Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Anwer is many things – a dutiful son, a loving brother, a hard worker, and a responsible adult. What he never expected was to be was afraid of his own sister, Shay, who at fifteen has suddenly become a witch — or magic user; whichever politically correct term you want to use — and Anwer now has a choice to make. Their father, the Governor, and Shay’s mother, the district attorney, are already hard at work on anti-magic laws. So telling their parents is out. But Shay is scared of being found out and of losing her family, and Anwer can’t have that.

So, after a bit of research, Anwer finds an answer. Christian Lucas, a well known — and often arrested — magic rights activist. Now, Anwer just has to find some way to convince the witch to train his sister to control her abilities, while still respecting her need for anonymity. Because the last thing they can afford is for their parents to find out.

Chris has, more than once, hosted a teenage witch suddenly cast out of their home. He himself has been part of the foster care system as a rare and difficult child who was born with active magic, rather than having it show up with puberty. He knows all to well what life can be like for someone like Shay if her bigoted — and politically influential — parents find out. So he agrees to keep quiet about Shay’s identity, even as he loathes the brother who brought her to his doorstep.

Shay is bright and clever, full of questions, and eager to learn, and Chris suggests taking her to one of the tournaments to compete with other magic users. To protect her — and Anwer, to whom he’s been growing closer — Chris glamours them to hide their faces. All seems to be going well; Shay is having a blast, Chris gets to show off, and Chris and Anwer are falling in love. Anwer even likes Chris’ friends, who like him right back. Everything is perfect … until a police raid has everyone scrambling and Shay and Anwer’s identities are at risk.

I found Just Like Magic to be a very surface-level book. The magic system, the world and it’s consequences, even the characters feel like only sketches somewhat filled in. Chris and Anwer do well at the initial animosity, as Anwer has been raised on anti-magic bigotry. A witch was responsible for his mother’s murder, as her car blew up in his face when he was a child, and his father and stepmother have made it their mission to control, regulate, and protect the world from further magical violence. But his bigotry goes away with a pretty bit of magic on Chris’ part. There’s no talk, no resolution, no need for Anwer to prove he’s changed. He just does.

The magic system feels likewise incidental. People have magic. They fight with it in tournaments. While there are mentions of what moves they make — haymakers and punches and kicks — I have no idea how or why the magic works in this world, or how or why it shapes people. I’m left visualizing something akin to the Avatar the Last Airbender, with physical blows being enhanced with sparkles. And yet for all the lack of information there is on magic in this book, talking about it takes up a great deal of time. Frustrating time, as it felt like filler, with nothing explained.

Anwer’s parents work. That is the sum total of their personalities for much of the book. They work early, they work late, and as such, Anwer has been a parent figure to his sister since she was born. When they find out that their daughter is a witch and their son is in a romantic relationship with a witch, they’re angry … and then they go to work. There are some token mentions of Anwer’s father having trouble because he’s the Governor running on an anti-magic platform, now with a magic daughter, but they’re momentary lines and feel empty and pointless.

The one good point about the parents is how they react to their children. While she may have magic, they love their daughter. While they first react with anger, they apologize for that and try to figure out how to fix their family and do what’s best for her. When Anwer comments that he doesn’t expect Carina — his stepmother and Shay’s mother — to love him unconditionally because he isn’t her biological son, she shuts that down fast, telling him that she’s never tried to replace his mother, but he’s her son and she loves him.

Anwer and Chris have very little conversation on page, and it made it hard for me to feel invested in the relationship. For three months, while Chris teaches Shay, he and Anwar are becoming friends, but it’s all mentioned after the fact. In the hotel, they’re flirting, talking, confessing, embracing, but much of it is waved aside with a vague they talked about things. There’s the third act conflict that felt out of nowhere, with a normally logical and rational Chris all but screaming at Anwer. At first it seemed like all logic is thrown out the window in order to force the couple apart. However, as I kept reading, the story provided ample answers for that scene in a way that made perfect sense. Looking back, all the breadcrumbs were there, well laid out, so the scene isn’t out of place. I just was caught unaware. And I like that. I enjoy a book throwing me for a loop and then, just when I’m full of opinions on the matter, showing me that all I had to do was trust in the story and keep going. So, strange as it is, the third act conflict is actually the strongest part of the book for me.

The writing here is good, but the story, overall, left me feeling like I wanted more. More depth, more plot, more character, more … everything. I wanted something to feel attached to, something to ground me and draw me in. Not every book has to be weighed down with plot and world building, and sometimes it’s nice to breeze through something easy with a happy ending. For me, though, this just didn’t do what I wanted it to do. If you choose to give this book a try, I hope you enjoy it.