Saturday, September 7, 2013

Magic Lost, Trouble Found

I just finished reading Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin. I actually first encountered this book a few years ago, probably right after it first came out, when my then-roommate was reading it. Full disclosure, I and our other housemates teased her terribly for the pinker than pink, sparkles and stars cover. She insisted it was a great book, but her tastes tend to skew a little girlier than mine, so once we'd shared a laugh or two, I basically forgot it ever existed. That is, until I moved, and found a copy on the paperback shelves at my local library. It peeked out at me whenever I went looking for a book, and I couldn't help but smile every time I saw it. Eventually, I said what the hell, and checked it out.

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Surprise surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. Toward the beginning of the book, I had my doubts. Early on, the main character, Raine Benares, has a too-stupid-to-live moment where she puts on a clearly-evil magic necklace, despite her own internal dialogue telling her that it probably isn't a great idea. But thankfully this is more of a catalyst than a character trait, as the whole rest of the plot revolves around her subsequently being unable to remove the necklace - and trying to escape a host of big-bads who want to remove it without a care for her well being. From start to finish, Magic Lost, Trouble Found is a fun read - events move quickly from one disaster to another, but Raine approaches everything with a really great balance of level-headed street smart and spunk. She's a liberated, independent, and stubborn lady who knows how to handle herself, and is genuinely an interesting character rather than merely a STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER.

The book also has a really enjoyable secondary cast, including but not limited to your obligatory Good Guy Love Interest and Bad Boy Love Interest. Thankfully, both Mychael and Tam live up to more than just their tropes, though I do wish we'd gotten a little more development of both. (I almost wrote, to see a little more of either of them, which I suppose I wouldn't argue with, either!). There are blessedly few moments where the main character waxes poetic about how hot the guys are when she should be too busy to even look at them (one of my biggest pet peeves). Really the book isn't remotely about the romance - more like there are some attractive, interested guys that work alongside Raine (and sometimes make steamy kisses with her). There's no should I shouldn't I, and no who should I choose, just two good solid partnerships and some fun with a dash of rivalry. Though, of course Raine ends up forced into a fancy dress she doesn't want to be in but alllll the boys appreciate.

I've read a few other reviews on Goodreads that equate Magic Lost, Trouble Found to a fantasy novel with an urban fantasy protagonist, but I think I'd go a step farther and say it's an urban fantasy novel that just happens to take place in a fantasy world. There are a few funny moments that feel anachronistic for a traditional fantasy, like when Chief Watcher Janek Tawl (aka the lead detective, who I was really pulling for as a romantic interest) "put on a pair of healer's examination gloves" to examine a corpse at a crime scene. But ultimately it weirdly works - despite the sometimes very modern feel of the city, it couldn't easily be interchanged for a real-world one. Shearin does an excellent job of weaving in the city's unique history, geography, topography, and residents, making Mermeia its own unique city that operates on its own rules with its own social order.

The one thing I found myself wishing I could change about the book is that Raine is constantly trying to talk herself in or out of things. And I don't mean she's wishy washy, really, but variations of the phrase "maybe if I kept telling myself that, I'd believe it" are repeated over and over. Once or twice it feels sassy, but the turn of phrase loses its shine quickly, especially when it means Raine overlooks things (like the necklace) that seem like they shouldn't get past her established pretty-good judgement.

The book ends on a sort of open note, which ordinarily would bother me, but instead it's left me ready to pick up the next book to see where the story goes from here. The events of book one are more or less wrapped up, but none of the main characters' fates are decided, and I'm happy to say I'm genuinely really interested to find out what happens to them next.

So, Erin, I'm sorry for making fun of your sparkly pink fantasy novel. You were right, it was good!

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