Review of COLD BURN OF MAGIC by JENNIFER ESTEP
(first in the BLACK BLADE series, based on a review copy)
I have criticisms aplenty for this book and yet I enjoyed it nonetheless, because the characters won me over. Lila lives on the streets, or rather squatting in a library, and earns a living running odd theft jobs. In a world run by powerful, magical Families, she does what she can to stay out of their squabbles. After all, the same can’t be said for Lila’s mother and that’s why she’s dead. Then Lila does the honorable thing and saves an important Family boy when he’s attacked right in front of her. Before she knows it, she’s roped into being his bodyguard and that position hasn’t ended well for the last few people who held it.
As far as my many criticisms, I’ll list a few. For starters, I couldn’t root myself in the setting for several chapters. It took me a while to figure out what time period this was supposed to be. (Answer: today.) While the language seems modern, everyone’s using swords. We later get an explanation for that...but the explanation makes no sense. Supposedly everyone uses swords, because they’re made of a special magical metal, but then why can’t they use that same magical metal for guns or more modern weapons? In general, there were a lot of logic gaps that kept distracting me from the actual plot. The beginning also opens with a big information dump explaining how magic works and despite these explicit explanations I still had so many unanswered questions. An important lingering confusion was that I didn’t understand Lila’s unique transference magic and exactly how it works. It doesn't actually seem that useful based on what I read, but everyone acts like it’s incredibly powerful. There’s also a lot of speculating about what others are thinking as well as characters talking to themselves as Lila walks into a room, which seems a kind of clunky way of getting around the fact that we’re only in Lila’s viewpoint. The last criticism I’ll throw out is that the book’s depiction of mobsters feels very cheesy and cliché.
Obviously, I found a lot to nitpick, but despite it all I like Lila. She’s spunky and resourceful and had a direct way of thinking I admire. For example, plenty of books feature characters bent on revenge for a death of a beloved one. Lila addresses that the thought of avenging her mother’s death is tempting, but “I liked living a little too much to throw my life away on some suicide revenge mission.” I’ve read so many characters that don’t think any farther past the urge for revenge that I admired Lila’s maturity in understanding the consequences of seeking vengeance and whether it would really be worth it.
I also liked Devon, despite being the kind of moody and sulky love interest that can usually drive me crazy. I saw to his good heart as did Lila and he seems too sweet and caring for the lifestyle he’s living. I loved Felix, Devon’s outrageously chatty and flirtatious friend. Some of the other characters - Mo, Claudia, Oscar - feel a little more flat, but these three ringleaders had enough nuanced layers to make me really care what happens next to them.
Though this novel has enough closure to the main plot thread, there are lots of other allusions to additional secrets and clear plans being prepped for future books. In all honesty, I likely won’t read on. There are already too many books and too little time and the negative here outweighed the positive too much for me to go seeking out sequels. That being said, for anyone who’s curious if this book is for you, it’s an easy, fast read and won’t take much time to decide.