Review: An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

‘The great Houses of the Unseen World, the buildings that bore the names of the families who lived in them, were more than just constructions of wood and stone, brick and mortar. Suffused with magic, they were themselves ongoing spells. The doors that opened only for blood members of the House were just the beginning.’

****Trigger warnings for blood letting, murder, death of a parent (off page), child neglect/abandonment, self harm and murder.****

It’s been a while since I went off the beaten track SFF wise and just picked up a book on a whim. I’m aware of Kat Howard’s work mostly because of her run on The Books of Magic comics in 2018, which ended last year after 23 issues. This novel by her was equally impressive and exactly my kind of story.

There is a dark secret that is hiding at the heart of New York City and diminishing the city’s magicians’ power in this fantasy thriller by acclaimed author Kat Howard.

In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney—a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn’t want to help the system, she wants to destroy it.

Sydney comes from the House of Shadows, which controls the magic with the help of sacrifices from magicians.

I love nothing more than arguing wizards, magical battles and magicians playing off each other. All the better if it has a setting like a city, or a circus like in books like The Night Circus. Set in current day New York, the book opens with the announcement of The Turning. An infamous magical battle between the various houses of the Unseen World, that of magic, and contestants sent to represent them. This isn’t merely a duel of skill or status, as it’s made clear that as the competition goes on that the ending rounds are a fight for survival.

This is something I’ve been looking for a while in a fantasy book. I really loved that there was a mortal aspect to the competition and that there is a sacrifice to maintain the magical world as a whole. It also feeds into what I really loved about the magic system. I don’t want to go too deep into details about it since it would spoil some of the story later on but it’s one of those magic systems that definitely comes with a cost. If people use their own magic, not drawing from the House of Shadows, they get headaches, nose bleeds and experience pain or exhaustion for using it for longer periods of time.

Sydney is definitely the protagonist but the book does change between several points of view, including some of the heads of the Houses. The Houses absolutely fascinated me. The two main houses we see butt heads are House Prospero and House Merlin, the latter being the leading house of the Unseen World. Just the names and this idea of magical houses being ancient magical families and upcoming magicians trying to start their own houses through the Turning, is endlessly enjoyable to read about.

I do want to mention Sydney herself since from the beginning of the book, she is revealed to be an exceptional magician with an excellent skill for magic. As we learn her background, it’s revealed she has been through a lot and has fought a lot to get to the point she is at. She is cautious and untrusting of many but she isn’t without allies or a total lone wolf. Her moments of vulnerability really helped me warm to her in places and just made me want to see her win that bit more. For antagonists, all but one, aren’t blatantly bad people. A lot of people in this word tend to turn a blind eye and accept a lot of dubious practices because they are old traditions. It’s very much a thing I like seeing in stories that a lot of people can do bad things but aren’t always the outright villain.

The main issue I had with the book was it’s pacing and the plot. The story wraps up very well and there are some clever moments I didn’t see coming, mostly from Sydney since she keeps the reader on just as much of a long finger as the people around her. But something that I did find was when a climactic event finally does happen, it’s wrapped up with little fanfare and a bit too quick. Considering the book is structured around the beginning and end of the Turning, it’s definitely the end part that lets it down a little.

This is still overall one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in a while. Mostly because it ticks a lot of my own boxes but also just for it being a standalone book with excellent writing and a great set up. Definitely a must read for fans of the Night Circus and The Magicians. Thanks for checking in guys! Happy reading!

★★★★/5

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