indicate a growth in character or thought for Maximilian, it doesn’t turn him from a nothing into a something. It’s just a single sentence in the middle of the book never referenced again.
Magic exists with no rules, as far as I can tell, and I have no idea if Katherine’s family’s non-magical ability comes from an ethnicity or just chance. There are goblins mentioned and a past goblin war, but they don’t seem to serve any purpose in this world and I don’t feel that their inclusion really added to anything. Stefan’s use of mind control to steal from people is never dealt with or addressed, and the great economic crisis Maximilian thinks about two or three times is never explained or hinted at, other than his friend’s mother losing her job.
Halfway through this book I realized I was giving more thought to the plot and the characters’ motivations than the story seemed to. I was trying to figure out where all the threads went, what possible further motivations or emotions could be coaxed out of bare bones dialogue, and tried to niggle out any shreds of world building from the absolute nothing that was in front me. This feels very much like a book put out as quickly as possible to take advantage of the current climate of division, hatred, bigotry, and anger using a thin shellac of fantasy to cover up the WWII inspiration (down to the cattle cars, detention camps, and the phrase “cleansing”), and I find it offensive. There is no heart in this book, and it’s finger-shaking “bigotry is bad, we should all be good people” message is condescending, simplistic, and poorly done.
The writing is spare, with every phrase or emotion explained. You will never doubt why a character is performing an action or what spurs them to make a comment. Every action, too, is straight-forward, telegraphed, and explained. Characters don’t have much in the way of motivations, they simply seem to move according to the needs of the scene. Phrases will be repeated again and again; characters will “beam his/her eyes”; characters will cackle a lot, eat often, munching their way through every page; never chewing or biting, always munching. It’s not that it’s bad or wrong, but it’s repetitive, monotonous, and just underscores how formulaic I found this book.
Please remember these are only my thoughts and opinions. There will be people who have read this book and enjoyed it. But, if you’re looking at my recommendation, this book isn’t worth reading.