By Paige Orwin
E-book, 416 pages (paperback)
2016, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857665911 (paperback)
The year is 2020 and an incredibly powerful magical being started a war against America, forcing wizards everywhere out of hiding. In the aftermath, the states have been reorganized into rough territories and are trying to rebuild themselves, amidst the residual magic left behind and the strange beings that come from it. Edmund, known as the Hour Thief, and Istvan, his right-hand ghost, are trying to keep the peace in Massachusetts when they hear of a ring of smugglers dealing in magical devices that could blow the entire state. What they discover in trying to stop the smugglers is another war that’s being waged against an even darker power that threatens to enslave them all.
What I most enjoyed about this book was the overall concept – magic in the modern times, meets some superpowered beings, plus a semi-dystopian setting, in my home of New England to boot! I liked that the magic that was unleashed by Shokat, the being who started the war, not only changed up the way people lived and caused existing wizards to reveal themselves, but also created things called “spell scars” that spit out all kinds of creatures, some from the past or future, and even gave some previously normal humans super powers.
However, that’s where my enjoyment of the world ended. The world building itself was incredibly confusing and as a result, I never got my bearings or had a solid picture in my mind of what was taking place. I wanted to understand how the world and the magic worked, but instead I was confused by Orwin’s mention of “conceptual” magic, magic that was “interdicted” and just regular magic.
I was also confused by the magic our main character, Edmund (the Hour Thief – the one thing I won’t forget because they call him that on what feels like every other damn page), possessed. He can manipulate time by stealing it from others and using it for himself – he can then teleport or take extra time to recover from a bad injury if needed. Yet, Edmund somehow doesn’t actually teleport, nor does he time travel, so I was constantly confused about how his magic worked. He could even give time to others, but again, I don’t know how this functioned. Since Edmund and his abilities are essential to the story, it was frustrating to be so confused.
Unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand his ghostly companion, Istvan. He is a deceased soldier from WWI, but is also apparently the conceptual (there’s that term again!) embodiment of the War itself? Again, I was never clear on what this meant, or what he could or couldn’t do because of this. He works closely with Edmund and is also one of his closest friends so they team up on most missions. Istvan can help with scouting and can somehow help fight any monsters they come up against, but he can’t physically help Edmund if he falls, or punch him if he’s mad. Nor can he touch physical objects, like a gurney, when someone in the medical ward needs his assistance, except when he can, like when he picks up Edmund’s hat to hand it to him or puts the kettle on for tea. He can also reach inside of people to heal their organs, tissue, bones, etc. but still somehow isn’t a physical being.
Perhaps I’m being picky, or I’m used to more clearly defined rules when it comes to books with magic, but there seemed to be so many grey areas and hypocrisies that it made Orwin’s writing feel sloppy.
I felt that too much of the backstory was being hinted at, but never clearly defined and rather than leaving me hungry for more, it left me with so many unanswered questions that they became all I could focus on, rather than the plot. For the last 30% or so, I essentially zoned out. Nothing was clicking for me and I was simply trying to get to the end. It’s possible some of my many questions were answered in this chunk of the book, but if so, I didn’t pick up on it. Sadly this book was a big disappointment for me.
I received this book for free from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can head over to Paige’s website or chat her up on Twitter.