I picked this book up as a ‘Read Now’ option on NetGalley and as always, I provide an honest review.
The Other Magic has three main characters: Aynward, Kibure and Grobennar, and follows each of them as their paths eventually collide in the same location.
Aynward is a spoilt prince who enjoys drinking with his friends. He’s low down on the succession list and is shipped off to University in the hope he matures and makes the most of his intelligence. Kibure is a slave whose powers manifest while being whipped by his master. He is subsequently caged, a priestess, Sindri, is hired and he is taken by ship to be sold as a slave. Grobennar is a high priest who has been charged by the god-king Magog to find and destroy the dark one’s emissary.
The Other Magic is a decent book but has flaws in its storytelling, worldbuilding and structure. And, at least for me, there were a few issues with name, which won’t bother other people I’m sure. I did not deduct stars for this, If I did this would be 2.5*. Let me also be clear, I did not not enjoy this book, as I said it was a decent read, though longer than it needed to be and lacked richness. I think the author could have done more with his word count.
This is a tough review to write because all I can say about things is, ‘they were okay’, or ‘decent’, or ‘good in parts’. Characters were okay, but nothing stands out—though there are some wide characters later who I think could be very interesting moving forward. Magic system was standard, but it was good how priests could ‘borrow’ power from others to increase their magic ability. Worldbuilding wasn’t bad but it lacked richness etc. It’s tough to give examples without spoilers and I write spoiler free reviews. So, if you want a decent read, one that will take a while and you don’t have any ‘must-reads’ on your TBR that this is a decent book to pick up and fill the time. If you’d like to know more about the weaknesses read on…
Full disclosure… I almost stopped reading this book around the 15-20% mark, but not because it was a poor story that I wasn’t enjoying. There are a few flaws, but I’ll get this one out first, which, granted, may just apply to me, but it was really annoying. Aynward. That’s the name of one of the three main characters the story revolves around. Every time I came to that name, I read it as ANYward. My brain saw ‘ayn’ and immediately read ‘any’. I thought it was a poor name choice. There’s also a raven called Rave which I found a little lazy too. There was also another naming issue that only happened in one paragraph, but I completely forgot to highlight it with my Kindle, so can’t recall it.
This brings me to the second flaw, you’d think I’d get use to Aynward before hitting 20%, but the chapters are short. There are over 100%, meaning the average chapter is shorter than 1% of the book, and this isn’t a really long book, like ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ by Patrick Rothfuss, but it is quite long, like say ‘Name of the Wind’, also by Rothfuss. Both of those books also have many short chapters yet are two of my favourite books of all-time. Short chapters can work, but in The Other Magic it broke the flow for me. It also meant I kept getting taken from Aynward, to Kibure, to Grobennar and back to Aynward, making the name issue, consistent for me in the early stages. Granted it may not both others. More importantly, as I said, the constant switches ruined the flow. Yes, there are three main characters in the same timeline and events are concurrent, but hardly any time passes in many of the chapters. Smythe could have easily combined many ‘Aynward’ chapters together and done the same for Kibure and Grobennar. Doing this would allow the reader to get into the flow of each character’s story, while allowing the author to maintain the timeline and events.
Furthermore, there is a part where some of the characters come together in the same area (I won’t mention the story away) and the author still switches chapters. I think it would be better to simply leave a blank line of some sort of decorated line to let the reader know you are changing perspective to the other character. A new chapter is not needed. While on the topic of chapters, a lot of the early chapters, apart from being short, were a little drawn out, particularly with Kibure.
In addition, the three main characters are all male, which seems like a missed opportunity to be more diverse. The only female of any real note is Sindri, who is with Kibure throughout the book.
There were other issues I had. At times I felt some of the chapters were a little tedious to read. I think because some of the characters actions and smaller story arcs felt a little bland and slow. Some conversations and interactions felt a little forced and unnatural. There was a lack of detail, wonder, richness, and pace. I mentioned earlier that it’s as long as the ‘Name of the Wind’ but it has nowhere near the richness in storytelling and detail. Name of the Wind is a 5* book told by a master storyteller (imo). The only other books I’ve given a full 5* have been by Brandon Sanderson. Even if I compare The Other Magic to books I’ve given 4* to, such as several of the Lightbringer books, or those from the Legends of the First Empire, or Red Queen’s War, the storytelling, structure, prose, just doesn’t live up.
This is however a debut novel and I think there is sense for optimism regarding future works by Smythe is he can tighten up some of the storytelling and worldbuilding. There are some interesting characters we meet towards the end of the book who I want to learn more about, and I believe we will in the follow-up.
Overall, The Other Magic is a decent read, which had the potential to be better, so I felt let down—there are some interesting ideas in there. I am interested in reading the follow-up book and hope it takes a different approach in its structure and there is more richness in the storytelling and development of characters. The best developed character for me was Sindri but she was only the 4th main character.