An impeccably-researched alt-history set late in Queen Elizabeth I's reign.
In this world there are two main points of difference. Elizabeth married an...moreAn impeccably-researched alt-history set late in Queen Elizabeth I's reign.
In this world there are two main points of difference. Elizabeth married and bore two sons, and there is a race of people called "skraylings" who come from Vinland (Newfoundland). Presumably this is a play on 'skraeling', which is what the Norse called Greenland and Vinland's Native Americans, although this book's skraelings are non-humans with fangs and vestigial tails. England has an important alliance with (the main clan of) the skraylings.
The plot revolves around three people. Mal, who has been specifically requested as a bodyguard by the skrayling ambassador. Coby, a girl-dressed-as-a-boy working for a theater company. And Ned, Mal's good friend. Many plots begin revolving around Mal after his appointment, and Coby and Ned are drawn into them in his wake. Things are far more complex than any of them realise.
The story very successfully conjures the uncertainty and powerlessness of the landless and poor during Elizabethan times, and the culmination of the story is quite interesting, but I kept putting the book down and not picking it up, so I guess overall it didn't click with me.
A couple of things which made me a little uncomfortable were the use of an actual-world word for Native Americans for a non-human race, and the general womanlessness of this world. There are quite a few incidental women in the story, but Coby is the only one who matters enough to be a person to the reader (and she's (view spoiler)[basically 'the helpful love interest', while Mal is the person who is the interesting/important one (hide spoiler)]). Even the Queen is off-scene and not directly involved in much of the story.
At any rate, I think this is a solidly-told story, which just didn't click enough with me.(less)
Comedic story for the younger set. It seemed well written, but sadly wasn't my style of humour, and I kept not supporting the various romances. The ch...moreComedic story for the younger set. It seemed well written, but sadly wasn't my style of humour, and I kept not supporting the various romances. The characters were a little too broadly drawn for my tastes.(less)
Sweet story of girl and her good friend the living castle. Strong opening, a little less strong at the end, but still very readable. Never did underst...moreSweet story of girl and her good friend the living castle. Strong opening, a little less strong at the end, but still very readable. Never did understand why the castle couldn't just eject the problem, though. It seemed quite capable of doing plenty of other things, suppressed or not.
Aimed more toward the younger end of middle grade, with many characters being broad rather than realistic.(less)
One of those books which divide me in response. "Ordinary Magic" has a lot going for it - it's fast-paced with a fascinating premise, a really strong...moreOne of those books which divide me in response. "Ordinary Magic" has a lot going for it - it's fast-paced with a fascinating premise, a really strong sense of place and a more-ish voice. I think a lot of people would like it.
However, I found the huge amount of snappy patter conversation a bit like wandering onto the set of a Marx Brothers movie, and as I read, I kept being niggled to death by issues with the world-building.
This is a world full to the brim with magic. Everyone uses magic for everything - food is conjured, magic carpets are the main mode of transportation, prisons have magical doors - even the showers are turned on and off with magic. And a tiny percentage of the population is born with no magic at all - Ords. They can't use magic and magic can't be worked on them.
At the age of 12, all children are officially tested on their level of magic. Before that they're not allowed to try and use it, and they're not allowed to have it used on them. Which I guess means for the first twelve years of their life, children must be having someone else turn the shower on and off for them and (given the way everything else depends on magic) presumably someone flushes the toilet for them too. This age testing thing makes little to no sense given the sheer ubiquity and reliance on magic in this world - let alone the likelihood of any child refraining from trying to use magic for 12 whole years. It's simply a device to have a big dramatic judging, life-changed-forever start to the novel.
And dramatic it is, since upon being judged an Ord, the child is apparently completely dropped from society, ostracised, treated as non-human and hated and feared.
The hatred was given little foundation and was particularly difficult to believe in. Ords are demonstrably not 'contagious' and live completely mildly in society for 12 years and then suddenly are apparently frightening? What are they going to do that they haven't been doing in the previous 12 years? The negative attitude toward Ords is so complete that almost all families abandon their children or want nothing to do with them, they are referred to as "It", addressed only as "Ord" and sold to adventurers as useful trap-clearing tools. [At least until King Steve came along and started trying to change this.]
Main character Abby is slightly different in that her family is deep-down nice and refuse to stop loving her. This (perfectly normal) reaction is apparently so unusual that when Abby goes to Ord-school, the other students resent her for having a family that doesn't hate her. While overall Abby comes across as an extrovert and occasional chatterbox, she also has a touch of virtuous martyr about her (seen both in this attitude toward her in school, her wanting to share her room because of trouble sleeping but not actually telling anyone, and most especially the weird victimisation of Abby by the cook which seemed to occur purely so Abby could stoically refuse to complain about it or resent it).
[I was also very confused as to why Ord school doesn't seem to have any general lessons on cooking, cleaning, sewing - all the things that other people do by magic which Ords will need to accomplish the hard way. Instead they get the standard history, maths, etc, plus self-defence, running away, and magic identification classes.]
Anyway - a very readable story which I wasn't able to fully enjoy because I was distracted by the world building.(less)