I picked up this book on a whim, thinking to myself that it's been a while since I read one of those "kid discovers they have magic" books (which I believe I wrote about recently). And honestly, it says right on the cover that it's a "novel of sorcery and society," which tells me it's probably Victorian to some degree, which just makes me happy all over.
So why not?
I'd like to start with saying that I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a lot of fun, and I liked the characters, even if they were inconsistent at times. It was an entertaining story aimed at teens or young adults with a fondness for stories about children (a category which I happen to fit into quite nicely).
There were, however, a few elements that jarred me out of the narrative, and that were honestly just examples of sloppy authorship. With a bit more effort and forethought, this book might have been an amazing read and well worth keeping on my shelf for a reread down the line. It teaches good lessons about friendship and bullying, family relationships and the kind of harm can come from keeping secrets. There's a lot of potential in this book, and it just falls short in a couple places.
This book loses two stars for relatively simple and easy-to-fix reasons.
First: characters that are presented as intelligent (as in, they have survived this long and in their current positions through cleverness and guile) act in ways that demonstrate a lack of forethought, rather than an abundance of it.
An example might be the insistence of the rich mother figure in rushing through her adopted daughter's preliminary education in order to send her to school midway through the term and lie about her past to cover for all the things she doesn't know.
Wouldn't it have been easier and more believable to take a year to teach her what she needs to know and build her backstory more realistically from there, instead of inventing a lie that anyone with access to public records would be able to see through in a heartbeat?
Second: the escalation and solution of the plot both happened very quickly. The incline was steep, so to speak, and that prompted me to consider the story in a very meta light, rather than enjoying the plot for its own sake. The time taken to build the world and the characters' relationships to one another was well done, but the pacing of the plot was choppy in the final chapters, leading to the villain feeling like a cardboard cutout that didn't reflect their earlier characterization and the climax seeming staged rather than organic.
If the main character's realization of the Badguy's Secret Identity had been based on actual information instead of assumptions, and if the Badguy's behavior after the reveal had stayed in character, rather than reverting to a Badguy Monologue of their Master Plan, I think the pacing for the ending would have been a lot smoother.
Overall, it was a fun book, and I will probably read the rest of the series at some point, but I may also end up rewriting the ending for my own sake, simply because with a little more effort it would have been a really powerful scene to add to the motif of bullying that'd been prevalent throughout the story up to that point.
Other books like this one might be works like The Books of Beginning by John Stephens (kids discover magic is real and they have to save the world) or Heartstone by Elle Katharine White (Pride and Prejudice with dragons).