Review: “Gift of Magic,” Lynn Kurland

Pros: A lovely story…
Cons: …caught short by a couple of late-blooming cliches
Rating: 3 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Lynn Kurland’s Gift of Magic is a novel of the Nine Kingdoms. Novel number six, to be exact. Thanks to the vagaries of receiving review books I’m reading this one first, which at least allows me to tell you whether you can jump in here. While it is surprisingly possible to do so (there are some good in-narration summaries of previous events early on), this is definitely a complex world with a lot going on. So do try to track down the previous books and start there. If nothing else, I had a great deal of trouble keeping all of the characters straight. There are a lot of them, many are related to one another (lots of many-child households), and the names are complex/difficult to memorize (I can’t figure out how to pronounce most of them, which makes them difficult to remember and differentiate–the same is true of place-names). For various reasons, this time I’m going to use the back cover text to convey the premise rather than doing my own version:

Sarah of Doire knows the pattern of spells is no accident. With each page, each powerful rune, she and Ruith are being led somewhere, to someone–but by whom, she cannot tell. Sarah’s gift of sight only allows her to see the spells themselves, not the person behind them.

A reluctant sorcerer still learning to trust his own magic, Ruithneadh of Ceangail knows he’s woefully unprepared for the adversaries they’ll face. But he and Sarah must collect and destroy his father Gair’s spells soon. Many mages seek their power, and in the wrong hands, Gair’s magic would plunge the Nine Kingdoms into an eternity of darkness.

But as they pursue the final spells–acquiring strange companions, welcome allies, and unexpected foes along the way–Sarah and Ruith realize that their true quest has only just begun. The real enemy is closer, darker, and more power hungry than they ever imagined, and until he is defeated, the fate of the Nine Kingdoms hangs in dire peril.

 

I’m about to launch into a bunch of things that bugged me about this book, so first allow me to say that I really enjoyed most of it. The concept–hunting down a bunch of spells that almost seem to have a mind of their own–is well-executed. Ruith and Sarah are are fully-realized, non-stereotypical characters, particularly in Sarah’s case. Their relationship, too, is different and quite enjoyable (since this isn’t true of all the books I review, I’ll specify that Gift of Magic is neither bloody nor sexual). Many of the family relationships are enjoyable, and not typical of epic tales. Most of the plot drew me in nicely. Unfortunately, the closer I got to the end of the book, the lower I dipped in my estimation of the book’s quality. I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Kurland ran up against a deadline or had something untoward happen that distracted her from finishing the book as she might have wished.

There’s a portion of the book where Sarah and Ruith have ample reason to believe that there’s someone they’re dealing with who is not what they seem, and is in some way working against them–they just don’t know who, although there aren’t a lot of suspects. One bad guy recognizes one of their companions with the stereotypical exclamation of “You!”, which is followed by the other person acting seemingly out of character. That one bad guy comes right out and says, “you told me to come here”, which is followed almost immediately by Ruith and Sarah being confused as to how said bad guy could possibly have found them. (What?! He just told you! No, seriously, he just told you how he found you!) Several more pages pass with Ruith and Sarah ignoring the glowing neon sign pointing to the person next to them. Then things become all the more obvious as they ruminate on how their companion could have possibly found a very damning fragment of spell he was in possession of–but they spend several more pages trying to figure out what that could possibly mean.

Finally the traitor gets so frustrated with them that he… pulls up a chair and lays out all of his plans in true James Bond villain fashion. Literally pulls up a chair, even though he has to summon one out in the middle of nowhere in order to do so. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such an incredibly bald cliche. Just to add insult to injury, later on in the book another villain pulls up a bench and does the same.

I don’t even know what to say to this. I went from “this is a neat book,” to “WTF?!” I went from “maybe I should track down the rest of this series” to, “WTF?!”

It completely derailed the book for me. I found it impossible to emotionally connect with the final events of the plot and the final character developments because I’d been so thoroughly ripped out of the immersion. I don’t even know whether I’d recommend reading the book or not–it entirely depends on your tolerance for character stupidity and villain cliches.

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