There are a lot of very likeable elements in this urban fantasy. It starts out swiftly. Liv, the small-town protagonist, has just bought a plane ticket to Europe. She’s tired of her small-town life, and tired of being in love with Tobias, who doesn’t seem to return her affections. Then, a stranger named Davina hits her with a stinky gym sock, which awakens Liv’s latent magical powers.
Let’s start with the romance. I found the romance charming and believable. Liv loves Tobias despite his faults. His faults range from the little ones (crooked front teeth) to the big ones (clams up whenever the situation calls for candid speech.) This is a man I could picture, and a man I could picture falling in love with. She’s grown to love him because he’s always there for her. He is loveable because he invites her over to watch movies, not because he has a chiseled face and implausibly colored irises. Many urban fantasies give the heroine a flawless hunk to lust after, but I prefer the credible ones.
Liv’s best friends are Stacey, Peach, and Millie. Peach and Millie both love Nick, Stacey’s brother, which makes for an awkward and believable conflict. They’re a little overdone, but still, good and believable characters with plausible motivations.
Liv’s magic is as charming as she is. She can make inanimate objects into small, animated creatures. A trash can lid becomes a dog. A mug becomes a rabbit. A paper crane flies. Davina is the one who encourages her to explore her power, and Davina is the one who warns her away from the man named Cane. Cane came into town at the same time Davina did, and Davina says that Cane killed Liv’s sister Holly.
As Liv has never known she had a sister, and only knew her dad as “some guy named Dave” who left and broke her mother’s heart, she finds all of this information quite alarming. Davina warns her that Cane stole Holly’s magic and wants to steal Liv’s as well, but that she’ll be safe until her magic reaches its full strength. As to why she never had any magic before, it appears that Liv’s absent father put a block on Liv’s magic to hide her from people like Cane. Davina’s stinky gym sock removes the block.
Liv is afraid of Cane, and wants to find her father so that he can put the block back on her. Davina says he can’t be found, and that Liv’s only choice is to grow strong enough magically to fight Cane. Liv fights this at first, but eventually decides that she’ll give Davina her magic so that Davina can fight Cane.
If you like urban fantasy novels with likeable protagonists and believable romance, you will probably like this book. I did. If you think you might want to read it, please stop reading this review right now, because I can’t talk about the elements I disliked without completely spoiling the plot.
You’ve been warned. Here thar’ be spoilers. Yarr.
Davina tells Liv that Cane killed her sister and wants to kill her too. Davina tells Liv that she has to grow strong enough to defeat him magically. If I absolutely believed (as Liv does) that someone was going to try to kill me, and that he had the means to do so (and had done so before) I would, at the very least, arm myself. Yes, she lives in NY, which I guess is a blue state, but the internet has told me they have pepper spray there. Isn’t self-preservation the most fundamental instinct? Yes, Liv hates the idea of killing, and rails against it, but she doesn’t even go to the cops. She’s pacifist, and credulous, and sweet, but she takes it to such extremes that I found myself yelling at her as I listened. For example:
Olivia: “I am so stupid!”
Me: “Yes, you are.”
Olivia: “What am I going to do?”
Me: “Get a gun.”
Olivia: “How will I defeat her?”
Me: “Shoot her.”
Olivia: “I’m not powerful enough to stop her!”
Me: “You don’t have to be. That’s why we have guns.”
Olivia: “It’s hopeless!”
Me: “No, it’s not. Get. A. Gun.”
Soon we find out that Davina is actually the bad guy. Davina killed Holly by taking her magic, and her plan all along was to convince Liv to do the same. Cane is there to avenge Holly. Tobias is a magical security guard who had been hired by Holly (before she died) to protect Liv.
So, to clarify: Holly knew that she and her father were on the lam, because she knew she had a sister she couldn’t contact. Holly has a powerful conjurer as a boyfriend. Holly fears for her sister’s safety so much that she hires a powerful magical security guard to watch over her for four years, which can’t be cheap. And yet Holly was still somehow duped into to willingly giving Davina her magic? My understanding was that she was conned, which would make Holly exceptionally stupid, but I’m going to plug my fingers in my ears, say lalala and pretend she was at least extorted, which will make it a little less pathetic, but that wasn’t my original understanding.
Davina originally tells Liv that Cane will kill her to take her magic, but he’ll wait until her magic has come in fully. When Liv finds out that this is a lie, that it’s Davina who wants the magic, Davina tells Liv that Davina will destroy the town unless Liv willingly gives her magic up, dying in the process. At this point, people who have any faith in their government will call the cops and get a restraining order. The cynical among us might believe instead that this is the perfect occasion for a gun, a few plastic bags, and some really discreet friends with shovels.
Neither of these options occur to Liv. Liv’s boyfriend can kill people with his mind, and yet, getting him to do his job (protect her) doesn’t occur to her. Liv thinks her best chance is to get enough magic to defeat Davina. What she thinks Davina will do once she has been “defeated”, I’m not sure, but it’s clear Liv doesn’t want to kill her. In fact, she relentlessly argues against killing Davina. This is do-gooder naivite that would make even Ned Stark slap his face in his palm and shake his head in frustration. More absurd is the fact that Liv wants to use magic to take Davina down, despite the fact that–by her own admission–the ability to turn raspberries into butterflies is not useful for combat. This drove me crazy, because I don’t like urban fantasy in which people seek out magical solutions when the non-magical solution is cheaper, easier, and more expedient. Say, a gun. I’m not a violent person, but “I’m going to destroy everything and everyone close to you unless you let me kill you” is a situation in which even Quakers might lock and load.
Second problem I had with the book: Davina is a completely evil psychopath. She is the only truly evil person in the book. She is also the only black person in the book. This bothers me.
Third problem: This refers only to the audio version. Once again, I hated the voices. The narrator did the women’s voices fine. I kind of liked Davina’s honey drawl and Betty’s lewd old-lady voice. I even appreciated the subtle differences between Millie, Liv, and Stacey. But the men’s voices drove me nuts. Tobias sounds like Binky from the kid’s cartoon Arthur, and Cane sounds like Milhouse from the Simpsons, albiet with a fake southern accent and a head cold. As much as I liked the women’s voices, I would rather have a narrator who reads it all straight, with no acting. I would give up my enjoyment of the voices done well in order to avoid the cringe-worthy cartoon-character quality of the mens’ voices. Luckily, they had fewer speaking parts.
I recommend this novel for people who like urban fantasy a little fluff mixed in with the grit. It’s good for people who like fantasy, and for those who like romance. I haven’t checked, but I strongly suspect that there’s a sequel, so it’s good for people who want to get to know a magical heroine and keep her acquaintance for a few books.