Review of The Other Magic, by Derrick Smythe

I received a review copy of The Other Magic, by Derrick Smythe. I’m not going to lie, I probably would have accepted it based on that cover alone. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Description from Goodreads:

Darkness stirs in a world that is ill-equipped to confront it. A prophesied king is born, but not all will benefit from his foretold conquests.

In a realm where only clerics are permitted to practice magic, Kibure, a mere slave, draws the attention of much more than just his master after wielding an unknown force in a moment of desperation. In a twist of fate, Sindri, the priestess hired to strip Kibure of his power, defies the law, revealing designs of her own. But trust is in short supply in a land ripe with deceit. This wayward pair will have to work together if they hope to evade capture at the hands of the Empire’s most potent wielders.

Halfway around the known world, Prince Aynward’s knack for discovering trouble drives him deep into conspiracies within which he does not belong. Too arrogant to accept counsel, he will have to learn the hard way that some actions have consequences that cannot be undone…

Review:

“I have finished it!” I shouted this while throwing my arms up in the universal victory pose. (Good thing I was home alone with the dog, and even she looked at me funny.) I felt held hostage by this book; determined to finish it but feeling as if it would never end. A full third of it needs to be cut away, in my opinion, probably more. The first 150 pages (in which one character is held in a cage and another is held hostage in a ship for 90% of the time) could literally be condensed to 10, for example.

I feel bad too. When I accepted this for review it had no other reviews. So, I asked the author if he was sure he wanted to send it to me, seeing as I write an honest review. This meant if I loved it we would be fine, but if I didn’t there would be no other reviews to balance my poor rating out. In retrospect, I feel like this might have made it look like I was setting the book up to fail, expecting to pan it. But that’s not the case. I went in full of hope and then just lingered, fell into a malaise of boredom and eventually just had to force myself to finish it, one snippet chapter at a time over almost a month. (A month! It took me—who can start a standard 350 page paperback after dinner and finish it before bed—to finish this book.)

Let me step away from how hard I had to work to force myself to chip away at this tome to say that there is a lot of good in it. I don’t want to leave the impression that this is 625 pages of dreck. It’s not! It’s just that the good (real attempts at grey characters, interesting magic systems, loyalty and character growth) is buried deep in too much verbiage. The story told here simply did not need 625 pages to be told.

What’s more those 625 pages are broken up into 1-3 page chapters, in most cases. So, you get a page or two of Sindri, a page or two of Kibure or Grobennar, and then a bit more of Aynward (maybe 10-15 pages). His chapters tended to be a bit longer, as it’s where the book’s mythos is dropped. But even that felt off. Sindri and Kibure are running for their lives. Grobennar is on a holy quest and Aynward is….looking for his classroom on his first day of university. That was 100% not where the focus of the book felt it needed to be. But more importantly these little vignette chapters never let me settle into the narrative. I was never able to forget I was reading a book and sink into the story. Thus, I was 100% aware of every one of those 625 pages. Tedious hardly does the experience credit.

The story itself isn’t bad, interesting even. I thought the writing a tad pedestrian, but certainly readable. I thought the character growth was handled clumsily, but it was there and I appreciated it. All in all, I have no doubt this book will find it’s audience. It is after all an ok book. But for myself and my opinion (for what it’s worth), I’d love to see it given to a vicious content editor that could hack away at it, tighten it up, and make it a great book.

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