Rating: 3 stars
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Nicodemus “Nick” Green has been studying this one particular spell for what feels like an eternity. It’s part of his final project as a soon-to-be sorcerer at Charing Academy. It’s an old spell, complex and intricate, and is supposed to be one of the most well-known banishment spells in history. It’s said to have been the spell that cast the Pure — those magical blooded races of fae, angels, muses, and and other inhuman peoples — away from the mortal realm. And if it works, Nick’s all but guaranteed a prime position when he becomes a Slayer of the Watch, a magically gifted group of sorcerers, witches, and mages who keep humanity safe from the Pure and other violent magic users who would do them harm.
It’s a pity that this is the way he gets to test it. Just after graduation, while relaxing with his senior class at a pub, the school is attacked by Wormwood, the powerful and evil sorcerer who was supposed to be locked safely away. The same Wormwood who now, with a handful of followers, enters the pub and begins a slaughter. Of the twenty-seven students, only nine survive. Of the teachers who tried to save them, even fewer live.
Ten years pass and Nick and his friends have been tracking down any leads leading to Wormwood’s capture. They, along with every other Slayer, have but one goal: to kill the sorcerer who has been kidnapping and murdering anyone with a bonded stone — the stones Slayers use to cast their magic. Over forty sorcerers are missing and presumed dead, and the number only keeps growing.
Meanwhile, Byron Domitus, one of the Academy teachers who tried to save his students and gave his life in doing so, is waiting to die. Turned into a vampire against his will, he’s now living in a decrepit house in the Ukraine, starving himself in the hopes of finding death. It would be more pleasant if it weren’t for the ghost shrieking at him about how much she hates him living in her house. But it’s what he deserves. He is a monster, he is a murderer, and he is a foul and wretched creature.
When a lead brings Nick and the others to the crumbling ruin, it’s with equal surprise on both sides. For Byron, it’s the visit of living people — living, breathing, warm-blooded people — and for Nick, it’s the teacher he thought he hated. A strict professor who only handed out dour looks and reprimands is now standing in front of him, a broken shell of a man. And yet .. he was a professor. And maybe he still has something to teach. Because every day brings them closer to Wormwood. The only real question is who will live through the confrontation.
Nick is very much a hands-on sort of person. Due to his bonded stone being taken, he kind of has to be as he can’t rely on his magic. It’s not that it’s not there, it’s just that it tends to fizzle out at importune times. So, he carries backup stones — ones that don’t suit, but are better than nothing — and relies heavily on his friends to help balance him out. For all that they’re good friends, they’re also rather bi-phobic, constantly belittling Nick by calling him gay, simply because he tends to look more at men than women. Personally, I think he’s also demisexual, as he seems to have difficulty fully enjoying his one-night stands beyond a physical endorphin rush. It’s only when he’s with Byron, someone who he had a crush on as a student, someone he both hates and admires, that he has an emotional connection and a satisfying sexual experience.
As a student — a college-aged student — Nick had a bit of a crush on the difficult and severe teacher. And now, seeing him as a person rather than a teacher, that feeling is still there. But Byron is a vampire and when he feeds on Nick, there’s a purely physical reaction to it, which perhaps encourages Nick’s instant dive from student with a crush to man in love. Now, no longer being a student, and no longer being quite so young, though Byron will always be older (as well as being a vampire), the power dynamic isn’t quite so unequal. That doesn’t mean the relationship is, though.
Byron hates being a vampire. If he could die, he would, but he’s too religious to commit outright suicide. He hates the fact that his new status makes him emotional, that he reacts more with anger or tears or fear than he did as a human. For a time, the Academy provided him blood, but after several years, the blood stopped coming and, rather than hunt a human — or even an animal — Byron simply took a seat in a chair and decided not to move. Not until Nick comes through the door.
When he’s near Nick, the old feelings of irritation, exasperation, and interest reignite. Nick was always a bright student, and talking with him and his friends makes Byron feel almost human again. Talking about magic, magic he can no longer use, is at least some link to his old self and his old world. And when he ends up bonded to Nick, a lifelong bond that will connect them emotionally for the rest of their lives, Byron isn’ quite happy at it. But he can’t turn it down. He can’t say no to the blood, to the spark of life Nick makes him feel, to the human connection he has been denied for ten years. Even so, while Nick thinks of Byron as his lover, Byron thinks of Nick as his bondmate. Byron isn’t in love, for all that he does feel something. And, perhaps in time it could turn into love when Byron is doing healing, done accepting himself as who and what he is now.
This is a story with a well developed magic system, heavily detailed and lovingly described. It’s dense with world building, down to the minutiae of spell ingredients, what’s being cooked for dinner, what color hair the girl has with whom Nick’s friend is dancing at the club. It’s heavy on exposition and history and a little light on the plot, which isn’t a terrible thing. But it was, for me, an exhausting one. I felt every single page that I read, and it took me several days to read. This book was a grind, and while it isn’t a terrible book or terribly written, it’s not a very good story.
The balance between plot, character, and world building was heavily weighed for the world building. At times it felt like the characters existed solely so that there was someone to explain the world to the reader. And while the plot felt like a bit of an afterthought at times, I did appreciate the focus on the main character of Nick (and his friends) and their struggles with only the occasional glance villain-ward. For this book, the villain isn’t meant to take center stage; Wormwood is the obstacle to be overcome, and I appreciated that he remained a shadowy and threatening figure.
Personally, this book fell very much in the middle for me. The author clearly loves their world, and it shows in the writing. But the execution felt lopsided and I was left uninterested in much of the story. If you enjoyed the Magicians, you might enjoy this. But, purely personally, I’d pass.