Book Review – The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real MagicThe Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Warning: mild spoilers.

First off, I bought this book when I was in the store and the cover caught my eye. The blurb sounded interesting and I read a few pages. All in all, not bad. Soon after, I ended up travelling for 3 days left and right. I get cranky when I do that and lots of things were frustrating me, so this book was supposed to be my solace. Even when it slowed down unbearably in the middle, I was invested enough to continue.
Then the ending happened. I snapped. 

Let’s start with a summary. Nora is graduate student approaching her thirties, an ordinary, unhappy person because nothing is going right. Her boyfriend has left her to get engaged to some other woman, her thesis paper is in severe roadblock and life generally sucks. It is in this state of affairs that she visits some place for a friend’s wedding and gets lost in a nearby mountain while on a morning walk. (Which should have told me something.)
She gets lured into a mansion by a resurrected Audrey-Hepburnesque character called Illisa and soon Nora’s partying like her life depends on it. But things are not as they seem (she should have at least though Botox was involved) as Nora discovers when the pretty people and Illisa’s son Raclin are revealed to be Faitoren, magical uglies that trap unsuspecting females to bear their rare offspring. Rare because they kill the mother at some point or the other.
So Nora’s now married to a dragonfly with teeth and pregnant. She manages to escape with the help of wizard- sorry, magician Aruendiel and lives happily ever after. The end.

But wait, you say. There are nigh on 600 pages in the book. Surely that’s not all.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce to you, that after the first third of the book, there is no discernible plot whatsoever. We interrupt this broadcast to bring you an episode of Alice in Wonderland minus the chain-smoking caterpillar and the psychotic cat.

See the real problem is, whatever the title promises to be, it’s not about a thinking woman. No. It’s about some passive, floaty female who is in a wish-fulfilling fantasy. I bought the book because I though Nora was one of those down-on-their-luck characters who takes everything in their stride, with mild amusement. And she was, for a while. Unfortunately she’s so happy-go-lucky that she doesn’t suffer any major psychological trauma from her captivity and miscarriage. She cries a bit. That’s about it.

Much later, the book became more Pride and Prejudice with domestic witchcraft than a woman finding herself in a fantastical setting. So Nora became less of a sympathetic person and more of a suffragette determined to instil equality in one and only one person – Aruendiel. I say Pride and Prejudice because the book jabs the totally unsubtle comparison in your eye by having Nora translate the work into the local language, Ors. The book needed that useless insertion like a rhino needs Botox injections. Sure, it might look better that way, but it’s just unnatural and pointless.

To make it even more aggravating, it desperately tries to portray the hero, Aruendiel, as a magical Mr.Darcy, by making him unattainable and rude. Whatever else Darcy was, he was not a walking smirk who murdered his wife in cold blood. Nora’s attraction to Aruendiel is almost believable but the reciprocation is not, especially when it comes at the far end of a book in one itty-bitty paragraph. And we haven’t even taken into consideration the age difference of a 150 years.

Even sadder, the magic premise of this book is only a vehicle for that relationship. Which explains why it seems so arbitrary. You can’t use magic for anything useful in this world, like healing wounds or teleporting.
You shouldn’t bring back the dead. It’s just the way it is.
Wizards control spirits, but true magicians actually use magic. Only some people are magicians. It’s just the way it is.
Magic is…[insert explanation of your choice here]. Readers are never given any solid ground on the world and how it works, because, world building, who cares? Just string them along with a half-baked romance and an occasional scene of the heroine lighting candles by concentrating really hard.

But it wasn’t all that bad, despite this and it was kind of humorous, so it could have gone okay. HOWEVER.

Somewhere along the way the author decided that it was time to go check on the plot that had been left to stew, discovered it was way overcooked, and corrected it by throwing in Tabasco sauce, pepper, mayonnaise and the neighbour’s geraniums. Hell, they thought, let’s throw in some milk too.

Instead of ending this story in one book like it should have been 300 pages ago, the plot takes an abrupt left turn, has Nora get kidnapped, then remember to use magic to save herself, rescue Aruendiel with algebra and fall down a cliffhanger so deep, it could fit a congress of whales down there.

Why was this necessary? If the idea was to boost sales and keep making revenue through a series, this ensured that no one with sense will want to buy this book.

Internal logic goes totally haywire at the end. Nora is tied up and freezing, but being the airhead she is, doesn’t remember to use fire magic of any sort. When she does remember to do something, it lands her into even more trouble. As for Norneng carrying around parts of an ice demon in fragile glass bottles in his jacket pockets, I can only say he had it coming. Even the demon that liked poetry wasn’t the last straw. The mathematical deus ex machina was. Nora saves Aruendiel by using a Cartesian formula to make a binding spell bigger. CAN IT GET ANY WORSE?

Yes, the book says emphatically. Nora’s ultimate decision at the end of the book and her lack of a resolution with that unglamorous Snape proved that any character development you sensed was a hallucination on the reader’s part. Also, characters that are seemingly well rounded just die, negating the usefulness of their presence for 400 pages.

So I suggest, in the interests of maintaining your sanity, you bulldoze the book and then feed it to sharks. Afterwards, pick up the shreds and…

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